This Deadly Class review contains spoilers.
Deadly Class Season 1 Episode 6
Deadly Class took an important step this week: it gave us a breather from last week’s drug-addled adventure with some much needed characterization, and it dealt with relationships without resorting to needless angst, brooding, or soap opera drama. “Stigmata Martyr” also revisits Madame Gao, a necessary counterpoint to Master Lin’s laissez faire attitude towards the disorder in King’s Dominion. As the Vegas group tries desperately to continue their lives at the school, we’re reminded that they’re just teenagers who are simultaneously more naive and much more complicated than we give them credit for.
For example, Billy’s new approach with Petra is both misguided and brilliant, whether it works or not. And Willie’s recovery after angering the girl in the comic book store was nothing short of miraculous. It’s all just so fun to watch, especially considering how much trauma those two have experienced. Plus when Willie talks about Superman always letting Lex Luthor go, the impressive subtext centers around how he let Chico go, giving his social blunder a deeper meaning beyond just a reaction to personal trauma. Once Gabrielle asks if the store has an Alan Moore section, we’re almost as overjoyed and distracted from the darkness of Willie’s situation as he is.
Deadly Class clearly heeded its own warning via Madame Gao when she told Maria, “Love is the most corrosive emotion; it leads us to our worst extremes.” The show could easily have indulged in the drama of a Saya-Marcus-Maria love triangle, but it only did so when it fit with Maria’s “worst extremes” or Marcus’ inexperience. It helps that the stakes are so high with everyone having to stay frosty under interrogation during the investigation into Chico’s disappearance; as Billy reminds us, “All our asses are riding on his boner.” The humor shows it’s not all about hook-ups and “shipping.” Sometimes it’s just about laughing at Billy’s attempt to be dominated by Miss De Luca or Victor’s arousal while bullying Shabnam in nothing but a towel.
The teachers have also stepped up their game this week: a welcome development in the absence of Henry Rollins’ excellent Professor Denke. Pitting Master Zane’s anarchic “atypical fighting skills” against Miss De Luca’s more disciplined approach lent a liberal versus conservative note to the similar disagreement in philosophy between Master Lin and Madame Gao, his (gasp!) sister. Of course, our knee-jerk reaction to Brandi’s glory-seeking attack against the ninjas is to agree with Zane: she was being a piece of shit and deserves to fail. But is Gao wrong to insist that assassins must seek any opportunity to succeed in their missions, even at each other’s expense?
On the one hand, no sane person would be on the side of Brandi and her racist Dixie Mob, but on the other hand, perhaps King’s Dominion could do with a little more discipline and a little less favoritism. It’s hard to know how to feel about Lin and Gao solely based on the fact that their father sent her to China to undergo the Great Exam at a much younger age than him. But the real mystery which throws the whole family dynamic into a tizzy is that, while reminding us that Master Lin is motivated to champion the downtrodden because of the death of his wife and child in a train accident, he leaves the school and goes home to… his wife and child? Sometimes what’s meant to be enticing in Deadly Class just ends up being confusing, but this revelation was shocking enough to give it a pass.
What’s more impressive is how realistically Maria’s bipolar disorder is portrayed long before Saya tells Marcus the reason why his new girlfriend is acting so crazy. Under the pressure of having to lead the Soto Vatos’ investigation into Chico’s disappearance despite being the killer herself would be enough to make even a stable person crack, but when we see that the stress is leading to Maria giving herself stigmata with a sharp pencil, we know she’s experiencing real trauma. Despite Maria lashing out at Saya for being jealous, her friend still urges Marcus to help Maria and helps him overcome his ignorance when it comes to women and being sensitive to the emotions of others. Thus when Maria almost shoots Marcus with an arrow, it’s hard to fault her for following it up with a rooftop lovemaking session. It may be messed up, but it’s also hot; let’s be real.
“Stigmata Martyr” therefore plays expertly with opposing forces: Lin and Gao, Zane and De Luca, Maria and Saya, but it does something similar with its alternately funny and scary portrayal of Chester a.k.a. “Fuckface.” His desire to get on Donahue is ridiculous and leads to humorous vignettes like his video camera not being loaded with a VHS tape, but rather than defusing his dangerousness, it fuels his image as an insanely single-minded seeker of revenge. Marcus is in King’s Dominion for committing a massacre at the boys’ home, but Chester apparently actually did most of the killing. After all of the drama at the school, Chester’s ultimatum to Marcus creates a great transition to a new conflict that’s been brewing for several episodes now.
So now Marcus has to find Chico’s body, not just so that Chester can lure him out and can kill him, but also so that he can torture his old roommate with threats of discovery for his part in the death of a fellow student. This compelling ending plus another great animation sequence giving us Maria’s back story — a truly tragic origin tale filled with loss, coercion, and hopelessness — made this episode another winner for Deadly Class. As long as the show clears some of the confusion surrounding the Guild and Master Lin, perhaps through more calculated development such as that it gave to characterization this week, we’ll have some truly amazing episodes awaiting us in the second half of the season.
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.