This Stan Against Evil review contains spoilers.
Stan Against Evil Season 2 Episode 1 and 2
“Figure it out. Boop.”
Stan Against Evil’s first season expertly finds its voice amongst similar comedic horror fare like Ash Vs. The Evil Dead or Crazyhead. This genre experiences a constant boom and while programming like this continues to find a home, Stan Against Evil distinguishes itself with its strong cast of characters and the actors behind them. The humble program grows increasingly confident throughout its first season and the finale, “Level Boss,” is certainly the show at its best. This first season also manages to establish a surprisingly dense mythology regarding the history of Willard’s Mill, the execution of over 150 witches, and the crucial detail that every sheriff of the community is cursed.
After the events of the first season’s finale, Evie Barret finds herself Möbius Stripped away into the 1600s and executed like so many witches of the time. This leaves Stan in a broken, incorrect reality that he has to course correct and help pull back together. It’s an ambitious, heady way to kick off the season, but it’s also a direction that respects the decisions of the finale and doesn’t try to cheat its way out of them. As a result, Stan finds himself tortured by nightmares and cryptic hints that something is off here. He continually tries to decipher and ignore these visions throughout the premiere as he wanders through this new world where Leon is the sheriff.
John C. McGinley’s raspy performance (think if Clint Eastwood and Bruce Campbell had a lovechild) continues to be one of the principal reasons to watch this show. This version of Stan often second guesses himself and is confused over who this “Evie” is that haunts him, which leads to a nice new dimension of the character. His rather quick acceptance that he’s suddenly in some alternate dimension is beautiful. It barely phases the guy. He moves on to this new impossible mission with cranky resilience.
As Stan tries to put together the pieces of what’s going on around him, a secret society reveals itself to be keeping tabs on his actions. This Black Hat Society refers to Stan’s latest complications as his “awakening” and that as wonky as all of this may be, it all jives with their ancient prophecy. Having these sorts of gatekeepers around in the community to control what’s going on around Stan makes a lot of sense. It’s a welcome obstacle for him to negotiate around in this two-part premiere. Series creator, Dana Gould, knows how to smartly juxtapose the society’s dark prophecy chatter with snack duty minutiae and the other petty ingredients of social clubs.
It’s also pretty great to see that Willard’s Mill is so desensitized to all of the craziness that goes on there that an ominous cult can chant over a grave during the middle of the day and it’s just business as usual. This Black Hat Society is no secret. If anything, they’re upfront about their actions and claim to be the descendants of pure, good witches from the 1600s. The ones that weren’t burned at the stake. Stan hits his breaking point with the group when they imply that his late wife was also a member of their Wiccan society and they decide to work together. It’s not long before it turns out that the Black Hat Society’s prophecy also puts Evie right in the center of things and everyone sets off to collectively fix reality.
“Black Hat Society” is a perfectly charming re-entry into Dana Gould’s messed up horror universe. It’s a show that largely gets by on its attitude and performances, but it’s choice to embrace a deeper mythology this season appears to work in its favor. Stan rejoices during moments like when a giant skeleton pterodactyl demon (or a Wraith for you more sophisticated folk) bursts from a coffin because it proves he’s not crazy. These horrors should frighten Stan, but instead they make for sublime gems of comedy that highlight this show’s strengths.
The first half of “Black Hat Society” is certainly more interested in re-setting the table and doling out exposition, but “Part 2” showcases a lot more of the show’s trademark demon killing action. The second episode operates at a much faster clip that is possible due to how “Part 1” takes care of a lot of the grunt work. The second episode is undeniably the stronger installment of the pair and it gets to really let loose with all of the show’s wilder eye gouging, goo bursting, time travelling impulses. The whole “bringing Evie back to the present” obstacle is something that could easily take up an entire episode, but Stan Against Evil flies by it and wraps it up within minutes of Stan going 400 years back in time. Stan and Evie’s reunion is also exactly as sweet as it should be, with the heartfelt moment still heavily steeped in trademark annoyance.
In spite of how Evie finds herself back in the present, her situation isn’t as simple as it may appear to be. Much like the time loop that she finds herself trapped in during last season’s finale, she seems to shift in and out of reality with her presence far from a permanent thing. Stan experiences similar lapses from reality as a witchhunter from the 1600s continues to haunt him. If there needs to be any sort of Big Bad or overarching villain for this season, this guy makes for a strong one. Even if he’s not physically present, the fact that he mind taunts Stan and haunts him with missed opportunities is still exciting stuff. Even if he’s not corporeal, his descendent is, and he makes things particularly difficult for Stan and Evie with all sorts of paradoxical wackiness. Also, Stan’s attempts to reverse-engineer the math on how much Wraith eye is needed to go back one year as opposed to four hundred is amazing.
Stan Against Evil begins their second season strong, but they still could stand to do more with characters like Denise and Leon. Their aimless nature is even more apparent with Evie gone for these episodes. Hopefully the two will hit their grooves this season. The new characters that get introduced in this two-part premiere also already feel like they have more backstory and depth than some of the existing supporting cast. “Black Hat Society” makes for a promising, crazy, energized start to the season that has me eager to see where all of this heads and what weird monsters Stan gets to tackle next. There’s a solid mystery afoot, just hopefully Stan has the patience for it.
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