Last night marked the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, a time of prayer where we ask the Almighty to bless us with a year of peace and prosperity, and where we dip our apples in honey because, let’s face it, that is just delicious. In 2016, it’s also a sign that we should all rev up our chainsaws and load our shotguns, because baby, Ash vs Evil Dead is back, and that means we get to pick things up where we last left the Ghost Beaters: Motoring down a dirt road as sinkholes swallowed up bits and pieces of the world around them and the radio spat out reports of mayhem all over the country. This is what you get when you put the fate of the world in Ash’s hands, of course, but can you blame the guy for wanting to be done with killing Deadites once and for all?
Yes. A little bit. Maybe more than that. But not entirely. Uneasy lies a head that wears a crown, and Ash Williams, a king in his own mind, has lain uneasily for decades. Cutting loose in Jacksonville is a fine reward for hackin’ up so many zombie demon ghost monster thingies, but his work isn’t done and his torment’s just beginning. Now that Ash’s mini-vacation in Florida is over and he’s back to doing what he does best, it’s time for us to look at the five best moments in Ash vs Evil Dead’s Season Two premiere, “Home.”
Maybe you’ve heard bits or pieces of this song through promo material, but you won’t pick up on the full breadth of its meaning until you watch “Home” for yourself. “Ashy Slashy, hatchet and saw! Takes your head and skins you raw!” What a lovely image! Creepy and gross sing-song is the Deadites’ bread and butter, so it’s appropriate that they’ve come up with a taunting little ditty for honoring Ash, their foe of many, many years, even if said ditty doesn’t make a ton of sense as an actual taunt at first: The tune sounds like a celebratory recounting of the many ways Ash has dispatched Deadites throughout his tenure as El Jefe rather than a provocation, but it clearly ruffles Ash’s feathers. We just don’t know why.
Then our intrepid hero hits the road with Kelly and Pablo, destination Elk Grove, Michigan, and suddenly our perspective changes. Ash vs Evil Dead has made hay with Ash’s survivor’s guilt, stripping away the horror genre’s veneer and giving his ordeal real-world consequences: A man doesn’t watch his friends die, reanimate as monsters, and die once again by his own hand without picking up some baggage, even a man like Ash, and that’s one of his focal points in the first season. Now, the series is looking more outward than inward by examining exactly how that man returns to his old life, which is to say that he doesn’t, or he couldn’t. Ash isn’t welcome back in Elk Grove, the source of that nasty little jingle’s origin. Worse than unwelcome, though, he’s thought of as a serial killer, a madman who butchered his chums and got away with it.
How fucked up is that? “Very,” you may say, and you’re correct, but we would also have accepted “extremely,” “incredibly,” and “super duper.” Ash tries to play cool, but he’s more rattled by a bar filled with his former friends and neighbors than he is by toothsome monsters lurking in an abandoned factory, which just means that “Home” has found a great focal point for exploring the character further in its second go-round.
“Home” starts off with a string of nice gore shots including, but not limited to, an open cadaver on an operating table plus two splatter-tastic Deadite kills. But if you’re in the market for having your stomach churned, then Pablo’s alleyway vision is going to be your ticket. (We don’t have an any image of it to share here, which is good because a) it’s really really graphic, and b) you kinda need to see it for yourself.) Think Poltergeist’s famous “face peel” scene, and you’re in the right ballpark, though you should probably replace “ballpark” with “abattoir” or the like (unless you are in the habit of attending ballparks where the floors are covered in scraps of flesh rather than peanut shells).
The scene isn’t significant solely for its hypnotically disgusting FX, though if you’re watching this show, you’re watching it at least in part for those; it’s significant for establishing Pablo’s second season arc. Just like Ash and Kelly, Pablo has endured some shit in his battles with the Deadites, the worst of it occurring in “The Dark One,” where Ruby (Lucy Lawless) tried to turn him into a living Necronomicon. In “Home,” he relives that horrific scenario in brief, tearing at his own mug to free himself of his leathery bonds but succeeding only in making us get sick on our shoes. Thankfully, it’s a fakeout, but the message remains: That goddamn book ain’t done with Pablo yet.
