Nostalgia is a tricky thing, especially for Ash Vs. Evil Dead. While one might argue the best episodes of the series are those that pay homage to the franchise’s cherished past, they’d only be half right. While, yes, it’s exciting to witness echoes of Ash’s grim history, be it something obvious like the cabin in the woods or an arguable passing reference to Army Of Darkness, the real currency behind these nostalgic tokens is how they affect our blood-splattered hero today. More often than not, they toss a left hook at the guy’s stiff upper lip, and it’s those seldom bruises that make him a stronger character and, in turn, bring us a better show. After all, the gore can only stain for so long.

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So far, the second season has been one drawn-out Remember When for Ash; we’re just experiencing it all firsthand alongside Pablo, Kelly, and Ruby. The minute he drove into Elk Grove, Michigan, the guy has seen everything through a pair of half-broken, rose-tinted lenses, whether it’s reuniting with his old drinking buddy Chet, butting heads with his disapproving father Brock, or rekindling some old magic with his lost love Linda. Granted, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in Psychology to understand how these brushes with the past have rattled his brain, especially the fractured bond with his now-deceased pops, but they haven’t really hit very hard for us—they’re too fresh in our minds.

“Trapped Inside” finally invites the die-hard fans to Ash’s homecoming by shaking the family tree and dropping one very familiar rotten apple: Cheryl Williams. Yes, the former art student turned cellar sister is back and she’s crazier than ever, clawing and chewing her way into Ash’s beer-battered soul for our own levity and horror. Of course, we all knew she’d return following her doorway tease back in “The Morgue”—also: star Ellen Sandweiss was confirmed to appear months ago—but nobody expected anything of this capacity. And fortunately, knowing all that didn’t stunt the throwback thrill and sheer terror of seeing her whimper out from down the hall toward Ash.

Talk about a comeback episode: After last week’s disappointing “Confinement,” veteran scribe James E. Eagan, who penned last season’s challenging “Brujo,” swings back in with arguably the strongest chapter of the series. Naturally, any feelings over Cheryl and Ash’s reunion come easy and fast, thanks to the fact that Sandweiss hasn’t aged one bit and that she remains a remarkably physical actress, but Eagan and director Mark Beesley are smart enough to know when to hold back and when to double down. As such, Cheryl’s resurrection plays out with striking patience and style, starting with a lewd gag involving Chet and peaking with a bedroom bustle set to Romeo Void’s sexy new wave hit “Never Say Never.”

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Nothing is wasted in this episode, either. Whereas William Bromell completely fumbled his self-contained setup on “Confinement,” Eagan embraces his own, turning the Williams homestead into a dazzling G.I. Joe playset, where every corner has something compelling happening. Downstairs, Kelly channels her inner Sarah Connor and orders Linda around as she staves off a gun-toting crowd of chowderheads gathering outside. Upstairs, the Necronomicon stages its own comeback through Pablo as Lacey watches a now-mortal Ruby work with some immortal magic. Meanwhile, Baal is manipulating an increasingly problematic Sheriff Emery, who may prove to be the real villain. It’s a swirling wave of action, horror, and comedy that Beesley orchestrates with ruthless and inventive direction. And although it’s his first time behind the camera for Ash Vs. Evil Dead, he’s worked with Sam Raimi in the past on both Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. Keep him around.

Seriously, this episode is a total 180, one that even manages to smooth out some of the rough edges from beforehand. Take Baal, for instance. While Joel Tobeck still plays him like a Randall Flagg knockoff—his whole “The Son of God might be a stretch, but you get the point…” was taken right out of Jamey Sheridan’s pocket—he’s at least doing something serviceable for the story, eschewing the sleazy Skinemax tropes for a little brusque horror. Sure, Emery doesn’t actually shoot the woman in the station, but that doesn’t make the scene any less jarring, and whatever he has cooked up for Ash can’t be good. Besides, given all the body swapping going on, Baal’s vitality as a villain will likely depend on the random roles that are tossed at us each and every week—it should be fun.

