Television

The Purge Season 2 Episode 4: Grief Box- Recap and Review

The power of community is explored as Esme’s careful world begins to crumble and Ben descends into madness.

Courtesy of Alfonso Bresciani/USA Network

Are we a product of our collective memories and experiences, or are we inherently hardwired to be good or evil? How much does our environment impact us? At first blush, the second season of The Purge is dissecting violent behavior and what causes it. A much more subtle and deep plot thread has us examining systemic poverty and crime. Are neighborhood ties enough to uplift and entire group? Are you a sell out for leaving? These are the real questions this week as more of Marcus’ past is fleshed out, while Ben unravels.

Smart moments of black humor break up an otherwise heavy handed look at life in the NFFA. The cleverest bits of this season have explored the capitalist system that is exploited by the Purge. That was no differnt this week with the macabre Memorial Day-esque holiday, Remembrance Day. Nothing says America like dying for a cause, even if that cause is someones else wants to get their rocks off swinging a machete in a doll mask with stripper shoes on.

If Christmas is big business, than Remembrance Day is even bigger. It literally is the gift that keeps on giving. Huge sales on weapons and security keep the machine fed as the opposite end of the spectrum delivers totems to those who “sacrificed” for the nation. Purge Night practically guarantees there will forever be a new crop of people to mourn or be mourned. It’s genius actually in a very sick way. The grief boxes from whom the episode is titled are just money making keepsakes from the worst of humanity. Filled with communal ashes(or maybe just fireplace leftovers?) they are perverted atrocities masquerading as respectful things to be honored. As sad and twisted as it was, it is very plausible and that is where the humor and horror coalesce.

Barely veiled allusions to the disenfranchised “deplorables” protesting(occasionally violently) the loss of “their” America were everywhere. Frustrated young men seeking power and control in all the wrong places, conscientious white people saddled with idealism and guilt mark the episode with more than a few nods to events in the last four years. Basically, it is more of what the franchise has done so well, make everyone very uncomfortable with just how close we could be to the NFFA.
Big societal questions are asked about local versus national government, communal ties, and responsibility. Marcus left his own neighborhood behind when he became a doctor. He is not embarrassed of his childhood friends or family, nor the place he grew up, but he fled for a safer future.

He wanted to raise his son in a place that would limit danger while enhancing opportunity. It is what every parent wants for their child. His ex Tonya is the quintessential fighter who wants to stand and deliver a community she loves to peace. She believes only through staying can real change happen. It is a question wrestled with today with whole neighborhoods being gentrified, for better or worse depending on your perspective. As Marcus revisits old haunts he will likely need to face the past to save his future. Someone from his youth wants him dead. If what Tonya remembers is true they have been stalking him and planning this for at least a year. Resentment is a powerful motivator.

Esme has begun to realize that her friend Professor Adams was probably killed by the NFFA. She still doesn’t have all the pieces and naively believes she is protected at the agency. Why she doesn’t think if everyone is being watched that would include her is a character flaw that will get her killed.

Now that her extracurricular activities have come to light her days as an agency star are over. With the realization that all of Professor Adams test subjects are dead including Olivia who she found murdered, she can no longer blindly continue to drink the Kool-aid. She is exposed on multiple levels and finally understands the oversight the NFFA has to chnage lives and truths. The police and the journalists who are in on the deception have no trouble spinning things their direction. The ever present “gas leak” joke from Syfy’s Haven comes to mind. It’s not possible to admit that assault and murder happen because that would directly contradict the mission statement, therefore, a good heat stroke or suicide will do nicely.

Ben’s bad deed from last episode will go unpunished. The strawberry farmer’s body was finally found after Ben’s brutal stabbing, but instead of reporting the murder, his death was declared heat stroke. “Fake news” is everywhere and used to deter the public from questioning the data presented by the government. The Purge supposedly makes America a better place by releasing aggression on one sanctioned night of depravity.

Like releasing a valve just enough that it doesn’t blow. In Ben’s case, it didn’t lessen his violent tendencies, but awakened them. His brain choked with dopamine and adrenaline wants more and more savagery any way he can get it. His GOD mask taken from the man he purged in self defense is a symbol of who he is becoming. Once he puts the mask on and gives in to his dark urges his transformation is complete. God help the young coed he is stalking at the end of the episode.

A complete reversal has left Ben and his friend on opposite sides of the equation. Both have been forever changed by their Purge night experience. Ben became the callous killer his friend pretended to be, while Turner is a shadow of the swaggering frat boy he once was. Riddled with guilt and sadness his experience have made him a self-loathing monster who is ready to snap.

The shortest amount of time, and less informative plot development was devoted to Ryan and company. Through well done expository dumps that, thanks to good writing by felt more conversational than manipulative, Tommy gained a whole set of skill sets that explained his importance to the group. He isn’t just the young turk with muscles and no brains trying to provide for his family. He is an immensely affable team member that used his social skills to develop entire networks of contacts in every business. With him in jail looking very rough, Ryan is forced to do business with a replacement who doesn’t understand how to keep his mouth shut. He seems to believe if silence is golden, overly chatty is platinum. News flash, it is not. Let’s just hope this doesn’t hurt the group to badly.

All the major players are entwined now, and the threats are not just theories anymore. Esme has the government she works for looking over her shoulder, Ryan and his crew are down a man and desperately trying to plan for one last score and Tommy’s rescue, Marcus’ son has inadvertently put himself right in Esme’s storm, Marcus is one step closer to finding his killer who is not patient, and Ben has devolved into a dangerous criminal.

As their stories continue to wind around each other the bigger picture will come into focus. If the direction and story telling continues to be as deliberate in the back half of the season we are in for a wild ride. The smartest plots can still surprise us, and I think we are in for a handful in the episodes to come.
Stray Observations:

  • Has social medium already begun creating a world where cruelty and violence is okay? It does not escape me that most purgers do so in masks. Hiding behind your keyboard and hiding behind a mask are the same things. If it’s perfectly legal and acceptable, why do you need to hide your face?
  • Is Esme’s boss really a concerned coworker or is he a company man all the way? If he is, does that mean she is the next to go on Purge night?
  • How does Ryan and his group plan on breaking Tommy out? This part of the plan has still not jelled and time is moving fast this season.
  • It is looking very much like we may get two Purges for the price of one, and I am totally down for that!

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