This The Purge review contains spoilers.
The Purge Episode 4
One of the smartest things that The Purge has done is avoid the specter of sexual violence on Purge night. It’s people out for blood, not people out to rape or maim. The Purge isn’t necessarily a classy film series, but that’s a nice touch to keep it out of the muck of exploitation movies and into something a little more palatable for modern sensibilities. Rape as a movie trope was much more prevalent, and acceptable, in the grimy grindhouses of the ’70s, not the clean multiplexes of the 2010s.
The Purge television show, four episodes in, decides to not ignore that. Instead, they lean into it, creating an all-female defense squad who rides around in an RV on Purge night to protect women from would-be rapists and murderers. Given the prevalence of rape and sexual assault in this post #metoo world, on a night where all crime is legal? Undoubtedly there’d be rapes and violence against women (and men, and animals, and anything that could be caught, more than likely), but the figures for Purge violence against women given by the Matron Saints seem disturbingly plausible. (Given that Jane’s Purge assassin is a woman who says that no one would expect her to be a killer, that’s just further evidence that women are more likely to be seen as victims than victimizers.)
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Miguel is so desperate to find his sister. He knows she’s involved in something strange, and he knows that on Purge night, she’s much more likely to find trouble than she is every other night of the week—according to the Matron Saints, crime is almost nonexistent the rest of the year, giving women like Penelope a false sense of security—which is a terrible confluence of events. For the enterprising Purge-assassin or crazed cult leader, the Purge is an opportunity that can’t be passed up, regardless of gender. For Penelope, Jane, and other women unlucky enough to venture out on Purge night, they’re just targets.
Then again, on Purge night, everyone’s a target, judging by the wares for sale at the Carnival of Flesh.
The Carnival of Flesh is one of the most impressive set-pieces on television this year. It feels like a bit of a Rob Zombie picture, albeit one sedate by his standards. It’s a dizzying affair of masks, fried food vendors, neon, bright lights, and carnival rides, all capped off with a bunch of kidnapped people trapped within cattle chutes. The introduction of the murder carnival is handled perfectly; essentially, it’s a place where people with historical murder fetishes can indulge their interest in the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, or caveman-style bludgeoning for the low, low price of whatever handful of cash the captured victims of the Carnival might go for at auction. That could be anywhere from $2000 to $40, depending on the desirability of the captive.
Young, attractive girls go for much more than senile old men.
Full credit to director Clark Johnson, because the Carnival is wholly disturbing. It’s cut quickly, deliberately confusing, as a whirl of people doing horrible things crosses the screen. Nothing lingers for very long, but the overall effect is perfectly chaotic. It’s like a street fair combined with an auction combined with a meat packing plant; it’s a great execution of the idea, and it evokes very specific smell memories (old grease, sweat, copper) without the aid of smellovision. Jane’s alleyway stumble isn’t handled as deftly, because it’s a lot more familiar. Someone stumbling down an alley lit with trash-can fires, a last-second rescue. It’s handled well, and it’s paced well, but it’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before.
One thing to be said for the Purge formula, such as it is, is that it makes exposition a little bit easier, and Krystal Houghton Ziv’s script takes advantage of that. After the rescue, as the Matron Saints tend to Jane, they get to flesh out the world of The Purge and explain their mission. When Rex (Christopher Berry) takes Miguel to the Carnival of Flesh, it allows both Rex to expand his character, Miguel to fill in back-story on himself and his life after the death of his parents, and explain just how people turn The Purge into a business opportunity in this new economy. It’s not all assassins or infomercials; there’s also kidnapping schemes! After all, it’s legal one night a year, and clearly it’s also a very lucrative business, if Rex’s lack of a day job can be taken as evidence.
It’s an interesting twist to the character. Thus far, Pete the Cop has been helpful, and on the positive side of the morality spectrum. Rex, as thumping and muffled yelling comes from the back of his pickup, is more gray. He’s helping a character we like, but he’s also sentencing people to death via the Carnival. Miguel is clearly conflicted by this reveal (kudos to Gabriel Chavarria for the performance, which sells it completely) but he’s not in any position to turn down help from anyone.
No doubt Rex has a lesson to illustrate that point, too. His third major point, about how living your dream doesn’t come cheap, ties in nicely to Rick and Jenna—who are worrying over whether or not to take NFFA money to build mixed-income housing—and to Joe. Rick and Jenna have to decide whether their dreams, and helping others, would be worth making moral compromises. Joe’s urge to help others comes at a huge psychic price when he fails to save the people he’s trying to protect. Joe won’t remember the ones he’s saved, but he’ll remember the dead shopkeepers he didn’t. Jenna might not ever meet the poor she could be helping with Lila’s father’s money, but she’ll definitely remember the man she saw Stanton shoot in front of her.
The Purge has clearly been great for the NFFA and for the United States. Crime is impossibly low. The economy is booming. Both of these things are great things, but is it worth the cost? The nation surrendered its soul and humanity for a temporary bump in gun sales. Joe saves lives, but at what cost? He’s clearly unstable, and doesn’t seem to have any life outside of one night of playing a metal-faced hero. Jane will shatter the glass ceiling, but at what cost? She’s lost face at work (Alison will definitely tell everyone) and may lose her life trying to cancel her deal. Rick and Jenna revived their marriage, but at what cost? They’ve brought a dangerous person into their lives.
Every action has a trade-off, and compromises must be made. Either your dreams get smaller or your morals get sidelined in this world. One night a year where everything’s legal leads to 364 days of consequences.