This Deadly Class review contains spoilers.
Deadly Class Season 1 Episode 7
Brushing aside the indulgent level of violence in Deadly Class — it is a show about assassins after all — reveals a surprisingly rich thematic tapestry underneath, and this is really the first week where the struggle between free will and predestination took center stage in almost every storyline to great effect. Even with Willie’s, whose momentary respite in this episode was a welcome diversion from the struggles elsewhere, explored the idea of fate with aplomb. Besides the overly convenient circumstances of the confrontation with Chester, this week’s installment expertly showed what happens when assassins of varying stripes try to “Rise Above” their callings as the episode title suggests.
Opening with the animated sequence was quite an eye-opener per usual. As with Maria’s origin story last week, illustrator Wes Craig revisits a pivotal sequence from the comic, finally revealing what really happened at the boys’ home that caused Marcus to earn his reputation as a cold-blooded killer. The devastating nature of the needle bomb set the tone for the gruesomeness to come, but the comeuppance for the racist orphanage owner also felt justified even though Chester took things too far. Thankfully, it was Saya who went on this journey down memory lane with Marcus, and his trust in her reading his journal gave the future of their relationship a glimmer of hope.
Plus it’s Saya who first brings up the idea of fate with her reference to the red string that ties people together, and she almost persuades Marcus that since “myths come from somewhere” that there’s some sort of core truth behind everything they do. It’s the keen insight of the Scorpio Slasher, however, that reminds Marcus and us that our protagonist is trying to impose a sense of purpose on his existence to avoid accepting the randomness of his parents’ death and his survival. The return of French Stewart was certainly entertaining, and his Hannibal Lecter-like understanding of psychopathy and by association Marcus himself was a vast improvement over his earlier, more antagonistic introduction.
The only negative was the ease with which Scorpio found Chester at the animal shelter, the timing of which was extremely contrived. Chester spent most of the episode talking himself into taking action via the deliciously warped conversations with Chico’s severed head, so the impulsiveness of the attack on the shelter had to line up perfectly with the students’ field trip. And that’s not even taking into account the weirdly placed delay of the puzzle room that brought Billy along for the ride. We’ll forgive Deadly Class for the narrative manipulation, though, since the thematic stuff was so good.
Even Master Lin had to face up to the inevitable pull of destiny. Madame Gao is a keen observer of the students and their secrets, but she also knows when a grieving father is faking his principle motivation, especially when it’s her own brother. It was a clever move to foreshadow Gao’s discovery of Lin’s secret by having her admire the freshly tuned pipa sitting in the office, but the genius of her adherence to tradition is how her devotion to the Guild is rooted in her own sense of betrayal at having been given to the Green Temple at such a young age. If she had to do it, so should young Naya, her actions seem to say, no matter how much she focuses on her brother’s mistakes with Denke, Chico, and Maria.
And then there’s Maria herself. What other character in Deadly Class is more trapped by her own fate than Maria? To her credit, her affection with El Diablo and her insistence that she is pained by her inability to find Chico’s killer was quite convincing, even to those of us who know the truth. Putting aside how vulnerable her sugar skull makeup makes her in situations where secrecy is required, her decision to kill Yukio to punish the culprit that her fellow Soto Vatos identified is the only one she could have made. The viewers don’t really care about Yukio, but his death is certain to widen the fissure between Maria and Saya, and Maria is still beholden to El Diablo regardless.
The most subtle but lyrical depiction of the theme of fate versus choice was Willie’s subplot with newfound soulmate Gabrielle. Luke Tennie continues to portray Willie’s strength and emotion with equal expertise, and the couple’s discussion of where “the real us” resides was both profound and indicative of the teenage search for identity. When his pager goes off and Gabrielle tells Willie that he has control, that he shouldn’t “stare at the guitar” like his father, Willie dives right back into the idea of fate with, “It’s not in the cards.” What a poignant illustration of what all of the students (and Master Lin) are going through on some level.
Perhaps each character will have to arrive at a critical juncture where a choice must be made, and if that time comes, it will be the most powerful thing they can do. We can only wish for that kind of triumph for Deadly Class, which is quickly becoming quite a literary show even as it delights in showing us disembowelments and throat-slashings. Like Dwight Shandy, we might hope for a little less stabbing, but we don’t make the rules. We must surrender to our fate of watching everyone spiral into the abyss and hope that free will asserts itself in the end.