From Blumhouse Television and executive produced by franchise creator James DeMonaco, Season 2 of the USA Network series The Purge explores how a single Purge night affects the lives of four interconnected characters, over the course of the ensuing year, as it leads up to the next Purge. This season is a deeper dive into what the Purge world looks like on the other 364 days of the year, and what that can do to someone who is either the target, perpetrator, or witness of a Purge.
During this phone interview with Collider, writers/executive producers Krystal Ziv and James Roland talked about the evolution of The Purge franchise and how they keep changing things up, how they both came to the TV series, what they learned from on the first season that affected Season 2, figuring out whose stories they wanted to tell this season, how the characters of Marcus (Derek Luke) and Ben (Joel Allen) are two sides of the same violent coin, the biggest challenges in making the other 364 days as interesting on screen as Purge night, the most difficult days of the shoot, how far they can push the envelope with the violence, and how they’re already talking about ways they could further the franchise, in the future.
Collider: I’m a fan of The Purge franchise, and I think it’s so fascinating to have a franchise where you can do so many different things with it, and have movies and TV shows, but also to just keep changing the style of storytelling of it, as well. That just seems so rare.
JAMES ROLAND: Yeah. Talking with James DeMonaco, I actually don’t know how much was by design and how much was feeling it, as they went along. It’s cool how the first one is home invasion, the second one is The Odyssey, and the third one is really political. They’ve changed it up, every time.
KRYSTAL ZIV: It’s rare, in a franchise, to have so many different versions and variations.
Yeah, and a lot of it has reflected what the fans have asked for. After the first movie, fans wanted to know what went on during the Purge, outside of the house, so we got to see what was going on, in the streets. And then, fans wanted to know what goes on, in between Purge nights, so we’re getting to see that in Season 2 of the TV series.
ZIV: Definitely. James DeMonaco talks about how, at Comic-Con’s past, all of the fans have asked questions about the minutia and the rules. So, this is our year to really figure that out and give them what they want.
ROLAND: And when we sat down in the writers’ room, the first conversations were, what do you think about? What would you do on Purge night? All of those fan questions were all the things that we asked ourselves.
What was your background with The Purge, before you came to the TV show? Had you seen the movies? Were you familiar with this world?
ZIV: For me, I came on in Season 1. I had seen all of the movies, and I was very curious about how we were gonna do the TV show. Even with Season 1, DeMonaco said, “I think this is a really good format for this concept ‘cause we’ll get to dig into the whys and the motives of why all of these characters are Purging, or why they’re running from someone trying to Purge them.” The movies have a real finite time about survival. And then, with Season 2, we get to see that in between time, which he had thought about and wanted to explore, but this is the first time the franchise was able to that.
ROLAND: I wasn’t involved in Season 1, but I was a big fan. I’ve seen the first three movies, but I hadn’t seen Season 1 yet, so I had to catch up on the last two installments. But I was a big fan of the first three movies and of horror, in general, so I was really familiar with the franchise and I was the geek having all of the arguments with my best friend about, is that realistic? No, it would happen like that. So, I geeked out about it, as well.
ZIV: I was on a different show when Election Year came out, and we all made ourselves little “I Purged” stickers because we were big fans.
What did you learn from either doing the first season or watching the first season, and seeing what worked and what didn’t, and how to expand it? How did that affect or change things for Season 2?
ROLAND: Stylistically, one thing that we wanted to shift to in the second season was a little bit of a grittier filming style, similar to The Purge: Anarchy, and also going a little bit darker in the lighting. Now, a lot of Season 2 takes place in between Purges, but we flashback to Purges in the past, and we’ve got three episodes, over the course of the season, that take place partially or fully on Purge night, so we’ve got a lot of Purging, as well. We just wanted to go a little bit darker and make it a little bit scarier. That’s just, style wise, what we wanted to do.
ZIV: Story wise, it was pretty much a new thing because we knew we wanted to do between Purges, but we knew what a lot of people liked about Season 1 were the cool Purge night set pieces and the world building, so we did manage to get in a lot of freaky Purge stuff. But we also made sure that we were really building the world and answering questions and having cool visuals about what the world is like, like who makes the masks or how the voice came to be. So, we’re gonna expand on the world and really show fans the answers to some of their questions.
ROLAND: That was a really useful tool, to be able to expand the world, so that we didn’t have to be beholden, necessarily, to the storyline that we were telling, in that episode. That was incredibly freeing, but it was also really challenging ‘cause each teaser is essentially a little short film. They were exciting to write, but it was also hard.
