Deadly Class is really rushing to cross off every high-school movie cliché, isn’t it? Last week’s series premiere gave us all your classic First Day of School tropes: hard-assed teachers, a vindictive bully, an impossibly challenging homework assignment, and a “where do I sit in the cafeteria?” scene. And this week’s frustrating sophomore episode hinges on another teen-movie staple: the crazy house party.
Having killed Rory in last week’s episode, Marcus is looking for a way to drown his nagging feelings of guilt (depicted here as a vision of Rory literally appearing and cackling at him). A house party, he hopes, will have all the booze and weed he needs to forget about killing a guy.
But before Marcus can drown his sorrows, there’s a whole day of classwork to finish. Master Lin is enraged that so many of his students failed to complete the “kill somebody” assignment from the premiere, so he pivots to an even harder lesson. Lin poisons the class and gives them a riddle to solve, with the antidote as the prize. If they can’t pull it off within five minutes, they’ll be dead.
This is easily the best scene in the episode, but it also points to a problem that Deadly Class will need to confront going forward. When the dust settles, a handful of students are still alive: Marcus, Saya, Maria, Chico, and Brandy. And who didn’t make it? A bunch of students we’ve never seen before, and will never see again. It’s the Deadly Class version of the Star Trek redshirt problem: At a school where the stakes are literally life and death, the TV show can’t afford to kill off anybody we actually know with impunity.
So maybe it’s for the best that Deadly Class ultimately pivots to the house party (hosted by Shabnam, a genial nerd who becomes Marcus’s roommate by the end of the episode). There’s a bit of a sly joke in juxtaposing these two events: For a teen, what happens at a party really can feel like life or death.
So why doesn’t this episode work nearly as well as the premiere? For starters, tt doesn’t help that “Noise, Noise, Noise” is saddled with two dead-in-the-water plotlines. The first — in which Chico takes Maria out for a “romantic dinner” that ends with him killing somebody — is extremely predictable, and has the unfortunate side effect of sequestering Maria away from all the show’s most interesting characters. The second, which follows Billy’s ill-fated attempt to tell Petra he has a crush on her, is standard-issue high-school movie stuff — but since we don’t really know Billy or Petra yet, it’s hard to get too invested in any of it.
Meanwhile, Marcus stomps around moodily, ingesting any substance he can get his hands on and picking fight after fight. (Weirdly — despite the fact that we’ve been told, over and over, that this school is full of vicious sociopaths itching for a fight —there are no immediate consequences for Marcus attacking his classmates.) The meatiest of these moments is his brief standoff with Willie, who has taken credit for the murder Marcus committed. But mostly, this is just water-treading until the following day, when Master Lin reveals that he knows Marcus was the real killer, and takes him to the funeral.
“Noise, Noise, Noise” is kind of a filler episode — which is, admittedly, a little troubling when it’s the second episode of the whole series — but this ending seemed promising. I like the idea of Master Lin using his talents as an instructor to nudge Marcus away from empathy. Here, he sets Marcus up to insult Rory in front of his grieving family at the funeral. As Marcus walks away, with Rory’s daughter’s spit still dripping down his face, Lin says, “I, for one, am very proud of you.” You can see how Marcus, who lost his parents and has only been harmed by the adults in his life ever since, could be seduced by Lin’s warped philosophy.
I wish that was where the episode had ended. We need to talk about this stinger, because it neatly encapsulates my biggest concerns about Deadly Class going forward. In a private meeting, Saya tells Master Lin that Marcus didn’t kill all those kids at the boys’ home. So who did? Cut to a stranger — face covered in burn scars — who has broken into a petting zoo and raped a goat.
If you squint, you can kind of see what led to this choice. The whole premise of Deadly Class is predicated on a school full of monsters and psychopaths. For an external presence to be truly threatening, he needs to be demonstrably worse in some way.
And sure, I guess bestiality is one way to establish that. But it’s also a non sequitur — darkness for darkness’s sake, without any greater purpose or point to make. It’s disgusting, but not in an interesting way. It suggests that Deadly Class shares Marcus’s jaundiced view of the world, and a disaffected teenager’s idea of what constitutes edginess. Like any story about teenagers killing each other, Deadly Class is always going to rely on some degree of shock value. But shock value isn’t actually worth much if Deadly Class doesn’t cut it with substance.
• Given that Deadly Class was fortunate enough to lock down Lana Condor — who broke out this summer in the Netflix hit To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before — it’s striking, and frustrating, that Saya has been given so little to do in these first two episodes. Given Saya’s secret partnership with Master Lin, which is rich with potential, I’m hoping Deadly Class gives Condor some material worthy of her talent before long.
• In another animated sequence, we get Willie’s backstory. When he was a kid, a group of men rushed into his apartment to kill his dad. Willie grabbed a gun and shot them, but lost control and ended up accidentally shooting his dad too.
• Another one for the “edgy, but not interesting” file: Lex beating Shabnam with his mother’s own sex toy.
• Master Lin’s riddle: “Alive without breath. Cold as death. Never thirsty, but always drinking.” The solution: Fish. Should we take it as a bad omen that all the fish in Shabnam’s aquarium are dead by the end of the party?
• That’s comedian Brian Posehn as Dwight Shandy, the lone weird adult wandering around at a high-school party. He doesn’t get much to do.
• One thing for which Deadly Class deserves ample credit: the physicality and brutality of its fight sequences, which are truly impressive on a TV budget. The stunt team includes veterans from pretty much every major blockbuster released over the past few years, and it shows.
• Deadly Class extends its already-impressive ’80s playlist with a few more choice tracks this week, including Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film” and Ice-T’s “Sex.”
• More “Hey, it’s the ’80s!” stuff come from Shabnam, who giggles at a Spuds MacKenzie commercial and invites Marcus over to come over and play Castle Wolfenstein on his Commodore 64.
• This week’s loving comic-book homage: Marcus tries to make a new friend by bonding over a shared love of Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez’s beloved (and ongoing!) alt-comic classic Love and Rockets.
• We haven’t spent much time with the teachers at Kings Dominion, but I love Henry Rollins’s take on Jürgen Denke, who runs the poison lab. There’s a touching, almost John Keating–esque warmth in his interactions with Marcus — until you remember, of course, that he has dedicated his life to teaching all these kids how they can use chemicals to murder people.