This Ash vs Evil Dead review contains spoilers.
Ash vs Evil Dead Season 1 Episode 3
If you think about it, Evil Dead is a wild card amongst all the other horror movie franchises. It’s not just because of the reasons we discussed last time (like the way each film manages to be both different and the same), but also because of a more obvious, distinctive factor: the hero is the icon, not the villain. The Freddy Kruegers and Pinheads and the cute little Jigsaw puppets on the bikes are usually the mascots for splatter flicks, not Nancies or Kirsties or Carey Elwes-es.
True, the Necronomicon and the zombie stuff are recognizable in their own right, but it’s not what you remember the Evil Dead film series for. You remember them for Ash, the genre’s first cult anti-hero.
Which is interesting, isn’t it? Because if the horror genre is a poetic translation of whatever goes terribly wrong in the world, the symbols used in them represent atrocity. This is why Jason and Michael Myers aren’t exactly cuddly, even if you make cute little anime drawings of them doing adorable things like eating french toast or playing with tiny unicorns. So what does that mean for Ash as a figure, then?
If it was up to most of the characters in the Evil Dead universe, Ash would be a bad guy no matter how much good he does. Sadly, their arguments are valid, as his carelessness is the ultimate danger here, as is his ignorance. But as the omniscient audience, so are ours – we know when he’s being misunderstood, and when he’s just being a jerk. We’re always a few steps ahead of the supporting characters because we’ve witnessed what Ash has witnessed, and that solidifies our relationship. The television medium’s storytelling bread and butter is character development, so Ash vs Evil Dead is becoming more of a character study for Ash than anything else.
It’s putting him on trial in a way. And that’s groovy.
If “Books from Beyond” was reminiscent of Buffy, then “Brujo” bears resemblance to an episode of Angel. It seems like the kind of story that show would tell – going on a side quest to speak with a mystic who takes our hero on a journey of self-reflection peppered with some foreshadowing here and there (actually, fine, Buffy did that, too). This is something that Angel did not just to add some flavor to whatever season long masterplan it was in the middle of, but also to deconstruct the main protagonist’s internal conflict for us to analyze and ultimately relate to.
It’s an act of storytelling intimacy, kind of like narrative foreplay. What makes it so successful is that it gives us a cathartic spiritual feeling ourselves, like we went on our own journey. And Angel was always all about the journey, no matter where it was at in its run. As is Supernatural, its spiritual nephew.
So, it seems, is Ash vs Evil Dead.
Each episode thus far has been just another footstep on the road to some bigger conflict we know is coming, but are curious as to why it is stalled now. We know how fast the evil moves. We see that it follows Ash around wherever he goes. Why doesn’t it just overtake him already? Why didn’t harass him more at the book shop? They were opening up a portal to it, after all.
I mean, what’s the deal, evil? Why you not evil enough?
While we’re on this topic, I’m going to get real here: It’s hard to make a car chase believable when you know there’s a huge camper trailer involved. Especially if the vehicle in pursuit is chained to it. I know that the “rushing evil” has a long history of being out run by various slowly moving people, so I shouldn’t care, should I? Yet I do, and the whole scene isn’t as tense as it pretends to be. Which is frustrating, since it’s technically a historical moment, as we finally get to see what the evil actually looks like – and it’s basically the smoke monster from Lost. Huh. Go figure.
We also find out that Ash has nitrous hooked up to his car. It’s a fun detail, and I dig how it reaffirms the “saturday morning of the damned” nature of this series all of a sudden. Army of Darkness pretty much retconned Evil Dead into a Looney Tunes reality full of deus ex machinas that never made sense. Looks like Ash vs Evil Dead decided it was time to go back to that well, because what I’m about to bring up next is a plot thread that was lifted straight out of AoD and grafted onto this episode. One that didn’t seem to bother me in the film as much as it does here. One that’s pretty hard to swallow.
I’m talking about friggin’ Pablo making Ash a new friggin’ hand.
How? How do you make a new, fully-functional prosthetic hand out of used video game parts you found in your closet? How do you get it to work as a replacement hand? How do you connect your nerves to it? How do you build a functioning prototype in an hour or less? How?! I’m serious. Please explain.
