“Maybe I finally found a reason to live…in a place surrounded by death.”
Picture Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters (sans superpowers) meshed with the Fraternity from Wanted. Sprinkle in a bit of Oz-like divisions between races with the cherry being the always excellent Benedict Wong and you’ve got Deadly Class.
Based off the graphic novel series of the same name and created by Rick Remender, Deadly Class introduces viewers to Marcus, a teenaged orphan in 1987 San Francisco who finds himself nearly out of options, the dangers of the street threatening to swallow him whole…if his own despair doesn’t finish the job. With nothing really to look forward to, Marcus is saved when he’s granted acceptance into King’s Dominion, a school for assassins, teaching the children of mob bosses, cartel lords, and the like the murder trade.
Being the series premiere, the first episode of Deadly Class doesn’t waste time building the world Marcus will be forced to navigate. It’s not only the student cliques but his own insecurities and scars left by a past wrought with unfortunate events. This quick-paced setup is not only for the audience but also Marcus as he realizes what he’s stumbled into. Taking a page from the Spartans of old, Marcus’s first assignment is to kill someone that deserves it…all without being caught. It’s a major eye-opener and it’s not long before Marcus is reconsidering his decision to matriculate at the Dominion. But he eventually decides that King’s Dominion will not only give him the skills necessary to exact vengeance on those deserving but it will give Marcus the something so traumatized and abused people would want: the power to no longer feel helpless.
Of all the things present in this pilot episode, the one glaring issue is the soundtrack. Don’t get me wrong, most of the tunes are pretty dang good. I mean, Depeche Mode and The Cure are two bands at the pinnacle of that 80s rock but sometimes less is more. Unfortunately Deadly Class uses the music for nearly every transition. The score to soundtrack ratio is much too high in favor of the latter and is sometimes a distraction for the onscreen events. It can be more of a nuisance—like a gnat swirling around your head—than an imminent distraction of a hornet doing the same. Toning down the bits of eclectic 80’s punk will go a long way into making the music more than just a play on the nostalgia of those of us who grew up during that time.
As first episodes go, Deadly Class is coherently cluttered, shrouded with promise. There’s no confusion as to the main players or Marcus’s journey and yet, any time a show is tasked with framing so much of its narrative world in the first hour, aside than Marcus, the other characters—including the measured but brutal Master Lin—aren’t truly given much to do. This in itself is not a bad thing and, in fact, the writers have sprinkled enough tidbits that, over the course of a 10-episode season, there will be plenty of details to fill in. And despite none of the students showcasing a commanding screen presence (understandable as these are good but not super seasoned actors), there are a few whose charisma is at the level where viewers will definitely want to know more.
- The info-dump the pilot uses to fill Marcus in on his new abode would have been seen as lazy were it not for the necessity of him learning the ropes. In that regard, the comic-book way they snapshotted each clique provided a clear understanding of some of those hurdles Marcus will have to navigate throughout the season. These include:
- Soto Vatos—Children of the cartel lords, they are led by the sociopathic Chico, whose deadly attention Marcus has already drawn. To make it worse, Maria, currently Chico’s girlfriend, has made it clear she’s got eyes for Marcus.
- The Preps –They’re the “rich kids; mostly CIA and FBI”.
- Kuroki Syndicate—Led by Saya, they are the kids of the Yakuza. As it was Saya who initially convinced Marcus to joining King’s Dominion, he still has an eye for her though whether his attraction to her is a part of the narrative remains to be seen.
- Dixie Mob—Kids of White Nationalists, Brandy Lee is the one ‘mobber of note. She was even nice enough to give Marcus a welcome to King’s Dominion note…even if it was littered in swastikas.
- Final World Order—Led by Willie Lewis, hail from Watts and represent the street gangs of that area. In truth, Willie may be the most interesting character; he exudes confidence and a willingness to dole out violence but Marcus discovers that Willie’s a pacifist, at King’s Dominion at the behest of his mother, a badass shot-caller who’s ‘bout that life’.
- Hessians—Led by Leonard, not much else is mentioned about them (though “he’s got weed”).
- Then there are the rats, those without legacy or affiliation. That includes Marcus and Billy, the green haired, Mohawk wearing, slightly off-kilter comic relief. His dad’s a cop with mob connections.
- It’s pretty great seeing not only Benedict Wong in a starring role but Henry Rollins as well. Channeling his inner Snape, Rollins plays Denke, the professor of Poison Arts. This duo, along with Erica Cerra’s (from Eureka, BSG, and Supernatural) Miss De Luca, gives Deadly Class a bit of gravitas and name recognition.