Ash Vs. Evil Dead feels a little crowded. Despite Ivan Raimi wrapping up its main through-lines last week with “DUI”—sending both Ruby’s demon children and one chatty Necronomicon back to Hell—there’s still a number of threads left to unravel. Like, what’s going on with Pablo? How does Lacey Emery factor into things? When will we finally learn more about Ash and Linda? Will Chet ever stop drinking and driving? Does Kelly achieve true nirvana? Can Sheriff Emery go an entire season without actually pissing his pants? And last, but certainly not least, where can Ash take the Delta to bring it back to tip-top shape? To paraphrase our titular maniac, there’s been a a lot of happenin’ and not a lot of yappenin’, which is why it makes sense that the series would attempt to field a few of these questions midway through the season.

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But, here’s the thing: Not every show can dole out answers with the finesse of, say, The West Wing’s C.J. Cregg. More often than not, they stumble around and lose their footing like Veep’s bumbling idiot Mike McClintock. (Now, I realize that’s a somewhat esoteric reference for a review of a genre show like Ash Vs. Evil Dead, but that only proves how much I respect you all.) “Confinement” lies somewhere in between the two fictional White House press secretaries, offering up a juggling act that’s both curiously impressive and yet irritatingly spotty. Homeland and Borgia scribe William Bromell sets the stage with a very Carpenter-esque affair at Elk Grove’s police station, where a healthy mix of heroes and villains gather for a little blood and mayhem. It’s a setup ripe for tension, suspense, and bottled-up thrills that this show thrives upon.

This isn’t entirely a novel concept for Bromell; after all, his lone episode for Homeland—the rather impressive third season entry “Tower of David”—similarly centered on one location to wrestle with some harsh truths. But hey, the shoe fits for “Confinement,” allowing for the introduction of a new baddie (see: Joel Tobeck’s Baal), some minor character development (Ash to Linda: “Hey good looking, you here to break me out or break me in?”), and a little more mythology (what’s inside Pablo may be the Keymaster to Baal’s Gatekeeper). You get the sense that this series wants to shed its skin, as the entire episode feels like a new chapter. There’s a fresh gamut of dicey stakes and lofty problems for Ash and the gang to weed through, though as is the case with any kind of spectacular change, it’s teeming with pros and cons.

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Because we’re all crazy sadists, let’s start with the cons and work our way towards the light. First up, Baal. After much deliberation, this season’s ultimate baddie finally materialized and, well, he’s something of a disappointment. Based on this one episode, it would appear that Tobeck was simply told to Google “Randall Flagg” and watch two seasons of Red Shoe Diaries. He’s cool, sure, but the type of cool that would have been considered counterculture maybe 30 years ago. “You always liked me in black,” he tells a bewildered Ruby, as if we expected him to wear anything else, cementing himself as a further cliché by spouting out lame phrases like “come to daddy” and “gotta scat Hell-y cat.” Really, the only surprising notion about him is that he didn’t wind up singing track one off of Beggars Banquet before jumping into a red hot convertible.

There’s also the coke nail and the needless kissing, but I digress.

Tonally, this episode was all over the place, suffering from flat jokes and weak melodrama. Blame it on the dialogue or the plotting, but Pepi Sonuga’s tearful Lacey felt as if she was reading lines from another television show altogether, her delivery remiss of any conviction that would have us believe she just spent an entire night speeding around the streets of Elk Grove with her friends literally in tow. The same goes for Stephen Lovatt’s Sheriff Emery, who serves as one of the all-too-few red herrings for the who’s-who subplot. This idea would have worked if his cues were a little more nuanced and not simply “angry,” “angrier,” and “really angry.” When Linda decides to drop his ass at the end of the episode, you almost feel bad for the guy. It’s not his fault he was tasked with an all-too-perfunctory arc. What gives?

