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TV Series Review

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

The New Founding Fathers of America would amend that statement a bit: The tree of liberty, they'd say, must be indeed refreshed with blood—just not with theirs.

As chronicled through four movies so far and, now, this television show, the ruling party of this alternate America has sponsored a national "holiday" called the Purge. Once a year for 12 hours, pretty much all crime, including (perhaps especially?) murder, is legalized. The NFFA says that it's really a corrective and cathartic night, an opportunity to shed our civilized selves and indulge in a night of unfettered passion and rage.

But the victims often aren't patriots or tyrants, but rather the poor and disenfranchised. While NFFA members and their well-heeled supporters lock themselves behind high-tech security and well-armed guards, America's working class nails plywood over its windows. The destitute, of course, can't even do that: They're on their own, taking their chances on the streets with marauders determined to spill as much blood as they can.

And that, too, is by design, if not stated quite so baldly. Whether the NFFA actually believes the country needs a night of killing for its emotional health is, perhaps, debatable; but it sure is an effective way to shorten the welfare lines.

A Bloody Business

The Purge is well established as USA's depiction of it opens in the first season. The NFFA is expecting "record participation," and most everyone's Purge-night plans are locked and loaded.

Take Albert Stanton, a rich benefactor for the NFFA. He throws a glamorous Purge party every year—one with a few surprises. While Rick and Jenna find the concept of the Purge fairly repugnant, they could hardly turn down Stanton's invitation, not when he dangles a huge donation to their nonprofit homeless initiative as a special party favor.

Rick knows that they're making a "deal with the devil," but only in an effort to make the country a little less infernal, he and Jenna rationalize. "You're taking the devil's money," Jenna tells him. "We're going to do great things with it." But the Purge's diabolical mechanizations, they learn, aren't so easily fooled.

Financial exec Jane Barber plans to spend the Purge safely ensconced in her high-rise office building with her team, working through the night on a very important deal. But that doesn't mean the Purge doesn't hold its attraction for her. After all, Jane's field can be pretty cutthroat. And when there's an opportunity to cut a few real throats to get a better office, well, what's the harm? To her, I mean.

Then there's young Penelope. She and her brother, Miguel, lost their parents to the Purge not so long ago. Afterward, she apparently lost herself in a haze of substance abuse. But she's since joined a religious movement that promises something better: meaning and serenity. Now, she's about to take the last step on her spiritual journey: offering herself up as a living, suffering sacrifice to the sin-filled killers on the streets. So Miguel's racing through those same bloody streets searching for her, trying to rescue his sister from martyrdom before it's too late.

Excess in All Its Forms

A bit like the Purge itself, The Purge franchise embraces two primary purposes for viewers.

First, it aims to serve as bloody social commentary. Using a hyper-violent hyperbole, it draws our attention to the way the poor and disenfranchised are sometimes overlooked and abused. And while the flag-draped NFFA is a fictional party, you don't need to squint too hard to see some political leanings and commentary in The Purge.

Second, the franchise wants to give its fans the bloody, bleak horror experience they've come to expect. Whatever messages The Purge arguably tries to convey are often undercut by its own bloodlust. The series, like the movies that spawned it, shocks and titillates with its overweening violence. Even as the franchise apparently stands aghast at the Purge's grotesque excesses, it wallows in those same excesses. (Funny how some cultural apologists today argue that violent entertainment provides an outlet for our bestial tendencies—a release valve, if you will—that'd otherwise show up in much worse places in real life. That's pretty much the same argument that the NFFA makes, too.)

This USA series doesn't seem quite as political as its big-screen forebears, at least early on. It seems more interested in how the Purge has impacted and corrupted society as a whole, and some of the unintended consequences it's unleashed. For example, the idea of a cult predicated on the purge—and how its members might sacrifice themselves for what they deem a "greater good"—was a narrative wrinkle I hadn't anticipated.

But, of course, the franchise can't and won't leave the trail left by its inherently bloody footprints. This USA show is predicated on wanton, indiscriminate killing, sometimes in the most violent of ways. Moreover, the fact that the network has so much more time to unpack a Purge, we get to know the characters better and their sometimes unseemly pasts. (In the inaugural episode, for instance, we see lots of graphic flashbacks to a pretty graphic ménage à trois.)

I can't say whether Thomas Jefferson was right about what it takes to fertilize the tree of liberty. But when it comes to the television of excess, it's often best not to water or feed it at all.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

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Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

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Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

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Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Oct. 30, 2018: "I Will Participate"
Sept. 4, 2018: "What Is America?"

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Gabriel Chavarria as Miguel; Jessica Garza as Penelope; Lee Tergesen as Joe; Hannah Emily Anderson as Jenna; Colin Woodell as Rick; Lili Simmons as Lila; Reed Diamond as Albert Stanton; Amanda Warren as Jane; Paulina Gálvez as Catalina; Reed Diamond as Albert Stanton; William Baldwin as David Ryker; Fiona Dourif as Good Leader Tavis; Dominic Fumusa as Pete the Cop

Director

Distributor

Network

USA

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Publisher

Released

On Video

Year Published

Awards

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