Speaking of fun, how about that dialogue? Maybe it’s from the two seasons he spent up in 30 Rockefeller Plaza, but Eagan readily shines off a number of stellar one-liners, especially for Ash and Cheryl. “I’m gonna make like a tree and fuck you,” she spits as she lunges at her bristled brother, who also crudely recalls her infamous demise by explaining how she was “branch-banged by a demon tree.” Considering Ash was still the shy guy around Cheryl’s time, it’s a joy to see the two siblings evenly matched with two equally venomous tongues and boy do they go at it. To their credit, Bruce Campbell and Sandweiss do a fantastic job toeing the line between foe and family, proving once again that time does very little to undeniable chemistry.

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Look, not every great moment in Ash vs. Evil Dead must be tied to its past. There’s no denying the power those movies have over this series, but the callbacks should never be too frequent or too liberal. In other words, they can’t just pop Embeth Davis into episode eight and expect the same results. There’s a finesse to any sort of nostalgia mining and it all boils down to execution and timing—then again, that logic applies to the show as a whole. Because when everything does click, as it happens to on “Trapped Inside,” Ash Vs. Evil Dead becomes one of the most unstoppable shows out there, no different than the evil that ricochets through the woods and swallows souls. If it’s this good, ours will always be for the taking.

Stray observations

  • Blame it on my evening whiskey, but I found myself cheering multiple times during this episode, the hairs on my arms turning to smoke as I watched Ash go public with his demon hunting while he blasted Cheryl into the trunk of a nearby car. What an iconic scene, what a great moment, the closest this show has come to Army Of Darkness.
  • “Okay…so, I just fired a gun at a crowd of civilians.” You know, Dana DeLorenzo is so ingrained into this character that even her tiniest reactions send me into fits. Her delivery here is just priceless.
  • Cheryl: “You look different, what happened to you?” Ash: “Pancakes?”
  • The attention to detail on this show is astounding and continues to floor me: Cheryl’s hair, her wardrobe, her bedroom, the wounds on her face, everything…the designers never miss a beat.
  • Sandweiss has always been a champ. Here’s her reminiscing on making The Evil Dead: “There was a lot of pain involved with that movie. There was pain with makeup, pain with running through the woods… In the scene where I fall back into the cellar, at one point I didn’t quite make it through the hole, and slammed my head on something. I remember how strange it was, staying up all night and sleeping through the day. I felt like a real zombie, but I was 20 years old, and it was very exciting, and I was with friends.” (via Bill Warren’s The Evil Dead Companion)
  • Who here wants to bet that’s not the last we’ve seen of Chet? Hey, that sounds like a limerick! No, but really, there’s no way he’s totally gone.
  • Pablo’s sick Necronomicon tats got me all like:

  • Stand up you primitive screw heads and give a standing ovation for Joseph LoDuca. The longtime composer for the series hasn’t received enough credit in these write ups and it’s a shame. Part of the charm of this series has been his vintage scores and he was batting at .366 this episode.
  • Nice pet tracker, Ash.
  • Ash Keepin’ It Real: “I believe you’ve been looking for me. Let’s get one thing straight, yo-yos. I kill demons, not people. Unless those people are demons, who look like people, and then I kill people, but they’re not really people, they’re demons—do you understand?”
  • This week’s Top Deadite is another no-brainer:

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  • Seeing how Pablo and Kelly have become more or less spiritual siblings, I thought it was funny how the two bonded emotionally (“There’s my powerful vagina”) while Ash kept busy sawing his sister apart (“Ugh, not again”). Let’s just hope Pablo doesn’t share Cheryl’s fate one day.
  • “Wouldn’t it be much easier to work together,” Baal asks Ash. In the immortal words of Jack Skellington: “What does it mean? What does it mean?” Well, here’s a theory: Now that Ruby’s lost her Wolverine powers and become one of us (one of us), perhaps Baal wants to capitalize on the part of Ash that brought us his evil twin in Evil Dead II, Army Of Darkness, and last season’s “Ashes to Ashes.” Could you imagine the ramifications that might come from an Ash/Baal?
  • We’ll find out next week on “Delusion.” See you on the flip-flop.

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