It’s episode two and time for Ash vs. Evil Dead to show us whether it’s going to be able to function as an actual TV show and not just a half-hour pleasure cruise for Deadite nostalgists. So far, the results are disappointingly meandering. “Bait” spends it’s entire run time picking up the pieces leftover from the pilot and not really giving us anything new to look forward to, which does not bode well for the show reaching any sort of cohesiveness. Then again, a kitchen table got chainsawed in half while it flew through the air, so I guess we’re still getting at least some of what we came for?
We pick up the moment we left off in Ash’s trailer. Kelly takes off on Pablo’s bike to check up on her dad and recently resurrected mom, and having just had her eyeball nearly removed by a demon-woman, she’s got good reason to worry. Ash wants no part of the rescue mission (“I’m trying to save all the dads everywhere”), but after Pablo tells him she took the book, he reluctantly agrees to follow.
So Ash and Pablo set off and have a little bonding time in the car, where Ash is finishing off a beer and dispensing fighting advice. Man, drinking and driving, hitting on woman half his age, bringing “whores with skanky wrist tattoos” (why is everyone so observant and judgmental of this poor dead girl’s wrist tattoo??) back to the trailer ... Ash vs. Evil Dead wants us to know that when he’s not fighting Deadites, Ashley J. Williams is a pretty huge scumbag. I guess it’s supposed to be redemptive, but I’m still just getting gross vibes from all of this sleazy coloring of Ash.
Also, he’s a huge Deep Purple fan? That makes sense for Ash. We got “Space Truckin” last week and now he’s apparently flipped the tape back to side A for “Highway Star” this week. I hope Ash vs. Evil Dead makes it canon that “Machine Head” is stuck in the Delta 88’s tape deck.
After we got a taste of him prowling in the trailer park, the possessed Mr. Roper surprise-attacks from the back seat in the first of tonight’s two big fights. Confined spaces are always a good setting for Deadite fights, and the added threat of being in a speeding car led to a nicely paced little sequence here. Pablo’s character arc from sidekick to hero in his own right is clearly one of the threads we’ll be tracking this season, but so far Ash’s advice that he’ll know what to do once he’s hit isn’t yielding results. Kid’s got no instincts.
Our two blood-soaked heroes bust into Kelly’s house ready to kick ass, and find a pleasant scene of family reunion. Ash’s description of running into a deer to explain their state of dress earns the best jokes for the night (“We had to cut it up with my chainsaw ... arm.”), and despite their clearly homicidal appearance, they’re invited to stay for dinner.
Pablo reveals he took the Necronomicon to trick Ash into following Kelly. Ash is naturally pissed, and the two argue whether or not Mom is a Deadite. “If you snag a little fish you’re not going to eat it, no, you use it as a bait fish to catch the whale,” Ash reasons, “I’m the whale, Pablo.” The problem here is with the breakneck, silly tone of everything else and that, well, he’s goddamn ASH, it’s obvious Ash knows what’s up and Kelly’s mom is a Deadite. So despite some funny lines (Pablo: “She doesn’t even have the crazy white eyes. I noticed, they’re brown ... and lovely, like her daughter’s.”), this whole scene just gets tedious and I’m eager to move on to the next fight. Hopefully this AvED will eventually build up some actual narrative tension in addition to its tense action to help make the exposition between the fights a little less ... dead ... ite.
The question of whether this whole thing will work without Raimi behind the camera starts getting answered tonight. Michael J. Bassett (coming over from also-on-Starz Da Vinci’s Demons) does give “Bait” some generally awesome moments. Shots like the POV on Ash’s shotgun [PICTURE BELOW] cut back and forth with Deadite Mom crawling up the wall are exciting and disorienting and exactly what I’d hope to see in any Evil Dead. But I can’t really shake the feeling that “Bait” already feels more like a Sam Raimi imitation than the real-deal feeling pilot. And certainly moments like Kelly’s mom trying to lull her into a false trust by singing “Hush, Little Baby” — a trick lifted directly from Evil Dead II — are already starting to feel more like reheated material than fun homage.
More than anything, AvED needs to get our heroes some sense of greater mission. Maybe “Bait” and the pilot “El Jefe” were originally intended to be a single hour-long episode (it certainly feels that way), since “Bait” basically just resolves a tangent from the previous episode without broadening the world or giving us anything more about anyone to be interested in, other than hoping they don’t get possessed and/or killed by demons. Officer Fisher is still around, slowly tracking down Ash as a possible killer, but where’s Lucy Lawless and how does she fit in?
Apparently the show had to satisfy itself that it’s main trio of Ash, Pablo, and Kelly are sufficiently motivated to stick together. The final scene of them restating how much they all “hate this evil” was dumb and bluntly written enough I couldn’t quite figure out if it was supposed to be intentionally funny, but I laughed anyway. Hopefully once everyone ends up at Books from Beyond (make sure you frequent your hometown’s occult bookstore!) and get some kind of direction to put an end to the evil, we can get going on some kind of Army of Darkness–style quest and kick this whole shebang into high gear.