“Reagan Youth” (Episode 100)
January 16, 2019
Deadly Class, the newest series from Syfy, is based on a series of graphic novels written by Rick Remender and illustrated by Wesley Craig. The comic book series is published by Image Comics and has been running since early 2014. The show is being counts Anthony and Joe Russo (Avengers Infinity War) among its executive producers and stars Benjamin Wadsworth, Benedict Wong, and Lana Condor.
In short, Deadly Class follows the story of Marcus Lopez Arguello, a disaffected youth in 1987 San Francisco, as he goes from orphaned and homeless to enrolled in a special school that trains the next generation of the world’s top assassins. King’s Dominion Atelier of the Deadly Arts isn’t like your high school. Classes here include things like deadly poisons and hand to hand combat. Students are broken into factions and you never know when explosive violence may break out. Run by Master Lin, Kings Dominion teaches Marcus and his “friends” to kill because sometimes, people deserve to die.
Read on for our deep dive recap and review of Episode 1 of Deadly Class, “Reagan Youth” … BEWARE OF SPOILERS!
San Francisco, 1987. Master Lin (Benedict Wong) is teaching a full classroom about the origins of World War I; how the murderous rage of a teenager set in motion a Century of events including two world wars and a Cold War which is still going on in 1987. As Master Lin passes by, Brandy Lynn (Siobhan Williams), she of the blond hair done up big in that 1980s hairspray style, passes Marcus Lopez Arguello (Benjamin Wadsworth) a note. What does the note say? We don’t know because Master Lin whacks his cane down on to the note on top of the desk. He then cracks Brandy Lynn across the face as punishment for trespass of passing notes.
“Character is revealed through choice.”
Master Lin never breaks stride or speech, even as Brandy Lynn’s nose gushes blood and Marcus sits, mouth agape, his face and shirt covered in blood splatter. Brandy Lynn erotically licks the blood from her fingers as Master Lin gets to the point of his speech …
“Ask yourself. On that dark ledge. Poised to strike … Who would you kill?”
Yesterday. It’s “Yesterday” when we come back from the title card. Depeche Mode’s “Behind the Wheel” cues up on a walkman and we learn a little something about Marcus Lopez Arguello. He recently escaped from Sunset Boy Home when it burned to the ground. He intimates that horrible things happened to him inside the home and he also maybe, intimates that he started the fire. Either way, he’s now wanted by the police, the suspect in starting the fire and killing 12 people. Marcus is homeless and troubled. He also smokes – that shit will kill you, Marcus.
On a rooftop, a short haired woman watches Marcus’s movements, a Katana blade strapped to her back.
Marcus sits on the ground, a pan handle sign at his feet and his notebook of drawings in his lap. He’s narrating about the vagaries of life and how it’s a shitty world on the street. He steals a half-eaten Big Mac from a trash can (shout out for using the old school Styrofoam containers – NICE attention to detail) and wishes for the “mundane” shit we take for granted: things like a home and knowing where his next meal is coming from.
As day turns to night and Marcus heads to an underpass where the homeless congregate, he wonders if he’s done something to deserve this life. At the underpass, a wretched creature, Rory (Ryan Robbins), harasses Marcus. It’s clear this is an ongoing event of bullying and thievery. Tonight, Rory steals a photo of a young Marcus with his father. This is too far and Marcus attacks. Unfortunately, Rory is a grown ass man, and slightly crazy, and he dispatches Marcus easily. He does not kill Marcus (this would be a very short show), however, and Marcus, wounded pride and all, stalks away.
Marcus is ranting about President Reagan and how he cut funding to the “nuthouses” releasing “schizos” on to the street. He continues that it’s cool because the money probably went to a cruise missile or rich people. #Sarcasm!
When Marcus picks up a half smoked roach and takes a deep drag. Oh, Marcus. This won’t end well. As he says, the high “hits like a semi” and he begins to hallucinate things. Things like President Reagan (Gary Hetherington, doing a more than passable impersonation of the former President) talking to him on a TV about how the joint was laced with angel dust. when Reagan begins to climb out of the TV, Ring-style, Marcus takes off running. He wanders into a Day of the Dead parade.
High as fuck, Marcus comes to his senses when a teenager informs him that the Police have “made” him. With the help of a random group of people, Marcus is able to leave the parade and runs into a garage. As police cars begin to arrive in the garage, the short-haired girl with the sword rides up on a motorcycle and tells Marcus to get on. It’s very, “come with me if you want to live.”