I know, you’re right. Why is this so hard to buy if a blacksmith from 1300 AD was able to do it back in Army of Darkness? Because I have double standards for my plot holes, that’s why. But now that you mention it, I’ve always wondered how that worked, haven’t you? I was so distracted by that the first time I saw it. My guess was that magic had something to do with it. This time, I have no guess. Sorry folks.
(Wait…what did happen to Ash’s gauntlet, anyway?)
Well, that’s okay. I don’t think we’re going to need those substitutes for much longer. Turns out Lucy Lawless – who I will now start referring to as Ruby, finally – has Ash’s real hand. The one he chopped off in the cabin on that fateful night all those years ago. And looks like it still moves.
Ruby digs it out of her trunk to show Agent Fisher, after she saves her from the possessed book shop owner she was trapped with at the end of “Books from Beyond”. She tells Fisher exactly what she wants to hear: that Ash is a very bad man who’s responsible for very bad things. Turns out Ruby is a member of the Knowby family, the owners of the cabin in the forest, and the sister of Annie from Evil Dead II. She thinks that Ash is the one responsible for killing her dead relatives back in the ‘80s, which is ironic, because we know her father Raymond was the one who started reading incantations out of the Necronomicon anyway.
I was so glad to see Ruby finally interact with someone relevant to the main storyline that these short scenes may have been the highlights of the episode for me. I love how she is basically a female anti-Ash, and you can tell that Agent Fisher is very drawn to that. So far this season, these two characters have felt lost on their own, searching for something meaningful to do. I should have guessed that they would find their foot alongside each other, and I’m eager to see what they do next.
Things get even more Angel-y/Supernatural-esque when we find out that Kelly has been possessed by Eligos, the demon she thought she took out last week. That the people closest to you can wind up being the biggest villains is a huge recurring theme in both of those shows, and that’s why it’s effective here. Kelly is “the Judas” of the group, since she her faith in Ash is slippery at best. Outside of Ash himself, she is the weak link in the core group’s chain, so she is the most susceptible to possession, narratively speaking. Pablo is too much of a fanboy to fall into such traps. But I’m sure we’ll get a evil Pablo scene at some point in this show’s run, so I’m probably speaking too soon.
For an episode full of sight gags and valuable insights into Ash’s character, the dialogue fizzles more than it should. “Books from Beyond” was a proverbial casino buffet of one-liners that were delivered with excellent timing. “Brujo” has a few funny lines, but the timing is all off. Bruce Campbell is a pro as usual, but there is a detachment in his delivery this time that was hard not to pick up on.
That’s also a good reason why the chase scene lost a lot of tension from the get-go: Campbell acted like it was just another day at the office. And, yeah, it is. But in order to feel threatened, we need to feel it, Brucie!
“Brujo” may not be original in its intent, as it uses a very traditional avenue to explore our favorite character. The vision quest trope has been used in everything from MacGyver to The OC. In fact, I couldn’t help but flashback to this one episode of Power Rangers where Tommy was stuck in a coma after he was preserved in — oh, never mind. I’ll just stop there.
I was also flashing back to something probably more recognizable in popular culture: The Simpsons episode where Homer trips balls after eating Guatemalan insanity peppers. Ash’s experience taking Ayahuasca is similar to this, in that the psychoactive effects are mostly played for laughs.
The purpose of a vision quest here is to really get to know Ash Williams – what his motivations are, how he thinks, what matters to him. So of course it begins with a montage featuring Felix the Cat, the intros to vintage ‘70s TV shows, and the covers of old Playboy magazines. After replaying a few clips lifted straight out of Evil Dead II (the most gorgeous looking entry) to provide context, we’re treated to an over-the-top collage of your typical American chauvinistic tropes, complete with monster truck rally action and women wrestling each other in tights.
This represents the side of Ash that we’re most familiar with, his most superficial, and it’s a funny, well edited together crag of man-nostalgia. But the flashbacks to Linda’s death in the cabin and the quick travel montage set to Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” nudge us, continuing to hint that Ash might be using this part of himself as a shelter to hide from the trauma of surviving three horror movies worth of evil badness. Who could blame him?
