The Purge is a franchise that equally indulges in patriotism and horrific violence, taking place in a country where mass shootings and domestic terrorism have become a common threat. That’s a very difficult line to walk without feeling like you’re exploiting the very thing you’re commenting on. Gizmodo asked the folks behind The Purge’s second season how they use the show to make a statement on American violence.
“We always see The Purge as kind of a cautionary tale, and so the violence that is shown is, like, we don’t wanna live in this society. We’re not trying to glorify it, we’re trying to make it scary,” executive producer Krystal Ziv told Gizmodo.
The showrunners and stars of The Purge stopped by Gizmodo's studio at New York Comic Con to chat about the sophomore season of the anthology horror series. Unlike the films in the franchise, the TV show spends time exploring what happens during the other 364 days of the year.
It’s there that executive producers Ziv and James Roland said complex themes of how enacting and enabling violence truly impacts people can be explored. It’s also why they don’t see the series telling international stories in the near future because this is a reflection of a terrible experience that is, in the end, American.
“It’s never gonna not be an American story, I think, because sadly, I mean, it was created to be a commentary on the violence that’s particularly in our society. But also, it was really about the guilt and the remorse and the regret of having enacted violence,” Roland.
Roland said that Ben (Joel Allen) is the character whose story impacted him the most this season. Ben is a young white man from a suburban family who goes out on Purge for the first time, and the rest of the season is about the PTSD and guilt he faces as a result of what happens. However, his experience ends up making him more violent, shining a light on young men who’ve fallen into right-wing extremism and all the horrors that come with that.
There’s also the story of Marcus Moore, played by Derek Luke, whose life changes forever when an assassin breaks into his home on Purge night. Luke said he decided to come on board because of how the show confronts the difficult subject of American violence head-on.
“The first thing I look for as an actor is messaging, and I think it’s brave to run towards commentary. I used to run from violence, but I also acknowledge I grew up around it,” Luke told Gizmodo. “And so as an actor, I run to those life lessons. Because if we don’t discuss it, who else will?”
James Roland, writer/executive producer: You know the first 20 minutes of every Purge movie, where you see the people sharpening their knives, you have that sense of like, “Oh, I hope the car works this time and doesn’t shut down,” or whatever? That became the vibe for the entire season.
Krystal Ziv, writer/executive producer: A lot of fans are like, “Why is it always murder?” We do get to experience what violence does to the psyche, and we see characters have to live with it.
Roland: It’s never gonna not be an American story, I think because sadly, I mean, it was created to be a commentary on the violence that’s particularly in our society, but also, it was really about the guilt and the remorse and the regret of having enacted violence.
Ziv: I mean, we talk a lot about that violence begets violence, and how the Purge affects every part of your life.
Roland on storyline that impacted him most: I think, for me, it’s Ben, the storyline of Ben. And he’s a young guy who experiences violence on Purge, and then the entire season is about the ramifications of that, the PTSD of it, and the remorse, and how that affects him psychologically and how he eventually gets more violent because of it.
Derek Luke, actor (Marcus Moore): The first thing I look for as an actor is messaging, and I think it’s brave to run towards commentary. I used to run from violence, but I also acknowledge I grew up around it. And so as an actor, I run to those life lessons, because if we don’t discuss it, who else will?
Gizmodo: Nowadays we have mass shootings, we have domestic terrorism, we have big conversations happening right now, so how do you make sure this series stays entertaining for its audience, but also doesn’t exploit its subject material?
Ziv: I mean, we always see The Purge as kind of a cautionary tale, and so the violence that is shown is like, we don’t wanna live in this society. We’re not trying to glorify it, we’re trying to make it scary. So we’re trying to explore what those elements do to people, and not just show them as acts.