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Deadly Class loses its rhythm in clunky, transitional episode

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The first truly disappointing episode of Deadly Class, “Rise Above,” is a great example of how much pacing matters to a show like this one. With its stylish concept and cast of exaggerated characters, this show can be hard to keep grounded, and it got away from the team behind tonight’s episode, an hour that can’t find the right rhythm and just ends up feeling flat. This often happens with transitional episodes, and this hour definitely qualifies as that as it defines the rivalry between our hero and his nemesis, introduces a new villain, and lays the groundwork for a showdown between Lin and his sister. All that, and it’s got a subplot that basically allows French Stewart to do his interpretation of Hannibal Lecter too. Yep, there’s a lot going on here, and it just never comes together in an entertaining way.

Part of the problem with “Rise Above” is the fact that it has at least three disconnected plotlines fighting for airtime. Let’s break ‘em out one at a time.

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In the ‘A Plot,’ Marcus goes to Saya and tells her that his enemy, Chester ‘Fuckface’ Wilson, is coming after him and he has proof that the King’s Dominion gang killed Chico. He also offers some back story for Marcus and Chester. They were roommates at the boys’ home, which was really a violent, abusive sweatshop. Marcus started a riot, letting all of the prisoners/kids out, but Chester took it a step further, killing everyone, kids included. In a sense, he’s a villain that Marcus created, an enemy who wouldn’t be on the outside if Marcus hadn’t released him.

As Fuckface slashes his way through San Francisco, trying to become a serial killer superstar, he also chats with the severed head of Chico and abuses his underlings, including a scene where he shoves a guy’s head in a used toilet. Deadly Class has been dark before, but this episode felt particularly gross.

Anyway, Marcus and Saya decide that they’re going to steal a technique from Clarice Starling and go to a serial killer to help them catch a serial killer. Remember French Stewart’s cameo a few weeks ago as the maniacal Scorpio Slasher? Well, apparently, he’s just held in the basement and wheeled out for class lectures every now and then. Marcus and Saya go to him for help, and he demands they bust him out for a carnitas burrito and some ice cream. Along the way, he rambles on and on and on about the mind of a serial killer, and practically none of it works. Overwritten dialogue about the nature of killing is the kind of thing that works better on a comic book page than it does coming out of French Stewart’s mouth. It’s not necessarily the actor’s fault, but none of this material works.

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In the end, after he gets his grub, Scorpio leads them to Fuckface, catching the villain at a pound where he’s gone to get another puppy for him, well, “puppy love.” Scorpio proves he’s not to be trifled with by disemboweling one of Chester’s men, and the King’s Dominion kids realize that they may have solved one problem with another problem. Kids these days.

In the ‘B Plot,’ Maria learns that breaking herself free from Chico does not release her from the powerful hand of Chico’s father, played by the excellent David Zayas, mostly known for Dexter. Chico’s dad is as crazy as Chico but way more powerful. “Their families will know Hell before I send them there,” he tells Lin. And we believe him. It’s nice to have a new villain on the show in the form of another solid character actor. Let’s just hope the writers know how to use him well. In the final scene, he forces Maria to kill their enemy in a crowded club, which she does with surprising ease. The look as he admires the blood on her face is particularly disturbing. Maria is still in serious trouble.

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Finally, in the ‘C Plot,’ the writers rush a storyline that one wishes they had held a bit longer. In the span of a few scenes, we learn that Lin has lied for years about the death of his daughter, Maya, in an effort to keep her out of the family business. Lin’s sister, Gao, lost a son to the world of assassins. She (too) quickly discovers her brother’s lie and learns that her niece is still alive. It seems unlikely that Lin will hesitate for a second to kill his sister to protect his daughter, but that’s because the brother-sister dynamic hasn’t been developed. I wish they had built that up to make the coming storm more dramatically complex.

Ultimately, with the brief exception of a few beats with David Zayas, “Rise Above” feels like the first episode of Deadly Class that truly misses its mark. Then again, maybe its “mark” was just to lay the foundation for better episodes to come. Most seasons of most shows have at least one or two transitional episodes. Let’s hope this is the only one of Deadly Class this season.

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Stray observations

  • We didn’t have much space to talk about Willie and Gabrielle this recap but their arc didn’t have much to talk about other than a cool reference to a comic book in which a hero decimates his enemies with a baby under his arm. Wonder what that is? The super-cool Lone Wolf and Cub, which was also made into a few excellent movies available in a great Criterion set.
  • There was an exchange this week about Dr. Seuss being kind of a jerk, including sleeping with another woman while his wife was dying. Was it true? Sorry to ruin your childhood.
  • Only one music cue this week but it was a good one for the final scene: “Ca Plane Pour Moi” by Plastic Bertrand.
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About the author

Brian Tallerico

Brian is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, President of the Chicago Film Critics Association, and a contributor to Vulture, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times.