This review of The Purge contains spoilers.
The Purge Season 1 Episode 5
The New Founding Fathers, at least those high up enough in the organization, have granted themselves immunity from The Purge. I would assume that this doesn’t cover the Stanton family, given their relatively small time status in the grand scheme of things, but I wonder. Purge night has a surprising amount of rules for a night that has no rules. What happens to those that break them? If you’re an anti-NFFA organization, like the roadblock set up in earlier episodes to keep NFFA tourists out of a poor neighborhood or an armed group of revolutionaries like the ones that smash their way into the Stanton compound in the very exciting finale of “Rise Up,” who exactly is going to stop you from doing whatever you want to whoever you want?
And, more importantly, how do you convince one of these groups you’re not a part of their target audience when you look the part?
The Purge debuted with a bag, rattling off an impressive debut episode, followed up with successive episodes more or less of good-to-great quality, with varying story lines having varying levels of interest. Miguel has been the character that I’ve enjoyed following the most; he’s got a pretty familiar Purge plot line, and Gabriel Chavarria, Jessica Garza, and Fiona Dourif have all been putting in interesting work with what they’ve been given. That doesn’t change this week, especially after a stellar action sequence involving Miguel and Christopher Berry’s Rex.
However, one of the slower-developing plots gets very interesting this week, as the philosophical debate between Rick and Jenna regarding the morality of The Purge gets made into a literal, physical confrontation, as the picked-on minority literally takes up arms to rise up against the NFFA, with Catalina (Paulina Galvez) and company throwing open the doors and allowing the Stanton castle to be stormed in a hail of gunfire and a symphony of screaming.
Like most things Purge, it’s implied more than shown, but it’s handled very well by Julius Ramsay. There doesn’t need to be a lot on screen, a bunch of people with flashlights and guns running across the lawn is sufficient, particularly when that’s emphasized by a few bloody extras in cocktail attire piled up by the staircase, blocking Rick and Jenna’s escape via the front door. Thankfully for Jenna, her kindness towards Catalina is going to be repaid, though I have doubts about how far two people in fancy dress are going to get on Purge night, even with Rick’s dagger.
That inversion, the privileged hunters becoming the helpless hunted, also plays out—albeit on a much smaller scale—in Rex’s trip to the auction block at the Carnival of Flesh. Miguel pulls a gun on him, he pulls a gun on Miguel, violence is exchanged, and in the end, Rex finds himself in the back of his pickup and sold for cash to the traders, giving Miguel his access to the carnival, just in time to find his sister about to be burned on a pyre by her vengeful ex-boyfriend Henry (Dylan Arnold). It’s a well-constructed fake-out; it seems like Miguel is going to save the day, then as he’s rushing to his sister’s aid he gets tackled by security. Henry’s back story with Penelope and Miguel fleshes out the scene, and it feeds both his revenge fantasies and into the ongoing thread that The Purge is merely legalized violence against women and the less powerful, further thrown into focus by the Matron Saints saving a woman from an abusive partner, and all have similar victim stories.
From a storytelling standpoint, it’s nothing new, but Jamie Chan’s script practically oozes with venom, both in terms of the way the Matrons decide to punish those that harm women on Purge night and with the way Henry recounts his relationship with Penelope. Two sides of the same twisted coin, perhaps? Jane would agree; she finds the whole “disfiguring someone rather than sending them to jail” bit to be distasteful, owing to her attempts to stop her Purge assassin from finding her target. Both parties want revenge for wrongs, be they real wrongs or imagined wrongs; there’s not a purity of purpose like that found in Joe, who seems (for now) to only want to help people without any sort of ulterior motive.
The Matrons are certainly much more morally pure than Henry, but it’s a question of taking the law into your own hands on a night that is lawless that seems to bother Jane more than the actual disfiguring. Despite her actions, she’s a right-and-wrong person, and when confronted with the reality of how wrong the Purge is, she turns against it and by extension her actions. I wonder how she’d feel about executing a whole party of NFFA donors and hangers-on, or how she’d feel about people voluntarily giving themselves up to be Purged in an effort to clean the country’s sins.
Murder is still murder, even when it’s for a good cause. Murder is still murder, even when it’s in the service of saving the soul of America. Murder is still murder, even when one party volunteers to be murdered with a blissful smile and a chanted mantra.