This The Purge review contains spoilers.
The Purge Season 2 Episode 9
Finally we come to the main event. Judging from what we’ve seen in American society in a post-NFFA world, it’s not just the highlight of a series of television or the centerpiece of a series of successful movies, it’s the highlight of the calendar. It’s like a second Christmas, right down to the television specials and shopping event, and it’s as important to their calendar as any other holiday might be to ours. The show opens with a children’s television special discussing The Purge, and it ends with the reveal that the child watching on TV is none other than a younger version of Ben, the frat boy killer who has taken the message of The Purge to heart after a traumatic experience.
The show has taken great pains to show both sides of The Purge. For every Purge tourist or Purge party barge, there’s a dead parent and child, or a burning home, or someone shown as living through past Purge traumas in the aftermath. Even for people who are objectively good, or doing good things, The Purge is still more of a traditional evil than a necessary evil, assuming you aren’t just a bargain-basement thrill-seeker undertaking a tour of the city in a tactical pickup, looking for some sort of queasy thrill by raking a fleeing van with gunfire or coming after a woman with a machete, both of which happen to Esme at various during “Hail Mary.”
She’s far from the only person being harassed. It’s Purge night, everyone’s getting harassed. Centrally, Marcus tries to resolve his issues with Clint through a couple of different creative methods. He’s a doctor, after all; one of the tenets of the Hippocratic oath is to do no harm, and Marcus takes that quite literally (when he’s not breaking his son’s arm with a pipe wrench). It’s smart thinking on his part, and to watch him and Clint engage in a battle of wits makes for good television, more so than just a bog-standard action showdown. Derek Luke approaches his scenes with David Maldonado with a controlled, quiet grief; he’s as shaken up over the accidental death of Clint’s wife as he can be given his life-or-death job, and the life-or-death situation he’s been put into because of Clint’s grief. For his part, Maldonado does a good job of selling the fake-out; it seems like he’s buying Marcus’s rationale, until he suddenly pulls a ceramic knife out of his combat vest and stabs Michelle in the chest with it.
Granted, that’s not a new scenario, but the actors make it believable, and Marcus has had such good luck with defusing unpleasant situations before that it feels like he just might be able to talk his way out of this one as well. That he doesn’t is an interesting turn of events, and it’s enough to get the others in his neighborhood to turn against Clint’s mission of vengeance and at least stop trying to aggressively attack their neighbor and allow him and his friends to leave the house to seek medical treatment for Michelle at a Purge pop-up trauma center.
That’s a fun wrinkle in Nina Fiore and John Herrera’s script; Marcus almost successfully talks his way out of trouble, only to get himself into worse trouble as a result. Ben feels like he almost successfully recruits Turner into his murder party, only for Turner to escape and force Ben to confront a pack of Campus Killer acolytes. Esme is forced to escape from trouble to get herself into the hottest of hot seats, and Ryan has to alter his plan yet again when it turns out that one of the people at the NFFA prisoner murder party is none other than the rich guy whose house he broke into. Everyone has to turn to plan B at certain points in this episode, but everyone sticks with it, because there aren’t a lot of other options. Ryan should be next to Tommy in the Most Dangerous Game lineup, Esme is a wanted criminal, Marcus has to leave the house to save his wife, and Ben’s gone fully crazy and will be executed if Turner can reveal his crimes to the always-watching NFFA.
Everyone is pushed to do something they’re not really interested in doing, because that’s the nature of The Purge. It’s chaos, even for someone as cool-headed as a heart surgeon or a professional criminal. All plans go out the window on Purge night, because Purge night isn’t about rational thinking, it’s about chaos and id run rampant. It’s letting out feelings, as the cold opening suggests, and feelings are rarely ever rational.
The pleasures of The Purge, as a night and a property in general, are venal, and Gigi Saul Guerrero emphasizes that. “Hail Mary” is heavily weighted towards set piece scares—like Ben getting stalked through the cemetery by a group of people wearing his mask—which are what horror fans are specifically looking for. Tension is necessary to make horror work, and the episode is loaded with tension in all four story lines. The cemetery stalking, where Ben goes from hunter to hunted, is particularly effective, as he thinks he’s found a group of allies who only see him, the actual Campus Killer, as just a potential target. Their choice of his mask isn’t because they approve of his choices, but because they just think it’s cool. These aren’t kindred spirits or copycats, they’re just generic Purgers looking to have some fun and get some kicks picking on the weak solo traveler.
Ben tries to convince the crowd that he’s one of them, and he fails, because he’s not one of them. They’re a group, a group that is hunting as a group, and he’s just one guy wandering through a cemetery. Just because they share a mask that doesn’t mean they’re companions. Just because they live in a neighborhood, that doesn’t mean they’re neighbors. Give people a reason to in this universe, and they’ll Purge you. It doesn’t even have to be a good reason.
Sometimes, as Ryan says, it’s just the wrong place at the wrong time.