What is America? (E01) & Take What’s Yours (E02
Starring: Gabriel Chavarria, Hannah Emily Anderson, Colin Woodell, Amanda Warren, Jessica Garza, Lili Simmons, William Baldwin, Paulina Gálvez, Jessica Miesel
Director: Anthony Hemingway (Episodes 1, 2)
Writers: James DeMonaco (Episode 1), Thomas Kelly (Episode 2)
Reviewed by Sidney Morgan
This review CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
The Purge, first released in 2013, presented viewers with an original and interesting idea. Once a year, the Founding Fathers (the new American government) open a twelve-hour window during which all crimes are legal. Anyone can kill, hurt, maim, steal and so on, with absolutely no consequences. Their benevolent argument is that it’s all in the name of reducing the national crime rate. It’s a disturbing and terrifying idea, but the movie was a success! Three sequels were made, each enjoying great box office returns, especially when compared to their production budget. So it makes sense to see the property be adapted for television. But does it work?
The building blocks of The Purge stories are quite simple. There are assailants who are given the legal right to commit crimes, victims who suffer the consequences of the crimes, and neutrals who are neither. In some cases, the victims and assailants don’t know one another. However, in other cases they do. And assessing someone to be an assailant or victim or neither isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Recall that any crime is legal during those twelve hours, including murder and murder for hire. This is what allows the franchise to build suspenseful stories because whether a character is purging or not can be kept secret. Motivations to commit a crime can be deeply rooted, and whereas the movies have an hour and a half or so to explore this, the television show has almost ten hours to develop them. And after two episodes, it’s safe to say the adaptation is off to a great start.
Three concurrent storylines develop over these first two episodes. The first involves Miguel (Gabriel Chavarria), a marine who receives a message from his sister. Their parents were killed during one of the purges, after which she spends some time in a hospital. When Miguel arrives to have her released, he’s too late. Penelope (Jessica Garza) has already left and is now a member of a cult, one that prepares its members to be offered to purgers, to help them absolve their sins. And Penelope is quite the prize! Given what happened to her parents, she’s practically deified.
So, on purge night, these sacrificial lambs, or suckers, depending on your point of view, are aboard a bus driving around the city, dropped off one at a time for the ’cause’. But as the remaining members watch their ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ be slaughtered, violently assaulted and killed, their will and determination to continue to diminish rather quickly. Meanwhile, Miguel races to find his sister before she’s sacrificed, all the while coming up against his own purge night obstacles.
The second story involves Jenna (Hannah Emily Anderson) and Rick (Colin Woodell), a married couple, who are climbing up the social ladder. They have a business idea and are looking for investors. On purge night, they’re invited to and attend a pro-purge party which boasts a number of very wealthy attendees (ie. investors). Jenna appears highly uncomfortable to be among this elite, but also because of Lila (Lili Simmons), a woman who’s come between her and Rick before. Though Lila assures them that the past is behind them, she doesn’t seem to be done with them yet. Drama, drama, drama.
And the third story involves Jane (Amanda Warren), a financier who’s promised to make partner because of her excellent work at the firm. However, that promise is never fulfilled. The glass ceiling she’s come up against is her boss and CEO of the company, David (William Baldwin), even though he appears to be a big supporter.
On purge night, Jane and her team decide to spend the night at the office to complete an important deal. Security is provided, and the floor they work on is apparently secure. But Jane has a secret, a plan to break the ceiling. Recall that murder for hire is perfectly legal on purge night… Will David be as easy a target as Jane believes? And what about her team? Some of them have their own little secrets and chips on their shoulders. I wonder how secure that office will be. It should make for an interesting night!
The actors behind the main characters are doing a great job. But their performances and storylines are helped by the strong cast of supporting actors. Standing out so far is Paulina Gálvez as Catalina, one of the waitresses working for the elitist pro-purge party. There seems to be a connection building between her and Jenna that hints at some future assistance Catalina may provide. There’s also Jessica Miesel who plays Alison, one of the members on Jane’s team. After snooping and finding out Jane’s secret, her interactions are cryptic, yet hint that she too, may be involved in purge night.
The action happens primarily indoors, except for Miguel’s arc. This makes the acting all the more important, because while indoors, the focus is on the story and the interactions between characters. However, once outside, the chaos of purge night is on full display. The madness on the streets is similar to that witnessed in the movies. Victims are being shot, slaughtered using axes and golf clubs, and even burned alive. But being restricted by the medium, the showrunners have adapted quite well. Various methods are used like cutting a scene at the moment of impact, using shadows to show the brutality of an assault, using heat maps (like in Predator), or even panning away from the action and leaving only the sounds. It’s well done, allowing The Purge to keep the violence as in the movies, but also to get it passed the censors.
The Purge has been remarkably well adapted for television. All of the elements that made the movies successful are present, and more. Drama, action, revenge, betrayal, twists and of course, violence and mayhem, are all present. The intrigue created in the first few episodes is strong enough to make one want to tune in for subsequent episodes. There are plenty of questions that need answers. Will Jane succeed? Or, is David one step ahead of her? Will Lila get what she wants and will it affect Jenna and Rick’s business proposal? Will Miguel find Penelope before it’s too late, or will he also be a victim of the purge? If you’re a fan of the movies, you will find yourself in familiar territory. If you’re new to this franchise, the great storylines will get you hooked and keep you coming back.