ZIV: And we got to play with humor a little bit more. In the Marcus story, there really isn’t a place to infuse that storyline with humor because he’s really paranoid and scared about how someone gonna kill him. So, it was easier for us to do it in a separate teaser moment than with the people who we’ve really established these high stakes for.
How is the process of figuring out what characters you want for a season and who you’re going to follow, and then also figuring out how to have a mask essentially be a character?
ZIV: Ryan (Max Martini) was a character that came up, pretty early on, just ‘cause everyone was really jazzed about the idea of someone doing a heist on Purge night. A lot of the writers are like, “I would never Purge, but would I steal money? Maybe.” So, that was wish fulfillment in a character that we could all get behind. We liked the idea of his team being his family, and how do you provide for you family in this crazy Purge world.
ROLAND: And that lead to the terse alpha male character that was a natural outpouring of that, and that just fell into place. And we wanted Marcus (Derek Luke) to be pretty relatable with this idea of, why would anybody wanna hurt me? If a normal person dug into their life, would they start to see themselves through a new lens and be like, “Oh, maybe I’m not a perfect person.” It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad guy, but maybe you’re not as perfect as you thought you were.
ZIV: In this world where people can Purge you for anything, how do you live your life? So, someone like Marcus has to look at big and small motives. And Ben (Joel Allen) was really a function of our main them of violence begets violence and a sneaky way for us to get some interesting Purge-y crimes in, throughout the rest of the year, ‘cause he’s the one who can’t really shake Purge night and it lingers with him.
ROLAND: Ben is a character that gets at the heart of the lore a lot. So, I thank James DeMonaco and his producing partners for letting us play with the rules and the psychology of the world that they had created. He was a last-minute addition, and it was pretty cool that they let us do that.
ZIV: We wanted to explore whether crime is really down the rest of the year, and does the Purge prevent violence, and we do that through the Esme (Paola Nuñez) character.
Esme is such an interesting character because you do get a bit of insight into the NFFA, and how many things aren’t quite as they represent them to be. Will that character and the world that she’s in, affect the larger Purge universe?
ROLAND: Yeah, for sure. Something like The Purge is interesting because it’s such an open world. A lot of what we did was talk about what worlds we’d want to see and what would be interesting area of the world for them to play in? And then, and then in terms of digging into the character, I don’t want to spoil too much about their backstories, which we’ll get into in the middle of the season, but how would this job or working in this area of the Purge most greatly affect this person, as an individual, which then leads to, what are they like, as a person? So, you then create the person who would have the most at stake or the most emotional ramifications from unravelling the mystery. With Esme, the fact that the NFFA is lying is a shocker, as a plot point, but also it affects her very personally, for reasons that we’ll get into later. And then, you build the character to be the most emotionally resonant with the situation that you have.
ZIV: Esme also helps to remind the audience why people in this society might be in NFFA members or believe in the Purge. If you’ve seen the movies, you’re like, “Oh, my god, the NFFA is evil and horrible.” But in this society, there are true believers and there are people that are in favor of it, so showing the propaganda and what they’re selling is important, in making the world feel real.
I love how, from the first episode, you set up an exploration of what happens when one character is forced to Purge, while another character unexpectedly finds himself at the center of someone else’s desire to Purge him. Will we see a lot of that contrast between Marcus and Ben, throughout the season, and the similarities and differences in how they deal with situation that they find themselves in?
ZIV: Yeah. Marcus and Ben’s journeys are gonna go in opposite directions, and eventually find each other. They have very different philosophies about violence and how it should be used in the Purge. So, you’ve really hit upon something, where they’re two sides of the same violent coin.
What are the biggest challenges to everyday life, when you’re in a world where you know Purge night is coming in another 364 days?
ZIV: We feel like people would be artificially polite, a lot of the time. If you’re having a conflict with someone, you probably wouldn’t want it to be obvious to them that you don’t like them because they can legally murder you, or do whatever you want to you. So, it’s probably very polite society, but obviously, that’s fake. People are just hiding their true feelings a lot.
ROLAND: Also, the idea of like living in a world like that, the instant it’s over, the movies always end with a relief of, “Oh, thank god, it’s over.” And what we get to play with, with this season of the show, is, “Oh, shit, this is gonna happen again, next year.” Getting older and having a kid of my own now, the years go by so fast now that you have to start planning for the next thing, right away. So, you’re constantly under this pressure and stress, but the Purge is supposed to be this wonderful thing. You can’t go to your shrink and start complaining about the Purge ‘cause what’s the NFFA gonna do? That may not look so good to the regime that’s in control of the country. So, basically, we started to view America as this powder keg of all of these tensions building up, and you’ll see that reflected in the different storylines of the characters.
