This review of Ash vs Evil Dead contains spoilers.
Ash vs Evil Dead Season 3 Episode 1
Rebooting a TV series doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t have to be noticeable, either.
The first episode of Ash vs Evil Dead’s third season is a light reboot – of sorts. It re-calibrates the show to a point where it can forget about certain messes that it created for itself over the course of its sophomore year, which was tonally erratic and sloppy towards its nonsensical end. Season two had plenty of memorable set pieces and character moments for Ash and his Scrappy-Doos that made it worth its weight in gore, but it was wildly inconsistent from episode to episode in terms of quality, more so than in its first year.
Last season centered around an almost non-existent story-arc involving a “Big Bad” character (Baal) who was neither very big nor very bad. But if the second season had a purpose, it was to help us get to know Ash more than we had ever had before, introducing his hometown Elk Grove as a setting and all the faces from his past whom we never knew existed. The other purpose of season two was to get Ash’s character to a place where he was given validation from the general public that he is, in fact, a hero.
Giving Ash a payoff such as this felt like unabashed wish-fulfillment, and felt out of step with the attitude of Evil Dead itself. The wibbly wobbly time travel hijinx that lead us there didn’t help matters much, either. (And the less said about the sloppy logic of the season finale, the better.) So, after a chaotic year of figuring out what to do with Ash vs Evil Dead, its ensemble cast, and its serialized format, it was time to bring in a different showrunner and usher in a new era for the show, one which may bear resemblance to what we’ve seen before, but – in reality – has a much clearer sense of direction.
As a season premiere, “Family” plays things fast and loose, yet it’s still incredibly tight. This might sound like one of many the innuendos that Ash spouts off in the opening sequence – which is one of the funniest sequences the show has pulled off to date – but it also happens to be a factual statement. We are re-introduced to Ash, Pablo, Kelly, Ruby, and the town of Elk Grove and see how far they’ve come since we last saw them, and we meet brand spanking new characters and get to know a little bit about them too, all while having the same old messy, scary fun we usually do. Surprisingly, none of this feels rushed or unbalanced; in fact, the show feels lighter than ever. That’s quite a feat for the series, if not a testament to the ambition behind Mark Verheiden’s clever script.
“Family” is sharp. Dare I say, it’s better than the pilot episode. It’s arguably a more confident outing, and has no problem weaving together its diametrically opposed elements (wacky comedy and grisly horror) in a more seamless and digestible fashion. I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve watched Ash vs Evil Dead and didn’t get that sneaking feeling that the plot is being improvised as it goes along, or that it wasn’t being fueled by contemporary horror tropes and imagery that don’t necessarily fit within Evil Dead’s haunted wheelhouse.
Verheiden’s script seeks to undo the sins that the first two seasons of Ash vs Evil Dead committed, rooting the scares primarily in classic Evil Dead iconography and the one-liners in Ash’s finely tuned voice and Bruce’s legendary comedic timing. Narratively speaking, his choice of splitting up our trio of Deadite fighters for most of “Family” is a wise one, since it creates suspense and puts off fully introducing Dalton until the next episode. It also makes a statement about Kelly’s independence as a character and gives her a triumphant entrance in the final act, reminding us that she is often the unsung hero of the show.
Pablo, on the other hand, is still portrayed as Ash’s good natured sidekick as usual, but his significance to the mythology is not forgotten nor downplayed. His connection to the Necronomicon reawakens here, which, alongside his mystical family roots, will be the centerpiece of his character’s arc throughout this year. If it seems as though he is not given much to do in “Family” besides set up zingers for El Jefe, never fear: he’s going to have a lot more going on later in the season. (Promise.)
For the most part, though, “Family” focuses on the discovery that Ash Williams has an illegitimate daughter he never knew about: Brandy Barr (Arielle Carver-O’Neill). But first, he finds out that he has a wife that he forgot he married: Candice “Candy” Barr, played by New Zealand actress Katrina Hobbs – who I completely mistook for Shannen Doherty for some reason. In the wrong hands, both of these reveals could have been potential shark jumping (or fridge nuking?) moments for this franchise, and in any other TV series that isn’t a teen soap opera on The CW, they would probably be frowned upon.
But let’s be real: the road to Ash vs Evil Dead Season 3 has been a bumpy one. We’ve been asked to swallow significantly more half-baked plot twists in the second year alone. In the wake of how “Second Coming” ended, with its gaping plot holes and blatant disregard for the laws of time travel that would make even Steven Moffat spit up in his mouth a little, these sudden retcons to the Evil Dead universe barely make us flinch.
Although we spend maybe, say, seven minutes tops with Brandy and her Margot-Robbie-as-Harley-Quinn looking BFF, we a get decent feel for her character and a taste of what to expect from her relationship dynamic with her chainsaw-wielding maniac of a father. And guess what? It feels unexpectedly fresh. It’s not often that we get to see a main character on this show feel so overwhelmed by the forces of evil, especially somebody that’s so intimately linked to our eponymous hero. Arielle Carver-O’Neill brings a sense of vulnerability to the role of Brandy while capturing that cynical sense of humor that runs in the Williams genes, which is not easy. Plus, when she sobs at her mother’s death, we not only believe it, we feel for her.
Lindsay Farris, too, brings in a welcome new energy to the proceedings as Dalton the Knight of Sumeria. As I mentioned before, he’s officially introduced at the very end of the episode, but catch glimpses of him lurking around here and there during key moments beforehand.
Here’s the thing, though. When I look at Brandy and Dalton, I can’t help but see them as character foils for Pablo and Kelly. I figure that as the third season progresses, these two new kids on the block will reflect the strengths and weaknesses of our beloved Scrappy-Doos. I’ll definitely welcome this if that’s the case, as Ash vs Evil Dead often reached hard to find excuses to generate tension within its lead cast and wasn’t always successful at doing so.
Like any worthwhile season premiere, “Family” leaves you wanting more and makes you fall in love with characters you missed spending time with again. It uses its past as a foundation and a springboard to launch itself into greener (and gorier) pastures. It also reminds us that no matter how often the circumstances change, Ash is still going to be Ash no matter what. That’s why we keep tuning in.