Looking back, we’ve seen Ash do a lot. He’s butchered his friends, decapitated his girlfriend, fought his own severed hand, had a laugh with a re-animated deer mount, time traveled back to medieval times, warded off miniature reflections of himself, destroyed his evil clone, and conquered an entire army of darkness alongside King Arthur and Henry the Red. So, what does it matter if the guy stumbles around in an ayahuasca trip, has a meaningful conversation with his bearded dragon, and admits that Jacksonville, Florida is “everything [he’s] ever dreamed of.” These are but a few more unpredictable moments for fans of Ash Vs. Evil Dead. To argue otherwise would be missing out on the beauty of the franchise.
As Willie Scott sang decades ago, “Anything goes.”
That’s always been the mindset of Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, and Bruce Campbell. “I think when you get into sequels, you had better make sure that you are entertaining yourself as well as the audience, otherwise you get kind of in a rut,” Campbell told Bill Warren in his book, The Evil Dead Companion. He added, “Do we just go from one slice-and-dice movie to the next, or do we want to get into other realms?” That was over 15 years ago—the book was published back in 2000—and clearly nothing has changed. If anything, that rugged, adventurous spirit has grown stronger than ever, and it has to, especially if the brains behind this operation plan to keep challenging both their principal characters and themselves.
“Brujo” taps into that magic with groovy colors, connecting a few dots and unlocking a couple of doors in the process. Let’s start with Lucy Lawless. For those who didn’t tune into her mildly spoilerific appearance alongside Campbell last week on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, well, now you know that she’s playing Ruby Knowby. Ahem, as in Professor Raymond Knowby. Turns out the archaeological troublemaker had two daughters, making Ruby the sole survivor of the Knowby family. This isn’t something she takes pride in, naturally, which explains why she wants Ash’s blood. As she tells Fisher, it’s Ash who killed her parents and her sister, Annie. Oh, if only Xena knew that Annie spent her fleeting last moments saving the son of a bitch.
In an unlikely twist, Ruby also reveals that she found Ash’s possessed hand. What’s even crazier is that the thing is still alive and well. “Just recently it started twitching,” she tells Fisher, who’s probably two shades away from losing her mind at this point. What the hell does she want with the wilted ol’ thing? Ruby hopes the hand will lead her to Ash, leaving us with the bizarre image of the two of ‘em driving around Michigan a la Anton Chigurh and his tracker in No Country For Old Men. As for Fisher, she’s finally found a partner who won‘t go dying on her like some jerk and joins Ruby on her similar quest to stop Ash. Over the past few weeks, there has been an understandable range of feelings toward the unlucky trooper, but this looks like an agreeable turn.
The real takeaway in this week’s episode is how deep we go into the psyche of our titular hero. Now, when we last saw the Ghost Beaters (admittedly, the name does kind of stick), they were leaving Books From Beyond and Ash was still trying to figure out how “the undo button is inside [him],” or how to “look inside [himself] for the answer,” as Kelly put it. At Pablo’s insistence, they visit his Brujo (a stern yet benevolent Hemky Madera), who lives out on what can best be described as Leatherface’s Cadillac Ranch. It’s an effective set, replete with scorched dolls, mangled bones, and ominous totems, all of which ably suggest why The Force refuses to trespass. Once inside, Pablo’s Brujo scolds his nephew for “always taking the easy route,” which suggests Ash’s sidekick isn’t so different from his slacker self after all. Eventually, the Brujo agrees to help Ash.
“Come, I’ll look inside of you,” he offers.
“Good, check the ol’ prostate while you’re in there,” Ash spits back.
What they find is very funny, very terrifying, and a bit sad. As the ayahuasca kicks in, Ash falls into a delirious trip that spirals into a series of flashbacks before segueing into a hilariously tacky I Love The ‘70s/’80s montage. Within the splattering of clips, which include everything from female workout videos, to Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, to monster truck rallies, to Playboy covers, there’s a brief animated map of every Michigan Value Stop that highlights the stop-and-go lifestyle that Ash has lived over the years. Shortly after, he wakes up in the woods, where he’s been buried alive with his eyes sewn shut and surrounded by the cast of The Strangers. It’s eerie stuff, but fortunately for him is short-lived as he finds his “spiritual center” and is whisked away to the mango skies and Beach Boys muzak of Jacksonville, Florida. Or however he imagines it.
