Episode One “What Is America”
Written by James DeMonaco
Directed by Anthony Hemingway
[All images courtesy Patti Perret/USA Network ]
After taking deep dives into Bates Motel, The Exorcist, and most recently Channel Zero (here at F&S and at SciFi4Me.com), I’m plunging into a weekly look at the symbolism, clues, and connective tissues of The Purge series on USA Network. The first chapter of this ten episode “TV event series” premieres September 4 on USA, with the first and last episodes simulcast on Syfy.
From a micro-budget 2013 home invasion thriller from Blumhouse Studios and writer/director James DeMonaco, The Purge series has grown into an interconnected universe of four movies. Each has been immensely profitable: The Purge grossed over $89 million dollars (US) on an estimated budget of three million. The Purge: Anarchy (2014), The Purge: Election Year (2016), and The First Purge (2018) followed in the original’s profitable footsteps to a total worldwide series total to date of over $454 million dollars (US). Bucking the usual trend from sequels, each successive movie has both improved on the box office of it’s predecessor, and widened the scope of the five-minutes-into-the-future dystopian world of The Purge.
I’m going to go through the plot developments of each particular episode as I discuss the symbolism, references, and clues I find. Admittedly, I’m a bit of newbie to The Purge Universe. I saw the first movie after catching Anarchy at our local budget theater, caught Election Year it’s first week of release, then saw The First Purge at the budget last week before watching “What Is America?”.
As a relative newcomer to the intricacies of this world, I’m impressed at the flexibility of the structure James DeMonaco, writer of all four movies and director the first three, has built into the story. The dystopia of The Purge has enough “give” in it’s basic structure to make the world expansion seem organic. Once you accept the premise, it’s as believable as the setup of similar genre films like Soylent Green, Logan’s Run, and Death Race 2000.
Now, on to the All American Carnage of “What is America?”
*Per Jason Blum, The Purge series will examine “What happens the other 364 days of the year and how the law affects people.” “What Is America?” follows three storylines as Purge Night begins.
*Miguel (Gabriel Chavarra) & Penelope Guerrero (Jessica Garza) – Former Marine Miguel searches for his sister Penelope through the chaos of Purge Night. Will he find her before she becomes the next sacrifice of a cult devoted to providing willing Purge victims? Will Penelope wake up to the reality of The Purge and try and escape before she is chosen by Good Leader Tavis (Fiona Dourif) as the next offering?
* Jenna (Hannah Anderson) & Rick Betancourt (Colin Woodell) – Invited to a Purge Night gala at the home of NFFA power couple Albert Stanton (Reed Diamond)and his wife Ellie (Andrea Frankle), Jenna and Rick hope to “use the Devil’s money” for the greater good. Their very intimate connection to the Stanton’s daughter Lila (Lili Simmons), and the “serial killer” party theme may unravel their plans.
*Jane Barbour (Amanda Warren) – Arrives at Ryker Moore Equity ready to guide her team in negotiating (and completing for a hefty bonus) a major international deal. Just before Purge Night begins, Jane slips away from the safety of the 38th floor – and the long-distance electronic eye of her boss David Ryker (William Baldwin). In a parking garage sub-basement, we find out why she’s been so jumpy all evening as Jane hands over payment to hired killer Chaka (AzMarie Livingston) for a Purge Night hit.
*When is The Purge series set? Creator/Executive Producer/Writer James DeMonaco told Vulture, “The TV show takes place between the first Purge and the last movie. We’re kind of right in the middle of all the Purge timelines, so it’s before Charlie Roan … if 20 Purges have taken place, or 15, we’re probably on the seventh or eighth in the TV show.”
*According to ScreenRant’s very helpful timeline, the New Founding Fathers of America attain power in 2014 and the first Purge takes place in 2017. Based on DeMonaco’s comment, that sets The Purge series in 2024/2025.
*By the time of the first movie, Purge Night has become the NFFA’s version of the Military-Industrial Complex Eisenhower warned us about. As ScreenRant puts it, “the event has become an accepted holiday, with much of the US infrastructure rebuilt to account for it: insurance, security and, yes, plotted murder.”
*Of course, we already know the entire premise of The Purge is a lie. Officially, The Purge exists “to push the crime rate below one percent for the rest of the year.” From The Purge: Anarchy onwards, viewers know The Purge exists to keep the NFFA elite loyal to the regime (through a Heaven’s Gate cult-like belief of The Purge as a tenant of faith and loyalty), to cull the population of those the NFFA views as a drain on society, and as noted above, to drive the US economy.
*You have to stay for the credits sequence in The First Purge (or visit the Purge TV section of the series website) to see it, but there is a nice reference a classic Political Science theory – “You pay taxes. You obey the law. That is the social contract you follow.”
Notes on “What Is America?”
*The first episode lets me know where it starts on a micro level – “5:23 97 minutes before The Purge”. I had find out from Screen Rant and Vulture when exactly the series is set in terms of what year. Some kind of establishing info would be helpful
* The ride share business has adapted to the new order with “Purge Surge” pricing.
* As Miguel drives to find his sister, a McDonalds billboard lets us know the Golden Arches exist in this dystopia.
*There’s an app for that – even if “that” is following the progress of your Purge Night hired assassin.
*Good to see Jane thinking ahead and putting on some practical shoes at work. She’ll need them after Purge Night starts.
*I wonder if the rivalry between Jane’s underlings will devolve into a Belko Experiment-esque bloodbath?
*Does Purge Night start in stages, based on time zones? It seems like a national event in the movies. Did the NFFA got rid of time zones?
*Rick hopes mentions to Jenna that “Billy Sabien” secured a deal with Stanton. Could Billy be related to Chief of Staff Arlo Sabien (Patch Darragh) from The First Purge?
*From delicious macaroons to expensive floral displays, we see the NFFA power color – powder blue – throughout the Stanton mansion. Though from Ancient Egyptians to Buddhists, it is the lotus flower, not blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) blooms, that serve as the symbol of rebirth.
*The serial killers/notorious murders chosen as masks is intriguing, speculating on why they were chosen (besides recognizability to the average viewer). Only three of of them are on this list of notorious serial killers. Jeffrey Dahmer, Lizzie Borden, David Berkowitz, Susan Atkins, the Zodiac Killer, Ted Bundy, and John Wayne Gacy.
*Jenna and Rick try to convince themselves that their “deal with the devil” serves a higher purpose. Throughout the episode, they try to convince themselves (and us, and their rideshare driver) they aren’t part of the system. Yet as we find out at the end, they are literally in bed with it. Like the venial heirs in The Twilight Zone episode The Masks, are they putting on masks to blend in, or reveal their true selves?
*The Stanton mansion is a modern day version Prince Prospero’s castle impregnable castle in The Masque of the Red Death. Prospero’s fortress turned out to be very easy for the pestilence to enter; I suspect the Stanton lockdown will prove to be equally inept at keeping the world at bay.
Next week, Episode Two advises to “Take What’s Yours”.
Until then, “Just remember all the good The Purge does.”
The Purge airs Tuesdays on USA at 10/9c.
More official images, information, and other goodies can be found here.