Gimme some sugar baby, THIS is what I’m talking about. This “Fire in the Hole” has everything and no dead space (heh heh). A high-octane balance of jokes, corniness, and gore, with enough intrigue and peril to give everyone something to do, build out the world a little, and keep the whole thing moving smoothly. “Fire in the Hole” builds off the momentum of last week’s “Killer of Killers” (Michael Hurst returns with more crackerjack directing), and offers all the same zippy dialogue and fun little character moments of last week with even more evenly paced (and evenly toned) scenes of blood and scares.
Having earned the trust of Amanda Fisher, Ash and crew head out into the woods of Michigan to stock up on “some big boy toys” from Lem’s militia before they head back to The Cabin Where It All Began. Unfortunately Lem, having been Deaditerized at the end of “Killer of Killers” has also made it back to the camp. The Ghostbeaters walk right into a crossfire of a paranoid militia fighting off one of their own possessed members, whose insanity, of course, they can only attribute to “Big Brother [having] put some kind of virus in our air supply, turned Lem into some kind of Mummy!” Ah, I was hoping AvED would find a way to address the Chemtrails conspiracy. Already hyped up on suspicion, the militiamen naturally assume Ash and crew are part of the assault on their clearly well-regulated militia. One of the militiamen recognizes Fisher as a cop just as Evil Lem attacks. Pablo and Kelly escape into the woods while Ash and Fisher are handcuffed to each other and thrown into a bunker where Lem lurks in darkness.
As soon as the word “militia” was brought up last week, I began fantasizing about a set-up like this, and AvED came through. So far this season, other characters standing between Ash and the Deadite ass-kicking only he can deliver has mostly taken the form of awkward conversations (the dinner party in Episode 2) or brief standoffs (every Fisher encounter up to now), but now we see Ash dealing with an actual rock-and-a-hard-place threat between this amateur army and the lurking Evil around them. Setting Ash up between a group of gun toting idiots and the undead that wants them all to be “unalive” adds that extra level of tension and peril, and forces Ash to be crafty and diplomatic in addition to being a loudmouth with a boomstick.
It also draws inspiration from AvED’s source material — specifically, Ash getting locked in the cellar by Jake, Bobby Jo, Ed, and Annie in EDII — and repurposes it in a fun new context. The connection might be oblique, but that kind of second-layer callback (“Ash gets mistaken for the bad guy and locked in a basement with a Deadite”) can be even more rewarding than some of the more literal callbacks. (I know I’m a minority here, but I found the “Deadite pretends to be mom singing ‘Hush Little Baby’” callback from episode two so obvious it was a little pandering. SORRY FAM, I have high standards for my sequels and remakes.)
So, while Ash and Amanda contend with Evil Lem, Kelly and Pablo evade the militia. Frustrated that Kelly — who is stepping confidently into the role of Badass Avenger of Evil — is so confident in her preference of flamethrower as a weapon, Pablo engages in a nice little bit of soul-searching over what his signature weapon should be. It’s important! Ash’s combo of sawed-off shotty and chainsaw-arm is easily as iconic as his perfect chin or corny one-liners, and Pablo’s weapon uncertainty offers a great encapsulation of his simultaneous infatuation with becoming a hero and general timidity to actually assume the role. It also gives Kelly and Pablo something to discuss other than the nature of their own relationship, a relief since those conversations were getting tedious.
Pablo and Kelly face off with a possessed militiaman by crushing him with a pickup truck then turning him into bloody Swiss cheese with an assault rifle. Between this gas-masked baddy and the simple-yet-creepy design of Evil Lem (barely more than white contacts and bloody long johns with a duct tape belt), “Fire in the Hole” did a lot to resolve any reservations about AvED’s design schizophrenia. A possessed guy in a blood-covered gas mask bashing another guy’s face into a trailer hitch is disturbing and gross and awesome, and because it’s just two actors and some blood effects it actually looks realer than the clunky CGI of the show’s more elaborate monsters. Between his two episodes, Michael Hurst has staged three lo-fi monster fights that are just brilliant for this show; I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out Lem getting a chunk of his head lopped off by Ash (with a square shovel! Another subtle little callback to EDII!) and yelling “Ow, my brain!” as a kind of perfect little Evil Dead moment that makes me excited to watch more. Hopefully Hurst will return for future episodes, and the other directors keep up the good work.
Kelly and Pablo round up the militia and save Ash and Amanda. Ash’s three companions arm up and step forward, easily putting down an approaching Deadite and ascending into the honed monster killing squad they were destined to become. But just as they’re finally ready to take on the Evil at its point of origin, they’re left in a lurch: Ash, now cares too much about his new family to put them in danger, and disappears. He’s determined to keep them safe by heading to the cabin alone.
Now that Ash has built a team and a mission and a sense of duty and conviction, the whole Eligos mini-arc feels even more like an extended detour from whatever story AvED wants to tell. Rather than arming up at the militia being the team’s only goal, it was a challenge that had to be overcome so they can continue on the greater mission. Even though “Fire in the Hole” fits the general AvED episode structure of “Ash goes to a place and fights some Deadites there,” it now has a kind of narrative long-game that gives stakes and urgency to what felt meandering before.
We end this week with a shot sure to send chills down any fan’s spine: a slow reveal of Ash’s evil, disembodied hand crawling back towards the most iconic Cabin in the Woods in film history.
“Good job staying alive. Keep it up. Amen.”
Listen Up, Screwheads:
- Oh yes, Ruby is clearly at least magic, if not evil. We see her toplessly resurrect from the funeral pyre she was pulled into last week, then reclaim her car and the ceremonial dagger (last scene in the back of Jake the Redneck) from Evil Dead II. Man, Ruby’s got all the old-school gear. I am fully expecting Ruby to end up an Necronomicon-empowered sorceress at some point.
- Ash, reluctant to let the crew join him on his mission to the cabin: “Only if you’re dead set.” Pablo: “I’d rather be live set.”
- “We don’t want another ruby ridge.”
- “You think there’s another exit door?” “No, but I’ll say yes just to keep hope alive.” Just a whole bunch of good lines in this episode. Throughout the season the dialogue has been slowly improving and it’s finally reached a really comfortable level of cheesy humor.
- Evil Dead Jukebox: The Chambers Brothers “Time Has Come Today.” Some good Samaritan is cataloging the definitive soundtrack on Wikipedia, go build your playlist today!