You know, I kinda liked The Purge. I didn’t think I was going to, and spent a long time avoiding watching it because it just seemed so fucking edgy. “On one night only, Amerikkka allows people to murder!” Yeah, okay, I’ll file that next to the new Marilyn Manson record.
It turned out, though, that that movie had something to say about violence and systematic oppression. And the women get to do things. It’s about as subtle as a brick, but I’m here for social science fiction for the most part.
So here I am sitting with “Look Who’s Purging Now?” and just feeling a little…. hm. I don’t know guys, I don’t know.
The episode follows the same basic structure of Rick being blasé about an outlandish thing, Morty being horrified, and then Morty eventually coming around to Rick’s point of view. But this is the closest the show has ever felt to South Park-style “the answer must be somewhere in the middle” moralizing. It’s distinctly uncomfortable and is a little disappointing.
The basic idea of the Purge is that everyone has pent up rage that needs to released, and if it’s released on just one night, everyone will be chill for the rest of the year. Accepting that idea is kind of a tall order, but let’s just breeze on by. What Rick and Morty is positing here is that we all have an intense amount of violent, murderous rage, even if we deny it. Now, my brain is a fun host of negative feelings. Negative emotions, even intense hatred isn’t foreign to me, or to anyone. It is actually normal and sometimes healthy to experience and express negativity!
But Rick and Morty seems to be saying that people like Rick, who gleefully indulge their negative impulses, are more honest and healthier than someone like Morty, who does not at all. That striving for some sense of morality is a form of repressing your true feelings. I guess to some degree that’s true but uh, going hard in the paint on that idea is just a tad bit nihilistic. It’s not like nihilism isn’t something Rick and Morty deals in on a regular basis, but it’s usually framed as a point of view rather than the only correct one.
It’s also confusing when the show itself acknowledges that social problems exist and perpetuate social unrest. At the beginning of the episode, Morty insists they rescue Arthricia, a young girl who’s running from attackers on the purge night. She steals their ship and shoots Rick, because this is an episode of Rick and Morty. When they meet her later on, she reveals that the Purge only exists because a bunch of rich assholes want the poor to fight each other. Rick himself likens their social power to the robot exoskeleton that he outfits Arthricia in when she enacts her revenge.
It’s one thing to be boringly nihilistic—it’s another to acknowledge that social problems are systemic and enforced by societal construction, and then to turn around and say, well, there’s nothing you can do about it. If that’s true, I guess I better just stop caring about anything ever. Let me go sharpen my knives for the Purge!
On top of that, the episode is pretty short on laughs, and the b-plot with Summer and Jerry is incredibly boring, reducing Summer to a one-note teenage girl and wallowing in Jerry’s lack of self esteem. It’s a dud of an episode, and it makes me worry about the future. We already have a South Park, guys. Lord knows we don’t need another.
Gita Jackson has dedicated her entire adult life to wading through the marginalia of popular culture and finding gold.