Time flies when you’re having fun—and by fun, we mean, dodging sperm samples to the sounds of a-ha, itching at Deadite skin lesions, and shoving bowling balls up a dead woman’s crotch. Even so, we’re still only halfway through the third season of Ash Vs. Evil Dead, which means we have five more episodes to add to all the chaos we’ve already witnessed this season. And by now, it’s really anyone’s guess as to what else showrunner Mark Verheiden and his team of writers might toss at Ash and his traumatized Ghost Beaters. After watching “Baby Proof,” though, it’s quite obvious that everyone’s game for what’s to come—even Ash’s daughter, Brandy (Arielle Carver-O’Neill).

At the end, the troubled kid finally becomes a true believer, saving her father to the sounds of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger.” Whatever disbelief Brandy once had instead transfers over to Ash (Bruce Campbell), who dives into the Delta and reacts with pride: “You know, this is the first time you called me Dad.” It’s a thrilling button to an effective mid-season chapter that ostensibly places every character where he or she needs to be for what’s promised to be an epic second half. Even better, the Ghost Beaters—namely, Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo)—won’t have to waste any more time trying to convince Brandy that, yes, the dead is coming back to life and, yes, everything she’s heard is true. All of it.

Photo: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (Starz)

That’s refreshing. As many of you readers have pointed out over the last few weeks, having to watch another character slowly come around to the Deadite mythology has been slightly exhausting. After all, we’re three movies and three seasons into this franchise, which means we already have a rogues gallery of disbelievers, all of whom have suffered the same fate: ride or die. As expected, Brandy rides—rather literally, as we see at the end there with her behind the wheel of the Delta—and the Ghost Beaters have a new cadet. But Brandy’s only one of many upgrades to the team that we see in “Baby Proof,” and above them all is our new El Brujo Especial: Pablo (Ray Santiago).

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Given all the Spring cleaning in last week’s “Unfinished Business,” you’d think there wouldn’t be much left to dust. Yet writer Luke Kalteaux gets the honor to do the final sweep here by giving Pablo the proverbial Pepcid AC his body’s been craving all this time—and to think, it only took a Kandarian dagger and some divine family intervention. Yes, the great Hemky Madera returns to the series as Pablo’s late uncle, El Brujo, and his appearance feels like warm blanket. Well, not exactly: Essentially, the wise shaman recreates the “Choose Wisely” conclusion of The Last Crusade against the gloomy sets of Temple of Doom. “I’m ready to become what I was born to be,” Pablo declares, shortly before he harnesses the evil within and assumes the role of El Brujo Especial.

Photo: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (Starz)

Meanwhile, Kelly and Brandy can only watch as Pablo’s post-Deadite body twists and contorts from all the inter-dimensional lacerations, incantations, and ensuing transformation. It’s here where the whole “will-they, won’t-they” shipping between Kelly and Pablo actually pays off, namely how Kelly’s visceral connection to her partner-in-crime embellishes the scene’s tension. Director Daniel Nettheim, who returns from last week, frantically races back and forth between the two worlds, leaning hard on DeLorenzo, who pours her heart out into the action and eventual romance. Their kiss is a treacly moment that could have easily gone awry—ahem, “No time for love, Doctor Jones!”—but it’s so earnest and arrives with so much momentum that it goes by unscathed.

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But really, it’s all about the chemistry. At this point, DeLorenzo and Santiago are so natural together that Nettheim could have lingered on that moment a little longer and we wouldn’t have bat an eye. And to her credit, DeLorenzo embraces whatever dramatic moments are tossed her way—as evidenced early, early on in the cruelly tragic, “Bait”—and this scene is no exception. (Those gulps of air between tears speak volumes.) Granted, some fans might see this as a betrayal of the characters, but hey, a little romance goes a long way. Besides, it’s not like we’re going to see a love interest pop up anytime soon for Ash. This series has pretty much established that whoever has a bleeding heart for our titular hero likely winds up seeing it pulsating on the ground.

Photo: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (Starz)

While we’re on the topic of The Chin, we might as well head over to the Prevett estate, where Ash gets handy with a rack of hilariously convenient bowling balls and Natalie’s (Samantha Young) decapitated corpse. Again, we’ve seen a lot of weird shit as fans of Evil Dead, but the way Ash traps his demonic, infant clone ranks high among the gnarliest WTF moments in the franchise (let alone in horror-comedy). Of course, none of it would work if Kalteaux and Nettheim hadn’t meticulously set up the slapstick tone in the moments prior, all of which are fueled by Joseph LoDuca’s wonky score and a range of incredibly lame foley effects. This is maximalist Stooges humor, the kind that Renaissance Pictures was built upon, and while the scene goes a little overboard, it lands quite well.

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Everyone does, though. Sure, Ash makes a fool out of himself in front of the town sheriff and Ruby’s grabbed that goddamn baby again, but c’mon, the Ghost Beaters are stronger than ever. Pablo’s feeling great for the first time in ages (and has demon blood on the regs), Kelly’s gonna totally Neosporin her flesh wound (and TKO Ruby), Brandy’s starting to embrace more and more of her father’s finest features, and Ash’s detective game is on-point and he’s got a fair-to-good grip on Ruby’s plans. In other words, something really, really, really bad is going to happen ... or, as Pablo puts it, “shit’s about to get loco up in this bitch.” But loco’s good, especially for a series like Ash Vs. Evil Dead, where the narrative thrives on being loco. Otherwise, to quote Iggy Pop, it’s no fun.

Stray observations:

  • Anyone else think of Batman Returns when that duck toy rolled by?
  • Kelly, as Pablo’s Deadite mouth yammers away on her leg: “Craziest part about this? It probably won’t be the most fucked up thing that ever happens to me.” Truth.
  • The physical performances in this episode were unreal. Between Santiago’s gymnast feats, DeLorenzo’s wall-crawling acrobats, and whatever the hell Campbell was forced to do with that rubbery corpse, this half-hour of television made me feel like sweating.
  • Would anyone care to breakdown the math behind a “Branson minute”?
  • “Isn’t that the name of a beer?” Sorry Pablo, you’re thinking of Modelo Especial. Though, it’s only a matter of time before some small craft beer company makes El Brujo Especial a thing. They’re all horror hounds.
  • Ash, pretty much summing up everything he’s forced to do in this episode, “Oh, that is so wrong in so many ways.”
  • Maybe it’s just me, but that little guitar bit when Kelly and Pablo kiss sounded like Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton stepped in for a moment...

  • Crap is actually spelled c-r-a-p-p. #themoreyouknow
  • Round of applause to Deadite Pablo, who’s crowned as Top Deadite for a second week in a row. Sadly, his reign ends here. Maybe.
  • Five down, five more to go. Next week we get “Tales from the Rift”, which was written by Aaron Lam, who helped co-write last season’s “Ashy Slashy.” If you recall, that chapter ended on a very dark note, so perhaps these “tales” are of the deadly variety. Who knows until we know.
  • Until then, see you on the flip-flop.

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