The Purge, William Baldwin
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Credit: USA

William Baldwin’s The Purge character was the series’ most relevant — and its most impactful

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Nov 6, 2018

The end of the first season of The Purge is upon us. And while some characters will manage to make it out the other side of the annual Purge alive, others are not so lucky.

The Purge series — both the television show and the James DeMonaco-created movie series from which is spawned — has always been political, and it's grown more so over the years. The Purge: Election Year (2016) unashamedly referenced Donald Trump's campaign paraphernalia in its marketing campaign and The First Purge (2018) placed a white nationalist group at the head of a fascist government. This elected government and its ruling party, the New Founding Fathers of America, enacted the first Purge as a kind of racist social experiment. The series' worst villains spout hateful bile while the most notable heroes stand up for social equality and fight for the lives of others.

So it only made sense that The Purge television series would be tinged with a similar message. Arguably the season's most politically relevant character was David Ryker, played by William Baldwin. David, a terrifying misogynist, uses the annual Purge as a cash grab by capturing women, tying them up, and having men pay to grope them. He's a walking, talking mascot for why the #MeToo movement came to be.

Though David's demise came in Episode 7, "Lovely Dark and Deep," his brief, side-long presence in the series has presented consequences that reach further than his tenure. With that in mind, SYFY WIRE spoke with Baldwin about playing the series' most uncomfortably realistic character and what The Purge has to say about our current political climate.

David, psychotic misogynist extraordinaire, felt it was his right to debase Jane Barbour (Amanda Warren) and therefore maybe had his grisly fate coming — but that doesn't mean killing him won't have an effect on Jane for the remainder of her life. Jane's interaction with and murder of David stays with her as she runs into Joe (Lee Tergesen), whose actions are both comparable to and a foil of David's.

And while Baldwin wouldn't go into too many specifics of his character — as we'd just learned of David's Purge Night sins when Baldwin spoke with SYFY WIRE — Episode 9, "I Will Participate," puts David and Joe's stories in indirect correlation.

Both David and Joe start out as mysterious, plainly masculine entities on opposite sides of a scale. While David exudes one kind of toxic masculinity — "He's a guy who is very confident and very self-assured," Baldwin says, "and has got a freakin' gigantic ego." — Joe slides through life attempting to avoid the limelight.

"David thinks he's untouchable because of his ego and because of his power and because of his wealth," Baldwin says. "And it's very interesting. We don't live in that world anymore [where those things protect you]. We live in a world with social media and everyone standing around with cameras… But I think he feels pretty comfortable, pretty confident, pretty safe."

The ironic truth is, of course, that David is far from safe. In a post-#MeToo world, The Purge "parallels the world we live in," Baldwin says. Too much power is a dangerous thing, and The Purge acts as both a release and a mirror through which to view our world.

David is a symptom of a much larger problem, one with which our own world is struggling right now. The Purge offers a simple, black-and-white solution for sexual abusers: kill them. Jane's experiences with him will likely haunt her for the rest of her life — as she points out to him — but at least David won't be able to hurt anyone else.

William Baldwin, The Purge

Credit: USA

Then there's Joe. We finally got more of Joe's backstory in Episode 9, and, of course, Jane was one of the characters who had to suffer through Joe's belief that the world had done him dirty. Bullied and abused all his life, Joe amps himself up by listening to self-help tapes and, despite being cast as a mildly pathetic creature, he is just as dangerous as David ever was.

Joe and David hurt the people around them for different reasons — one because he can, one for revenge — but they are both painfully relevant, as is the Purge itself.

Baldwin compares our own world to a kind of Purge, especially when you look at how corporations and political entities treat "the poor and the working class and minorities and women. I've seen the needle move. I used to work on Capitol Hill during Reagan's first term, and I've seen the needle move because I pay a lot of attention to what's going on politically. I've seen what's happened with civil rights and stuff like that — but as much as it's moved, you have Colin Kaepernick and 'take a knee' and as much as you think it's moved, as much as you think the needle's moved for women… it hasn't."

Of course, the Purge is "insane," Baldwin says, but the series points out the issues of our own world. And telling stories in which victims triumph and abusers lose can, at the very least, provide catharsis — dying onscreen, Baldwin admits, was a pleasure in this case.

The Purge series finale premieres tonight.

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