Ash vs Evil Dead: Books From Beyond Review
Any doubts we had about Ash vs Evil Dead were chainsawed to death this week. Here's Stephen's review...
This Ash vs Evil Dead review contains spoilers.
Ash vs Evil Dead Season 1 Episode 3
This past week, I went back and watched the Evil Dead trilogy. It’d been a long time since I’d seen them last, and I wanted to pay more attention to how they were structured this time around. If you’re reading this, you’ll probably agree that each installment has aged better with time. Sure, production standards have changed drastically, and some of the gags might leave people scratching their heads. But that doesn’t matter. They’re classics for a reason: because they’re funny, gross and always surprising.
What’s really fascinating to me about this trilogy is how “compartmentalized” each piece of it is, despite a shared continuity that’s loosely tight or tightly loose, depending on how you look at it. The first Evil Dead is truly a video nasty, relentless to its putrid core; Evil Dead II is the demented funhouse ride that gave birth to the “real” Ash we all know and love; and Army of Darkness was a campy love letter to the swashbuckling films of yore (with plenty of zombies, of course.) Each chapter is so distinctly different from the last while somehow bearing enough resemblance to the original to work. That’s what we love about it – and that’s what makes Raimi and his core crew such brilliant filmmakers.
But there needed to be more of a connection between all three of these quasi-disparate outings, something that would tie everything together in a neat little package made of dead, slimy skin. The video games didn’t cut it, no matter how eventful they were, and the comics didn’t either. And the less said about the remake, the better (sorry, folks).
Now that we’re three episodes into Ash vs Evil Dead, I can safely say that we now have the connective tissue for this franchise that we might have never needed, but deep down, we knew we always wanted.
Watching episode three of Ash vs Evil Dead, “Books from Beyond” with this broader perspective in mind primed me for what turned out to be a pretty informative thirty minutes for all you faithful Deadites out there in TV land. We get to find out about what The Book of The Dead really is, who made it, why, and what Ash has to do with it (kind of).
Oh, and a hint of what Deadites might be. That’s quite a lot! And it only took, what, 30 years? Not bad.
Last week, I mentioned that exposition was more of a paste that the Evil Dead films used to glue action scenes together in a gorey collage rather than a coherent way to tell a story build its world. Sure, the universe of ED still felt gigantic and overwhelming even if we didn’t know much about the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis or what the nature of the evil actually was. That’s because the less you know about the scary things, the more your imagination can take over and fill in the gaps, which is where the real terror begins.
The exposition we get in here is just enough. It doesn’t make you feel like you’ve found out too much. It doesn’t ruin the mystique or get in the way of the action. It’s even sped up by Ash himself, which works so well because he sounds like any jaded horror fan who’s seen it all.
“Sounds like a lot of yappenin’ and not a lot of happenin’.” (all of his lines in this episode are priceless, by the way). The episode ties things deeper to the Lovecraftian roots of the Necronomicon, explaining how beings known as The Dark Ones created the book as a gateway to access the evil that resides in the underworld, as a kind of weapon against humanity. There’s an undo button for all of this accidental summoning that Ash did, and it’s within him. That’s something that nobody understands just yet (very reminiscent of certain Buffy seasonal story arcs, right?).
“Bait” felt slower because “El Jefe” was so fast, so the show needed to catch up with itself and strike a balance. “Books from Beyond” finds this balance in a sweet spot – the titular shop that we’ve dying to get to since we saw Ash find its business card in the premiere. The sidequest with Kelly’s mom was a fun and necessary evil to develop her character and gain her to trust at the same time, but much like our sardonic hero himself, I wanted to cut to the friggin’ chase already.
Instead of coming across like a couple of Scrappy Doo-s this time, Pablo and Kelly feel like they’re coming into their own as characters. They have their own quips, their own unique kind of badassery brewing, and personalities big enough to keep up with the chin man. They’re also serving a greater but quieter purpose: forcing Ash to confront his emotions. They remind him that he’s alone, that he’s the one that pushes people away. This is not to say that these kids have a secret agenda to make him our beloved a-hole more huggable, they’re just opening up his world, much like the show is doing to the movies itself.
The climax with the summoned demon was electric to watch, mostly because of that weird shifting effect they pulled off in post-production. The banter between Ash and the demon gave me even more Buffy nostalgia (which is a very good thing). I wonder if the CGI sequences where we saw it abusing parts of Ash and Pablo’s brains will have an effect later on down the line.
