Well, that wasn’t very fun. Poor direction? Weak dialogue? A forgettable character? Say it ain’t so, Ash! After two weeks of hyping Books From Beyond, the titular episode falls flat on its ass from a Melba Toast script and an equally bland sense of direction. To be fair, we’ve been a little spoiled—“El Jefe” and “Bait” paired together like an unstoppable two-part series premiere—and every series has its ebbs and flows. The problem is that “Books From Beyond” is such a flaccid comedown from the splendid chaos that tipped off Ash Vs. Evil Dead. And naturally, the adjustment isn’t so easy.
Look, there was no way this series was ever going to maintain the adrenaline and pacing we experienced over the last two weeks—even if Sam Raimi penned and lensed each episode. At some point, every story needs to dial back, take a look around, and recalibrate. Yet these meditative moments still have to prove substantial, whether it’s delivering on previously hinted truths or rewarding characters with articulated growth. Workaholics writer Sean Clements, who’s also one half of the extraordinary Hollywood Handbook podcast, attempts to do both of those things in this episode.
Once again, the story picks up where the action last left off, only now we’re following Lucy Lawless’ mysterious character, who takes us back to Kelly’s creepy farm in a speedy Dodge Challenger. (It’s also night, which doesn’t make sense logistically since Ash, Kelly, and Pablo finished burying mom and pops around sunrise. Whatever, go with it.) As expected, Kelly’s father returns as a Deadite, and Lawless is more than prepared. She upgrades his forked eye by impaling him on one of Ash’s crosses, where she tortures his face for information with what appears to be a Kandarian dagger.
It’s a hollow and rushed cold opening, but we do learn more about Lawless’ character. She’s been searching for the Necronomicon for an unhealthy length of time, which by proxy makes Ash, the current keeper of the book, her prey. Judging from the way she breezily disarms Daddy Deadite, she will undoubtedly give our one-handed hero a run for his chainsaw—and damn it’s going to be a delight. Despite her scant few minutes of free time, Lawless has already proven magnetic, nailing the franchise’s pulpy beats and rhythms with steel-toed stoicism. She’s gonna be great.
Meanwhile, back in the Delta 88, Ash, Kelly, and Pablo arrive at Books From Beyond to finally meet the one and only Lionel Hawkins. Before they enter the store, Pablo admits to feeling melancholy about capping the evil, knowing damn well that it’ll split up their new team. It’s a naive thought, at least to us who know this isn’t the end, but it’s a palpable feeling coming from a guy who has yet to experience any loss. “Hey, I was toying with a nickname for us,” he enthusiastically suggests, “the Ghost Beaters.” Obviously, the name doesn’t sit well with the two, but Ash has his own reasons.
“At heart, me, I’m an alone wolf,” Ash says to Pablo.
“A lone wolf,” Kelly corrects him.
“Exactly,” Ash swiftly agrees.
But Pablo isn’t finished, and he drills into Ash’s soul deeper than any Deadite before him, asking: “Doesn’t it ever get old? Being alone? Nobody to help you?” Ash recoils and offers up a paltry “Of course not” with the same amount of conviction he expressed in Army Of Darkness upon being asked if he chanted the right words. This not-so-subtle uncertainty is about the strongest takeaway from this episode, if only because it finally reveals a nuanced chink in Ash’s hyper-masculine armor, one that doesn’t involve obvious physical gags like a makeshift corset or sparkly dentures.
If only the ensuing action was on par. Because once they step out of the car, the episode slowly dissolves into a cheap Buffy The Vampire Slayer knock off, completely devoid of the style and finesse and assurance that director Michael J. Bassett exhibited in “Bait”. Though, it doesn’t help that Power Rangers regular Kelson Henderson adds very little to the role of Lionel, and hardly comes off as the “odd duck” that Ash paints him as earlier on. Or that this episode’s marquee demon, Eligos, is more or less a copy and paste job from either remake of House On Haunted Hill or Thirteen Ghosts.
