Things are pretty groovy right now for Ash Vs. Evil Dead. The mythology’s brewing, threads are threading, and characters are proving essential. It’s a good sign when the show’s titular lead can spend the first quarter of an episode gagged and not one minute suffers. That’s the unlikely power this series has midway through its first season, and it’s an enviable position the franchise hasn’t experienced in a long, long time. At least, not since the beginning of 1981’s The Evil Dead, when audiences could follow any face without wondering, Well, where’s Ash? “The Host” hearkens back to those “salad days” by widening the story to accommodate its supporting cast—in this case, Pablo, who finally has enough pathos to rise above easy comic relief.

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Until now, Pablo has been predictably sidelined as Ash’s trusty sidekick. The writers have offered up some sketches—we know he has a mysterious upbringing, we know who he loves—but they’re hardly inked by comparison to Kelly’s story. When she lost her folks back in “Bait”, we at least understood why she would decide to fight the Deadites alongside Ash, and her recent possession by Eligos has only elaborated her strengths and weaknesses. Yet Pablo’s reasoning has been murky, or simply inferred: He follows Ash because he believes him to be the jefe. We bought it because, well, he was there to see all the shit go down back at Value Stop. As the story evolves, though, and the stakes intensify, there needs to be something more.

That “something more” has always been with the Brujo. Pablo’s return to his uncle’s ranch wasn’t just to resolve the Deadite crisis, but to reconcile his own abandoned heritage, as he admitted to Ash in last week’s episode: “I was just trying to find myself outside of this place. You know, I wanted to do great things, but, instead, I ended up working at the Value Stop.” However, by witnessing the evil dead first hand, Pablo has been able to reaffirm his own faith in his uncle’s line of work, which is why he confessed to him, saying: “I was so wrong and I know that now.” At the time, there wasn’t any doubt in those words, but they didn’t have the oomph they do this week, as we watch our young warrior burn the corpse of his uncle following Kelly’s violent exorcism.

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“You always tried to tell me how the world really is,” Pablo says to the molten funeral pyre, “I should have listened sooner.”

Loss is such a cheap way to placate audiences and build drama, but only when it’s without reason. By losing his uncle, Pablo has in return become a stronger character, perhaps even greater than his colleagues, if only because there’s an inherited future from the loss. When he picks up the mysterious, scalding medallion from the pyre, there’s an implication that there may be more than meets the eye to Pablo. It’s like that goddamn hand he built: What started out as a loony idea, complete with screwdrivers and laser pointers, wound up turning into an articulated and useful tool. Who knows, maybe he is the jefe, as a few of you readers have suspected these past few weeks. After all, those torches at the end there didn’t just light up themselves!

In the past, I’ve briefly applauded Ray Santiago’s efforts and how much energy he brings to the series as Pablo. With “The Host”, he takes over and carries the episode as Bruce Campbell sits shotgun, metaphorically speaking, in the shed. There’s a charm to his anxious demeanor that’s downright magnetic, similar to Topher Grace’s work long ago on That ‘70s Show. The way he squirms and distances himself from Kelly’s hypersexualized come-ons here is hilarious, adding a touch of innocence that holds weight when he’s pleading for her life later on in the episode. Dana DeLorenzo, meanwhile, finds her inner Sharon Stone and loses her teeth with one very physical performance. How anyone could dismiss this team is beyond me.

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Director David Frazee returns from last week and leans heavily on his talents as a cinematographer. A few of the shots—namely those outside the shed between Pablo and his uncle—are some of the series’ strongest. Honestly, Spielberg go-to Janusz Kaminski ought to take notes on how he glazes his portraits with the sun. There’s a naturalism to his work that’s beatific yet rustic enough to keep things rooted in reality. Speaking of which, now that he’s not realizing ayahuasca trips, Frazee also gets to have some fun with a more grounded episode, thanks to rising screenwriter Zoë Green. He goes to hell and back with some incredibly jarring visuals during Kelly’s exorcism, specifically an unflattering use of sanctified water. As Ash says, “Well, we’ve all been there.” Gross.

While Campbell steps aside some in this episode, he does have his moments to shine. Even gagged, he still manages to trigger some laughs, whether it’s through his muffled cursing or the rage in his eyes that wouldn’t be out of place in a John Kricfalusi cartoon. When he’s fully operational again, Green cleverly tosses him some witty one-liners (“When you get back to hell, work on your aim”) and works in a humorous callback (“Kelly’s Jewish… Fuck you!”). On that note, another carryover is the Brujo’s advice to “shoot first, think never,” which Ash puts to practice again, saving the gang in one of the more frantic match-ups we’ve seen thus far. Needless to say, the creators certainly took full advantage of Eligos, which bodes well for future demons and enemies.

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What’s also intriguing about “The Host” is that it’s the first episode of the season where the action hasn’t moved to another location. We started last week at the Brujo’s ranch and we continued this week in the same setting—that’s a good thing. Initially, it appeared as if the series was going to subvert the franchise some by taking the action-horror on the road, which it sort of has and continues to do so judging from the ending here. Let’s not forget, though, that it wasn’t until 1992’s Army of Darkness that Ash even left the cabin. Instead, we spent two whole films in a small, claustrophobic cabin and it was hardly an issue. In fact, it actually allowed for more tension. Ash Vs. Evil Dead has afforded itself such luxuries, especially with characters this rewarding.

Five more episodes? Come get some.

Stray observations

  • What’s with the bread knife? What’s with the bread knife?!
  • “Just keep on breathing,” an eerily calm Ruby instructs a livid Fisher. The flavored banter between Lucy Lawless and Jill Marie Jones is short-lived, but hints of future moments to come. That being said, I don’t think anyone was too upset they were only in the episode for a few minutes tops.
  • By the way, who called that “handy” GPS system? Sh’yeah.
  • Kelly has a cousin who was in Iraq. They also used a shotgun as a bong.
  • Warning: Do not use a shotgun as a bong.
  • “I know this really great Taylor Swift song…” Which one, Pablo?
  • Digital vomit? That should be an easy practical effect. Case in point:

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  • Having said that, the CGI hand crawling through Kelly’s chest was effective and creepy.
  • Sad to see Hemky Madera go. He was great these past two episodes, but his loss is the series’ gain. Also, don’t count him out for flashbacks or spiritual moments—it ain’t over ‘til the whole thing’s over in this franchise.
  • Didn’t Ash’s apology feel sincere at the end? If he’s not careful, he’ll be blasting Deadites in a Hallmark store by the second season. Joking aside, his arc has been quite substantial, too, and it’s good to know the writers know how to keep fleshing that out without having him take center stage.
  • Well, we’re on the road again, with a killer new hand in tow, and it’s Ted Nugent who’s taking us into the second half. Shall we?

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