Marcus hesitates and the girl, Saya Kuroki (Lana Condor), turns her attention to the police. She removes her sword but has no problem dispatching the several cops like they were standing still. she’s a total badass ninja. Marcus is watching this woman whoop some ass as to people run up behind him and throw a hood over his head. Whelp!
The hood is removed and Marcus finds himself tied to a chair. Standing around him is Saya (we don’t know her name yet – we don’t actually know anyone’s name yet) and the other random people that helped Marcus evade the cops during the Day of the Dead parade.
Introductions. There is Willie Lewis (Luke Tennie), Maria Salazar (María Gabriela de Faría) – she’s the death-faced flamenco dancer from earlier, and Billy (Liam James) – our resident 1980s Sex Pistols inspired punk rocker.
Master Lin (we haven’t been told his name yet either but trust me) enters and the “students” (STUDENTS?!?!) part ways. Marcus is freed from his bonds, Master Lin wants to have a conversation. “Are you satisfied with your life,” he asks Marcus
“Me? Yeah. I eat trash and I sleep in piss. Everything according to plan.”
Saya takes umbrage at Marcus’s tone but he doesn’t very much care. Master Lin explains that who they are not as important as who Marcus is. they know he is a killer and Master Lin values this quality. Master Lin tells Marcus there is a school, a special school, where Marcus would be surrounded by his peers.
“I’m offering you a chance to harness that fire inside you. To master the deadly arts.”
Marcus is all, “hard pass, and bounces, stealing Willie’s wallet on the way out. Unfortunately, when he returns to the underpass, the cops are there raiding the place and now Marcus officially has no where left to go.
Backstory Time! Through an animated sequence, we learn a bit about Marcus and his feelings towards Reagan’s administration cutting funds to mental health facilities which in turn, let to mentally unstable people being released on the streets. People like Barbara Salinger. One day, when Marcus was a small boy, Barbara Salinger jumped from a tower and landed on Marcus’s parents, crushing them both to death. Life was just returning to normal, to happiness, for the Arguello family which is the cruelest irony of all.
We come back from the animation to find Marcus standing at the top of his own tower, praying for help to come but this close to ending his life. We pull back and Saya is standing there. She tells him that she’d let him jump but Lin has instructed her to bring him back.
“Master Lin can protect you from the cops. And once he’s done with you, you’ll be able to protect yourself from anyone.”
Her speech doesn’t really have it intended affect and she literally has to pull him back. Switching gears, she moves close to him and tells him that he doesn’t have to be alone. The she kisses him.
Oh, she’s good, y’all. So good. Who can say no to the hot girl dressed in leather kissing you? Not me, that’s for damn sure.
We arrive at the secret entrance to the school as Saya lays out the basic rules of the school:
- Do not reveal the location of the school – this earns you death by evisceration. This is rule is sacrosanct. “Lin don’t flex. Got a world wide rep to maintain.”
- No disobedience.
- No drugs.
- No sex.
Maria adds in that they find “ways around the last one.”
“Welcome to Kings Dominion.”
A monk appears and walks Marcus through the secret entrance into Kings Dominion. Through an ancient looking fortress to Master Lin well appointed office. Kings Dominion looks like the dark mirror version of Hogwarts. Master Lin enters and explains a little but about himself, Kings Dominion and their goals. While humans crave survival, the greater good demands murder.
“There can be nobility in killing. It is a stark truth. Some people deserve to die.”
Lin goes on to explain that his great grandfather founded the school, a reaction to a lifetime of indentured servitude wherein he learned the art of revenge and killing and dedicated himself to teaching self liberation to oppressed people. People like Marcus, Lin says. While the school’s curriculum has broadened over the years, the primary goal remains — “to give peasants the required skill to dethrone their corrupt masters.” Master Lin opens a box.
“And if you do as I say, I’ll give your rage a voice loud enough to be heard throughout the world.”
Inside the box is a new Kings Dominion school jacket. Are you in? is Lin’s unspoken question. “Fuck it,” Marcus responds. Oh yeah, he’s in!
First Day of School. We watch Marcus get showered (lord, he was filthy) and get dressed and he receives his student ID card.
School supplies for a first year student at Kings Dominion Atelier of the Deadly Arts:
- Poison 101 Textbook
- The Anarchist Cookbook
- Throwing knife
- VHS copy of Faces of Death
Marcus has a sly little smile as he collects his school things, he thinks he is going to like what this school has to offer. In the hallways, Marcus finds that last night’s camaraderie dissolves in the glare of daylight and the school factions. Marcus opens his locker and finds a stuffed bear with a knife in it and sign that says “Child Killer.” He does well to point out that knife in the back is a phrase that might be literal here.
