This Deadly Class review contains spoilers.
Deadly Class Season 1 Episode 1
The Deadly Class premiere is difficult to judge. Like any show, it should be evaluated on its own merits in terms of the kind of story it’s trying to tell and the type of fan it’s supposed to appeal to. As an adaptation, it brings the Rick Remender/Wesley Craig Image comic to life in spectacular fashion, and it is as about as successful as anyone could hope — no surprise given the original writer and artist are attached to the project. But as a tale unto itself, it’s a bit uneven, yo-yoing between Master Lin’s profound motivation for establishing King’s Dominion, the school for assassins around which the series centers, and the students’ unapologetic stereotypes and predictable bluster.
That’s not to say the ensemble of teenage assassins in Deadly Class isn’t delightful — it is! As comic book exaggerations of brooding angst, they capture our imagination and invite us to learn more. When Marcus Lopez, a homeless nihilist with a tragic past played by Benjamin Wadsworth, is recruited to join the secret school for the deadly arts, his initial cynical refusal is refreshing, reminding us that King’s Dominion isn’t anything like Hogwarts. Likewise, the fact that a kiss from Saya (Lana Condor) changes his mind makes sense for a lonely drifter like Marcus, even though he is told quite early on that Master Lin, the head of the school played wonderfully by Benedict Wong, brooks no disobedience, drugs, or sex.
Maria, the sugar-skull-faced Mexican beauty with the bladed fans played by María Gabriela de Faría, assures Marcus that there are ways around that last one, and right away viewers know that part of the drama will center around classmate infatuations, not surprising or unwelcome in a drama of this sort. However, the manner in which the various gangs size Marcus up leading to a minor social infraction blown out of proportion by the leader of Soto Vatos, just as Maria is trying to recruit the Nicaraguan newcomer, seems like a tenuous faux pas to hang a murderous vendetta on.
In fact, the pettiness of the students’ cliques feels at odds with Master Lin’s stated goal for his assassins school: “to give peasants the power to overthrow their corrupt masters.” While Lin is clearly rationalizing the nobility of revenge because of the death of his own wife and daughter, we soak up his aphorisms with relish, trying to give the Dixie mob, the Hessians, and the Kuroki Syndicate the same charm as Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. Lin realizes that we, like Marcus, may worry about right and wrong, but when he says, “Once you shed your fear, you’ll find that strength is better than weakness,” we’re eager for Marcus to make that journey of discovery to give it all a deeper meaning.
In that sense, the social Darwinism is only disconcerting because of the simplistic motivations it ascribes to most of the school’s attendees. It’s hard to care about caricatures. That’s why Luke Tennie’s Willie enters the scene like a breath of fresh air. As the leader of the Final World Order gang, he latches onto Marcus as his lab partner for AP Black Arts, in which they must kill someone who deserves to die. In addition to the inarguably relatable and humorous debate over Flaming Carrot and Uncanny X-Men, Willie is the first character to admit his vulnerability when he tells Marcus he’s secretly a pacifist. That confession is so much more interesting than anything the other would-be assassins had to say.
That includes Marcus’ own assertion that he’s going to kill President Reagan because he cut funding to mental health, allowing a released suicidal schizophrenic to jump from a tower onto his parents, killing them both. The fact that he is willing to kill homeless bully Rory, unlike Willie, gives us a glimmer of his deadly potential as does his schoolyard defiance of Chico, head of Soto Vatos, but in the end our picture of Marcus is colored by the mystery of what he did at the boys’ home and the loneliness that pulls him towards Maria while he pines after Saya. It all makes him more confusing than complex.
But then again, it’s only the pilot! We shouldn’t expect all of the character development to happen in the first episode of Deadly Class. If future storylines find a clear focus for Marcus and back off on the exaggerated jailhouse feel of the school, we have plenty of characters that will bring viewers back for more. Hopefully the show will capitalize on its unique premise (Henry Rollins and Erica Cerra as teachers were perfect!) and make its antiheroes into people we want to root for.
Michael Ahr is a writer, reviewer, and podcaster here at Den of Geek; you can check out his work here or follow him on Twitter (@mikescifi). He co-hosts our Sci Fi Fidelity podcast and voices much of our video content.