What do you really know about Ash? That’s the fundamental question of Ash vs. Evil Dead’s latest episode, “Books From Beyond,” which a handcuffed Amanda Fisher poses to a gun-toting Kelly in a decidedly lopsided conversation about Ash’s dubious morality. Sure, we all know that he’s the hero, here, but Fisher is yet to be convinced, in part because Ash is the kind of hero who, well-intentioned or not, tends to leave varying measurements of havoc in his wake. He’ll take a chainsaw to the Deadites haunting your door, but when the mops come out to clean up the corpses, he’ll hop right in his Oldsmobile and skedaddle before you can say “Klaatu Verata Necktie Nectar Nickel shit.”
So it goes. The hell of it is that both women make good points about Ash, that oafish, atypical vanquisher of all things infernal: He did indeed save Kelly’s bacon, but he’s also the guy who let the Deadites into the world for the umpteenth time. In fact, he’s back at it as Amanda and Kelly speak, but rather than Deadites, Ash wants to have a one-on-one with a demon, because there’s no universe in which that’s not a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad idea. It might be the worst idea he’s ever had—and remember, we’re talking about the same guy who thought he could fudge a seven syllable magical phrase without pissing off evil. Bad ideas are practically his bread and butter, though in “Books From Beyond,” he does have one good one.
That idea would be Pablo and Kelly. Sitting in his car outside the eponymous macabre emporium, they poke at Ash and his self-imposed alienation. He is, as he puts it, an alone wolf. He likes to work alone. But, as Pablo points out, working alone is lonesome work. Pablo so badly wants to hang with Ash that he’s even come up with a name for the trio: Ghost Beaters. (Back to the drawing board, Pablo.) By the time they make it out of the book shop, though, Ash has reversed his position on going solo and decides to keep the band together. Viewers probably don’t expect much out of Ash vs. Evil Dead apart from comedy, mayhem, and occasional scares, but watching Ash grow as a person lets Bruce Campbell do the kind of quiet character work that gives his geek legend substance. He’s great with a crass quip or a sarcastic gibe, and “Books From Beyond” contains tons of those. (“You smooth, brown Einstein,” he says in praise of Pablo. It’d be mildly offensive if it wasn’t so damn endearing.) When he drives off to the next adventure with Kelly and Pablo in tow, he gets to do something a little more emotional.
It’s a nice beat of humanity following twenty minutes of near-misses. Ash brings the Necronomicon to Lionel (Kelson Henderson), the proprietor of Books From Beyond, in hopes that Lionel can translate it for him and utter a spell to repel the Deadites for good; Lionel has a major fanboy freakout upon seeing the text, as he’s devoted his life to finding it. That seems like a bad sign, and Evil Dead likes to remind us that evil is sneaky and appearances can be deceiving. (Evidence: “Bait.”) But Lionel’s just a serious aficionado of eldritch and horrible tomes. It’s Ash who screws the pooch by having him summon Eligos (Ben Fransham), that sinewy, jaw-some monster you’ve seen in promo material for the series. (One-liner of the week: “Okay, uh, first off: You don’t look anything like your photo, so you might wanna update that.”) Ash assumes that Eligos is the demon equivalent of a nerd. Big mistake. Eligos is the nastiest customer Ash has ever tangled with, and one of the few actual, Hell born-and-raised demons we’ve gotten to see throughout Evil Dead’s existence.
He only comes out on top thanks to teamwork, as Pablo and Kelly step in to help him out. Ghost Beaters at work. Maybe eventually (scratch that: definitely) Amand will join their ranks, though after the precarious situation Ash leaves her in in the episode’s final moments, she’ll probably need a bit more time before that happens. And what about Ruby (Lucy Lawless), who we get to see interrogate Kelly’s Deadite dad at ceremonial knifepoint? Apparently, she knows a few things about dealing with demonic zombies that Ash just doesn’t, and where Amanda only appears to be seeking answers from him, Ruby seems like she’s out for his blood. Neither of these ladies like Ash, but hey, maybe they’ll like him once they get to know him. Obviously, that’s a long-term goal—a very, very long-term goal. We’re not there yet. “Books From Beyond” stalls us out on that score, though the upside of expanding on the Necronomicon is a pretty important upside. Now let’s just hope Ash can sweet-talk Pablo’s uncle without pissing him off, too.
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.