This is a US review. The Purge season two UK release date on Amazon Prime Video is to be confirmed.
This review contains spoilers.
2.1 This Is Not A Test
James DeMonaco and company have slowly been filling in all the gaps regarding The Purge. We’ve seen how it ended, and we’ve seen how it has begun, but one of the few things that hasn’t been revealed is what happens on the other 364 days in between Purges. The focus has been on the killing and mayhem, but what happens during the hangover period? That’s the question that season two of The Purge seems to be focusing on, offering up an all-new cast of characters and discussing just how they deal with all that time when you aren’t allowed to kill anyone who bothers you.
This Is Not A Test doesn’t open in the wake of the Purge, but in the waning hours of the yearly event. Thus far, all we’ve seen of the end of the Purge is relieved people wiping blood off themselves, but now, thanks to a peek into the offices of the NFFA’s surveillance arm, we see just how the Purge ends and just how crimes that take place after the sirens go off are punished. That punishment, so it appears, is death, and any breaking of Purge rules also means death for the person involved in breaking the rules.
Of the four story lines that make up this year’s edition of The Purge, the tale of Esme (Paola Nunez) and corporate intrigue inside the NFFA surveillance wing is one of the most interesting directly out of the gate. It’s a glimpse inside the workings of the machine, and it allows for a lot of fill-in regarding just how the end of the Purge works.
For example, so long as you’re on public property when the Purge sirens end, your Purge crime goes unpunished. That’s a loophole that Ryan (Max Martini) will use to his advantage, but one that will undoubtedly trap the more careless members of his group. Anyone caught using Class V weapons during the Purge are facial scanned and marked for execution. Any government officials high enough to be exempt from the Purge are similarly marked and tracked by the omnipresent surveillance state watching on Purge night (and providing news networks with their programming).
That Esme’s angle seems strongest initially isn’t giving short shrift to the other three stories in Krystal Houghton Ziv’s strong script. Ryan and his bank robbers are interesting, since they show Purge participants from a new angle—these aren’t pleasure-seekers, these are people who are trying to make a profit on Purge night while maintaining professionalism. Marcus (Derek Luke) and Michelle (Rochelle Aytes) being stalked prior to Purge night will undoubtedly be interesting as it plays out, as it seems that Marcus has enemies out in the world and they might not be willing to wait between Purges to get their revenge.
Ben (Joel Allen) and his frat bro Purge night scavenger hunt is the least interesting of the four, but that’s not to the fault of anyone involved; seeing Ben’s recovery from the trauma he experienced is still the kind of thing that, if handled well, will make for compelling television of a more emotionally resonant type than the more escapism-centred bits scattered around it, if being stalked and almost murdered counts as escapism.
The acting throughout is solid, and Tim Andrew has always been a reliable hand in the director’s chair, both with actors and with the general feel and tone of an episode. The bank robbery and most of the NFFA surveillance office feels appropriately businesslike, despite a few loose cannons and the occasional personal connection making things hairy at times. The home invasion scenes, long The Purge‘s bread and butter, are very tense, and Derek Luke has a great scared face during these scenes. Ditto Ben’s trip to the suicide bridge; it’s a bad idea to go out on Purge night for this, but he’s peer pressured into it by his fellow frat brothers and promptly abandoned when he gets into trouble during the return trip.
The trap that Ben falls into is a lot of fun, and the various scenes of carnage shown on the NFFA monitors are all horrifying in different ways, from the thermal image of a guy running over a dead body to the various other crimes shown happening on the screens all around the office workers, who seem to brush most of this off as part of the cost of doing business.
Tim Andrew’s use of surveillance camera footage as a way to cut into a scene is pretty clever, and there seems to be a solid balance between people trying to do a job and people in peril for various reasons. Strangely, the most horrifying thought isn’t the person trying to break in to shoot Marcus, but the fact that the person had been stalking him throughout the year, learning his habits and figuring out the best way to get past his Purge defences.
There’s a certain callousness about it all that sells the concept; this is just life in this version of the United States, and you either deal with it or it deals with you. That a Purge murder could be anything other than random shakes Marcus and Michelle in a way that just a random killer wouldn’t. That’s a reality in this world. Esme’s friend being murdered in the street by people searching for some mystery file? That’s shaking her in a way that years of random murders haven’t.
It’s strange how that works from a psychological standpoint. Random violence is one thing, but personal, targeted violence is something else entirely in this world, and that’s the kind of violent exposure that changes someone’s life, and mysteries are always a good seed to plan in the first episode of a series. It’ll pay off eventually, but hopefully it won’t take another 364 days for it to play out.