[Review] - Ash Vs. Evil Dead, Season 1 Episodes 3 And 4, "Books From Beyond" And "Brujo"

Courtesy of Renaissance Pictures
I've said as much about others shows in the past, but it becomes increasingly difficult to review a series when it is... good. Just good. Just consistently, enjoyably, well manufactured. Reviews are meant to examine the contents of a product, and impart impression to the readers not in the know. Criticism is meant to highlight flaws and consider alternatives, in a measured and constructive manner. But when a show is just good, and pretty universally good, as Ash Vs. Evil Dead is, then where else is there for a review to go? There aren't the cloud of flaws buzzing around it, intermittently swarming and dispersing.

The characterization is strong, and on point. Each character is given clear motivations, and if feels very much like the narrative is driven more by the affect of action rather than manipulation (ie: more time is spent cleaning up messes than the characters being lead around by an invisible finger). The writing is strong, the acting is strong, the CGI... needs work, but more than makes up for it with the practical effects. As a creative outlet or piece of "journalism" (its more one than the other), I don't want these reviews to devolve in to wrote repetition of the events of the episode, as really you should be watching the episode for that. About the most critical thing I say at this point is that, in that last sentence, I misspelled "episodes" and my auto-correct suggested "dildos" which is saucier than my spell check usually is.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers which like any high quality automobile, you just have to hit the dash a few times.


Four episodes in, and we finally meet Lucy Lawless' character, revealed to be Ruby, the lone survivor of the Knowby family, whom Ash either killed or destroyed back in the original films. She's a take no shit sort of person, with a hard-on for vengeance and has spent the last 30 years trying to find Ash and make him pay for what he did in that cabin. She does so with the aid of the second best character from Evil Dead II, Ash's dismembered hand, which acts as a creepy divining rod, pointing Ruby in Ash's direction. In sincerely hope that this means, as their proximity increases, the hand will get increasingly feisty. But, there is more to ruby than she's telling, and has a secret the dead know and she's not keen on Amanda knowing. At this point, I can't reasonably guess what that secret might be, other than her not being a Knowby, or her being dead too, though those both seem obvious and nonsensical, and I'd like to think that this show will be better at throwing us a curve ball if they do intend on aiming for a Big Reveal.

Because this show has shortly proven quite good at is not heading exactly where we expect them to. Ash began the series looking to find a way to translate the book. episode three, he found someone to translate the book. The writers clearly aren't interested in allowing the series to suffer decompression, stretching out stories beyond their natural shelf life. Half an hour after finding the shop, the keep was dead, the book was untranslated and things were worse. By using Ash's own god given ability to make any situation worse by benefit of his superior stupidity as the driving narrative force, it allows the show to explore organic avenues of possibility that other shows would never consider because they adhere to a pre-set narrative framework. I have no doubt that the writers planned more of the twists and turns of this series out in advance, but the difference is that it doesn't feel that way. If feels like the show is swinging at things as they come. And that feels the general pace of the series, which idles between break-neck and brisk.

In these two episodes, Ash decides (wrongly) to raise a demon to help shunt the Evil back into hell, and manages to allow that demon to possess one of his teammates. Kelly is quickly becoming the most interesting character on the show because she feels like the characters the writers have given themselves permission to do anything with. Amanda is the audience surrogate, Pablo is the sidekick, Ruby is the co-star, Ash is the Hero Eternal. Those are established archetypes, and for the most part ones that bring with them security (except the surrogate, who becomes expendable once the audience has acclimated). A couple weeks ago, I theorized that Kelly was being set up as the proto-Ash, the next generation of Evil Dead killer. These episodes showed that the writers are using her more as a blank slate. And that is invigorating, because it means we can't predict where they'll take her next. Possessed by a demon, but not dead (an important distinction in this mythology). A threat from within, but not a threat incapable of being over come. As possessed Ash strangled her, it was clear that the demon had receded, leaving Kelly in the grip of his determined hand.

The show is also comfortable doing bottle episode after bottle episodes. Books took place entirely in a  book store. Brujo largely within Ash's mind. It's also a show that is willing to spend an entire episode in a character's subconscious instead of feeling the need to feed the narrative. I continues to impress the hell out of me that this show, of all shows, is leading the pack when it comes to focusing on characterization and building depth from there, rather than leaning hard on the established mythology. Better Call Saul I expect this from, but not the show about the guy with the chainsaw for the hand. But the self containment of the episodes (other than being a helpful way to keep budgets down) allows that focus, and escalation in the narrative has to come from logical action taken from a place of true character, rather than having the characters behaving inconsistently so long as they go from A to B to C.

Also, the design and execution on the mind demon was fantastic. Whoever's idea it was to have the entire entity constantly shifting except for it's mouth deserves a gold star and a foot long hoagie.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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