This The Purge review contains spoilers.
The Purge Episode 3
When The Purge debuted, it wasn’t exactly full of back story about the hows and whys of the Purge. Over the years, that information has slowly been filled in by sequels and prequels, but while the genesis of The Purge was revealed in The First Purge, one question remains: how long has The Purge been a thing in this universe? Clearly, it’s been long enough to go from a novelty—needing bribes to get people to participate is a thing of the past—to an integral part of the New Founding Fathers of America’s agenda.
Miguel and Penelope have a very intimate connection to the 12-hour festival of crime, as they’re what is known in Purge-land as members of an OMF, or Original Martyr Family. During the original trial purge on Staten Island, Miguel and Penelope were unwilling participants, and it’s changed the course of their life from a very young age. Miguel is 10, Penelope is younger, and that original exposure to The Purge is what led Penelope into the life of a Purge cultist and Miguel into the life of a Purge savior, stalking the streets with a gun in hand to try and protect his sister from herself.
Conservatively, that’s 15 years of murder and mayhem on the streets of America, and the country is a far different place for it. No wonder it’s a dystopia, and no wonder people have such elaborate Purging costumes and rituals prepared. Fifteen years is definitely long enough for something to become an integral part of life and to fundamentally change life into the quasi-fascist world crafted by the NFFA. As seen in The First Purge, that night really kicked off as a chance to get a little extra judicial justice between gang members, and that tradition, such as it is, continues, both with an anonymous snitch nailed to a tree and with a NFFA-sanctioned demonstration. The centerpiece of the business meeting between Jenna, Rick, and Albert Stanton (Reed Diamond) isn’t the handshake, or the negotiation, but a summary execution of a Stanton employee for stealing copper from construction sites (which is a problem even in our current dystopia). It’s cheaper than pressing charges, after all.
That murder, plus a brief mention of joining the NFFA, triggers a melt-down by Jenna and some serious discussions between her and Rick. Their business deal is a success, should they stick with it, but they have to do some serious discussions about the kind of people they’re getting into business with. Will they sacrifice their dream, urban renewal with affordable housing, to preserve their sense of morals regarding The Purge? That moral quandary, mixed with the ominous nature of Lila’s interactions with the couple, adds some friction to the show’s slowest-building storyline.
Business dealings and interpersonal relationship drama is naturally a harder sell versus a rescue mission, but it’s building alongside Jane’s business-related Purge business. Jane has made her choice, and she’s leaning into The Purge, rather than trying to disassociate herself from the night’s opportunities. She’s just a little more hands-off than Alison, who eliminates the competition for her promotion in horrifying, bloody fashion (one of the show’s bloodier kills, though it happened off-screen). The execution doesn’t need to be shown if the aftermath is sufficiently horrible, and in this case it certainly is; Jenna’s horror is communicated by Hanna Emily Anderson’s reaction alone, but Jane’s horror comes from both Amanda Warren’s reaction and Jessica Miesel’s blasé conversation. She just killed a guy, and the first thing she asks is if she should tell HR of her promotion or if Jane is going to do it (a dagger of a line from James DeMonaco’s script).
The attitudes of the characters involve reflect their relative social status. Jenna has been able to be successful without having to get her hands dirty, but to go from successful to wealthy might require compromise. Jane tried to play the game the right way, but has to turn to The Purge to break through the glass ceiling. Alison isn’t bothering to play the game at all; she wants a promotion, and she’s willing to kill to get it, because it’s perfectly acceptable on one night of the year and why wouldn’t you if you didn’t have a moral problem with murdering someone with a pair of office scissors?
As established, there’s nothing subtle about The Purge, either on the big screen or on the small screen. DeMonaco’s script is not especially subtle, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s pulpy and entertaining. Certainly, it’s pretty convenient that Pete the Cop (Dominic Fumusa) is also a Marine and able to recognize Miguel’s forearm tattoo, but it’s also established earlier in the episode that he’s looking for a reason to help Miguel anyway, so it’s a good excuse (when combined with the Purge Gauntlet Chevelle). It’s not a surprise that someone in the NFFA would have a killing at a Purge party. It’s not terribly surprising that the two feuding underlings would end up killing one another given Alison’s open admiration of The Purge.
Sometimes, you don’t need a screwdriver. Sometimes, you need a hammer. The Purge, for all director David Von Ancken’s ability to dull the violence with creative camera movements, is a hammer. Tension holds the nail, and blood sends the point home. Even when the violence doesn’t fully break out, as in the scene in which Miguel confronts Good Leader Tavis (Fiona Dourif is absolutely brilliant), it still provides edge. Miguel is angry, but Tavis, no matter how she’s throttled or threatened, never really blinks in the face of violence—if anything, she looks excited by the prospect.
Even if she herself doesn’t help others Purge, Tavis is living by Joe’s motivational maxim. She’s making the Purge work for her. It doesn’t have to be all about killing and mayhem. For some, it’s protecting others, being a hero. For others, it’s all about power, being in charge, controlling others to the point of death. And for some, it’s just a chance to get ahead in business by getting their hands dirty. The Purge is all things to all people, either as a spectacle or a nightmare, and it’s up to you to decide what The Purge means to you.