[This review contains SPOILERS for the season 3 premiere of Ash vs. Evil Dead.]
The notion of fatherhood is nothing new to Ash vs. Evil Dead. The series introduced Lee Majors as Ashley J. Williams’ father Brock early in its second season, one that saw the chainsaw-handed slayer of Deadites return to his childhood home in Michigan after decades away following the bloody events of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies. The intent was not only to give Ash something to prove but someone to prove it to, and to demonstrate, in the show’s typically prurient, gore-loving manner, that, in the Williams family, the apple does not fall far from the tree. That notion must have struck a chord with the show’s writers, as season 3 kicks off by giving Ash a big surprise in the form of an estranged daughter named Brandy (Arielle Carver-O’Neill).
The addition of a new character runs the risk of pulling a Scrappy-Doo or a Poochie, the implication being the show in question is running out of ideas and that bringing in some new blood will freshen things up a bit. Fortunately, blood, new or old, isn’t something Ash vs. Evil Dead is afraid to spill, so when Brandy is introduced she presents a potentially new avenue for the show to explore, even as it once again trods down a familiar path involving the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis and the undying demon Ruby (Lucy Lawless).
In ‘Family,’ there’s an overwhelming sense that Ash vs. Evil Dead really is beginning a new chapter and is interested in discovering what the future will bring. Ash has vanquished evil from his hometown and is using his newfound celebrity to drive customers to the opening of his hardware store/sex toy shop (because why not?). The store isn’t just a throwback to the character’s days as a clerk at S-Mart; it’s a sign Ash is fumbling his way toward maturity and responsibility. Okay, that might be pushing it a little, especially since Ashy Slashy’s hardware store is the source of more double entendres than you shake a 12-foot garden hose at. But still, it's a step in the right direction.
Whether it’s dishing out prurient comedy or buckets of gore, Ash vs. Evil Dead isn’t a subtle show. As such, it comes as no surprise that the season 3 premiere would find a way to introduce Brandy and present-day Knight of Sumeria Dalton (Lindsay Farris), reunite Ash and Pablo (Ray Santiago) with Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo), and kill off Ash's wife and Brandy’s mother Candace Barr, aka Candy Barr (Katrina Hobbs), all while having some fool read from the Necronomicon, making Elk Grove Deadite ground zero once again.
The manner in which the show burns through plot is one of its best attributes, and that’s certainly on display in the first episode. ‘Family’ speeds through Brandy’s introduction, wasting no time in establishing who she is and getting her in touch with her sure-to-disappoint father. Watching Candace tell Ash he has a daughter and that she’s in danger at the local high school has all the nuance of a chainsaw to the face, but, like Ash’s signature appendage, its effectiveness cannot be overstated.
There’s a welcome urgency in getting Ash and Pablo to the school where Brandy and her friend Rachel are beset upon by the newly returned Deadites. During the ensuing rescue mission, a high school mascot becomes another example of the fun the show has with its practical effects, turning a man in a cougar costume into the twisted, drooling face of evil, while a possessed Rachel meets a particularly nasty end, thanks to some harp strings and some hard work by the show's effects department. As a set piece, Brandy’s rescue also sets the larger story in motion, forcing Ash into the unlikely role of father, while also getting Pablo, Kelly, and Dalton on the same page: Evil is back and they must once again answer destiny’s call.
In addition making Ash a father, season 3 hints that it’s keen to try something new with the Necronomicon; namely, that the text is not immutable. At least that seems to be what the episode is getting at when Ruby uses her own blood to erase a page from the book depicting Ash’s preordained role, and presumably to give birth to some unspeakable evil. These alterations to the larger Evil Dead story, either by retro engineering parts of Ash’s past — perhaps thanks to the time travel that Pablo thinks didn’t change anything — or by changing what the Bad Book says, present certain risks in terms of upsetting the fan base, but they also demonstrate the show is willing to explore the road ahead, rather than go back down one already traveled. The past was a huge part of season 2, but the show literally buried it in the finale.
Like the ubiquitous Oldsmobile Delta 88, the Evil Dead franchise is getting on in years, and can be at times a little unwieldy on the road. But with the right driver behind the wheel it’s also a reliable source of over-the-top violence and juvenile humor. The start of season 3 suggests the team behind Ash vs. Evil Dead is keenly aware of this and is preparing to offer up a season that finally looks more toward the future than the past.
Ash vs. Evil Dead continues next Sunday with ‘Booth Three’ on Starz.
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