Maria pops by to mention that his rep has spread in the school and people want to know about him. She tells Marcus that gang affiliation is mandatory for survival and, as he is partly Spanish (Nicaraguan to be specific), he can run with Soto Vatos.
Put a pin in that for now, we’ll deal with affiliations at lunch time.
For now, we meet Chico (Michel Duval). He is Maria’s psychotic boyfriend and assuming that Marcus was making a move on Maria, invites him to a fight that night wherein Chico will kill Marcus.
What a nice boy, that Chico is.
AP Black Arts. We come back to the opening scene. Master Lin has just cracked Brandy Lynn across the face with his cane. As we hear Master Lin repeat his line asking who would you kill, Brandy Lynn urges Marcus to open the note. Inside, “You’re dead mutt,” surrounded by swastikas. Brandy Lynn … is not nice.
Back to Master Lin, he hands the class their homework assignment (also worth half their grade): search this city and make a case for someone that deserves to die. “And kill them.” Dispose of the body, hide all evidence and bring him proof. Class dismissed. FYI, Master Lin sees this as a way for his students to show him who they really.
Yo, Kings Dominion isn’t fucking around.
Flashback Time! Marcus muses on someone that deserves to die and immediately comes around to Rory. We see him finding a body at the homeless camp underpass and he narrates that Rory’s killings were a known secret and eventually Rory stopped hiding the bodies. Going to the police wasn’t an option, Marcus says, because the police don’t care about dead homeless.
Hand-To-Hand Combat. Miss De Luca (Erica Cerra) teaches this class. She is telling the students, who are decked out in martial arts uniforms, that when the Native American tribes were destroyed, the Fierce Comanche survived an extra 40 years because of strength and cunning.
“The world respects those that can protect themselves.”
Every opponent has a weakness, pick a partner and find their’s. The class divides up and Maria grabs Marcus. She’s very handsy as she beats him up. She intimates she’d like to be a reason he came back to Kings Dominion.
As Marcus heads to his next class, he’s handed a box of rat bones.
“Fuck, I think I just joined a cult.”
Marcus is worried about his “date” with Chico later but reassures himself with the rule that students killing each other is actually not allowed at KD.
Poison Lab. Jürgen Denke (Henry Rollins) teaches this class and this motherfucker is intense. As he tells the students to prepare their poisons (they’ll be killing their caged animals in a minute), Billy gets Marcus to distract Viktor (Sean Depner), the kid that broke Billy’s arm in Hand-To-Hand Combat class. With the help of Petra (Taylor Hickson), a hot, goth Russian girl, Billy is able to put some drops of … something into Viktor’s drink which, shortly, will cause him to have explosive diarrhea.
Side Note: I knew a kid that did that kind of stuff in high school, I made sure to always be friends with him.
The beauty of this scene is that the lesson being discussed is about the type of poison to use if you want to make a statement to your enemies. Petra opines, correctly, that the poison that leaves your enemy writhing in agony is the best statement maker there is. Which is when Viktor’s ass explodes. Professor Denke refuses to let him leave for the bathroom so we get to hear Viktor’s bowels empty. Denke tells Viktor that his arrogance brought on this attack and uses Viktor’s experience for them to all remember, a cautionary tale indeed. Billy can hardly contain his glee … until Denke tells him to get a mop. Gross!
Lunch. In your high school, you probably had factions in the lunchroom: Jocks? Band geeks? Nerds? Burn outs? Kings Dominion is no different but the factions here are generally racially or politically-based and loom large with a greater sense of menace and violence. Billy explains to Marcus (and us) that most of the student body is made of “legacies,” children of the world’s top killers and horrible people. For instance:
- Soto Vatos. Led by Chico (abusive boyfriend to Maria), children of powerful cartel members.
- Kuroki Syndicate. Saya’s people. Japanese gang types. “The Yakuza kids.”
- Final World Order (FWO). Willie’s faction. “Party bummers.”
- The Preps. Kids of government spy types (FBI, CIA) (“fascists” in Marcus’s world view)
- The Dixie Mob. Brandy Lynn’s ilk. Racists, white nationalists, Nazis, confederate lovers, white power
- The Hessians. Led by Leonard. Low on the totem pole but eonard has weed so he has his uses.
- The Rats. The non-legacies. People like Marcus, “blood thirsty orphan” and Billy. Inconsequential lineages or first time students. “The bottom of the food chain. No affiliation.”
