“Okay, so, now that we’ve time traveled…”
With a single eye roll, Dana DeLorenzo sums up the boundless, asinine storytelling of Ash Vs. Evil Dead. There’s nothing too weird, too cumbersome, or too crass for this show to handle—simply put, it’s in love with its own brazen stupidity. Ever since Bruce Campbell returned to the saw, showrunner Craig DiGregorio has joyously leapt from one genre convention to the next, subverting our expectations each time, even when he’s wrestling with concepts and situations we’ve seen again and again over the years. How? There’s really no short answer. It’s arguably been a healthy mix of clever writing, crude gags, lovable characters, jaw-dropping physical comedy, imaginative set pieces, and simple nostalgia. That last bit is fortunately something the series has been pretty self aware about, enough that whenever they do dip into the past, it’s for a good reason and carried out in a refreshing way. It’s helped.
“Home Again” might be the most tongue-in-cheek episode yet. Writers Jennifer Ames and Steve Turner, in their series debut, tear a page out of the Back To The Future Part II Playbook and send the Ghost Beaters down a wormhole to Elk Grove, Michigan circa 1982. As Ash explains to a bewildered Kelly, “Okay, look, if young me never reads from [the Necronomicon], then evil will not plague my life and Pablo will be alive again. That’s all you have to understand.” It’s not too shabby of a plan coming from a boozehound hopped up on angel dust who’s idea of grieving is doing donuts in the Delta outside his childhood home. Though, to be fair, he gets a push from his “little burrito”, Pablo, whose mangled corpse comes back to life with a few words of wisdom like one of Tim Burton’s bizarre ghouls in Beetlejuice. “Do exactly what you said: go back in time and undo all this,” he tells Ash, who readily admits: “Of course! I’ve done it before! I went to the Middle Ages!” Ahem, there’s your proof of Army Of Darkness.
But, as anyone who’s seen Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale’s blockbuster trilogy knows, going back in time can lead to some dire consequences, and even if Ash acts like an overconfident Marty McFly, he’s still the same reckless idiot that tease about the apocalypse every other night. Ames and Turner waste no time on that notion: Two minutes after arriving, Ash casually suggests that he finds his father (“Wait a minute, my dad’s around here! I gotta see the old bird!”) and prides himself on being an all-knowing Grays Sports Almanac (“Think about it. I know the sports scores for 30 years!”). Fortunately, the surviving Ghost Beaters have their own Doc Brown in Ruby, who drops some fourth-dimensional logic (“There are infinite timelines and always a primary present you, which remains constant…”) and one necessary warning (“That kind of interaction can cause profound causality paradoxes.”) to keep the world in line.
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Great Scott, indeed.
From there, it’s another trip back to the cabin, only this time it’s something of an Evil Dead prequel. Building upon the various narrations, tapes, and flashbacks that have informed the franchise over the years, we finally get to watch what actually went down between Professor Raymond Knowby and his wife Henrietta. Ames and Turner take their time with the reveal, though, opting to momentarily possess Ash’s leg in a scene that pays homage to the past with a humorous twist. (If only Ash knew you could just suck out the evil like a gruesome snake bite, it would have saved him thousands of dollars on wood lacquer.) Much like the quick return to the cabin, the scene suffers from a little been-there, done-that, especially when Ash decides to pour a pot of steaming hot water down his guzzle (another cheeky reference to Army Of Darkness), but one could argue it plays into the whole history repeats itself angle. Again, it’s more or less an appetizer for what Ames and Turner bake down in the fruit cellar.
It’s here that the two writers take a refreshing turn with the source material, capitalizing on previously established characters by embellishing their darkness to the utmost advantage. Who would have ever pegged Professor Knowby to be such a terrifying dude. Based on the films, we already knew he had chained up Henrietta in a desperate attempt to stave off the evil, but what we didn’t know—and what Ames and Turner wisely toss into the mix—is that he also conned one of his students to secretly offset his wife’s possession. Seeing him lure Tanya (a believable Sara West) down into the fruit cellar recalls the skeeviest serial killers from Thomas Harris’s novels, even if the son of a bitch is apparently trying to do the right thing by his wife. It’s hard to tell: The way Nicholas Hope plays Knowby suggests he’s less worried and more frustrated by his wife’s possession, which is a smart move, considering the series is severely lacking in the big villain department now that Baal exited stage left. Of course, that’s all without discussing the big, bloated elephant lurking in the corner: Henrietta.
