Photo: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (Starz)

Christ, what a long, strange trip it’s been for Ashley Williams.

When Stephen King caught The Evil Dead at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, it’s doubtful that even he—the Master of Horror, one of the most imaginative minds in all of fiction history—could have ever assumed that the film’s lone surviving hero would one day be evading wads of sperm to the sounds of new wave. But, in hindsight, that delightful absurdity and raw unpredictability has long been the cornerstone of Sam Raimi’s twisted franchise, and why we keep coming back for more. As Ellie Goulding says, “Anything could happen.”

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You got that right, sister. There’s nothing too left field for Bruce Campbell’s boozy Midwestern hero, and if you didn’t realize that last season when he was literally being pulled through a dead corpse’s colon, then you probably need to get your head checked or something. No, the only way Ash Vs. Evil Dead stays fresh is to get foul, which is why it makes sense that sticky, icky sperm might factor into the terror of it all. It’s almost as if the writers gathered together and said, “Well, he’s done blood, he’s done guts ... he’s done shit. Now, what?”

So, it was only a matter of time that Ash would face sperm, but here’s the thing: The genius of the scene isn’t in the idea, but in the execution. At this point, Ash Vs. Evil Dead is so goddamn self aware that these adrenalized moments are too easy to fumble, and director Mark Beesley and writer Rob Fresco dance towards the end zone with “Booth Three.” It’s how they paint Ash not only as a regular of the Elk Grove Cryo Bank, but a legend. It’s how the spank mags are suitably tacky and vintage. It’s how they wield A-ha’s bridge on “Take On Me”.

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Again, it’s all so achingly self-aware, but that’s also kind of reassuring for a series that recently shifted from one showrunner (Craig DiGregorio) to another (Mark Verheiden). Let’s be real, DiGregorio and Verheiden are hardly a pair of Shemps—the former cut his teeth on Drawn Together, Chuck, and Workaholics; the latter flexed his muscles on Smallville, Battlestar Galactica, and Daredevil—so there was admittedly reason to believe that the humor might take a hit. Last week’s “Family” didn’t exactly quell those fears, but this? Come get some.

Image: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (Starz)

Even better, it’s not the only light-hearted moment. Early on, we get a little more back-and-forth between Ash and his newfound daughter Brandy (Arielle Carver-O’Neill), which finds our hero humorously trying to be “one of those cool dads that you see in the movies.” Downstairs, Fresco builds upon the camaraderie of our newly expanded Ghost Beaters—namely the gluten-free Dalton (Lindsay Farris)—with a witty scene involving Froot Loops. And later, we get a nice reprieve at Pablito’s Fish and Chips between the original trio.

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Unfortunately, as things begin to coalesce for the Ghost Beaters, darkness continues to move ahead at an alarming rate. While Ash is out doing detective work at the sperm bank and confirming the ensuing legacy of his seed—it’s his life’s work, after all—we finally get a good grasp on just what the hell Ruby has up her own sleeve. Spoiler: It’s bad. Real bad. As we saw last week, she’s once again with child, but let’s just say, her younger, more sinister self has been taking notes from The Hitcher, Hellraiser, and, um, Teaching Mrs. Tingle?

Photo: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (Starz)

Although her role still feels somewhat redundant, Ruby is a far more multi-layered evil this time around. In addition to kidnapping a hitchhiking woman named Natalie (Samantha Young), who she keeps chained up in her attic “to be part of an amazing metamorphosis,” she’s also shadowing as a guidance counselor named Rebecca Prevett at Brandy’s high school. Naturally, she’s taken the kid under her wing, comforting Ash’s daughter with all her recent PTSD, only with the intention of destroying her. Eh, we’ll let her explain.

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“My little creature was born out of the Book of the Dead,” Ruby tells Natalie, as she watches the baby devour her lover. “He’s destined to be the next prophesied one. When the current prophesied one is killed by his own flesh and blood, his powers will move to the next in line. When I’m done with Ash Williams and his daughter, my baby will be the last man standing.” Okay, so, to recap: Ruby is crazy. Baby is even worse. And Natalie has a front row seat to all of it. To make matters more complicated, Brandy hasn’t got a clue ... at least not yet.

Photo: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (Starz)

In other words, it’ll be up to Ash and his freewheelin’ parenting skills to truly save the day, and seeing how that has thus far involved him offering Brandy a bed in Cheryl’s haunted room, an awkward lift to school involving a spirited chat about past sexcapades, and a warning to stay mum about the deaths of Rachel and her mother Candy ... well, odds are this won’t play out like Step by Step. But hey, Ash is hardly alone, and “Booth Three” hints that the Ghost Beaters are far more than just a team fighting evil. No ... they’re family.

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And their trip has only just begun.

Stray Observations

-Give it up to Ruby, who’s 2-2 for smashing heads in the cold open. Brutal.

-Ash: “One of those text things.”

-Dalton (I’m sorry, I can’t type that name without hearing Mel Gibson saying it breathlessly) shares some vivid backstory involving the Book of the Dead and the Knights of Sumeria, namely how a woman named Kaya was consumed and bound by the book. Anyone else think of Freddy Krueger’s chest?

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-There’s nothing scarier to Ash than having children. This should be good.

-Pablo to Ash’s pet lizard, Eli: “You fucking with me? Because I know you talk.”

-Speaking of Pablo, his tattoos are giving Dalton anxiety, but there might be a resolution in the near future. In Ash’s trailer, Pablo’s visited by a naked spiritual entity, who hints at another meeting with his late shaman uncle, El Brujo. Yes!

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-According to Mrs. Lam (Helene Wong), Brock Williams (Lee Majors) “produced a lovely semen” that was marred by syphilis. Of course.

-Sadly, Marci’s (Debbie Newby-Ward) 30% discount goes to waste.

-Obviously, this week’s Top Deadite is Mrs. Lam. A little liquid nitrogen goes a long way and, thankfully, she doesn’t share the mechanics of the T-1000.

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-Can we take a moment to appreciate the little things? I mentioned it before, but that short scene between Ash, Kelly, and Pablo at the food truck is all the proof you need to know that no matter who’s behind the scenes, chemistry can and will carry the show. Dana DeLorenzo’s reactions to Campbell are on a Jason Bateman-level of hilarious, while Ray Santiago is the glue that makes it all so charming. Again, it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but it’s a moment.

-Good to know the music’s still on point. I’ve certainly seen better days, so I’m not exactly stoked to hear George McCrae’s “Rock Your Baby” right now, but it’s another choice addition to the Ash Vs. Evil Dead playlist:

-Next week, we’re getting an episode written by Ivan Raimi, another key member in The Evil Dead family. You see? It never ends.

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