This review contains spoilers.
A saying has reverberated throughout season two of The Purge. What happens on Purge Night, stays on Purge Night. As we’ve seen throughout the series, that’s not exactly true. For Ben and Ryan, what happens on Purge Night has determined the very course of their lives in the wake of a pair of impulsive, desperate actions undertaken on a night in which all that sort of thing is legal. For everyone else, the axiom holds true, but they’re not the ones struggling with the consequences of the decisions made in the heat of the moment.
For Tommy, the reckless decision to go back for a bag of cash ends up getting him a death sentence according to the NFFA justice system. All of Tommy’s good works, particularly his career alongside Ryan and the rest of the gang as a dedicated cop walking the streets of New Orleans, won’t keep him from ending up in a line of people waiting to be executed at the next Purge. His impulsive actions have cost his wife and child a husband and father, and put Ryan’s gang of bank robbers into peril. They all have bills—Ryan’s mother, mortgages, children—and working a normal paying job as a disgraced cop won’t pay those bills. Ryan and company need to rob banks on Purge Night to make ends meet, because they did the right thing eight years ago in trying to bring down a drug dealer, only to get caught by their fellow (crooked) cops.
For Ben, his life isn’t altered so much by actions he chose to take, but by actions he was forced to take to protect himself from a lunatic in a God mask. He killed, and he’s so haunted and tormented by that kill, and the fact that he liked killing, he’s struggling to get back to a normal life. No amount of support from his friends or girlfriend will make that go away. Only one thing will feed that instinct, says the motivational speaker on the radio, and killing a helpless animal won’t slake that thirst. Ben, like Ryan, finds a place off of the grid, a place away from Esme and the NFFA’s surveillance organ, to hold himself over until the next Purge, lashing out on a man who gave him incorrect change. For Ryan, the theft allows him to live a normal life, but Ben’s sense of equilibrium is only restored through the shedding of blood, and it will be a miracle if he makes it to the next Purge without killing someone or ending up next to Tommy in jail.
Ben’s scenes work because of the way Tara Nicole Weyr directs Joel Allen. He’s simmering with rage at all points in his scenes, even when he’s trying and failing to act normal. He’s with his girlfriend? He looks like he’s about to kill her. He’s driving in his car? He looks like he’s about to kill. In every interaction, at every point, Ben looks like he’s ready to snap and start purging, whether he’s in a place where it’s safe or not. That menace carries through his every scene, particularly in Joel Allen’s body language when he’s standing over his sleeping girlfriend with murderous intentions on his face. He doesn’t kill her (yet), but it feels like it’s only a matter of time before his visions of stabbing become reality, particularly with the smaller, trusting partner.
Marcus and Michelle’s story works out as a reverse of Ben and his girlfriend. Marcus has every reason not to trust his wife, and to follow her as she sneaks off to a clandestine meeting, but Marcus never feels like he’s going to be violent, and Michelle never seems like she’s going to directly betray him, aside from a few strained interactions early in the episode. Derek Luke and Rochelle Aytes are simply a little too likable for that sort of thing, and that both of them were nearly killed by the Purge night assassin would suggest that her springing this as an attack on her own husband is a bit of a stretch. Not too many people are so interested in seeing someone die that they’re willing to be shot at to make it happen, and if they are, they’ll probably just do the job themselves.
That said, Jeremy Robbins does a solid job making that scene believable, and making Michelle’s reason for not bringing her husband along to therapy resonate as logical. All four major stories continue to be interesting, with lots of new wrinkles to flesh out Ryan, Esme, and the rest. Unlike the first season, there doesn’t seem to be a dud story happening quite yet, as all of them are interesting in their own way, especially after Marcus is nearly run down by a speeding van. (I guess his bounty must have gone up!)
It all ends up being very interesting material to flesh out the world of the NFFA. The justice system is no less harried than ours, if more brutal and more swift to act. The cops are somehow more corrupt and also more heroic, depending on their actions on Purge Night when freed from the shackles of laws. The surveillance state is much, much worse, but also more quick to respond to crimes as they are happening, and even before they happen in some cases. One good score can set someone up for the next year and beyond, but success in life breeds envy and leads to anonymous bounties on your head on the dark web.
The Purge universe is nothing if not a fun house mirror version of our own world, particularly in the time period between The First Purge and The Purge: Election Year. We’ve seen it start and we’ve seen it end, but that bit in the middle leaves for a lot of space for exploration, and thus The Purge‘s TV series fits in nicely. Strange that The Purge is simply framing for the events of the second season, but it’s yielding an interesting look into the reality of life under the New Founding Fathers of America and to the amount of dirty hands it takes to keep America great.
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