“Just like old times, huh?” You said it, Ash. After last week’s mildly polarizing “Twist and Shout”—ahem, I was mostly mixed; everyone else adored the damn thing—Ash Vs. Evil Dead bounces back with its most fulfilling chapter of the season. Nearly every character gets a rewindable hero moment, director Mark Beesley matches some of Sam Raimi’s greatest hits, writer Bryan Hill turns what could have been a Stranger Things ripoff into essential world-building, and a much-needed reunion washes over like a steamy shower after a cold night within the woods. If that weren’t enough, the stakes keep climbing at meteoric levels and AC/DC makes one hell of a comeback by the end.

What more do you want from this show?

Yeah, things are groovy, alright, and so close to what’s likely to be the finish line for Ash Vs. Evil Dead. That’s okay, though, because you get the sense that things are actually starting to wind down by the end of “Rifting Apart.” After all, we’ve now seen the impossible: the death of Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell). Who ever thought that would happen? Not even The Chin himself! “It’s one thing to read from an evil book and bad shit plagues your life,” Ash insists to Pablo, “but I never said anything about the ‘D Word’ in all of my plans.” Well, wouldn’t you know, this “idea of a plan” captures our hero at his most heroic, sacrificing himself for his daughter and fellow Ghost Beater.

Image: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (Starz)

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What a guy. Granted, we’ve always seen Ash as this blue collar superhero, but not until now has he acted so selfless. In the past, most of his heroic deeds have traditionally been out of obligation, even when he’s tasked to saving all of humanity in Army of Darkness. But this, no, this moment finds our chainsaw-swinging lothario turning a page, one that connects to his benevolent spirit, which is something that’s been budding since the very beginning of the show. Actually, scratch that; the show has awakened what has always been there. Because really, if you go way, way back to The Evil Dead, Ash is a softie whose initial downfall is caring too much. In fact, it’s not until he takes a hint from his pal Scotty (Richard DeManincor) that he becomes a total hard ass.

Even so, Ash’s empathy has never waned, which is why, despite his protests, he’s always stepped up to the plate. With the inclusion of the Ghost Beaters, aka Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo), Ash has had to come to terms with those feelings on multiple occasions, initially shrugging them off under the notion that the two are a part of the fight against evil before fully accepting them as his own. That’s why, narratively, it makes sense for him to have a daughter: With Brandy (Arielle Carver-O’Neill) in the equation, Ash knows what he has to do, and that’s to care for his cubs—no ifs, ands, or buts about it. In that respect, he’s truly becoming the prophesied one. If that’s not a proper ending, well, then it’s anyone’s guess how this sucker should end.

Image: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (Starz)

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Though, if this were the last hurrah for The Evil Dead franchise, showrunner Mark Verheiden is doing a remarkable job with the fireworks. “Rifting Apart” feels like the first medley of explosions, giving fans a chance to enjoy the best of their respective heroes, while also biting their nails for what’s waiting for them around the corner. That dichotomy also applies to the narrative, which feels both familiar and new. That whole Kandarian suicide pact, for instance, might have been incredibly jarring had it not been for the Riggs-Murtaugh dynamic between Ash and Pablo. The chummy way the two play off each other adds such a jovial tone to what’s otherwise a very dire situation, and the same could be said for the rest of the episode. Rest assured, shit’s loco, to borrow from Pablo, but it’s the fun type of crazy—the adventurous kind.

No kidding. The Deadlands is a visual feast and a total blast. While last week’s closing stinger drove a little too far into Hawkins, Indiana, any allusions to Stranger Things have been left in the Upside Down. If anything, the Deadlands feels more in line with the cerebral horror of Silent Hill, complete with all the narrow alleys, foggy horizons, and roaming specters that have terrorized gamers for nearly two decades. And seeing it all first from Brandy’s POV was a smart move by Beesley and Hill, who get a little wicked with its unfortunate denizens, namely one not-so-lucky promgoer who now has an icebreaker to share with Alison Lohman. Though, by the time Dalton (Lindsay Farris) re-appears, then Kelly, and then Ash, the whole place starts feeling more like a funhouse, and that’s essentially how Beesley and Hill treat it.

Image: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (Starz)

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Perhaps this comparison’s a stretch, but “Rifting Apart” kind of has an Empire Strikes Back vibe going for it. Things are dark, the world’s expanded in terrifying ways, and the consequences have never felt more fatalistic: Dalton’s dragged to hell for Christ’s sake, Kelly’s still trapped in the Deadlands after a torturously close escape, and Zoe’s (Emilia Burns) Latin skills are going to get the best of her by both Ruby (Lucy Lawless) and Kaya (DeLorenzo). Yet, much like Empire, there are enough heroics and reunions to keep the action moving along without feeling like everyone’s taking two steps forward and three steps back. Look at Pablo, Ash’s “El Cuervo Especial,” who continues to carry his own weight by taking down another acrobatic Deadite all by his lonesome. Small potatoes? Not so much. Everyone’s confidently flexing their own muscles, and the fact that none of us are flinching speaks to the narrative as a whole—it’s all earned. Of course, the odds of them all surviving is approximately 3,720 to 1.

Search your feelings, you know it to be true.

Stray observations:

  • Thank god it never occurred to the Elk Grove PD to check the school offices.
  • It’s remarkable how much this series has been able to squeeze out of Evil Dead 2, and the latest callback is to Knowby’s haunting apparition, which comes to Ash and Annie Knowby. Though, correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t he just tell them: “There is a dark spirit here that wants to destroy you. Your salvation lies in the pages from the Book of the Dead” and “Recite the passages. Dispel the evil. Save my soul... And your own lives.” I can’t seem to find anything about the “in between.”
  • Fact: Not even a prostate exam can stop Ash from saving his family.
  • Ash: “I gotta get my hands on my little girl’s body before they do.”
  • Not gonna lie. My heart warmed a little when Ash promised his daughter’s corpse that he was going to bring it back to life.
  • Ash on getting his hand back (again): “It’s kind of weird how often that happens.” God, I love how self-aware this show is sometimes.
  • Speaking of which, when Kelly calls out El Jefe’s wardrobe: “Ash, I’m always happy to see that indestructible blue shirt to the rescue...”
  • What are the odds we see Dalton again? Pretty high, right?
  • Ash on the Delta (and being just all-around gross): “This sweet baby has bailed me out of more jams than a fist full of lube on a Saturday night.”
  • The Delta really knows when to put on the right song. MC5's “Kick Out the Jams” is another local jam ripe for The Evil Dead universe.

  • This week’s Top Deadite, technically by default, though not without reason, goes to the hardware store hag that leaves Pablo sweating. This whole sequence felt like something right out of the first season.
  • Kaya seems to spell out bad news for Ruby, which is good news for the Ghost Beaters: “When the dark ones come, their vengeance will be merciless. We betrayed them Ruby, left them trapped all this time. They will destroy us.” Jeez. Hate to be them right now.
  • Will Ruby and Kaya rewrite their destiny? Can Ash save Kelly before it’s too late? Does Brandy get her own boomstick before this all comes down? We’ll find out next week with “Judgement Day.” See you on the flip-flop.

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