The Purge franchise, which started with a low-budget horror movie with a simple premise, has become one of the most politically-driven thriller series in recent memory. With commentary on topics related to race, to socioeconomic status and elitism, this franchise points out the grave notion that the horrors we face as Americans are often much more closer to home than we realize.
While none of the films are written without flaw, each movie within the series has given voice to the cultural anxieties marginalized people are faced with when put in dangerous situations. Now, the franchise has decided to make this topic something we think about on a weekly basis, giving us a 10-part TV series on USA Network. This television show not only digs further into what America would be like if crimes were legalized, but what it also explores what it would be like for those without access to fund protection on purge night.
Much like each film in the franchise, the show centers everyday people, and the emotions and anxieties they have as the clock ticks down to “commencement,” or the beginning of purge night. What makes the show different from the films is that we get a chance to deeply examine the moral dilemmas, and what our day-to-day would really look like if the purge did in fact exist. What is even more interesting about this show is how it brings forth the conversation about power, access and prestige, and what it means to go against your moral compass — even if it’s for just 24 hours.
In the very first episode, we are introduced to several characters, each dealing with their own personal battles that shapes how each responds to purge night. In one scenario, we are introduced to Penelope (Jessica Garza), who is a part of a purge cult that does not take part in purge the festivities, but rather is dedicated to sacrificing themselves for the sake of other purgers.
Penelope lost her parents in a previous purge, and has come to believe that by sacrificing herself, she will be reunited with them. This leads her brother, Miguel (Gabriel Chavarria) feeling powerless. He worries about the safety of both himself and his sister, who he has not seen in some time after being on tour with the Marines.
The storyline builds as we are introduced to Jane (Amanda Warren), an executive dealing with the emotions of having an ill mother. While the show doesn’t tell you much about Jane and her backstory, we quickly learn that she has hired an assassin to take out her sexist boss, despite agonizing over the decision. What makes this arc so much more appealing is knowing that Warren is a black actress, leading one of the shows main plotlines.
Next, we are introduced to Jenna (Hannah Anderson) and Rick (Colin Woodell), as they get ready to attend a purge party, an event where wealthy individuals celebrate the 12-hour killing spree. As their story unravels, we learn that they are in fact are not in favor of the purge. However, they still attend the Stanton family’s purge event, because they have a child on the way, thus are eyeing a financial investment from the Stanton patriarch. In the first episode, we see that Jenna and Rick are involved in a sexual relationship with the Stanton’s daughter Lila (Lili Simmons), but aren’t given much background into how or when this relationship began. At the end of the episode, viewers are left wondering what might happen at the purge party, now that all three are stuck in Lila’s family home.
In each episode since the pilot, we are reminded that the purge has been and continues to center on the eradication of the lower class. We can see this highlighted in episode two when Miguel is captured and put through a grueling death-defying obstacle course, where affluent people can tune in to watch as he battles for his life. Said scenario adds commentary on what the purge really means for marginalized people and how the show speaks to many of the struggles oppressed people face in society. And how often those in position of power often view the pain of marginalized people as a form of entertainment.
In addition to the show giving attention to topics related to elitism and capitalism, the show continues a much needed conversation that began in each of the films. Beyond the show’s criticism of those who hold privilege, The Purge is challenging viewers to think more critically about what it means to put trust in government and government officials. This is alluded to in episode three where we see a flashback to Miguel and Penelope’s parents making a deal with a New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) agent who assures them of their safety on purge night. In a scene where we can see them signing documents to participate in the purge experiment, we later learn that they were added to a NFFA target list to be killed by government operatives-leaving the children orphaned and even further oppressed.
Like in the movie The First Purge, this iteration of The Purge centers around the idea of what it means to be complicit in moments where you have an option to do the right thing right or inflict potential harm. While the show holds out on several secrets in the first episode, it also leaves you questioning the criminal justice system in this fictional world, particularly what it says about the issues we currently face as Americans. From critiques on religion to conversation around the buying and slaughtering of marginalized people, this series is dedicating itself to skillfully conjuring up tension, while staying true to the plots and message of the original films. The TV series also gives space to examine the various levels of our social hierarchy, and the roles we all play in the game of life. In addition to this commentary, the show reveals the superficial hollowness that exists within politics, and how social Darwinism continues to reward the rich and execute the poor, both figuratively and literally.
Like its film predecessors, the TV show, often challenges us as the viewers to check in with our own value systems. While challenging our moral compass, the show also challenges viewers to think about true injustices happening in real-time, specifically the killings of marginalized people and how often the justice system rarely seems to work in their favor.
Given the timing of the TV show’s release coupled with the success of the past three films in the franchise, The Purge has been set up to achieve success. Beyond the provocative thriller’s creepy, yet interesting premise, the show is critical of the current state of America, and the direction we are going as a country — especially considering how a former reality TV personality has somehow now been voted into the highest political office in the U.S. there is. While some might think of the show as a violent satire, it seems to be right on par with the times we are all living in, and the direction that our own government seems to be going in.
The Purge airs Wednesdays on USA.