ZIV: We mark our year by holidays, and the Purge is a new holiday. We have a Remembrance Day episode that’s three months after the Purge, and that’s like Memorial Day, in this new society, where everybody grieves people that they’ve lost. The entire year, people are building up, in one way or another, to the next Purge night.
Are there specific challenges, in making the time between Purges just as interesting and thrilling as Purge night? Was that something you were ever concerned with?
ZIV: That was a big worry. We definitely wanted to make sure that we’d keep it as interesting, so that was like very heavily on our minds, in the beginning of planning the season. We tried to find different ways, through flashbacks or by having the Ben character, and also having people do things that are skirting the rules, or getting close, because they’re fearing for their lives. We know that fans of the franchise expect a certain tone, and action and horror, and we want to deliver that, even when it’s not on Purge night.
ROLAND: Once you sink into the characters, and you’ve really established the stakes and what certain characters are capable of, we would have these moments in the editing room where one character just looks at another character and it’s totally spooky intense because, even though they’re not gonna do anything right, you know what they’re gonna do, five episodes later. So, the Purge ends up looming over the entire story, so you’re never forgetting that the Purge is coming. It feels like the first 20 minutes of one of the Purge movies, but for eight episodes.
Was there a day, in the season, that was most challenging or difficult? Once you got deep into it, were you ever worried about being able to pull it off, every day?
ROLAND: Every day.
ZIV: There was a lot of weather, rain and lightening in New Orleans, and we had to shut down our shooting, so some of the challenges were practical. And then, validating four stories and making sure they’d each get their due was a challenge, as well. We were like, how do we service all of these cool things that we created?
ROLAND: Not to give too much away, but we have a pretty cool action scene at a plantation house (in Episode 205), and the plantation house was historically preserved and like a museum, and we only had one day to be in there. There were so many lightning strikes that production got shut down for three and a half hours, so we lost three and a half hours of work and thought we’d have to rewrite everything, but our director, Christoph [Schrewe], pulled it off. So, you definitely dream big and get these cool set pieces in your head, and then, you have to adjust on the fly to the realities of production logistics. That’s always tough.
ZIV: Something we talked about with the Ben character was how the audience would feel about him as we go and what kind of line we’re walking. You might feel bad that he was a victim, but at a certain point, when he becomes the victimizer, how do you feel about him? We were always playing with that narrative, and hopefully, we found the right balance.
The Purge films have been pretty violent. Do you ever have any instances on the show, where you have to scale back the violence, at all, from what you might’ve been able to do in the films, or do you feel like you have a lot of freedom, in that regard?
ZIV: We’ve learned that sometimes the suggestion of violence is even more scary than the gore you see on screen. We do have a lot of disturbing moments, but you might not actually be seeing as much blood, for broadcast cable standards, but the idea of it is almost scarier sometimes.
ROLAND: When we first sat down, I had a couple of pitches that were super gory, and even James DeMonaco wasn’t against, but we would talk about it and question it. At some point, it was pointed out that, if you really look at The Purge movies, they’re punctuated with violence, for sure, but they’re not like Saw or Hostel, or something where the gore is in the foreground. It’s not really about that. It’s about the torture of the weight and being scared about the psychological aspects of what it’s like to see somebody turn the corner, a block ahead, and that tension of, if they see you, they’re gonna come and kill you. It does lean more on that, but I will say that the network was pretty good with us. We’re just editing the last two episodes now, and we tried to push the boundaries of the violence a little bit more there because we felt it would work for the story, and they were great about it. They were willing to go there with it. The whole season is about build up, and you’ll see a little bit more violence, in the last couple of episodes.
Because Season 1 and Season 2 have been so different from each other, is there already a plan in place for Season 3? Have you talked about ways to further The Purge franchise?
ZIV: Yeah. We’re definitely trying to come up with ideas and talking about them. Hopefully, we will get a Season 3 to explore them. There were so many ideas in the writers’ room, this year, that we couldn’t squeeze them all in. It’s just a very thought-inspiring universe that lets you come up with so many scenarios that could fit into that world.
ROLAND: You never know where you’re gonna go next. Somebody in the writers’ room said, “I wonder what happens out in the farmland, in the rural part of America, on Purge night,” and everybody in the writers’ room went, “Oh, yeah! That is such a different feel from the city, where people are packed together. That’s a different thing.” So, there’s still so much of the world left to explore.
The Purge airs on Tuesday nights on the USA Network.