New Zealand actress, director, and playwright Alison Quigan steps in for the late Lou Hancock, who passed away a long, long time ago in 1995, and captures the “lying old witch” with startling precision. She mostly plays the confused victim, who’s comically slapped around by Campbell (“I can do this all day, sugar lips”), but to her credit, she does get to throw a few ugly licks herself. Naturally, it all boils down to the big return of Ted Raimi. Sure, he’s been moseying around all season as Ash’s drunken partner-in-crime Chet Kaminski, but it’s his iconic role as the shape-shifting Deadite that truly brought him cult acclaim. “You’re both dirty birds, and I’m going to hurt you real, real bad,” he threatens Ash and Tanya, sounding just as foul as he did back in 1987. Similar to how Ellen Sandweiss was a mirror image of her Deadite past in “Trapped Inside,” so is Raimi’s despicable Henrietta, whose bulbous body marks another distinct win for the show’s inspiring costume and makeup department.
Also earning their paycheck are the show’s stunt coordinators. Without them, Kelly and Ruby’s meandering walk in the woods would have felt incredibly superfluous. Instead, their impressive wire work turns DeLorenzo and Lucy Lawless into helpless rag dolls as they fight the demonic trees, whose method of attack, thankfully, skews more toward Evil Dead II than the original. The same goes for Ash’s fruit cellar battle with Henrietta, specifically how something as effortless as getting caught in a bear trap turns into such a complicated and fruitful piece of choreography. It’s tough seeing Tanya’s leg being pulled again and again in the trap as Ash attempts to fight off Henrietta, but it’s also kind of elegant in the way it’s conducted. Much of that has to do with the relentless direction and punishing action of Rick Jacobson. Let’s not forget how he handled Heather’s vicious, ugly death in last season’s finale, “The Dark One”.
“Home Again” isn’t always ugly, though. It’s actually quite positive, which is admittedly jarring considering one of the three main cast members was just disembowled. But the show’s self aware about that, which is why Kelly calls out Ash for his curiously jovial behavior when they first arrive at the woods. “Dude, how are you smiling? Pablo’s dead,” she says bluntly. Rather matter of factly, he argues that this is all temporary, that he has a plan, and yada, yada, yada. It’s the same old song and dance that he’s used for awhile now—hell, he even gives it a whirl for Tanya—but it sounds like a broken record to Kelly. Reason being, now that Pablo is gone, she’s rightfully starting to question her own mortality and whether she’ll live long enough to have a life outside of the Ghost Beaters. As such, there’s a strange tension between them, something that’s been brewing for a few episodes now, something that may be unfixable, and if my calculations are correct, we’re gonna see some serious shit.
Sounds pretty heavy, no?
- Cutting Crew, Journey, and Olivia Newton-John in one episode? The music in this show never stops.
- That double feature at the cineplex doesn’t look too bad. Poltergeist and Friday The 13th: Part III? Hopefully the drunk took advantage of that one, which reminds me: Did anyone else think of Red from Back To The Future?
- Someone call Bill Simmons: Ash’s sports facts actually check out. The Detroit Lions did make the playoffs that year (although they lost in the first round to Washington Redkins), and remain one of only four teams to ever qualify for the playoffs with a losing record.
- Anyone want to speculate who was watching from the window?
- Ash’s Letter to Pablo: “Don’t panic. It’s 1982, we’re in the cabin. If youre reading this, youre not dead. P.S. You were dead.” No apostrophes.
- The attention to detail on this show never fails to impress. Here are a few notable Easter Eggs: The Hills Have Eyes poster at the cineplex, Annie Knowby’s photo on the desk, the dancing lamp, and even Freddy’s glove on the wall down in the fruit cellar. One can only imagine how many times they’ve watched the series front to back by now.
- This week’s Top Deadite goes to, duh, Henrietta. Although, she’ll undoubtedly be a bigger presence next week and possibly with even newer forms. Here’s hoping they have all the weird animal sounds from the movie—that chimpanzee noise was always jarring.
- Kelly: “I could forge the shit out of my own path.”
- She might, too. We’ll see next week when it all comes crashing down with the second season finale, “Second Coming.” Have fun speculating what that might mean this week. Until then, see you on the flip-flop.