I was glad to see Agent Fisher had finally meet up with Ash and the gang. There’s something about her character that I feel will be very important down the line. Maybe she’s going to be the new sidekick next year. Or maybe she’ll be the “big bad” of the season somehow. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.
In this episode, Fisher played a big role in planting seeds of doubt in Kelly’s mind about Ash and his role in this unholy disaster. Since Kelly’s loyalty to Ash is still very new and very untested, she is the most susceptible to this uncertainty (the fact that he summoned a demon in this episode didn’t help things either). And since we the audience have known him the longest out of anybody here, we know he’s right about everything.
But we also know that it’s his fault that most of this tragedy has happened. It’s hard not to view him as a villain not because yes, he’s an anti-hero in the most literal sense. His ineptitude and shameless buffoonery caused an apocalypse one more than one occasion. He works hard to make up for it, yet most of the time he still manages to do more harm than good, even if he does gain victory at the end of the night. If Pablo’s character represents the loyal fanboy and girl part of ourselves, Kelly represents our more realistic side that view Ash with warts and all.
The reality is, he is a threat, to humanity and himself. It really is his fault that Agent Fisher is in this situation, and that Kelly’s dad is dead. He is a bad guy, even if we don’t want him to be. But, somehow, that only makes us root for him more.
Although it spends most of its running time fleshing out (heh heh) the bigger picture of Evil Dead and setting up a foggy destination for the first season’s master plan, “Books from Beyond” is a solid episode of a new series that already has a loveable identity. We’re getting used to the formula and so are the cast. The carryover from film to television has probably never been smoother. Probably. I’m eager to spend more time with these new faces than I was at the end of “Bait”, so I’d definitely say that things are definitely on the right highway to hell.
Lucy Lawless torturing a Deadite was awesomely brutal. I can’t wait to see how she plays off of Bruce. I wonder what their characters’ connection is? (I haven’t read any spoilers, so…)
I’m going to say it again: the dialogue here is everything. There is so much to quote here, not just from Ash, but everyone involved. This is the first time we’re seeing Evil Dead work as an ensemble piece, and it’s doing a bang up job so far.
Lionel the bookshop owner was a good stock character, but is much more of a plot device than anything else. He was the perfect mouthpiece for all that ‘splainin that needed to be done.
Fisher got trapped with Deadite Lionel in the end…wonder what’s in store for her. (Gulp.)
One thing that I should mention since rewatching the Evil Dead films – each one ends on a cliffhanger with Ash stuck in some perilous situation. (Army of Darkness, not so much, but you still got the sense that it wasn’t over.) I’m just going to come out and say that I think this is how season one of Ash Vs. Evil Dead will end. What do you think?
THE NOT SO GROOVY
Why did Ash leave his hand at the book shop with Fisher? Couldn’t he have just carried it out with him?
I’m surprised Ash didn’t dismember Kelly’s dad before he buried him.
You notice that I didn’t talk much about the opening scene with Lucy Lawless. That’s because it was so brief! We need more of her on the show, stat.
“Loose” by The Stooges (plays at the end)
QUOTES OF THE DEAD
ASH: Look, if we get this done quick enough, we might have time to stop for churros. And look, that’s not a racist thing, Pablo. That’s just a great dessert.
PABLO: Okay. You know I’m not mexican, right?
ASH: That’s the spirit.
LIONEL: The book itself is harmless, unless it is wielded by someone very evil – or very stupid.
ASH: Okay, okay. Let’s say some…cool guy…uh, reads from this book by mistake and summons something from way back. And now he just wants to put it back, no harm, no foul?
PABLO: Um, but reading from this book caused all this trouble to begin with, so…
ASH: Yeah, that’s true. But reading from it again can’t make things any worse. It’s kinda like spilling paint on a painting. It’s okay ‘cause there’s already paint on it.
PABLO: (beat) That is incorrect.
DEMON: Why have you summoned me, Ashley?
ASH: Okay. First of all, you don’t look anything like your photo, so you might want to update that.
Next time we’ll take a look at episode 4, “Brujo”, where we finally get to find out more about Pablo and probably Ash in the process. Will Lucy Lawless continue to be a badass? Tune in next week. Same dead time, same dead channel.