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Sigh, there’s nothing more disappointing than watching something so simple and exciting trip and skate into a wall. “Confinement” should have been a razor sharp episode, an homage to the Western with echoes of John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13 and The Thing, and it’s even painted that way. “You see, Baal jumps from person to person wearing your skin,” Ruby explains to a frenzied room, “and right now he can be in any one of you. So nobody leaves until he’s dead.” Director Michael J. Bassett, who helmed last week’s “DUI,” at least tries to capture that spirit, framing Ash as the rogue cowboy with one of the coolest tracking shots we’ve seen all series; shaking things up with omniscient surveillance footage; and keeping the camera low at points to embellish the power struggle at hand. All admirable attempts.

What’s more, there’s also a couple nasty character designs, what with the skinless Marjorie “Lady Cop” Deadite (think: a cross between Ripley’s stepkid in Alien: Resurrection and Frank from Hellraiser) and the manner by which her skin rolls off Baal (think: Vincent D’Onofrio’s “Sugah Water”-loving Edgar from Men In Black). This is the type of applause-worthy ingenuity that allows this series to move away from the traditional hack ‘em and slash ‘em horror and into something cerebrally terrifying. But it’s all about execution and knowing precisely when to let the pot boil over naturally; “Confinement” could have been far more effective if it didn’t irrationally move at 88 mph and overindulge in shock ‘em and rock ‘em tension. In other words, we’re never given time to question Baal’s next move, making this feel more like a rushed game of Checkers than a meditative half hour of Chess.

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But “Confinement” is only one game. There’s a war coming and it looks like we’re in for an intriguing match up between not only Ash and Baal, but whatever is brewing inside Pablo right now. One more mark on this episode is how we don’t really assume Pablo is at the will of Baal, that it’s something else at hand, so when Ruby finally says, “No, Pablo, you’re not Baal, you’re our only hope in stopping him,” we’re not at all surprised but moreover relieved because it’s basically confirming our suspicions. Maybe that’s the whole point of “Confinement” and this entry’s more clever than this review gives it credit for, using one mystery (Baal) as a sleight of hand for another (Pablo). Even so, there’s a way to go about it that’s more Allison Janney and less Matt Walsh—ugh, there I go again—but I guess we’ll just have to contend with the sloppy middle this week.

Stray observations

  • “The Ballad of Ashley Williams and His Glorious Exposition” Lyric Sheet: “Once again, I saved the world/ Now it’s time to get the girl/ Time to go to the shop/ get the car back/ get on the road to Jacksonville/ Something, something Jacksonville…”
  • You gotta love Ash’s Grade-A pickup lines: “Linda, from the moment I saw you, I realized that you were one of the only Lindas for me.”
  • Kelly’s hatred and utter impatience towards Sheriff Emery in this episode is downright delectable, specifically: “Howdy cowboy, keeping dry?” and “Slower. Please.”
  • “Confinement” struggled with its dialogue and zingers—the whole bit between Chet and Pablo was achingly weak—but seeing Ash go full Venkman was gold: “Okay, clearly the demon’s inside of this walking penis. Gimme the gun, I’ll take care of him, and we’ll go for pancakes.” His dialogue about going eight to five for Marjorie during that sweet tracking shot wasn’t so shabby, either.
  • Gotta love Ruby shooting Emery in the leg.
  • Medical notes: Ash has suffered rashes in the armpit, the gonads, the butt crack, and the butt check. Gross.
  • One other thing that bugged me is that if this show is going to touch upon the reality that Ash is killing all of these people with a little outside perspective, then at least sell it. When Sheriff Emery starts pointing the finger at Ash, blaming him for Amber’s death, not one person in the room actually looks terrified that there could be a mass murderer standing before them. It’s a shame, too, because that idea could be interesting.
  • It should be noted that Chet’s go-to prostitute Joanie was played by Medulla Oblongota, aka the greatest name of all time.
  • This week’s Top Deadite goes to Marjorie. No real contest there.
  • Phew, that one was tough writing up. Agree, disagree, let’s talk about it in the comments below. If not, have a great Halloween and I’ll see you on the flip-flop with next week’s “Trapped Inside.”

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