Ah, the box of rat bones from earlier makes more sense now. Billy takes Marcus to the Graveyard, where the disenfranchised losers congregate. We find Petra here and another punk rock kid, Lex (Jack Gillett). Lex is British so he is VERY Sex Pistols. He even says, “wanker” so you know he’s authentic. As proof of Maria’s statement earlier that the school is well aware of Marcus’s rep, Lex knows Marcus as the “orphanage killer” and also knows that he is due to fight Chico later.
The disaffected youth talk about how they plan to change the world and who they plan to kill. Marcus tells them that he is going to kill the man that ruined his life … Ronald Reagan. The group erupts into laughter.
“He said, he’s gonna kill the bloody Gippa.”
Petra mentions the fight with Chico and Marcus waves her off, saying that Chico is all talk. The laughter falls away and Lex tries to dispel any fantasies Marcus may have – Chico stabbed his own cousin for looking at Maria and left him a quadriplegic. The rules against killing mean nothing to Chico, “he’s a butcher.” Marcus looks decidedly more worried now.
We come back from break to find Maria anxiously trying to swallow some (pain?) pills in the girl’s bathroom. Saya tries to talk to her but Maria just pushes past her and leaves. Marcus walks and pleads with Saya to talk to him about the Chico situation. She doesn’t really give a shit about helping him out of his jam but she stops to listen when Marcus tells her that his reputation is bullshit.
Exposition! Marcus tells Saya that the Boys Home was a sweat shop where the kids were tortured and “a lot of bad shit” was done to them. He admits to hurting some guards when he escaped but tells her that he had nothing to do with the fire that killed the kids. The news and cops have it wrong. Marcus’s point is that he is not like Saya (your wording could be better here, Marcus). If it’s all bullshit, then why did you come to the school, Saya asks. Marcus admits because she kissed him and told him to come. She tells Marcus that the whole thing was an assignment, not love.
“You told me I didn’t have to be alone.”
“I didn’t tell you to start shit with the cartel.”
Saya is stone cold here and tells him that A. Chico IS going to kill him, B. she isn’t going to help Marcus, and C. the only thing he can do is run. Good talk!
And run Marcus does … until he runs right into Maria, now sporting a massive black eye. Marcus puts two and two together and goes hunting for Chico. Maria is totally playing him. Ay dios mio.
Finding Chico in the yard throwing dice with the rest of Soto Vatos, Marcus launches at him landing a solid, yet singular, shot. The rest of the fight is all Chico and he backs Marcus up against a wall with a blade to his neck. Marcus dares him to do it. As a rat, Marcus has got nothing to lose whereas Chico has everything if he kills a student. Master Lin appears and Chico backs off quick, suggesting they were just “sparring.” He whisper threats to Marcus that they’ll finish this later. A note to say that Willie has watched this whole thing take place in the shadows.
“Fuck this place.”
Marcus takes off. Later that night, Marcus is walking the streets of Chinatown when Willie rolls up on him in his car. He tells Marcus that he needs to ace the AP Black Arts assignment and he’s appointed Marcus as his new lab partner. Marcus doesn’t understand why he would help Willie, Willie who shunned him all day. Willie’s reply consists of a handgun he brandishes. “Get in the damn car.” THAT is a persuasive argument.
In the car, Willie tries to make small talk, relating how nervous he was his first day. How he is trying to fuck Miss De Luca and how he has already fucked Brandy Lynn, the Nazi. To be clear, they’ve knocked boots but she isn’t marriage material. Oh, this show.
There is a little argument about the quality of indie comics versus Marvel’s mainstreams like Dark Phoenix. Willie pulls out his gun – he feels very strongly that Dark Phoenix is the best comic. Willie is a young Denzel Washington in Training Day. Otherwise, Marcus isn’t very talkative and so Willie gets to business. Marcus is going to help Willie kill Rory the monster and if he does, Willie will leave him alone and let him quit Kings Dominion if he still wants to do so. Marcus agrees … reluctantly.
We come back from break and we’re at the homeless camp. Willie is not impressed and doesn’t understand why Marcus is looking to run back here. Marcus points out Rory but Willie is unable to pull the trigger.
“I’m a pacifist, man.”
“You’re a WHAT?!?”
As they argue about Willie’s moral opposition to killing, Rory finds them and gives chase. Rory backs Willie up against a fence and is all, “Imma gonna stabby stabby you” when Marcus comes up behind and whacks him full in the face with a pipe. Rory is on the ground and Willie wants to go but Marcus isn’t finished. He takes the pipe to Rory the monster and reclaims the photo that Rory stole earlier. “What did you do,” Willie asks?
“Killed someone who deserved it.”
