This The Purge review contains spoilers.
The Purge Season 2 Episode 6
Nothing like a holiday break to get away from your troubles for a little while. Big meals with family, traveling, surveillance, armed assault teams, manhunts, and neighbors trying to have you killed. Just another Thanksgiving in the New America of the NFFA.
So do you think Bobby Sheridan, the pro-Purge, pro-America radio commentator who wields so much power over the lives of Americans based solely on his words and positions taken publicly, is just a radio host? Like so many other radio hosts in the United States, Bobby Sheridan (Dermot Mulroney) is a blow-hard behind a microphone, spouting out what he thinks people want to hear and encouraging confrontations between his guests for the sake of ratings. Like everyone else in this world, he’s found a way to make money thanks to the Purge, and it’s probably not all that far removed from what he would be doing if the Purge wasn’t a thing in the world.
The Purge, at its very core, represents an opportunity. We’ve seen it used throughout two seasons of the show as a way to make changes that otherwise might be scary, or that might never happen. It’s a networking opportunity for some, it’s a chance to make a year’s worth of money for others, and it’s something to try to stop for people who are against the NFFA. It’s a cultural touchstone, and no aspect of life under the NFFA is able to escape its orbit. Everything from work promotions to dating goes back to the Purge in one way or another, and it’s the central linchpin of both this show and this universe. One day a year yields a lot of power, for good and for ill. Mostly, it’s for ill.
After a cold opening full of manufactured drama, “Happy Holidays” leaps right into real thrills as police are on the campus of Cooke University to look for the killer who not only killed Andy, but who also killed a coed in brutal fashion. All they have to go on are his general build and his distinctive Purge mask. Ben is a suspect; anyone who is friends with a murdered person tends to be interviewed, but the police look at Ben very closely, and with good reason as he is very suspicious, even after he reveals that the “secret” he’s keeping from the police is his weed intake. He sneaks by one issue, and takes the bloody evidence with him upstate to visit his mother and older brother, but while he can burn bloody clothes and hide his mask, he can’t escape the guilt that’s eating him up inside.
It’s also not especially easy to escape from a NFFA hit squad in a surveillance state. Esme finds that out the hard way. Despite knowing where the cameras are and knowing where the dead spots are located, she still has to be creative to avoid detection, pulling out all the old tricks of escape: ducking into construction sites, taking hats off strangers, blending in with a crowd of sports fans, and so on until she eventually finds her way to Ryan’s dead zone apartment and manages to convince him to let her in and let her hide from the authorities.
There is a strong sense of alienation throughout the episode. Ben, Marcus, Ryan, and Esme are desperate people trapped in desperate situations, and the bigger set-pieces of the episode (Esme’s escape and evade, Marcus confronting Sam for taking a Purge hit out on him) carry a lot of tension within them that isn’t blown off in any way by Ben, as Joel Allen’s part of his little family drama—being antagonized by his screw-up older brother—feels uncomfortably close to real sibling antagonism in director Jen McGowan’s hands and in Nina Fiore and John Herrera’s script. Esme’s escape, and her being tracked by eyes in the sky and agents on the ground, has more of an adventure feel to it, mirroring a lot of similar scenes in action movies over the years, but there’s something about the interpersonal threats between Ben and his family and Marcus and his family and neighbors that adds a simmering undercurrent of queasy nervousness to things.
Ben, as we’ve seen, can snap and kill anyone at any time, and the more his brother picks at him, the more likely he is to lose his cool (the shot of him threatening his brother with a turkey cutting knife is very well done) and Ben should know by now that he’s always being watched in one way or another (further driven home by the great wide shot of him silhouetted over his burning pile of evidence). Marcus, after getting Sam to confess and drop his bounty, learns another dark secret about always being watched. When you’re being watched, you’re being judged, and just because you’re a rich, successful doctor, that doesn’t mean you’ll be welcome by your neighbors in your big house in the nice part of town—not if you have a have-not origin story and skin that happens to be a couple of shades too dark for the neighborhood. It’s a great little section of the program.
Marcus thought he had one enemy. Instead he’s surrounded by them. Esme thought she was keeping the world safe and orderly. Instead she’s part of the very force that’s keeping the world violent and dangerous. Ben thought he was going to become the victim, but instead he’s become a victimizer. Ryan thought his work would be easy, but it is becoming increasingly complicated with every additional person joining in.
Now, as the different threads begin to pull together, the world itself gets more complicated. Ryan is connected to Esme, who is connected to Marcus, who is connected to Ben, and in the background of it all, the NFFA is always watching and always waiting for one mistake, one slip, or one misplaced public appearance that might bring down their whole way of life. The Purge is built by the NFFA, and it’s the thing keeping the NFFA in power. Without that, the whole house of cards might fall down, if Esme’s secrets are big enough, and if she can live long enough to get them out into the world.