This The Purge review contains spoilers.
The Purge Episode 8
Having been writing about television for a decade at this point, I’ve seen a lot of “previously on” and “next week on” montages designed to fire up viewers about upcoming events, or remind viewers of pertinent past information. The opening reminder segment in “I Will Participate” has to be one of the best ones I’ve ever seen. Throughout this season, we’ve seen Joe riding around in a big Purge van, being a hero and saving lives, until last week he broke into the sealed home of the Betancourts and kidnapped Rick and Jenna. It was an abrupt change in the character, the kind of hard left turn that can throw a character’s previous actions into question, and the opening reminder montage of all of Joe’s behaviors over the past season puts that into stark relief. Sure, on the surface his actions seem healthy and friendly, but as it turns out, there was more than a little creepiness to them all along that I dismissed as simply social awkwardness.
As it turns out, Joe’s able to track down the people he saves not through some sort of alarm system, or dumb luck, but through a deliberate methodology. The people he’s saved from Purgers aren’t people he saved out of the goodness of his heart, but because he’s got a problem with each and every one of them. In some cases, it’s a specific personal grudge. In other cases, it’s something more akin to a grudge against society. For example, he has a personal reason to hate Jane, but he’s got a vague reason to hate Penelope, but Jane takes up the bulk of the episode, so her crimes will be discussed in greater detail.
I have to give credit to Nick Snyder, Lee Tergesen, and Amanda Warren for making the interactions between Jane and Joe as uncomfortable as possible the entire time Joe and Jane are interacting on screen. The flashback sequence—a terrible date between Jane and Joe—is much more uncomfortable than the whole part where Jane is being held at gunpoint and interrogated by Joe. It’s a misunderstanding, essentially; Jane says Joe is racist because he keeps making racist assumptions about Jane, and Joe accuses Jane of being classist by looking down on a lower-class white male from a position of financial privilege. Granted, Jane isn’t classist, and Joe is making racist assumptions, but from Joe’s perspective, you could see why he might think that. Jane pays for dinner on their date, she makes a comment about him being older than his picture on the app, and she’s not especially impressed with the restaurant chosen. She also went to college, which Joe doesn’t seem like he did.
Everyone’s had a bad date or two in their past, but this is an especially bad date, and with every foot-eating sentence Joe utters, it gets worse. Nick Snyder really cranks up the uncomfortableness of their date, and their rehashing of the date only makes things worse. Warren and Tergesen really go after one another, with Joe projecting wounded defensiveness—he’s got a lifetime of being abused by other people—and Warren projecting fury at this whole meaningless exchange. She knows that she’ll never convince Joe of the fact that she didn’t use her feminine wiles or black skin to advance in the corporate world, and he’ll never see her as anything other than a social climber with a college degree and a powerful position in finance (How they ever both matched up on a dating app is a mystery to me).
Throughout Joe’s trials, there’s a lot of raw emotion on display, especially in the flashback sequences. Joe’s high school days are appropriately pathetic, and Ernest Dickerson is careful to keep it from being funny, even when younger Joe wets himself. The date is awkward, but it’s not the amusing sort of awkward, it’s cringy and uncomfortable, and the confrontation afterward is even worse, as the two talk over one another in a display of emotion and elevated voices. Somehow, it’s worse than watching Joe execute a childhood bully or allow a fleeing escapee to run face-first into a shotgun trap, because it feels much more real than the Purge scenario does.
There’ll never be a day in which all crime is legal and sanctioned by the US government, no matter how bad things get in the States. However, racist and sexist attitudes are very real. Class friction is very real. Bullying, problems with insurance companies, all these issues are real world issues that The Purge is touching upon, and given the outbreaks of violence over these very same problems, The Purge hits a little too close to home for comfort.
The Purge has always functioned as a fun house mirror. It takes the worst issues of humankind, blows them up, and introduces violence as a solution to those problems. Increasingly, it’s a realistic solution that people are turning to in an attempt to hash out their issues, personal, social, or otherwise. Joe, Ryker, the folks manning Purge barricades… they’re all troublingly realistic, and in most cases, there isn’t a Pete the cop or Miguel around to try and save the day. Joe’s lifestyle choices echo those of a lot of spree killers and multiple murderers in the modern day, even if Joe is a little more sympathetic than most in his situation.
The Purge handles these issues tastefully, for the most part, and without delving too far into preachiness this week, but at the same time, it’s hard for something so resonant, even done tastefully, not to have serious impact. That makes “I Will Participate” even more difficult to watch than the average horror television show. It’s a little bit too real right now, even though it’s heightened.
Read and download the Den of Geek NYCC 2018 Special Edition Magazine right here!