Boy, do I hate being right all the time. As we predicted last week, the brave Michigan State Trooper Amanda Fisher is toast, and hot damn does Ash Vs. Evil Dead scorch her off in “Ashes To Ashes.” Tricked, bludgeoned, cleaved, and impaled, Fisher’s merciless death proves the infamous cabin in the woods remains one “cruel, cruel bitch,” as Ash so eloquently dubs the joint in his warning to Fisher early in the episode. “Good, so am I,” she spits back at him with a stony brand of virility that further underlines the officer’s tragic naiveté. Though, she’s not the only one out of her element: Our beloved one-handed cabineer returns to The Great Lake State’s worst vacationing spot decades older, leading a terrifying amount of would-be collateral damage.
It’s an intriguing reunion and one we’ve been waiting for all season of Ash Vs. Evil Dead—and the setup couldn’t go better. Having abandoned his wolfpack, Ash wanders a sun-baked forest before stumbling upon a dead bird lying on the ground. “Sorry tweety, nothing survives around here,” he ominously observes as he scoops it up. Of course, the thing hilariously springs to life as a Deadite, forcing Ash to chuck it at a nearby tree, splattering its body across the trunk in the process. Several steps later, the mist clears and he’s finally face to face with where it all began, and ostensibly prepared no less. Chainsaw? Gassed and ready. Boomstick? Locked and loaded. Attitude? Ballsy and brazen. “Honey, I’m home,” he teases aloud, as if he’s the sole person at risk.
He’s not. After all, it wouldn’t be a fulfilling Evil Dead entry if there weren’t some proper stakes and fresh souls at hand. So, in addition to Fisher surprising Ash with stunning punctuality, Kelly and Pablo aren’t too far behind, either. (Way to cover your tracks, Ash.) Our two gun-toting Ghost Beaters wander around in circles before they eventually connect with a trio of campers in the process. Fresh out of an Eli Roth film, the gorgeous future Deadites—who are “one with nature,” no less—point Kelly and Pablo in the right direction to the cabin before disappearing off into the woods. “Man, I really hope they don’t end up dead,” Pablo states the obvious, to which Kelly sarcastically shrugs and adds: “They have pepper spray.”
Back at the cabin, which we’ll fan out about and discuss later, things couldn’t be any worse for our heroes. Ash is “shacking up” with his dead ex-girlfriend Linda (played to devilish perfection by New Zealand star Rebekkah Farrell), while also torturing his very alive would be girlfriend Fisher with false promises, light slams, eerie prodding, and bloody butchering. The difference between the two messy circumstances is that the former involves the actual, full-blooded Ash while the latter features a deranged clone that’s crudely spawned from his maggot-infested hand. Although that sounds like a divine recipe for some good ol’ comedy-horror—well, save for the whole torture—it’s hardly played for laughs, serving more as an emotional turning point for the series.
Look, we all expected the worst from the cabin, especially given Ash’s multiple on-screen warnings over the last few weeks, but few could have expected the horror to escalate this fast—and also this mercilessly. Writer Michael J. Bassett, who helmed the season’s first post-Raimi episodes “Bait” and “Books From Beyond”, brutally eschews the slow burn that’s traditionally followed any trips to the cabin for two tight sequences that swell with claustrophobia and stomp on the machismo and marianismo that fuels both Ash and Fisher, respectively. Linda’s vitriolic head-in-a-vice slaughters Ash’s ego and digs up some compromising truths, while the rapey Evil Ash makes his Army of Darkness counterpart seem G-rated by comparison.
Both scenarios also emphasize Bruce Campbell’s underrated strengths as an actor. All too often he’s praised for his durability and humor, but there’s an articulated spirit underneath his comical stoicism that speaks to a level of acting that goes beyond the source material. He conjured up such magic as Ronald Reagan in this year’s season of Fargo, and he puts it on full display once more in “Ashes To Ashes.” Look at the way he exudes Ash’s paralyzed apprehension in the shed, and then watch as he dominates the cabin with an evil demeanor that looms over everything around him. Bassett’s acidic one-liners (e.g. “Now that’s what I call cleavage”) embellish what we already know from simply watching Campbell’s performance—that he’s a sinister threat.
This isn’t exactly fresh and new territory. Ash’s dual personalities have been a facet of this series since the beginning, physically manifesting into legitimate opposing forces in the two sequels. The difference now, at least judging from this episode alone, is that there’s an unspeakable menace to this Evil Ash. This is a stronger and hungrier alter-ego that wants to punish Ash by any means necessary, so good luck to those around him. That’s why Fisher was never going to make it, and why we might want to be worried for Pablo and Kelly. Again, as I wrote last week, it’s unlikely showrunner Craig DiGregorio will axe either supporting character, but our ensuing fear stems from the fact that they’re doing something right behind the scenes.
To be fair, they’re doing a lot of things right behind the scenes. This week, Australian television director Tony Tilse tags in for Michael Hurst, making him the fifth man behind the lens this season. Save for an effective slow-motion shot in the cabin, he doesn’t inject too much of his own style, opting instead to admirably follow Raimi’s now-wrinkled blueprints. It’s a smart move considering this episode marks the first trip back to the cabin, which really couldn’t have been a closer approximation to the original film’s set. Designers Nick Bassett and Gareth Edwards don’t skip a detail, whether it’s the eerie porch swing or the dusty reel-to-reel or even the sounds of the clock. It’s weird feeling nostalgic for such an awful place, but it’s overwhelming.
Yet so is this episode’s nail-biter of a cliffhanger. We’re left with a few ugly snapshots—Ash strangling Evil Ash; Pablo and Kelly paranoid and bewildered; and Fisher’s body ready for possession—that hint at more awful things to come. A quick look ahead reveals that next week’s episode is titled, “Bound In The Flesh,” which has to be a reference to what Fisher read in Knowby’s study: “The Kandarian dagger’s handle is carved of human bone. The blade itself seems to have otherworldly powers, but when it’s placed upon the Necromonicon, it sears the binding’s flesh…” And that’s that. Considering that Ruby has the dagger, and she’s on her way to the cabin, things are about to get reeaal ugly.
But, I could be wrong.
- Did anyone else hold their hand up to stop the swing?
- “Long time, no see Linda. Don’t get up.” Gotta say, I did not expect them to go that deep and actually have her skull in the vice still. Suffice to say, the attention to detail on this show borders on fandemonium sometimes. It’s great.
- Hugo Weaving’s niece, Samara Weaving, plays the blonde camper looking for a warm bed. Not just any bed, but one with Pablo to keep her warm. Kelly wants none of that, though. #cockblocked
- Let’s hope they finally take a crowbar to the fruit cellar door and see what’s inside. Ruby probably buried her already, but it would be an awesome surprise if Annie Knowby popped up as a Deadite. Fans of Evil Dead: Hail To The King should have flashbacks to that impossible level.
- Sayonara to Ash’s evil hand. Fisher managed to turn that into diced meat.
- This week’s Top Deadite is undoubtedly Linda’s Head, who stripped down Ash emotionally and rattled off awful things like: “I give good head. You can skull fuck me good.” Good lord.
- “It’s better where you’re going.” Those last lines to Fisher were definitely more creepy than heartfelt, as if to suggest that Ash is starting to give up on the world. Or maybe that’s looking too much into it?
- Well, I guess you can’t go wrong lyrically with Don Gibson and Sue Thompson’s duet, “The Two Of Us Together”…
- Will Evil Ash strangle Ash and confuse the hell out of everyone next episode? Why else would they both lose their hands again? Find out next week on Saturday Night Dead!