One aspect of the Purge which none of the incarnations of The Purge have truly explored are the consequences, and this is something ‘Release the Beast’ makes a point of getting into, utilising the television format to stretch out the concept as a way of interrogating bigger sociological ideas… to an extent.
Yes, the law may allow you to ‘purge’, as part of the New Founding Fathers of America’s fascist rationale to retain the visage of a democratic iron grip of the United States, but The Purge here investigates the societal consequences. For steely office boss Jane (Amanda Warren), the contract killing of her boss on Purge Night was always a distant proposition – a death that would happen by her order but not her hand, and therefore she felt a diminished level of responsibility, and some level of justification given his previous, creepy advances.
Seeing psychotic co-worker Alison murder a colleague in cold blood because she believed he would be promoted over her snaps Jane into the reality of what she’s done, and places her character on a redemptive arc which could underpin The Purge as a series itself and it’s central question – what is America?
Right now, as The Purge also continues bouncing around a variety of different concepts like being trapped inside a demented pinball machine, America is a B-movie pulp orgy of perverse, psychotic excess on Purge Night, as we see now through displaced cultist Penny (Jessica Garza). Having been ripped from the terrifying fanaticism of the bus-bound sacrificial Purge lambs and taken into a literal Purge carnival, where people are tortured and sold once captured into being murdered by the highest bidder.
Again, this is an idea which feels like it could take up the bulk of an episode which the show fleetingly returns to, though it does at least suggest Penny may end up there a little longer than her brother ended up inside The Running Man rip off – even if we have to stomach a tedious interaction between Penny and a kindly old man to get there.
Speaking of tediousness, our flashback focus this week concerns awkward swingers Rick (Colin Woodell) and Jenna (Hannah Anderson) and how their kinky liaison with Lili Simmons rich vamp led less to a series of increasingly saucy menage a trois’ but rather Jenna embarking on a full-blown affair with their sexy friend. Believe me, this is nowhere near as interesting or even titiliating as it sounds—this isn’t Paul Verhoeven’s Purge, sadly—and it just fills in backstory you pretty much can infer from the interactions in the present day anyway. It’s looking increasingly likely that the help are going to stage a class-based ‘purge’ of their own at this exorbitant Nazi party but man they are making us wait what feels like years for it.
Yet again, the most interesting potential player in The Purge is relegated to a token couple of scenes, with the Purge Avenger continuing his soliloquising about the meaning and depth of the idea, and he suffers a wounding loss here, but why are we being made to wait before the show fully shines a light on this guy?
It’s frustrating because while The Purge continues to balance a variety of interesting ideas, what it lacks are engaging, memorable characters to invest in along the way. The show is still trying to mean something while holding back on the lunacy, and right now this continues to be its singular mistake.
Oh and by the way, it wasn’t Jon Bernthal under the mask. Booooo.
The Purge: Season 1 airs every Wednesday on Amazon Prime in the UK.