Deadly Class Recap: Ballroom Blitz

Deadly Class

Snake Pit
Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

Deadly Class

Snake Pit
Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: Katie Yu/SYFY

Deadly Class is about a whole school of budding teenage killers, but the first two episodes have largely centered on Marcus, a freshman recruit and our POV on this very heightened world. But there are a lot of stories to tell here, and Deadly Class wisely uses its third episode to shift the story closer to an ensemble piece. We still get a few eye-rolling voiceover monologues full of nihilistic Marcus–isms, but “Snake Pit” spends just as much time on the other students, and the show is much stronger for it.

The character who benefits most this week is Petra, the antisocial goth who lingered on the margins of the first two episodes. It’s a shame that Petra is finally coming into the spotlight after last week’s “Noise, Noise, Noise,” when Billy’s confession of love fell flat because we didn’t really know either of them.

This week’s episode is set shortly after Petra’s hookup with Viktor, which Petra clearly viewed as a one-night stand. But Viktor, to pretty much everyone’s surprise, remains both interested and persistent. He flirts, and cajoles, and eventually convinces her to be his date at the Sleep With the Fishes dance.

It’s pretty obvious where this is going — particularly since this subplot unfolds across Haze Week, when the “rats” at King’s Dominion are subjected to mean-spirited pranks like mousetraps in their lockers and cooked rats in their cafeteria food. But it’s still pretty heartbreaking when it’s revealed that Viktor has been messing with her all along. Petra lets her guard down, goes to the bathroom, and discovers that a posse of girls led by Brandy has been sent to take her down a peg.

Given the amount of time Deadly Class spent on this story, I was surprised that Viktor and Brandy’s grand scheme culminated in goth-y Petra being marched out onto the stage in a blonde wig and a fluffy pastel dress. Don’t get me wrong. This was a pretty mean thing to do. But given that the whole conceit of Deadly Class is “high school, but with absurdly lethal stakes,” I was surprised that Brandy stopped at your standard-issue cruel teen prank. King’s Dominion may have rules against students killing other students, but I’m not clear on how Brandy wielding a knife in the bathroom turned into Petra wearing an embarrassing outfit in front of her classmates. They didn’t even drop a bucket of pig’s blood on her!

In all, it feels like another piece of evidence that Deadly Class still hasn’t calibrated exactly how dark it should go. Some stories — like the prank on Petra or Willie’s public defense of Marcus — feel milquetoast and undercooked. Others — like the animal rapist tracking Marcus down, or Marcus’s brutally overwritten, nihilistic rants about how the world is an awful place — veer too far in the other direction.

Happily, the solution to Petra’s problem walks exactly the right line. In a callback to a Poison Lab lesson earlier in the episode, Marcus and his friends go to the dance armed with homemade Mellow Yellow, a hallucinogen that makes its victims see whatever they fear most. (It’s basically Scarecrow’s fear toxin.) It’s a nasty, darkly funny revenge, and it breaks up the whole dance. It also leads to a particularly tender moment when the dance floor clears out and Billy finally gets his slow-dance with Petra. For a moment, at least, these kids get to embrace all the sweaty-palmed awkwardness and open-hearted tenderness of being teenagers.

But it’s not just the students who come to blows in episode three. Deadly Class also expands its narrative scope to the realm of the instructors. So far, we’ve really only seen the teachers at King’s Dominion through the eyes of the students, which means they’ve mostly come across as hard-assed, inscrutable authority figures. But a key subplot follows Poisons Lab instructor Jürgen Denke as he attempts to resign from his position at the school.

Master Lin attempts to refuse, then takes Denke’s case to some kind of higher authority, who insists that Lin follow through on the standard penalty for anyone who attempts to leave King’s Dominion. If you’ve been paying attention, you will not be surprised to learn that the standard penalty is murder.

But when Lin actually confronts Denke, something interesting happens. At the end of a brutal battle, Lin nearly strangles Denke to death… and then lets him go. Their argument began, in part, because Denke believed that King’s Dominion, with Lin as headmaster, had grown too brutal. Lin certainly talks a good, merciless, impossibly hard-assed game. But by the end of the episode, it’s certainly starting to look like he might not practice what he preaches.

Extra Credit

• The prologue of the episode — which gives us a glimpse of Marcus’s old bestiality-obsessed roommate at the boys’ home — is mercifully brief, but we’ll clearly be spending a lot more time with that guy down the road.

• I sincerely hope Jürgen Denke’s departure from King’s Dominion doesn’t mean the end of his role on the show — but Henry Rollins has been credited as a guest star all season, so my guess is we won’t be seeing him anytime soon.

• Via Master Lin, we get a brief glimpse of the higher authority, and it’s … pretty weird! Lin is forced to crawl to a small door before he can meet with his superior, who uses living human beings as office furniture, including the “bench” she sits on.

• In another subplot, we see Saya and Maria team up for some relatively normal, decidedly non-lethal teenage rebellion: trying to buy booze with a fake ID (and stealing a bottle when that doesn’t work). Both of these characters remain underdeveloped, but I like the core of their friendship, which has a warmth and a mutual respect that’s lacking among the other Deadly Class students. Unfortunately, it’s probably a sham: After Saya defends Maria from Chico, Chico retaliates with some evidence that makes it look like Maria is playing on her sympathies, much as she played Marcus in the show’s pilot.

• We also briefly meet another, particularly menacing instructor, who teaches — what else? — Fundamentals of Psychopathy.

• Willie and Marcus bond over the Nintendo Entertainment System classics Kid Icarus and Contra. They also spend some time playing a deeper cut: Frank Bruno’s Boxing, a ripoff of the beloved Nintendo title Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!, which was released for the less-remembered Commodore 64.

• Willie says, “I want my two dollars” in an effort to cover up his friendship with Marcus. Given the show’s timeframe, I’d guess that’s a veiled reference to 1985’s Better Off Dead, a teen comedy in which John Cusack is chased by an irrepressible paperboy who keeps growling the same line.

• Deadly Class loves to go all-in on the cultural stereotypes, so of course Viktor hates nothing more than capitalism and hallucinates the Baba Yaga when he gets poisoned.

• Eighties songs in this episode include the Go-Gos’ “Our Lips Are Sealed,” Minor Threat’s “Good Guys (Don’t Wear White),” and Chris de Burgh’s cheese-tastic “The Lady in Red.”

Deadly Class recap: Ballroom Blitz