Depending on who you talk to, the Evil Dead series either is or isn’t about its comedic elements: You can divide fans into those who can’t imagine Evil Dead without its sense of humor, and those who think of decapitations and mutilations and defenestrations and any other “ations” as they can conjure when the topic of the franchise is broached. There’s a third choice though, which is the best choice because you don’t have to pick “laughs” at the expense of “carnage,” and for those bold enough to make that choice, Ash vs Evil Dead is a tonic.
Case in point: “Home,” which pound for pound boasts nearly as much repulsive bloodshed as the ten episodes preceding it and yet still finds time to pull out some Three Stooges-style gags where Bruce Campbell bashes his head on things over and over again. It’s the lowest form of comedy, watching a man get clocked on the nog by pipes once, twice, and then a third time that ends with a soot cloud blasting him right in his mug, and yet you’ll want to watch these beats on a loop. They’re perfect. “Home” has a handful of zingy one-liners worth chuckling over – the mystery of why Pablo makes the best margaritas lingers, and is made ten times funnier for its utter lack of resolution – but there aren’t many actors around today who can make their own agony as hilarious as Campbell.
Guest stars! Technically this is cheating, but come on, we’re writing a listicle, not filling out ovals for the SATs. Live a little. Sheesh. (Besides, we flipped a coin to determine if we should highlight Hurd or Majors and it landed squarely on its rim, so we’re bound by the laws of flipping coins to highlight them both.) It’s possible that Hurd won’t be long for the world; her character is named “Linda,” after all, and Lindas don’t have a good survival rate in the Evil Dead world, but she’s awesome, both historically and currently (per her role in Daredevil). She’s also the only person in Elk Grove who’s actually happy to see Ash come home, which feels meaningful. Maybe she’ll end up becoming the newest Ghost Beater, as long as her nomen doesn’t bring her to disaster.
Majors is, in the hierarchy of Evil Dead, probably the bigger deal here, being as he’s cast as Brock Williams, Ash’s dad. There’s a big damn rift between them, which makes their reunion awkward right off the bat, and that’s before Brock opens his mouth and acts like an asshole. Ash is a boor, a lothario, and a casual bigot, but he’s go nothing on Brock, who creeps on Kelly and shamelessly refers to Pablo as “the illegal.” (It’s the best of luck that he doesn’t just shoot Pablo dead on sight.) Basically, Ash is chip off the (very old) block and an improvement on his dad, if only just. At least he realizes that Pablo’s first answer to the margarita riddle is racist. What part Brock will play in the team’s adventures is kind of a mystery, but his introduction will definitely fetch your attention.
Remember those little demon kids that Pablo kept ralphing up in “The Dark One?” They’ve each hit puberty! Mazel tov. They’ve also turned into ill-mannered little shits who attack Ruby, their surrogate mother, in an effort to reclaim the Necronomicon. Disciplining a bunch of teenaged monsters is a difficult feat made harder thanks to their resilience to physical harm and their habit of disappearing in puffs of black smoke. (They’re like the Twins from The Matrix Reloaded, except with more teeth.) If you’re watching Ash vs Evil Dead, then you will reasonably expect Ash to kill some of those “evil dead” types, and “Home” is happy to oblige with the Deadite mayhem we so desire. It’s these new monsters that’ll throw veteran Evil Dead fans off a little.
Demons? No problem. Skeletons? Sure. Miniature evil versions of Ash? Bring ‘em on. The Evil Dead rogue’s gallery is pretty broad, but as with Eligos in Season One, these smokey beasties are “new” within the context of the show. That’s actually kind of refreshing: There are only so many different ways you can dismember Deadites without, perhaps, losing some steam, and so the emergence of a monster Ash hasn’t tangled with before is oddly invigorating, not the least because he has no idea how to kill it. “Chainsaw to the gut” solves most problems, but it does diddly to these things. Ruby has to set up Ash’s eventual kill shot by stabbing it with the Kandarian dagger first. Neato! Too bad Ash doesn’t have a Kandarian chainsaw. (They also appear to be weak to the pendant given to Pablo by his uncle, which is obviously going to be important later on.)
Whatever moniker these things end up adopting as Ash vs Evil Dead moves along, they add a bit of spice to the show’s meat-and-potatoes slash-’em-up zombie formula through design and through function.