The second episode of The Purge’s translation to television begins with a reminder of the title of the first episode and the key question which underpins the entire concept of the show, and the franchise – what is America?
Horror and speculative alternate future fiction always take a reflective cue from the age in which they are made, whether it’s the Red Scare of Invasion of the Body Snatchers in the 50’s to the teen slasher genre Halloween birthed in the wake of a depressed, cynical 70’s. The Purge is no different and ‘Take What’s Yours’ continues the blend of unsubtle social commentary and pulp thrills which characterise James DeMonaco’s creation.
Thomas Kelly’s script both giveth and taketh away in the same breath here, as the most interesting aspect of the story comes and goes in a quick flourish. Earnest ex-Marine Miguel (Gabriel Chavarria), as he continues his search through the streets of LA for his cult-indoctrinated sister, finds himself unwittingly dragged into ‘The Gauntlet’ – an annual Purge game show broadcast by a sadistic host named Otis in which the player has to survive a series of assaults to win, live and as it turns out, speed off in a shiny new Mustang. Yeah, I know – The Running Man, right? The Purge isn’t even coy in trying to emulate Paul Michael Glaser’s cult 80’s slice of Schwarzenegger schlock, both in concept and visuals.
It’s just over all too quickly. Miguel lurches away from a few machete-swirling bad guys, crawls through a few vents, takes an arrow to his arm he barely notices, and then he’s away. This is an example of how The Purge is having trouble settling; the storytelling right now is like an excitable child, seeing all the toys laid out on the table and jumping from one to the other to the other. Miguel already feels like a pinball character, more of a vessel for the writers to throw into all kinds of situations in the wider Purge world that they can’t do with landlocked characters like frustrated office bod Jane (Amanda Warren) or ‘polite’ society darlings Rick & Jenna (Colin Woodell & Hannah Anderson).
The problem is that the show is in danger of rushing through interesting ideas within the Purge bracket without giving them full due. Miguel thrown inside a twisted Purge game show, watched by the elites, could have formed the basis of an entire 45 minutes, yet it’s just tossed away. It’s a shame because you could really have fun with that. And fun needs to be the byword if The Purge is really going to blossom. All the Rick & Jenna and their latent threesome guilt is taking itself a touch too seriously for comfort, while Jane’s angst at planning to kill her boss David (an ageing William Baldwin) needs to go somewhere. The Purge should let loose and allow itself to be a gonzo riot like those few scenes of Miguel running the Gauntlet.
What we may get is The Purge instead tapping into the flashback device in order to flesh out character, as it does here with Jane and her boss, and while that’s fine and dandy and can of course contextualise certain relationships and dynamics, what would you rather see as a viewer? An episode filled with Miguel & his sister Penny’s backstory, or Miguel being ran down by maniacs wielding chainsaws as they exercise their quasi-political right to all-American freedom?
The Purge as a concept is hyper-real bonkers theatre and the show, while entertaining, pulpy fluff at this point, would do well embracing that for all it’s worth.
The Purge airs on Amazon Prime every Wednesday in the UK.