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'The Purge' is a Worrisome Choice to Air in Such Uneasy Times
September 4, 2018  | By David Hinckley

Most people agree that the way to enhance the quality of life on Earth doesn’t involve thinning the herd.

Those who disagree include the Marvel Comics character Thanos and the characters in The Purge, a hit film franchise that becomes a TV series on USA starting Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET.

The heavily promoted TV version, whose first season will run 10 episodes, continues the practice of the four movies by introducing a lot of new characters. And not only because the old ones are dead.  

The philosophical center, of course, remains constant. The Purge is set in a future America that every year hosts a 12-hour period during which “all crime, including murder,” becomes legal. Think of it as a sales tax holiday for homicidal maniacs. 

The rulers of this new order, the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA), argue that this is a necessary release for natural human aggression. By letting people follow their hearts for this one night, free from pesky government regulation, the NFFA says all other crime has gone way down. With so many fewer people, so has unemployment.

Mainly, though, The Purge is promoted as a cleansing of the American soul, a bracing shower after which everyone feels new and refreshed.

Just happy to be alive, you might say.

In response to your first question, yes, several Purge boosters declare that it makes America great.

In response to your second question, the TV rendition of The Purge is less graphic than it could be. Murder tends to be a quick process here, without a lot of blood spatter.

That said, the skies over The Purge are leaden. Rays of light poke through here and there, but most people have accepted, however reluctantly, that this is the new normal.

In fact, it may be a tossup as to which group is the most disturbing here: the psychopaths who live for this annual night of ultraviolence, the protected, exempt elite who promote it, or the people in the middle, most of whom have concluded that if they can protect themselves and their families for these 12 hours, they’ll shrug off the consequences for those who can’t.

After all, the NFFA did make the streets safer for 364½ days a year, and the economy is better.

As villains, though, the jacked-up killers in the streets don’t come close to the power elite of the NFFA, who treat this slaughter as a form of entertainment. They watch it on television from the comfort of their barricaded ballroom and congratulate themselves on having made it all possible by skillfully exploiting the fears of those who in reality are their victims.  

Logically enough, The Purge makes its points by dramatizing the stories of individuals.

Miguel (Gabriel Chavarria, top), a Marine, is racing the clock to find his sister Penelope (Jessica Garza, above), who has serious issues of her own. Their parents were killed in an earlier Purge.

Jane Barber (Amanda Warren) has reached a breaking point in her professional life, and while she has lived her life by the book, The Purge tempts her to consider extreme measures.

Rick (Colin Woodell) and his wife Jenna (Hannah Emily Anderson) would love to help end The Purge but fear their only avenue might be subversion from inside. Their morally fragile plans are complicated by the mysterious and privileged Lila (Lili Simmons), who also introduces sex into the Purge Night picture.

Not all the details about The Purge itself seem totally clear. Cops, firefighters, and EMS workers are supposed to be out of the picture on Purge Night, yet some volunteers have immunity to tend to the wounded. Also blurry: the scope of permissible crime. Explosive weapons are nominally banned, but who’s out there to know or enforce that ban? Sex crimes are largely sidestepped, at least in the early hours of the show. Is rape legal? Child molestation? Would that get a round of applause on the Jumbotron in the NFFA ballroom?

Meanwhile, the TV Purge devotes considerable time to what seems at first like an eerie side drama. A cult-like group of young people has been convinced by a creepy leader named Tavis (Fiona Dourif, above) that it is the greatest act of love to offer themselves to bands of brutal killers on Purge Night. The killers, needless to say, are happy to oblige.  

The first thing many viewers will notice about this group is that they dress in monk-like robes with headwear that’s exactly the same, except for the color, as the costumes required of subjugated women in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Combined with The Purge’s obvious kinship to The Hunger Games, it seems many visions of a dystopian American future have points of intersection.

Still, the self-sacrificing cultists here seem a little off-key. The motives and responses of most other characters, while disturbing, doesn’t seem quite so counterintuitive to the human instinct for survival.

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