"This was my daily work"
At around 4:14 we first glimpse Carruth's character, Jeff, running down a street, briefly intercut with a few quick shots of the kids. It ends with him sprinting with a wild look on his face, like a dog finally let off its leash.
It's possible that he's already in sync with another runner. It's very interesting that Carruth draws this connection so soon in the film, long before the characters Kris and Jeff actually meet under circumstances where they're unconsciously drawn toward each other.
Kris makes her first appearance, struggling her way through a marathon. It's telling enough when she's in the rear of the running pack, as we see an overweight man and someone in a rooster costume at the same mile marker as her.
She's so uncommitted that she takes a phone call during her run. It's clear that it's a work-related call, and though she says, "Not till Monday," we follow up with her in the office, suggesting she went straight there.
Cut to some early footage of what seems like A Topiary. We see some sort of creature made of wooden boxes and what look like paper rings for legs. Maybe the latter was an element that made its way into Upstream Color as the Walden pages handwritten by The Sampled, under the control of The Thief.
Given Kris's multi-computer setup and the brief wide shot of her workplace, it looks like she's employed at a visual-effects company.
[This looks like more concept art for A Topiary, which is just an Easter egg. I've freeze-framed the shot and read some of the writing on the cards, but it's just contact information that doesn't contain any information related to the film.]
After some time with Kris at work, we cut back to The Thief, preparing for the night. There appears to be a sort of ritual, since he puts on a scratched record that is barely recognizable as someone reading Walden. The montage of emptying a gelcap and inserting a worm is bridged by the voiceover on the record. The Thief's motives are unclear, since all we've seen of the worms involve the kids playing games.
Right before he leaves with two gelcaps in a small baggie, the record becomes clear enough for the voice reading Walden to say, "This was my daily work." This could very well describe The Thief's routine, though in the beginning of the film - in his dialog with the kids at the dumpster - he mentioned that, after throwing away the paper rings, he needed a few weeks before he could get back to his schemes.
Cut to The Thief as the Worst Drug Dealer Ever, in which he tries to pass off the worm-containing gelcaps as a recreational drug. First he talks with a woman who wants more than two capsules, then he attempts to find a buyer by very conspicuously flashing the baggie at anyone who drifts in his periphery. Clearly this isn't his strongest skill.
While The Thief is on the street, there's more aggressive post-production sound like constant traffic and a siren. The Thief looks innocent enough, but the noise suggests a larger danger.
The Thief targets Kris
The Thief resorts to plan B and takes a stun gun from his car. Immediately after, we follow Kris into a bar. Around this point we start to occupy more of her headspace. It starts as soon as she's inside, since her footsteps are far louder than the bass-heavy music and the shrill walla surrounding her.
Kris checks the locked bathroom and lingers in the hall, idly checking her phone. (Brief aside: Much like Primer, Carruth avoids dating the film and the technology of the time; case in point, no one ever seems to use a smartphone, opting instead for older cells.) The Thief brushes past her, sizing her up as a possible mark. He goes out to the threshold of the hall to check for witnesses, and he just has to wait for one man to enter the bar proper before he can zap Kris offscreen.
An overhead shot shows The Thief pulling Kris out of the bar's back exit. Presumably he hasn't been spotted, since anyone dragging an unconscious woman is a very prominent red flag, especially at a bar. I also like the second shot above because, even though it'd be completely normal for Kris's shoes to fall off, I've always had a mental connection between shoes and control. (It's apparently a common phobia to lose one's shoes in public.)
The Thief lays Kris out on the pavement with little concern; it's more evidence that he's done this before, though we don't know how he'd proceed if he went after someone who bought his gelcaps. Kris is still breathing as The Thief readies his gear.
The Thief puts a plug on Kris's nose and then forces the worm into Kris's mouth with a water-filled air bladder. He seems to hold it just long enough to force Kris to swallow the worm. She then scrambles to her feet and staggers away, but already she's lost the urgency to flee the situation. Kris moves toward the back gate of the parking lot, but even in the space of a few seconds she's hypnotized. On her own volition she turns around and follows The Thief. All that remains is to abuse the power of suggestion with a little push.
The Thief accompanies Kris back to her house. Her lack of struggle - The Thief is unarmed, and his only source of coercion is his voice - foreshadows the remaining sequence in this first major part of the film.
Continue to Part 3.