Image: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (Starz)

Time has been long, strange, and unpredictable since we last saw Ash and his Ghost Beaters at the end of season two. It seems as if the show’s titular evil forces were actually unleashed on our world, what with Donald Trump taking over the Oval Office, violent shootings showing no signs of slowing down, and Hollywood being loused by myriad sexual controversies.

Reality has been crazy, frustrating, and downright terrifying, which is why it’s refreshing to see Bruce Campbell’s mug again. Call me crazy, but pop culture is often our only escape, and when you’re living in an era where even legendary heroes like Twin Peak’s Special Agent Dale Cooper stumble, it’s kind of nice to know Michigan’s sleaziest blowhard still has a chin up on the rest of ‘em.

Photo: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (Starz)

Not so fast, though. If you recall, things weren’t exactly groovy when Ash Vs. Evil Dead signed off in December 2016. Showrunner Craig DiGregorio bolted over creative differences, leaving a ramshackle season finale in his wake, and the keys to the Delta to Battlestar Galactica and Daredevil producer Mark Verheiden. Seeing how Verheiden had nothing to do with that finale, there’s no need to dwell on the specifics—it’s best to forget that godawful Baal battle—but it is important to remember that the whole shebang ended with a deus ex machina parade in Ash’s hometown of Elk Grove, Michigan.

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Well, not just a parade but a celebration. In a dreamy twist, the town that cruelly dubbed him Ashy Slashy had finally come around to rally behind him in a happy ending that was as believable as the robin at the end of Blue Velvet. Yet it takes a lot to fool Ash: “All of this? It’s just … so perfect. I never expected any of this,” he told Linda. To which she insisted, “...you deserve this. You’ve done your part. Now, you can live a normal life. This time, you relax and do whatever you want.” At the time, all Ash wanted was some “sugar,” and that’s certainly what he got, but as we see in season three, things aren’t so sweet.

Photo: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (Starz)

Or at least not for long. When we first return to Elk Grove, we’re immediately introduced to Ash’s new life as an entrepreneur. Yes, our prophesied hero—the same guy who chopped up his friends to little pieces, lobbed off his own hand, and conquered his demonic doppelgänger in ancient times—has carried on the legacy of his father’s hardware store, only he’s added more attractive offerings ... like dildos. At his side is his trusty partner-in-grime, Pablo Bolivar (Ray Santiago), who runs his dream electronics/food stand outside the store called Pablito’s Fish and Chips. Buy a couple of fish tacos, get a hard drive. Sweet.

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Meanwhile, Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo) works as a bartender in another town, honoring the dying request of the older, not-so-villainous Ruby Knowby (Lucy Lawless), who last insisted she “forge” her own path. Well, she did, and now has to contend with another kind of evil: jerkstore, non-paying moochers who think it’s totally kosher to nosh on the bar’s free pretzels. Needless to say, she has a strict no-nonsense policy against these kind of assholes.

Photo: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (Starz)

But it’s not that bad for Kelly. Girl’s gone ahead and got herself a hunky sidekick named Dalton (Lindsay Farris). Good looks aside, he’s also a descendent of the Knights of Sumeria, an ancient order dedicated to combating evil, which is more or less a reference to all the untouchable Army of Darkness mythology. Sadly, other than mug the camera, Dalton doesn’t get to do too much in this episode, but keep your eye out ... after all, he’s wearing leather.

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So far, the biggest shakeup of the series is the revelation that Ash has a long-lost daughter. Her name’s Brandy Barr—daughter of the gone-too-soon Candy Barr (c’mon, that’s funny)—and she’s a hell of a lot like her pops back in The Evil Dead. She’s quiet, she’s angsty, and gets vicious when necessary, as she spits back at the demonic mascot Cougie: “What is your problem, fuckboy?” If you told this writer that actress Arielle Carver-O’Neill was Campbell’s daughter, he wouldn’t bat an eye. Their respective features are uncanny.

Photo: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (Starz)

Then again, Brandy isn’t much of a revelation. If anything, her character is essentially a recalibration of DiGregorio’s original idea to make Kelly Ash’s daughter by the end of the second season. She even has a similar backstory to the foul-mouthed Ghost Beater, namely how her mother was killed before her eyes by the clutches of evil. Still, she’s the most intriguing aspect of this third season, which is already leaning hard on past arcs, from Pablo’s nuclear tattoos to Ruby’s demonic offspring to the superfluous way evil returns to the fold.

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The good news is that this is just the beginning, and the vibe of the show remains in tact. Granted, Verheiden’s script lacks the whimsical punch that DiGregorio’s team nailed with aplomb from week to week, but it’s economical enough to catch everyone up while also clearing the slate. It also helps that director Mark Beesley returned behind the camera—guy was responsible for two of the best episodes last season (“Trapped Inside” and “Delusion”)—and he doesn’t skip a beat. That entire sequence at the high school with Deadite Rachel (Ellie Gall) and Deadite Cougie is unforgiving in ways that recall the original.

Photo: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (Starz)

“Family” is a table-setting episode that also brings the meat, and that’s exactly what Ash Vs. Evil Dead needed after that abysmal season finale. To his credit, Verheiden is hip to that notion: When Pablo talks up Ash to Candy, sounding exactly like Louis Tully, there’s a tongue-in-cheek humility to his recap, as he explains, “There was this one time I got cut in half, but Ash went back in time to save me. It was so cool. But also really weird because when we got back, nothing seemed to have changed.” That’s the beauty of this franchise. You just need to get a little stupid and things start looking really, really smart.

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If only that worked IRL.

Stray Observations

-Who is this Amy and why did she have the Necronomicon? Any relation to Mia? Probably not, but wouldn’t that be fun.

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-Aisle seven at Ashy Slashy’s is the saddest place in Elk Grove.

-Word to the wise: Never ask Ash about clamps or hoses. Ever.

-Good sex with Ash is “30 seconds followed by a cheeseburger.” Even worse, he’s apt to re-use a condom. “I was using my lucky rubber all through the aughts and that sucker went 50 and 0.” Christ.

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-And the Father of the Year Award goes to... “What she’s trying to say is I’m your pop, father dearest, the old sperm shooter. You can call me dad, unless you’re a deadite, you can go fuck yourself.”

-This week’s Top Deadite goes to Rachel. Between the slit wrists, the possessed instruments, and Candy’s grisly death (not the fingers!), Ellie Gal had quite the sandbox to play with and her own demise was equally thrilling. Sorry, Harpo.

-Who else cheered when Kelly came back, even if you knew she would? Ah, such is the power of Dana DeLorenzo. God bless her.

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-Well, we’re back for another ride. It’s been too long. Way too long. Having seen the next four episodes, I can safely say we’re in for a very fun two months, and according to my recent interview with Bruce Campbell, we’re getting some epic hero moments come episode 10. In the meantime, catch you on the flip-flop.