This The Purge review contains spoilers.
The Purge Episode 2
The Purge is one of the most fascinating high-concept horror films in recent memory. For those unaware, a “high-concept” film is one in which the premise can be explained by a simple sentence. In the case of The Purge, that sentence is in the opening crawl of ever movie: “One night in which all crime, including murder, is legal.” Everything else falls into place around that simple premise.
In the case of The Purge, it’s become something bigger. A fascist government controlling the population via propaganda, improving the economy by turning the social classes against one another and watching the weak, the sick, and the poor get eliminated by the wealthy, strong, and rich. There’s no need for a social safety net when there’s no one who could fall into poverty, and the preparations for The Purge have contributed to a booming economy, as gun sales and expensive security systems drive national prosperity. Think of it as an annual war economy.
For some those seeking to gain entrance into the halls of power, the big Purge parties thrown by the NFFA are a great opportunity to hob-nob with those immune from Purge worries. For others, it’s a chance to get ahead in business, despite having the deck stacked against you. And for one clever businessmen, it’s a good chance to engage in a little viral marketing with a little Purge gauntlet challenge.
That’s a clever wrinkle. We’ve seen Purge gatherings, and we’ve seen Purge parties at street level, and we’ve even seen things like the volunteer ambulance crews that go out on Purge night in an attempt to save lives, but the television series is taking the opportunity to flesh out just how The Purge—one night of chaos—would change life the rest of the year. A car dealership turning The Purge into an opportunity to move units? That’s pretty brilliant (there is a local car dealer in my area that would undoubtedly be a Purge sponsor, if his boorish and loud commercials are any indication of his moral failings). Contract killers who use The Purge as an opportunity to operate in the open one night a year? Again, that’s smart, and it makes sense in this universe that those who are good at killing would take that opening to ply their trade without repercussions, and without fear of arrest.
That the Purge represents real opportunities for career advancement is a solid concept for a storyline, and the bulk of the second episode of The Purge is weighted towards Jane and her secret quest for corporate advancement. Lest you feel sympathetic towards William Baldwin’s Don Ryker, the show sets up that he’s either lascivious towards his employees—via a lingering close-up of Jane’s backside presumably from Ryker-eye-view—and also kind of a scumbag, forcing Jane to work long, late hours on Christmas under the guise of getting an important deal squared away.
As Jane says in a pretty solid monologue from writer Thomas Kelly, little cuts add up to big stab wounds, and pretty soon you don’t even know who you are anymore. Bracka (AzMarie Livingston) could care less. To Jane, The Purge is a chance to right some wrongs. For Bracka, The Purge is a business deal like any other, and the whys don’t matter, just the whos and whats. That her Purge business will have lingering effects on her professional career isn’t lost on her snooping underlings, or so the dramatic music and tense exchange between Amanda Warren and Jessica Miesel’s Alison would have us believe. In our world, people have celebrity free-pass lists in their relationships. In this world, you have Purge lists, replacing sexual laiasons with executions.
Is hiring a Purge-assassin any less respectable than selling out your belief system and getting into business with the New Founding Fathers because you want to turn their money into something positive for the lower classes? You’re still getting your hands dirty in an attempt to right a wrong, albeit a societal wrong rather than a personal or professional one. And if people are going to go out and Purge, why not make a little money off of it by dragging participants in and televising their trip through a house of horrors? That the participant is unwilling doesn’t really matter, so long as you live up to your end of the bargain.
One of the more remarkable things about The Purge has been the way the show builds tension in conversations, rather than action sequences. The more violent moments of the show, particularly Miguel’s trip through the city, have yet to carry the tension of a simple “rifling through a desk” sequence or a conversation with two characters exchanging loaded questions with one another.
That’s not a slight against Anthony Hemingway, who puts together some great action sequences (I enjoyed the novelty of the Purge gauntlet as an infomercial), but a credit. The Purge universe tends to use violence like a punchline, the burn-off after a built-up, or as a short, sharp shock. Given that ten episodes of insane violence would be a bit too much on most viewers, the intrigue will be what sustains the series over the long haul.
Viewers have to be invested in the characters, and while Jenna and Rick have yet to really take off (they get more interesing the more they interact with Lili Simmons’ devious Lila), the writing staff has done well giving Miguel and Jane simpler motivation. Miguel wants to find and rescue his sister from a dangerous cult, a standard action movie motivation. Jane is stuck in a job where she can’t advance and isn’t appreciated by her bosses despite her competence and hard work, which is something everyone who has ever held a job has felt before.
No wonder she’s driven to kill.
For most people, that’s just a daydream indulged in the worst of employment situations. In the world of The Purge, it’s just planning for next year’s crime holiday. Jane says she doesn’t have a list, but The Purge just isn’t a chance to kill, it’s a chance to right wrongs, avenge losses, or be a hero in a world full of villains. The world is a better place for everyone when the glass ceiling is shattered and anyone can climb the corporate ranks; all that takes is hiring an online assassin.