This review of Stan Against Evil contains spoilers.
Stan Against Evil Season 3 Episode 1
“There are no such things as demons, Miss Barret”
Demons are par for the course on Stan Against Evil. They’re such a regular occurrence at this point that Stan is more frightened over a non-alcoholic beer than he is over any monster. Something as simple as a trusty shovel can exterminate physical demons, but the emotional demons that eat away at you are not as easy to extinguish. Stan isn’t exactly the emotional type, but this season begins in a relatively fresh place for him. Last season’s finale largely put to bed Stan’s lingering issues over the possible revival of his dead wife. Stan’s accepted that she’s gone and now we get to watch Stan in a post-Claire world as he officially comes to term with this and tries to move on. The subtext of “Hell Is What You Make It” examines if Stan really is okay with this, or if he’s just lost in shock over the true acceptance of Claire being gone.
Stan Against Evil season 3 begins with what has to be one of the more awkward “morning afters” in history. Stan and Evie’s mucking around in the past has effectively brought forth “Hell on Earth” and made life a whole lot worse for everyone. But hey, at least a permanently dead wife doesn’t seem as devastating in retrospect. Furthermore, since Stan and Evie’s time travel conduit, the cabin, is now smoldering ash, the decision to go back and try to reverse or at least improve the timeline is impossible. There’s a permanently open doorway between the Land of the Dead and the Land of the Living, thanks to Claire, and this is now the new normal for Willard’s Mill.
Hell on Earth may seem rather disparaging in concept, but “Hell is What You Make It” explores how this Armageddon isn’t really that different than how life used to be in Willard’s Mill. Now there’s just less traffic and better parking. In fact, Stan’s a little relieved that this event has massively culled the herd. He’d be all for Thanos’ Infinity Snap.
In the past, Dana Gould has been hesitant to bring zombies over into the series because of how well The Walking Dead has exhaustively explored the subject, but it seems like Gould has waited long enough. Besides, zombies kind of come with the territory when the doorway between the living and the dead get jumbled. At this point, “Hell Is What You Make It” takes a rather unexpected twist where it looks like the Hell on Earth motif was all in Evie’s head and she’s actually murdered Stan, not a zombie. The episode’s focus than expertly shifts over to Evie’s sanity and what’s actually going on here.
Stan Against Evil gleefully dives into the mental institution trope and all of the creepy fun that come along with them. The episode is also smart enough to get some mileage out of the increasingly ridiculous plot points and mythology of the season. If you’re going to bring in things as absurd as time travel, then at least have medical professionals call out these characters on how insane that sounds. On that note, the main person who’s throwing out those insanity accusations is Dr. Emonds (TC Carson), whose calculated energy is an effective counterpoint to Evie’s manic nature. Dr. Emonds is understandably skeptical of Evie’s stories, but he doesn’t seem to actively be against her. This ambiguity creates some nice tension with this character, but the deeper he digs into Evie’s past, the more his true colors begin to show.
“Hell Is What You Make It” makes this mental asylum motif work, but it would perhaps be even more effective if the episode could actually convince the audience, or Evie, that she is insane and that the events of the series have just been some coping mechanism (like in Buffy’s underrated “Normal Again” episode). Stan Against Evil doesn’t try nearly as hard to justify this accusation, but more so just wants to use the backdrop of the asylum and its many tropes as the playground for its premiere. In spite of this, Janet Varney seriously kills it with her performance here. She’s always a highlight of any given episode, but Varney channels something special during Evie’s more unhinged moments towards the end when she’s out loose in the world.
As fun as it would be to get an episode all about Evie’s struggles in the asylum, that is Stan’s name in the title of the show, after all. The split focus here ultimately helps the episode as both characters try to piece together these fresh events. In reality, Stan’s stuck in limbo as he begrudgingly negotiates with warlock extraordinaire Gerard DuQuette, which he clearly has no patience for. Stan gets involved with the typical soul bargains and deals with the devil that this show is familiar with, but it also helps set his trajectory for this year. It’s also a rather fun detail that through all of this Stan looks like a rotting corpse to the outside world.
“Hell Is What You Make It” has enough going on with Stan and Evie that it barely gets any time with Denise in this premiere. She continues to feel disconnected from the larger conflicts in the show, much like Leon does, but there’s a tender, muted moment where she mourns her lost parents. The character may not always be necessary, but Denise does bring a certain level of emotion and heart to the show. Deborah Baker Jr. consistently brings it in this role and it’s helpful to see someone properly grieve in this episode and take a realistic approach to the loss that this premiere introduces.
The solution to both of Stan and Evie’s problems isn’t that groundbreaking and it again feels a little like time is running out so the episode just has to end. Nevertheless, it’s touching to see zombie Stan recognize Evie and choose not to gnaw on her brains. It’s a strong way to reinforce their bond and the team that they’ve reluctantly become. It also feels like perhaps the show is finally ready to move into a Stan and Evie relationship now that he’s moved past his dead wife, but we’ll see if this affection continues to develop. By the end of this premiere the status quo is back to normal and they’ve evaded this reality-bending trickery, but Stan sticking around as a zombie (at least from other people’s perspectives) for another episode or two could have made for an interesting change of pace.
“Hell Is What You Make It” is a surprisingly more relaxed, monster-of-the-week style premiere that doesn’t risk collapsing under its own weight, like last season’s two-part premiere. This year’s premiere arguably has more to accomplish and set up, but the episode still features plenty of huge moments that capitalize on the show’s chaos. The episode also ends on a resolved note and while the looming dangers of DuQuette are still out there, this story is fairly self-contained. This more casual approach benefits the premiere and helps establish this season’s tone. Three seasons in, these performances and stories all feel so natural, even if they’re not always groundbreaking. In spite of these considerations, I still could have used something a little bigger here.
Stan Against Evil remains a fun world to play around in and it’s soothing to have these characters back, especially when the series grows more polished and comparable vehicles like Ash Vs. the Evil Dead are now out of the picture. Now, more than ever, is it time for Stan Against Evil to go for broke and dominate the horror comedy market.
Stan will be so pleased.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.