In a parallel dimension where Ash vs. Evil Dead’s first season is longer than ten episodes, and each episode is longer than thirty minutes, maybe Evil Ash 2.0 would stick around longer than just a handful of scenes. We don’t live in that dimension. Maybe that’s a good thing. Just after his debut, the son of a bitch knocked off the dearly departed Amanda. Do we really want him to have more to do than that? In the grand scheme of things, killing Amanda is enough of a wrench in Ash’s plans to kick evil’s decrepit butt back to whatever putrid hellhole it crawled out of. And just as the Ghost Bears’ numbers swelled to four! She probably had some badass tricks still up her sleeve before shuffling off her mortal coil, too.
Of course, the constant refrain of Ash vs. Evil Dead is “dead isn’t dead,” so good news: Jones is still a factor on the show, but surprise surprise, she’s gone full Deadite, and to commemorate the change, she punches her fists through the back of hippies’ skulls and flaps their jaws like Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog. It’s a nasty high note for Ash vs. Evil Dead, which has never held back on gore; in point of fact, the series has escalated in graphic eviscerations over, peaking in both “The Killer of Killers” and “Fire in the Hole.” But few of the deaths on Ash vs. Evil Dead have been orchestrated to feel as personal as the deaths of poor Ido Drent and Indiana Evans. There is something cruelly intimate about a hapless married couple being turned into hand puppets by a sadistic demon.
But that’s Evil Dead life for you. One moment you’re kvetching at two gun-toting paranoiacs for blowing away one of God’s creatures, the next you’re getting murdered. Now that we’ve crossed the threshold between comedy and horror, Ash vs. Evil Dead is finding a balance of both: the latter is the show’s prevailing sensation by now, but in transitioning from Army of Darkness to Evil Dead II, the writing has upped the comedy quotient to help offset just how damn unsettling the story has gotten. Ash and Kelly have a moment together where they reimagine the names of major cities (Killadelphia. Chokelahoma City. Diami.), and Ray Santiago continues to be endearingly anxious about life, the universe, and everything, even raccoon stew; later, the episode makes great non-diegetic use of “Just the Two of Us” as Ash chops up his duplicate with his trusty chainsaw.
Hell, Jones kicks off her reappearance with a hearty “Hello, pussies!” as everybody else in the frame screams their heads off. It’s funny stuff, and Jones is thoroughly enjoying herself. But the humor just gives us false reassurance that everything is going to turn out fine. In a way, it almost feels like Ash vs. Evil Dead is making a nod to its own burgeoning nihilism. Innocent people with no connection the cabin or to the Necronomicon are dying left and right, Ruby has finally caught up with Ash and taught him a valuable less about calling strangers’ faces stupid, and just when you thought it was safe to trust Lucy Lawless, she takes the most insidious heel turn since The Rock became Vince McMahon’s Corporate Champion back in 1998.
Trust has always been a concern in Ash vs. Evil Dead. Kelly started off not buying into Ash’s yarns or his machismo at all; Amanda once believed Ash to be a serial maniac; Ash foolishly buys into whatever nonsense is spun to him from total strangers and ayahuasca hallucinations. But Ruby has been a wild card from the very start, even if the immediate inclination was to peg her as a good guy just based on Lawless’ career. Who would hire Xena to be the big bad in an Evil Dead show? The twist here has been very carefully telegraphed—we knew something was up when she came back to life in “Fire in the Hole”—but seeing that twist unveiled in full feels like a real kick in the ass. So Xena’s responsible for writing the Necronomicon to begin with (for whatever amount of canonical sense that makes). That sucks.
But what sucks even harder is watching Pablo suffer for Ruby’s treachery. Yet again, Ash’s decision making skills, or lack thereof, put the people he cares about in harm’s way; yet again, it’s his responsibility for making matters worse instead of better. Maybe that’s victim-blaming to an extent. Ash does, after all, mean well. But meaning well isn’t the same thing as doing good. That, perhaps, is the real horror that Ash vs. Evil Dead wants to articulate: the off-kilter horror of personal failure.
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.