In the premiere of The Purge Season 2, audiences got all the heart-pounding and ego-driven, immoral action they've come to expect from Blumhouse's Purge series. Episode 1, "This Is Not a Test," opens and ends on Purge Night. The remainder of the season will show what happens next.
When SYFY WIRE and other members of the press joined the cast and crew on the set of The Purge Season 2 in New Orleans, we couldn't help but discuss the show's current relevance and, as the cast explains, how it only becomes more painfully real as the season goes on.
The Purge series, which started as a film franchise and includes The Purge (2013), The Purge: Anarchy (2014), The Purge: Election Year (2016), and The First Purge (2018), has built on a single, bloody origin: in the United States, there is a 12-hour period once a year in which all crime — including murder — is made legal. Citizens are invited to go ham — kill your annoying neighbor; rob a bank; commit sexual assault; hide; do whatever you want for 12 hours as long as you return to your regularly scheduled programming once that ominous siren sounds.
The first season of USA's The Purge television series showed the lead-up to and the action on one particular Purge Night. It proved to be somewhat of a ratings success while garnering a 41 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. With Season 2, USA (which is owned by NBCUniversal, SYFY's parent company) brought in a whole new creative team to effectively relaunch the series, resulting in a similar concept (exploring what happens in America outside Purge Night) that takes the show to the next level by placing a majority of the action between two annual Purges — meaning, Season 2 takes place over the course of a year. That's a lot of time for the characters we're introduced to in Episode 1 to have to contend with.
Derek Luke, who plays seemingly straight-laced family man Marcus Moore, sees his character as being a person who's put "all his eggs in one basket," with one big problem: "The basket did not contain the people around him. He was living life but he wasn't enjoying it." So, on Purge Night, when someone breaks into his home where he and his wife Michelle (Rochelle Aytes) are hiding away from the violence, Marcus is forced to contend with hostile forces.
Marcus' journey through the rest of the season — without giving anything away — is an exercise in reorienting his priorities. Like most horror, Luke says, watching The Purge is like getting on an amusement park ride — the anticipation and aftershock, the adrenaline that keeps you on your toes. But with Season 2, he says, The Purge is presenting ideas that reflect our bleak reality, so that adrenaline crash is a rough one.
Paola Nuñez, who plays NFFA surveillance expert Esme Carmona, couldn't agree more.
"She decided to work for the NFFA because she had really torturous past in that she feels like she failed her family," Nuñez explains. "She's almost looking for another father figure in her life and she's like 'Oh, the NFFA, they're doing what they have to do to protect us.'"
Of course, this is the Purge series, so corruption abounds and Esme and the other characters begin to make an important discovery: violence only begets violence.
"It makes them think [violence is] the solution for intolerance, but the solution is to actually understand that we have differences and we have to live with them," Nuñez says. "So that's why it's so important to talk about the Purge these days because I feel like we're having a moment of intolerance in general and it's interesting to watch a show like this because it makes you talk about everything going on right now."
Even though this is a fictional world, Nuñez explains, the show's comparisons to the real world are undeniable, from general intolerance for immigrants to outright violent speech and behavior. "[The Purge] is about how we think and how we are not able to open up to other people who are different," she says.
Arguably, no character this season is more viscerally affected by the Purge than Ben, played by Joel Allen. In Episode 1, we see Ben attempt to save a girl who's been trapped and tortured by a person wearing the "God" mask, which was first seen in the Purge films. While the mask itself is more a fun Easter egg for long-time Purge fans than anything else, that mask will go on to haunt Ben throughout the season.
After Ben is attacked, beaten, and almost raped by the person wearing the God mask, he kills them in a violent act of self-defense, driven by both instinctual terror and rage. It's undoubtedly the most violent scene in Episode 1 — and, rest assured, Ben will go on to deliver equally violent moments throughout the season.
To get into the character's headspace, Allen says he initially looked to famous killers in film, but soon realized that wasn't the right take. "This is someone who's dealing with trauma and then addiction," Allen explains. Ben is a victim and living with PTSD throughout the season, the perfect example of someone so utterly affected by a Purge world that it changes his psyche.
As the show delves further into this world's barely contained violence and hatred, each character undergoes a seismic shift — all of which you'll learn about as Season 2 continues.
Be on the lookout for more The Purge coverage from SYFY WIRE and watch The Purge Season 2 on USA, Tuesdays at 9/8c.