There’s more to Ash Vs. Evil Dead than meets the eye. An entire world exists beyond what we’ve traditionally known as The Evil Dead universe, and we’re learning that with every episode this season. Already, we’ve partied down in Jacksonville, Florida, met some testy Midwesterners up in Elk Grove, Michigan, and discovered just how far the Necronomicon can go with regards to possession. That’s ultimately the power of having an expanded universe—ask any Star Wars fan who worshipped its Bantam Era—but to quote another Sam Raimi entity, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and as “DUI” proves, there must be some restraint at the typewriter.
That coveted role this week goes to longtime series co-writer and veteran Osteopathic physician Ivan Raimi, who goes H.A.M. on the action, the humor, and the world-building. Whereas Noelle Valdivia clearly drew inspiration from Stephen King with “Last Call,” which I’ve since warmed up to considerably, Raimi dusts off his stack of Three Stooges tapes and his Laserdisc print of George Miller’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Granted, the Stooges have long been a part of Evil Dead’s DNA—simply head to the kitchen with this fabulous scene from the 1987 sequel—but the series has surprisingly never dipped into Miller’s oeuvre, most likely because the two entities were brought up together around the same time.
The marriage makes sense. Both have stressed practical effects and both feature rugged male anti-heroes up against unbeatable odds. Even better, it’s a stylistic move that rewards the franchise its largest set piece to date, save for maybe the final battle of Army Of Darkness. The problem, though, is that Raimi saws off a little more than he can blast away. “DUI” is a little messy, despite its simple setup: Ash and Chet go after Pablo and Lacey in the Delta, while Kelly helps Ruby hunt down her demon children. After an episode that stressed the idea of grabbing the bull by the horns—both literally and metaphorically—every character does just that, and it’s a very smart move.
What’s not so smart are the little things that Raimi peppers throughout the episode. For starters, it’s way too early to bring back Brock Williams, and his shoehorned inclusion feels too campy by this show’s standards and straight out of something like Joe Dirt or Happy Gilmore. Even worse, the use of automatic (or semi-automatic?) weapons against Ruby’s children swallows up any palpable tension, turning what should have been an intimately horrific scene into something jarringly impersonal. Not that I’m against change—and yes, I realize it totally makes sense for Ash to stockpile the best weapons possible given his Deadite-slaying lifestyle—but this series has always thrived from the more practical, if not antiquated modes of battle.
Director Michael J. Bassett, who proved polarizing last season after delivering one of its best (“Bait”) and one of its weakest (“Books From Beyond”) episodes, returns behind the camera with mixed results. While he works some magic into a few exceptional moments—specifically, Pablo’s terrifying hallucination and the clever crosscutting between what goes down at the Smash ‘Em Up Derby and the bulleted carnage amid Kelly and Ruby’s death quest—he also leans heavily on the CGI and struggles to nail a few of Raimi’s quirks, pivotal stuff that would otherwise sell some of the episode’s humorous moments. Case in point: The shifty swipes that he employs between Ash and Chet in the Gremlin could have used more oil and lack a certain finesse.
Still, there’s something to be said about the character development at hand and how Raimi evolves what Valdivia set in motion last week. With the exception of Lacey, who remains a damsel in distress until further notice, there’s a distinct assurance to each character’s actions—especially Pablo and Kelly’s. Both have miraculously survived Ash’s mentorship to become bonafide heroes on their own and it shows. When the Delta snatches up Pablo, he freaks out, but he also owns the situation, introducing himself to a frenzied Lacey as he works through the problem. Kelly, meanwhile, has gone full Ash, knocking down a powerhouse like Ruby (“Every time you talk about this Baal, you trail off, which is really annoying by the way, but it makes me think that you’re hiding something.”) before calming her down (“I promise I will help you kill your spawn. Just tell me what we need to do.”). Hail to the queen, indeed.
Of course, much of the episode hinges on the performances and most will agree that Ray Santiago is arguably this week’s MVP. Raimi gives him so much to work with and the young star juggles every emotion with stark realism. When he wakes up impaled by the rusty street sign in the aforementioned hallucination, he really sells the terror and the overwhelming confusion at what follows in its wake. If there was any question as to how high the stakes are for Ash’s Wolfpack, Santiago brings them to the foreground with his performance, namely because it’s Pablo who appears to be getting the brunt of the horror. At one point, there’s even a Christ-like allegory being made, what with the way he eerily drags that sign post across the ground. Blech.
Minor squabbles aside, the scope of this show still cannot be praised enough. When Ash first steps into the Smash ‘Em Up Derby, after humorously testing the oil on the ground like he’s a veteran game hunter (“Pennzoil Platinum. Hello, baby. A little overdue for a valve job.”), it’s hard not to gasp in awe. The breadth of such a set piece, not to mention the fiery action that follows, was previously relegated to the Evil Dead comics and video games. (Which is not so wild of a coincidence considering Raimi previously co-wrote the Army Of Darkness books for Dark Horse Comics.) So, when Ash tussles with the Delta like a manic picador, he’s not only raising the bar on his own heroic abilities but the series in general. Because of this, it’s somewhat easier to ignore the stylistic blemishes and appreciate how Ash Vs. Evil Dead continues to take its own advice by grabbing the bull by the horns and refusing to ever let go.
It’s all in the ass, apparently.
- “Pablo, you don’t see another eyeball around here, do you?” If this whole Deadite business dries up, Ash could be one hell of a mortician.
- Note to self: Mammary Lane has great lighting. Also asbestos?
- Speaking of which, it’s been fun watching Ted Raimi pal around with Campbell and it’s smart of the series to capitalize on their long-running relationship as the two have such a unique chemistry together. It’s more than likely Chet will eat dirt in a future episode, but for now, he’s an enviable sidekick who’s surprisingly savvy in rare moments.
- Someone give music supervisor Janine Scalise an award already. Not only do we get a healthy helping of Slade (“Cum on Feel the Noise”), but there’s even a random inclusion from Bob and Doug McKenzie’s 1981 comedy album, The Great White North. Yes, that’s Rush singer Geddy Lee on “Take Off,” and yes it’s still a strange, strange brew to wash down.
- Ash: “Okay Chet, I gotta come clean, we’re not going to a titty bar.” That delivery is everything. Bruce Campbell, ladies and gents.
- Ruby’s ex-husband Baal sounds like a real jerk: “Baal has a power over me, and not just me, everyone. He’s not a typical demon. Baal doesn’t use brute force, he uses paranoia, he gets into people’s psyches, turning them against each other until they annihilate themselves. He is seductive and he is manipulative. You just can’t resist him.”
- No, but really, Baal is going to be terrifying.
- Sadly, there’s no Top Deadite this time around, even the Delta scales back the carnage considerably. Still, you wouldn’t want to be near this sucker:
- Well, the Necronomicon’s gone back to hell and Ruby sounds pretty upset about that. But hey, don’t worry, be happy; after all, Ash and Pablo seem pretty confident in their decision. That’s always worked, right?
- On a final and more personal note, this week marks the last time I’ll be able to watch the show alongside my younger brother Phillip, who’s moving from Chicago to South Florida for a very groovy job. He became a die-hard fan of the series at an age when he should have been re-watching Power Rangers and it has been such a joy watching this show with him over the last year. Here’s hoping he’ll return to the Windy City by season three or four. For now, I’ll just keep listening to Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” and see you glorious bags of bones next Sunday with “Confinement.”