The boys hide the body in a nearby dumpster and set it on fire. Evidence … destroyed like Master Lin demanded. Willie explains that it was his mom who was the OG in his family, she sent him to Kings Dominion to make him a man. Willie tells Marcus that he’s got the right idea by running away from KD. This experience of killing Rory has changed Marcus’s mind. The hard part is over, he thinks and besides, he’s got no where else to go. Marcus is staying.
Back at Kings Dominion, Marcus stays outside to have a smoke, the two secret friends sharing a fist bump as Willie heads inside. Marcus’s hands are shaking bad but no time for that, Maria is here. She emerges from the dark and tells him that he embarrassed Chico, and Chico will never let that go. In the light, Marcus notices that Maria’s black eye is gone – magic of makeup. She set Marcus up because she
wanted needed him to kill Chico. Marcus is feeling used but she assures him that while she tricked him, she wasn’t lying about liking him. They kiss. He tells her that he can’t, he’s got enough problems. She responds by inviting him to the graveyard where everyone is getting wasted.
Marcus makes his way back inside Kings Dominion when Master Lin finds him. What do you want, Lin asks? “A reason to wake up,” Marcus responds.
Master Lin Story Time! Master Lin walks Marcus through the school and tells him about his first kills. Master Lin’s wife and small child were killed by a drugged up truck driver with bad brake lines on his Freightliner. So Marcus killed the driver, the owner of the truck who didn’t chekc the brake lines and the judge who told Lin that the deaths were the act of God. Marcus makes the point that his family was still dead. Lin responds without hesitation that so were the men who killed them. It didn’t help at first but eventually, he came to appreciate the peace of vengeance.
Master Lin tells Marcus that once he sheds his fear of deciding who deserves to live and die, it gets easier and he’ll feel better.
“Strength feels better than weakness.”
Lin shows Marcus to his room which is really no more than a storeroom but it’s also the first safe bed Marcus has slept in in a long time. It’s not lost on him (or us at this point) what that means to Marcus.
Master Lin’s Office. He stands over his conference table which has headshots of the students, some of whom have different kinds of markers on them. Saya enters and asks Lin if she is done with her assignment?
“Not yet,” Lin responds and slide a picture of Marcus towards her, his picture also having a certain rune marking on it. Lin looks deadly serious and Saya looks … anxious?
The Graveyard. As Marcus joins the school party in the graveyard, he narrates us out of the episode. He is talking about how he doesn’t think a traditional life with a wife and kids is his jam and maybe this place is where he belongs. Maria sidles up to him and makes cute while Chico throws eye daggers at them across the way. Marcus is all eyes for Saya, though. Unfortunately, she’s staring right back at him and, whatever the meaning of her assignment is that she just got from Master Lin, she looks terrified.
“You can’t survive without a family. Even if they are liars and murderers … Maybe I finally found a reason to live. In a place surrounded by death.”
The school crest appears on the screen, “In Vitam Mortem.” In Life and Death.
At the start of the episode, Master Lin asks us, “Who would be the recipient of your rage?” Man, what an excellent question. Deadly Class is all about embracing that part of our humanity that we keep locked away, hidden from all to see. Our purest rage and hate. It’s a fetish fantasy that, for an hour a week, let’s us roll around in the darkest muck of our minds. It’s refreshing and honestly, I’ve never seen anything like it on TV.
As mentioned several times, humans hold life sacred but there is evil in the world. And so, the function of Kings Dominion is practical, if we kill for purpose, if we kill those who deserve it … there is a nobility there. Master Lin’s final speech was illuminating, not only to give context to who he is, what kind of man he is and the background that forms his behavior but also, to serve as a credo for the show.
Deadly Class is dark and it is subversive. But there is sort of perverse beauty rising from its flames. How often do we hear about rapists and murderers getting away with their crimes because of a technicality, because of a flaw in the law or the justice system. Deadly Class tells us that YOU can be the judge, the jury, AND the executioner and, as long as you can live with and defend your position, we’re okay with you being those things too. Go forth and kill those that deserve it.
I am looking forward to the weeks ahead as Marcus settles into life in Kings Dominion to see if this harsh position is tempered but for right now, Deadly Class is a sharp edge that will cut you and make you bleed and make you wonder what you really believe, even if you don’t think you can say those things allow.
Do some people deserve to die? It’s hard to argue at the continued existence of Rory, that’s for sure. Is it so black and white or will be wallowing in the gray area of morals and ethics?
Whatever the case, I am looking forward to getting down into the muck with you and trying to figure this all out. Thank you for reading and please, join me next week for episode 2!