Oh. So that’s where everything has been heading. I should have seen this coming, but I didn’t. That Joe could spend all that time intently listening to pro-Purge propaganda, plus all that effort making masks, and merely be setting out to help others does seem a little implausible in retrospect. But apart from the brutal killings of bad guys, he always seemed so tenderhearted.
Of course, the big twist in “The Giving Time Is Here” wouldn’t work if Lee Tergesen didn’t play him so well as a sensitive dude who just happens to be really into The Purge, making it easy to think he could be a cold-blooded killer, sure, but a cold-blooded killer working on the side of good. Now, however, comes the big twist, and with it the image of almost all our surviving protagonists bound, gagged, and headed toward some unknown fate (alongside some others Joe has snagged along the way). “I’m going to take you somewhere safe,” he tells Penelope. But while Joe has seemed sympathetic in the past, the image of him dragging Jenna across concrete without a hint of gentleness suggests his idea of “safe” might not match up with anyone else’s.
Once again, well played, The Purge. That was not what I was expecting. In fact, I was starting to wonder if the series’ storylines would ever cross over, and if it really mattered if they did. Most have been satisfying enough on their own terms. Even Miguel’s search for Penelope, the least robust of the series’ strands, gave us the Carnival of Flesh, one of this season’s most memorable locations.
Looking back, however, it seems like The Purge was always heading toward such a moment. Miguel and Penelope reunite and land in the safety of Pete the Cop’s bar, and there’s seemingly nowhere else for their story to go. Penelope learns the harsh truth about the religious cult she’s joined: It, and her beloved leader Tavis, are funded by the New Founding Fathers of America. (Shades of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, in which the residents of a drug rehab center tend to the drug crops that create a fresh batch of addicts in an endless cycle of profit and addiction.)
Their storyline could just end with Penelope chilling with Miguel and planning for the future. They could even bond with Joe, who seems pretty relaxed himself. “I’m just doing my own thing,” he claims, which is accurate as far as it goes. (His solo presence, of course, raises the question of where Jane is, however.) But Penelope being Penelope, she has to hit the streets on her own and flag down the cult bus. It’s a move as admirable as it is stupid, and it doesn’t end well for anyone, inside or outside the cult, leaving Miguel to look for his sister again. Even when he wins, he loses — and he’s not even going to end the night with a sweet muscle car for his troubles.
With Jane MIA, most of the action this week belongs to the love triangle of Rick, Jenna, and Lila, and the uneasy peace they reached at the end of the last episode doesn’t last long. (About as long as Jenna’s seemingly five-minute nap, to be precise.)
This week puts Lila in the flashback spotlight, and with with that spotlight comes more twists involving her prep for what appears to be her wedding. Instead she’s getting dressed for her first Purge kill, a ritual that’s taken on near-religious significance in the America run by the NFFA. It might seem ridiculous if it wasn’t scripted and staged so well by writer Thomas Kelly and by director Michael Nankin. And, again, it’s a case of the absurdities of The Purge providing a dark echo of the world in which we live, one in which our government seems to be taking a step toward excusing the murder of a U.S. resident because condemning it would complicate its policy goals.
It’s a moment that reveals a lot about Lila’s character, too. Specifically how, in the end, she’ll always pull the trigger. She’ll always look after herself and what she wants. She’ll always negotiate, but she’ll never give anything away she can’t sacrifice. She even tries to buy Rick off, raising the number to $20 million before he pauses, maybe thinks it over, and declares, “I’m not for sale.” But is she wrong? Morally, of course she’s wrong. She’s a monster. But the tension between her and Rick and Jenna has always been about how their idealism sometimes refused to take into account the dramatic ways in which the world has changed and their limited ability to change it back (another relatable detail these days, sadly). Take the scene where Ross’s wife Carol shows up looking for her late husband. While Rick tries to dance around the subject, Lila tells it like it is: “Your husband is dead.” In the end, so is Carol, but at least Lila wants her to see things as they really are.
Then again, seeing things as they really are doesn’t really work out all that well for Lila, either. She apparently doesn’t make it out of the episode alive, stabbed by Jenna when she threatens Rick. I’m not going to write that obit yet, however. Lila’s too dynamic of a character for the show to lose with two episodes left and that stab wound looks like it might have missed her vital organs. Besides, the Rick/Jenna/Lila storyline is much more compelling than any kind of Rick/Jenna/No Lila storyline — and if anyone could make it out of this situation alive, it’s the wiliest Stanton.
That said, I’m not sure I’d take bets on anybody with only two episodes left. Joe is doing his “own thing” and not only does it look pretty deadly, it brings all the storylines together for the season’s final act. As the sun threatens to rise on this Purge night, we’re entering uncharted territory.
• We get a little more backstory about Pete the Cop this week, learning he lost his brother in grisly fashion to a “random Purger” and that he tried to shut down the cult only to be thwarted by the powers that be. Pete seems like a solid guy. (But then, so did Joe.)
• This week’s one laugh came in an exchange between Rick and Lila:
Lila, contemplating returning to the Stanton estate: “I don’t even know where to begin.”
Rick: “Maybe you start with firing the help.”