Let’s start off by facing facts and talking spoilers: if you’re a longtime Evil Dead fan, and if you know this franchise inside and out, then you’re probably feeling a little bit jittery at Ruby’s unexpected resurrection. By “unexpected” we mean “totally expected,” mind, because there’s no way that Ash vs. Evil Dead could cast Lucy Lawless as a character as badass as Ruby and unceremoniously bump her off six episodes in. (If you’re that guy, you might also argue that there’s nepotism going on here, but that’s a smear on Lawless and Robert Tapert, and besides—if Tapert is playing favorites here, who cares?)
Point is, characters coming back to life in the Evil Dead universe is always, always, always bad news. Maybe Ruby is the gal to break that streak. Maybe she is possessed of righteous cause instead of mischievous and vicious demons. Or maybe the fact that we already know she has Ash in her targets makes the exaggerated rumors of her demise all the more troubling. Ash can handle the emotional conflict of putting down his friends and family once they’ve been turned into monsters. For as long as he’s existed in the movies, that’s been his Sisyphean task: killing his undead loved ones. It isn’t a fun life, or a pretty life, but it’s Ash’s life.
What if he doesn’t want it to be, though? Everyone has been wrong about Ash this whole time, and not just Amanda. Yes, he’s a loner. Yes, he’s gruff and coarse. Yes, he treats people around him like they’re disposable. The truth is that they aren’t. Ash vs. Evil Dead is taking us back to the cabin—the cabin—where it all started, and Ash isn’t especially thrilled at the idea of bringing the rest of the Ghost Beaters along with him. “Everyone I have feelings for dies there,” he says to the team after some good old fashioned banter. Never let it be said that Ash vs. Evil Dead’s sense of humor needs adjusting: the opening salvo of quipping is classic Raimi stuff, right down to Kelly bequeathing the Wolverine State with a new motto (“Keeping Michigan Moist”).
But it isn’t all fun and games. On their search for Lem, Ash’s crazy ol’ survivalist pal from the bar in “The Killer of Killers,” the gang finds out what we already know, based on last week’s climax: Lem is totally a Deadite, and he’s been hanging out with his crazy ol’ survivalist buddies, meaning that he has been systematically murdering them all. Keen. Survivalists being survivalists, they naturally assume that Ash, Ray, Kelly, and Amanda are working for the government, and that the government is responsible for turning Lem into a ruthlessly effective demon-zombie-killing machine. Smooth logic, there. Try as Ash might to get his people out of hot water, he can’t. This, too, is unsurprising, just as the moment where the whacko, backwoods militiamen handcuff Ash and Amanda together and huck them in a dark bunker as easy prey for Lem. What a bunch of dicks.
So, “Fire in the Hole” is all about bringing Ash and Amanda closer together (literally and figuratively). That is kind of a surprise, because Ash is such a blowhard, and because he’s so messed up from the way his major romantic relationships have ended, that he prefers women he doesn’t have to stay attached to. (Rimshot.) The camera has ogled Jill Marie Jones’ body through Bruce Campbell’s point of view a few times since “The Killer of Killers,” and “Fire in the Hole” brings Ash’s lechery right to the surface in a way that’s almost weirdly charming. He isn’t a gentleman, but nobody would expect him to be. He is refreshingly honest even if he’s an unapologetic wolf, which seems to work for Amanda. Plus, hey: they share the same traumatic scars. If the common experience of slaying your Deadite partners and sweethearts isn’t enough of a bond, what is?
On the flip side of that, we have Kelly helping Pablo figure out what kind of man he wants to be. He’s filtering that search for manhood through the search for his preferred firearm. Kelly knows what kind of weapon she wants to sling: a flamethrower. That fits her personality perfectly. But what about Pablo? Is he an axe guy? A taser guy? Is he Daryl from The Walking Dead? Or is he a whip master like Bill Murray? Their dialogue feels a little superficial, but it underscores the big gap between these characters: Kelly, for all the crap that’s been piled on her, has confidence and self-assurance, where Pablo is still trying to find his. That makes all the talk of guns and rusty chains sweet and endearing, and in the end, those are the qualities that make Pablo Pablo—not his choice in firearms.
And then there are Deadites. Lots of Deadites. (One of them totally effs up Milo Cawthorne, too, which should delight admirers of October’s very excellent, very Raimi-esque Deathgasm.) Lots of Deadites means lots of arterial spray, and boy does “Fire in the Hole” let loose with the red dye and karo syrup. Fun though it may be to see Amanda and Ash stick it to Lem, and as entertaining as it is to watch Santiago flop around in fake blood like a fish out of water, the takeaway of “Fire in the Hole” is foreboding. We’ve wondered for a while where Ash vs. Evil Dead was going. Now we know, and the destination is both thrilling for Evil Dead aficionados and chilling at the same time. We know what returning to that cabin means. Ash knows, too. But whatever we think we know, we can throw all of that out the door. For all the familiarity here, this series feels like it’s taking a turn toward the unforeseen.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has contributed to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Birth.Movies.Death. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.