This review contains spoilers.
2.4 Grief Box
The Purge does one thing better than anything else on television right now. The cold opening is an art, not a science, and the show puts a lot of focus and attention on getting those cold openings just right. They say so much about the series and its world, and they reveal almost nothing about the plot to follow while still being the perfect appetiser. Grief Box immediately establishes just what the titular grief box is, what it means, and what that means for the world at large in a solid opening featuring a guy driving around in a box truck, with grief boxes stacked in the back. He scans the bar code and delivers the box of cremated remains to the grieving, crying family members.
It is not just one person, or a one-time thing, it’s a whole death-related industry. Alongside body pick-up and post-Purge clean-up crews, it’s just one more thing that The Purge has made into an industry, right down to the industrial way that the remains are packaged up and shipped to family members. Unsurprisingly, the thing presented to the grieving families by the NFFA is not exactly what is promised. Like the clean-up and the body disposal, the dispersal of the grief boxes is simply theatre, as big bins of human remains are put into wheelbarrows via shovel and then further scooped out into the person-sized urns that are distributed without bothering to connect the remain to the family members in question.
That does not make the grief any less real, and it doesn’t make the grief boxes any less significant to the people who receive them from the NFFA distribution arm. Much like in the real world, these mementos delivered to families on Remembrance Day hold a lot of meaning, as tangible reminders of those that were loved and lost on Purge Night by those that survive. It’s a good excuse to get together and party as a sort of combination between Memorial Day and Remembrance Day, right down to the wearing of flowers (yellow rather than red) and the partying and sales that accompany the unofficial kick-off of summer in the United States. Much like in our world, no holiday, no matter how sacred, is free from commercial exploitation.
The two lingering mysteries surrounding Purge Night, Marcus hunting down the person who wants him assassinated and Esme trying to figure out why her mentor was murdered, continue to string out, with both Marcus and Esme digging deeper into what few clues they have to try and resolve their issues. Esme and Darren work closer together to explore the files hidden by Professor Adams, with Esme abusing her NFFA privileges in the process. Darren also accompanies his father back to the old neighborhood to a block party to sniff around and see who from the old neighborhood might be trying to get him killed, chasing leads on his own without the aid of his detective.
It works, particularly when Esme’s plot is contrasted with Ben’s ongoing struggles with his aggression. When Ben meets a Purge-positive friend at Purge USA (which looks like the world’s best pawn shop) and the two are allowed to bro out regarding the Purge and its usefulness in the NFFA’s world. That the Purge increases aggression might be true, but it’s better sold than told, and Desta Tedros Reff’s script does a solid job of establishing that in the character of Ben and his fellow Purgers. Violence has quickly become part of Ben’s life, an urge that he cannot suppress or control, and with the NFFA actively covering up violent crimes (see also the “suicide” discovered by Esme), Ben’s got carte blanche to do things to indulge his violent desires.
For example, Ben stalks and threatens his frat brother Turner (Matt Shively) until he realises that Turner isn’t just getting drunk to have fun. Turner is mourning, and Matt Shively does a great job of selling Turner’s grief and despair over abandoning his friend when he is needed the most, if only because the same thing may have happened to his Purged brother. It’s credibly sold by both actors; Shively does a great job of portraying a very particular male form of grief coupled with humiliation at being seen as weak by another man, and it’s nice to see that Ben, despite his overwhelming urge to kill, still has some humanity left in him. Even if all it does is point Ben towards an easier target, and one less likely to get him found out.
Change of heart or not, director Jaime Reynoso makes Ben and Turner’s confrontation/discussion into something very tense, and the little shot of Ben trailing the anti-Purge protester girl through the dark breezeway works incredibly well because of just how quickly Ben goes from himself to the masked murderer in a little bit of blackness between street lights. It’s shockingly quick, and lands as a hard punch at the very end of the episode; this is a solid counterpoint to the tension that permeates both Esme’s skulking and Marcus’s investigative work in his old home turf and an effective blow-off for Ben’s simmering rage throughout the series thus far.
Purging doesn’t work. That’s been established. It might grant a temporary reprieve, and it might allow the powerless impotent fantasies of revenge, but it won’t make anyone’s life better in any tangible way. Unless you sell home security systems or firearms, perhaps; it seems to make Ethan Hawke well off in the first Purge film, but aside from that, Purging is simply another form of government control over the population. Romans had bread and circuses; the NFFA have masks, costumes, and bludgeons. The repercussions of those actions on Ancient Rome aren’t known, but in The Purge’s universe, the human reaction to one day of unlimited violence is slowly being established whether the NFFA want it to or not.
Violence begets violence is an axiom as old as humanity itself.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Blindspots, here.
Here are Ron’s recommendations for the best horror TV shows currently around.