Predictably doesn’t hurt Ash vs Evil Dead as the STARZ series delivers its first (but probably not its last) demon summoning ceremony.
Let’s bitch it out…Thus far there haven’t been a ton of surprises in Ash vs Evil Dead. Despite dealing with evil forces from beyond the grave, a shallow man-child of a protagonist and a rollicking cross-country road trip, the plot of the series has tended to favour relatively simple, neatly resolved conflicts in single locations (the RV, the Maxwell Farm and now the titular Books From Beyond).
In other series, an episode’s predictability frequently corresponds directly to my enjoyment, so the greater the obviousness the less I like it. It’s been surprising, then, that Ash vs Evil Dead is not only enjoyable, but downright fun, despite playing it relatively safe with its narrative. Thus far we haven’t actually covered much ground (assemble the team, try to close the book), but what we have seen across these first three episodes has been inspired mayhem with flashes of visual wit and a well-balanced, likable team.
‘Books From Beyond’ subs out the principal villains – the Deadites – for another demon summoned from the Necronomicon, but the structure of the series remains more or less intact. The first half of the episode is dialogue-driven as Ash (Bruce Campbell), Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) leave the carnage of the Maxwell farm behind in order to pay a visit to Lionel Hawkins (Kelson Henderson) and gain insight into how to close the book. When they arrive, Amanda (Jill Marie Jones) has beat them there, but she doesn’t offer much resistance. Then it’s on to the main event: the summoning of the demon Eligos, which occupies the second half of the episode.
The spell and its bloody aftermath are easily the most predictable aspects of the episode, but that doesn’t mean they’re not interesting. I disagree with The AV Club‘s assessment that the sequence is “devoid of style and finesse”, although that may be because it reminds me of a cross between the haunted house episode of Buffy ‘Fear Itself’ and the séance scene from Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell, both of which I enjoy. Is it the most original sequence? No. The visuals of Eligos’ attack are too reminiscent of Fight Club‘s imagery, the voice and prosthetic work evokes Mouth of Sauron from LOTR: The Return of the King and the death of Lionel is obvious from the moment that Ash orders him to reverse the spell. But I will give props to the creepy flickering outline of Eligos and his ability to disappear and re-appear in the background and foreground. As a substitute villain, he’s not bad, though I wonder if a sillier villain (such as ‘Fear Itself’s pint-sized demon) would have been more successful.
As it stands, ‘Books From Beyond’ is most successful in its unification of the team. It is only because the three of them work together to disarm Amanda and vanquish Eligos that they survive their trip to the bookstore. Let’s hope that this puts an end to any false suggestion that the team will go their own way in the future.
- Lucy Lawless’ enigmatic Ruby makes a strong impression in her first real scene. While I don’t know that visiting the Maxwell farm is warranted, watching Ruby flick the fork in Dan’s (Phil Peleton) eye and seeing what she’s capable of is certainly fun.
- Ash could certainly use Ruby’s sword, which appears to burn Deadites upon contact. That could prove useful.
- It is a little aggravating that despite having several encounters with the Deadites, Amanda would still rather spend her time and energy hunting Ash. I can understand her initial response in the bookstore, but when faced with a genuinely terrifying demon, why would she insist that Ash drop his weapon? Her response doesn’t feel authentic.
- Perhaps now that she’ll have to escape from Lionel and a pair of handcuffs, she’ll ease back on her vendetta against Ash. Likely not, though.
- Kelly’s acerbic wit continues to be a highlight while Pablo’s earnestness is endearing. I’m really impressed with how well DeLorenzo and Santiago mesh with Campbell, whose larger than life persona could have easily overwhelmed lesser actors.
- The Ghost Beaters is a truly awful nickname. A funny one, but awful nonetheless.
- Next week: we’re off to see Pablo’s uncle, the witch doctor. That should be exciting.
- Ash (explaining his enthusiasm for Churros): “That’s not a racist thing, Pablo. That’s just a great dessert”
- Kelly (when Ash asks her to stick around and watch Amanda): “Oh sure, I’ll just sit here with the cop we knocked out and consider my recent life choices.”
- Ash (when Lionel explains there’s no simple undo button): “Sounds like a lot of yappenin’ and not a lot of happenin’”
- Pablo (when Ash uses a paint on paint analogy): “That is incorrect”
- Ash (following their fight with Eligos): “Well that sucked pretty hard.”
- Ash (when Pablo suggests that his uncle will not be happy to see him): “I’ll just take him a couple Miller tall boys. Boom!”
Your turn: what did you think of demon of the week, Eligos? Are you intrigued by Ruby? Does Amanda need to pull her head out of her ass? Are Pablo and Kelly well-suited to Ash? Does the high-octane execution help excuse the predictability of the narrative? Sound off below.
Ash vs Evil Dead airs Saturdays at 10pm EST on STARZ