WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the premiere episode of Syfy's Deadly Class.
School is, quite literally, a killer in Deadly Class, the new Syfy drama based on the Image Comics series by Rick Remender and Wesley Craig. Set at King's Dominion, an elite academy where the world's crime families send their children to be trained as assassins, the series follows Marcus Arguello, an orphaned street kid pursued by police for the deaths of 12 people in a fire at a youth home. With nowhere else to go, he accepts an offer of enrollment at King's Dominion, but quickly discovers it's every bit as cutthroat there as it is on the streets.
The story unfolds in the 1980s, and Deadly Class leans into that backdrop, not only in its politics -- Marcus' goal is to kill Ronald Reagan, whom he blames for the series of events that led to his parents' deaths -- but also in its soundtrack. The pilot episode, aptly named "Reagan Youth," includes an admirable mix of alt rock, punk and new wave that serves as a fine introduction to some of the best music of the era. We break down the tracks below.
'Behind the Wheel,' Depeche Mode
As the Deadly Class logo flashes on the screen 1 minute and 44 seconds into the pilot, we're treated to the unmistakable opening synthesizer beats of Depeche Mode's 1987 track "Behind the Wheel," from Music for the Masses. The song continues to play as we're formally introduced to Benjamin Wadsworth's Marcus Arguello, the orphaned street kid who fled the horrors, and fire, of a youth home.
It's a quintessential 1980s dance-rock number, but there's probably something to be said for the juxtaposition of Marcus' thoughts about survival and "God's plan," and lyrics about the hands of fate, and a desire for someone else to take control.
'Too Young to Die,' Agent Orange
High on PCP from a discarded joint he picked up in an alley, Marcus stumbles into a street festival, where he's tipped off by Willie (Luke Tennie) that he's been made by police, who want him for the murders of 12 people in the orphanage fire. That's when we hear the guitar riffs of "Too Young to Die," from the 1981 debut album of California punk band Agent Orange. The song choice is probably self-explanatory, but it also makes for a solid soundtrack to a chase scene.
'The Holy Hour,' The Cure
Marcus enters the secret door at the back of a butcher shop to the opening bass line of "The Holy Hour," from The Cure's 1981 album Faith. It's probably no one's favorite song by the band, eclipsed by far better-known tracks like "Just Like Heaven," "Friday I'm in Love" and "Lovesong," but it works well here as Marcus passes from one world and into another, and lays eyes on the subterranean King's Dominion, an elite academy where the world's crime families send their children to be trained as assassins.
'The Killing Moon,' Echo & the Bunnymen
Deadly Class delivers its first shower scene -- it's somewhat of a recurring element of the comic -- after Marcus accepts the offer by Master Lin (Benedict Wong) of enrollment in King's Dominion with a not-quite-enthusiastic "Fuck it." The sequence is accompanied by the 1984 U.K. hit "The Killing Moon," arguably the best-known song by Echo & the Bunnymen (in competition with "Lips Like Sugar"; we're not counting the band's cover of "People Are Strange" from The Lost Boys soundtrack).
Again, the pilot's soundtrack touches upon the idea of fate ("Fate," Ian McCulloch sings, "up against your will," although he isn't referring to a school for assassins).
'Eighties,' Killing Joke
Marcus is welcomed to the cafeteria of King's Dominion by the sounds of Killing Joke's 1984 single "Eighties," but by none of his classmates. Well, except for the friendly punk kid Billy (Liam James), who seems to welcome just about everyone. The song is probably best known for its appearance in the 1985 sci-fi comedy Weird Science and for the later dispute with Nirvana, whom Killing Joke accused of ripping off the guitar riff for "Come As You Are."
'Dominion,' The Sisters of Mercy and 'Bikeage,' Descendents
That's "Dominion," the 1988 single by The Sisters of Mercy, playing as Billy introduces Marcus to like-minded students Petra (Taylor Hickson) and Lex (Jack Gillett) in the "Graveyard." On the television adaptation that's a rooftop, but in the comic series the "anti-social types" hang out in an actual subterranean cemetery abutting King's Dominion.
When Billy changes the tape, we hear "Bikeage," the 1984 song by the California punk rock band Descendents.
'Elegia,' New Order
Willie partners with a reluctant Marcus, who's ready to leave King's Dominion, to complete an assignment that will account for half of their grade in Deadly Arts class: to kill someone who deserves it, don't get caught, and bring back proof to Master Lin. Marcus chooses Rory, a homicidal former patient of a mental hospital who terrorized him and other homeless people. When Willie hesitates, and admits he's a pacifist with a tough-guy facade, Marcus doesn't hesitate to step in and bludgeon Rory to death.
As they burn the body in a dumpster, New Order's 1985 song "Elegia" plays. Greek for elegy, a lament for the dead, "Elegia" was written as a tribute to the late Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis.
'Melody Lee,' The Damned
Accepting his place at King's Dominion, Marcus joins his classmates at the end of the episode for a party in the Graveyard. The piano opening of "Melody Lee" by English punk band The Damned plays as he greets his few friends and reflects on the need for family to survive, "even if they are liars and murderers." The song continues over the end credits.
Based on the comic book series of the same name by Rick Remender and Wes Craig, Deadly Class stars Benedict Wong, Benjamin Wadsworth, Lana Condor, María Gabriela de Faría, Luke Tennie, Liam James and Michel Duval (Queen of the South). New episodes air Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Syfy.