Pablo’s uncle Brujo is his guide through all of this, telling him what to do. As he loses control of his trip, he teeters back into this horror that he’s spent decades running away from, and it’s represented by a cold, wintery forest full of Silent Hill type undead copies of himself and Linda. He also has his eyes sewed shut, which also infers quite a bit about himself. When he regains control of his journey, he takes us to Jacksonville, Florida, a sunny, tranquil place which symbolizes his spiritual center in his inner landscape – “the place that makes you most happy.” This is also where he gets his hand back, apparently.
Ash tells Brujo that Jacksonville is special to him because he’s never been there. He planned a vacation right before he went up to the woods with Linda and his friends, so the events of the films kept him from actually going. “What could have been,” says Brujo. “It is here where you will find your answer.” That Ash’s sweet spot is a place that he’s never visited is the most cryptic key into the nature of his psyche we gain from taking this journey, even if we’re not quite sure what to make of that yet.
The biggest downfall of “Brujo” might be that we treat Pablo’s uncle, someone who has incredible power and knowledge, as nothing more than an embodiment of the Magical Native American trope. Why? His home is surrounded by powerful talismans that prevent the evil from interfering (for the most part). Nevertheless, he’s much like Lionel, the owner of Books from Beyond: just another means to an end. Brujo spends his whole time being a prickly yet patient spirit guide that his personality is vaporous, which makes us view him as less powerful than we anticipated, and far less relevant than we expected. Yet we’re on a journey here. This is just another pitstop on it, so we can’t waste time. Come on. Keep moving. Vamanos.
What’s really fun here is the appearance of Eli, Ash’s pet bearded dragon, serving as his secondary guide. (Maybe even spirit animal?) He gives Brujo a break from being the sole plot device of this episode and serves as a clever mouthpiece for Ash’s inner voice. He’s the one who tells us what we need to know – that Ash must bury the Book of the Dead deep, deep below the place where his journey began.
Do you know what what that means? Ash vs Evil Dead season one might be one big adventure back to the little unassuming cabin – and to the roots of the franchise. I can see the last three episodes being about Ash, the kids and the ladies at the cabin, trying to survive the night, giving us that authentic Evil Dead 4 experience we’ve been craving for years now, featuring a cast we were emotionally invested in. Who wouldn’t want that?
The episode ends on a cliffhanger of sorts: Pablo and his uncle stop Ash from choking Kelly, assuming that he’s the one that started it. Again, the show once again proves that’s it’s all about perspective here when it comes to Ash. Is he a villain, or is he just being misinterpreted as one? Evil has many faces, and they’re not always what you expect. Ash and the audience knows this, but all these newbie characters still don’t.
We’re patient, though. Let the noobs catch up.
I think Ruby and Agent Fisher will make a pretty good team. Their pairing works. They’re a great counteracting force against Ash and the Ashlets. Plus, this provides Fisher with a mentor figure to guide them through this world, much like Pablo and Kelly needed.
One more thing about Ruby – Lawless totally looks like she could be related to Sarah Berry (the actress who played Annie in ED II). Another reason why she was a very inspired casting choice.
The part where Eligos traps Ash in a jar during the vision quest was funny stuff. A great return to form for the cartoony side of this franchise.
The reappearance of the doll from “El Jefe” was a nice touch, too. So was Ash bursting its head open.
Ash choking the evil Kelly while under the influence made me flashback to Evil Ash (and Within the Woods). I wonder if this is foreshadowing for the end of the season? I can see him getting possessed again.
THE NOT-SO GROOVY
At this point, I’m pretty sure Ash vs Evil Dead takes place in an alternate timeline that branches off from the events of Evil Dead II. And, if you remember the ending of Evil Dead II, then you notice that it’s slightly different than the events we see at the beginning of Army of Darkness. Maybe AoD isn’t quite canon any longer. Stupid legal red tape!
“Midnight Man” by Allman Brothers Band (right before the chase scene at the beginning)
“Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake (plays during vision quest)
“Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow” by Funkadelic (plays during vision quest and during the closing credits)
QUOTES OF THE DEAD
Ash: When evil shows up, it blows up. (Beat) Still workin’ on the slogan.
Kelly: I actually kinda like it.