After all, Ash has never been there. It’s a would-be future for him, a place he planned to visit long ago with Linda—you know, the same person he had to chop into tiny pieces after a tragic detour to the whimsical cabin? This is where the episode turns to gold. Former Saturday Night Live scribe James E. Eagan grabs the shovel from last week’s Sean Clements and digs even deeper into our wreck of a hero by etching out a subtle sentimental middle to this unruly psychedelic escape. Sure, watching Ash double-fist two brewskis and living it up in the cheesiest dream imaginable is a funny image, but the conceit of it all is what makes “Brujo” so provoking, even over the nail-biting terror that comes shortly after. After all these years, there’s still a romantic heart beating softly behind the guy’s exuberant masculinity. Ah, pathos, it’s a wonderful thing.
This seems like a good time to talk about all the metaphors swimming around this episode. A couple are fairly obvious—The Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” and Whitesnake’s ”Here I Go Again”, the latter of which is about a “drifter” who’s “born to walk alone”, parallel Ash’s lone wolf ethos—but there’s a weirder thing going on with Ash’s arsenal of hands. While he’s off in la la land with a new right hand, everyone else is carrying his real-life alternatives: Fisher holds his rosewood, Ruby possesses the possessed, Pablo’s working on his future replacement, and Kelly… Well, there is no Kelly, only Eligos, right? And after fooling everyone, even the wise Brujo who leaves a stoned Ash to assist a fried Pablo, the jittery demon goes after something much bigger than Ash’s hand—his loopy mind!
It’s a startling match up that fails for Eligos, though not because Ash picks up a weapon advantageously placed nearby. Instead, the Jacksonville-loving dolt comes out on top due to some much-needed growth. With some vocal coaching courtesy of Eli—his bearded dragon, for all you primitive screwheads—Ash is able to find a steadier mental footing against Eligos by finally coming to terms with the power he possesses. This jives with what the Brujo warned him of shortly before his trip, specifically how a “total lack of self-awareness will make it difficult for [him] to find the answers that [he] seek[s].” Granted, it’s doubtful that Ash will maintain this clairvoyance once he wakes up from his mild concussion courtesy of Pablo, who simply trying to save Keligos (who has one hell of a cover up story to tell everyone), but at least he knows where to go next, and that’s pretty much all our gang needs by the end of any episode of Ash Vs. Evil Dead.
After last week’s rather claustrophobic “Books From Beyond”, “Brujo” feels like a breath of fresh air. It doesn’t bruise like the first two episodes, and it’s at times a little manic, but the dialogue pops, each character has a purpose, and there’s a pronounced depth to the story that’s just the right kind of hazy. Much applause goes to director David Frazee, who replaces Michael J. Bassett this go-around. He similarly captures all of Raimi’s beats and quirks, but manages to mold the series’ most ambitious script yet into a reasonably tight chapter, which is remarkable given the creative risks and leaps at hand. Then again, that’s what makes it feel so inherently part of The Evil Dead blueprint. This is a series that has always thrived on thinking big and embracing dumb; how else do you explain the story’s asinine trajectory from a cabin to a castle to a department store? You can’t. So, if we’re already seeing ayahuasca trips by the fourth episode, rest assured it’s only gonna get weirder from here on out.
To quote Parliament, ”Free your mind … and your ass will follow.”
- Kelly: “Drive Miss Daisy.” Ash: “Yes sir.” God, I love this team.
- We finally get to see The Force and it’s a cross between a sandstorm and a tsunami. No wonder everyone’s been running scared all these years.
- Decades later and Ash only has 12 more payments left on the Delta!
- “When evil shows up, it blows up.” I’m with Kelly, let’s go with this slogan.
- Note to self: Three bagels are no match for ayahuasca. Damn.
- “Shoot first, think never.” I’ll remember that for Battlefront.
- Can we spare the Brujo? Hemky Madera is too damn good to be tossed aside and it’d be depressing to watch him turn into a Deadite. The way he handles Ash’s brute humor with a smirk is charming to say the least.
- “I got two hands, Brujo! I need two beers!”
- If all goes according to plan, Pablo will give Ash a Power Glove with a screwdriver and a laser pointer. Seems legit.
- Technically, Eligos isn’t a Deadite, but I’ve come around to the slimy gummy bear and have officially deemed it this week’s Top Deadite…
- No, your eyes don’t deceive you. That was definitely the hallway from the original cabin. And based on Ash’s revelation about the Necronomicon—“You have to bury it deep, deep below the place where your journey began”— it would appear that we’re heading back to the woods in the near future. One has to wonder if the bridge has been fixed. Perhaps we’ll find out next week? See you then, bait fish!