The fast-paced season finale took place exclusively in the last forty-eight minutes of The Purge. Episode 10 ‘A Nation Reborn’ was Lunchbox Joe’s opus with a guest appearance by Pete the Cop and Miguel.
How fitting that the ten-episode event ended last night, not with a whimper but with a bang(or a squish to the eye in Joe’s case). I have to be honest I did not have high hopes for this prime time television version of The Purge. It was on a cable channel which helped but it was USA not HBO, where anything goes. We were wrong. The Purge was pretty darn good. In large part because of a couple of really good small performances by Lili Simmons(Lila) and William Baldwin(David), and a stand out display by Lee Tergesen who brought so much realism and honesty to Lunchbox Joe we could easily see our own neighbor who got laid off after working at Harley Davidson for thirty years or the guy sitting next to us on the bus with sack lunch firmly in hand. That’s the dirty little secret of The Purge. It’s not far-fetched at all. We could be just a scant few years from something this obscene happening. Looking at murder rates for some of our cities it might be even closer than we think.
In last night’s episode, bit players came and went, adding just enough flies to the ointment to kill off Rick and watch the end of the Carnival of the Flesh ringleader. Proving stupid is as stupid does Rick thought he could take a gaggle of his goons and best the well-trained ex-marine duo of Miguel and Pete. Guess again, buddy. Paige whose only contribution seemed to be as hostage stand-in and door tester got blown up before we even got her backstory. All of that paled in comparison to the genesis of a crazy nationalist.
Joe was a made man. Molded and formed by each injustice and slight. Tergesen’s portrayal was so spot on it was eerie. His incredible work on Oz as Tobias Beecher laid the groundwork for his performance. His Beecher went into prison as one man and through horrible experiences became something altogether different just as Joe morphed from a kind gentle man to a single-minded zealot. After a business deal gone very wrong with Rick left Joe begging for another chance we saw the birth of Lunchbox Joe with all his indignation and impotence. The proverbial straw that broke the camels back, this contract and the ensuing shambles of his career were the catalysts for the vengeance-seeking dude we have come to fear.
Jenna has a “come to Jesus” moment that when Rick and Jenna decided to take the Stanton’s money they doomed themselves. Rick also admits to cheating Joe out of his contract. With some ill-timed justification he says it was kill or be killed, cheat or be cheated and he was not going to be a rube like his parents. As you can imagine this did not go over all that well with Joe. We get to meet the ugly twin to determination…desperation. Doggedness drives you to work harder, longer than anyone else and never give up. Even when you are tired and miserable and feeling less-than, desperation leads you to despair and ugly acts. Both Rick and Joe chose desperation and they are on the same side of the coin without even knowing it.
Jenna, who has been complacent until now is forced to make a decision. Save herself and purge Rick or have Joe kill them both. Ultimately, she needs to save her child and after apologizing for her indiscretions with Lila she pulls the trigger. Joe is not done with them though and the weapon is not loaded. He tells Jenna a deal is a deal and she is safe. As that act concludes Penelope takes matters into her own hands and uses a screw from the cage meticulously put together by Joe, to hold Paige hostage. This ruse has the desired effect on Joe who immediately tries to stop Penelope. What happens next is hands-down the best scene of the entire sequence. Mixing gore, brutality, and humor, Joe gets a small taste of his own medicine. How awesome was the the spectacle of the eye/screw removal? That was so gloriously cringe-worthy. It was so gross it was hard to tell if we wanted him to remove the bolt or leave the damn thing in. His internal debate with himself was so fun because we could imagine having the conversation ourselves.
“If Purging actually worked wouldn’t we stop needing it?”
This simple truth from Penelope was the smartest line of the episode. Said to Joe it revealed the hypocrisy in the ideology of The Purge. Enough will never be enough and killing doesn’t solve anything. At best it would have cost Joe an eye, but at worst it cost him his life. The chilling sociopathy, forged in the fire of perceived mistreatment and stoked by Pro-Purger Bobby Sheridan (pretty Sean Hannity like if you ask me) displayed by Joe when the siren sounded and his homicidal switch was flipped was more than Miguel could stomach and taking a page from Rick.
elected to kill Joe instead of watching over his shoulder for another year waiting to be killed by One-Eyed Joe. Miguel has killed in self-defense before so his decision to end Joe was no surprise. The brutality of the looming threat is what ultimately made this show so successful. This was a much more intimate approach to The Purge. It wasn’t a single one and done story that concludes with the siren but an on-going horror that must be examined. With Pete’s Cantina operating again, Jenna and her daughter safely(for now) living in France and Miguel and Penelope geared up to save lives The Purge commences yet again.
With the promise of a new season coming soon I am left surprisingly optimistic. If USA, Blumhouse, and James DeMonaco continue to develop characters and stories steeped in unique mythos like Pete the Cop, and Lunchbox Joe, this series will continue to have an audience and a unique place within the Purge world. I have but one request, please more of Pete the Cop(Dominic Fumusa) and Good Leader Tavis(Fiona Dourif). They are the future and if Lunchbox Joe left us with any words of wisdom it is that there is always next year to kill some people. Until then be kind to each other…
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.