What’s worse, the hyped meeting of Ash and Amanda Fisher is marginalized in favor of a rushed seance that only serves as a medium to introduce some horror in the episode. None of which clicks accordingly in spite of Clements’ attempts to inject some Raimi-esque elements, the closest being a short-lived moment featuring a re-animated bird. Oddly enough, the sharpest bit is Kelly and Fisher’s sobering exchange, especially when the handcuffed officer challenges our recently orphaned heroine by asking, “What do you really know about him?” It’s a smart move by Fischer, but also a fair question.
Truth be told, what do we know about Ash? Sure, we’ve followed him for decades as he’s tirelessly stumbled through his messy trials and tribulations, from chopping his possessed friends into bite-sized chunks to lopping off his own hand. But what does that tell us about his actual character? That’s a question Clements posits in “Books From Beyond”, and while he admittedly struggles to match Raimi’s witty dialogue in the way Dominic Dierkes accomplished one episode prior, he does something better by taking a shovel to the heart of our lovable jefe.
“I wouldn’t be alive right now if it wasn’t for my pack,” Ash admits to Pablo and Kelly. “I think we should run together for awhile.” It’s a simple admission, but the type of evolution this show needs to contend with if they’re going to make this work for one or two or how many seasons Starz wants Ash to Vs. the Evil Dead. Now, if you take a look back at the original trilogy, wipe off the gore, and zero in on Ash’s arc, you’ll see how he went from this timid Midwestern kid to the walking muscle that would later influence Duke Nukem. What this show then has to resolve is how he’s only aged physically.
“When my brother Ivan and I were writing the character, and asking where he’d been for the last 30-35 years, we realized he had not grown,” Raimi recently told Blastr. “He stopped his development.” Granted, this idea isn’t strictly beholden to “Books From Beyond”; after all, there’s a reason why we’ve been hearing endless classic rock and watching Ash shrug off any character that comes is way. It’s only now, however, that anyone’s attempted to go deeper, or go beyond, the surface level stuff. Still, you can’t lose focus of what’s on top, which is why this third go-around isn’t as much of a charm.
- Love how Lawless flicks the fork. Very playful.
- “First time I came here I was looking for an authentic Viking helmet. I was banging this freaky chick who got me into roleplay. Anyway, I told him about the book, and he freaked out.” Could you imagine that scene? Only Ash could find a way to bring up the Necronomicon in the middle of a good ol’ discussion about Viking sex.
- It’s a shame that churro dialogue was in the show’s trailer. Easily the episode’s funniest lines.
- Nah, it’s still hilarious.
- Did Pablo just get friend-zoned? “You’re like the little brother I never had,” Kelly tells him. And there’s the chink in his armor.
- “Did she say she was a cop? Oh shit! It was self defense.” It can’t be said enough how much energy Ray Santiago brings to this series. He might be this episode’s MVP.
- “Sounds like a lot of yappenin’ and not a lot of happenin’.”
- Dana DeLorenzo’s skills at cursing are right up there with Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Susie Essman. Vocabulary is her own boomstick.
- Jury’s still out on Fisher and where she fits in going forward. “If you guys are fighting these things, then we’re on the same side,” she pleads to Kelly. Of course, it’s all a ruse and she pulls a gun on Ash. Perhaps she’s just confused? Needs more time to come around? Maybe. Possibly.
- Write this down: “The undo button is inside me.” Or, as Kelly puts it, “Look inside yourself for the answer.” Sorry, not all smart like you, K.
- “Well, you two learned a very valuable lesson today: Cops don’t help.” Perhaps that’ll get the spotlight off Quentin Tarantino.
- Not even the Fight Club-esque brain plumbing could make the summoned demon Eligos this week’s Top Deadite. Maybe I’m alone, but didn’t that thing feel like a transplant from some other film?
- Can’t argue with The Stooges. “Loose” is the second track off the Michigan hurricane’s 1970 sophomore album, Fun House. It’s a welcome change of pace from Deep Purple or Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.
- Next week, Fisher has to get out of a sticky situation, Lawless will find a place to park her Dodge, and Pablo must re-connect with his uncle/Brujo. See you then, buckos.