Ash vs Evil Dead
Awaking from his spirit-quest-gone-bad, Ash starts this week tied to a pole. As mind demons are wont to do, Eligos has successfully dominated Kelly’s mind and tricked Pablo and Brujo into believing Ash is the one possessed. Classic mind-demon business, just classic.
Much like “Bait” felt like a bit of a coda to the propulsive series premiere, “The Host” feels a bit like a coda to the hallucinatory shenanigans and demon-possession shell game of “Brujo.” Other than a brief scene between Ruby and Amanda about the power of just, like, going with the flow, man, our entire action stays with Pablo, Kelly, Ash, and Brujo finally putting a stop to Eligos. I appreciate that the half-hour format of the show generally doesn’t allow for squeezing too much action into each episode (and generally think it’s a good thing!), but it’s still leading to some episodes feeling under-stuffed and this is definitely one of them. Take that pretty but unnecessarily long helicopter shot of Ash’s trailer slowly driving away at the end as exhibit A.
On the other hand, the show continues to showcase everyone’s misgivings about Ash, from his basic competence to whether or not he’s actually a bad guy, in a way that’s fun and new to the series. Brujo informing him he really DOES have a skill, power or purpose hidden deep inside him really makes Ash have to account for his own responsibility in this mess in new ways. Not only did he let the Deadites out, he’s apparently the only one capable of putting them back. Whereas in previous installments, Ash might have been a hero of circumstance, it appears he really is a hero of destiny. Late in the episode, Pablo tries to let Ash off the hook: “You’re not responsible.” “Oh he definitely is,” Kelly counters, “100 percent, probably more.”
And there’s a lot of other good stuff in here! Brujo has some pretty serious plans for exorcising Ash (“There’s a lobe in the brain where such demons can be festering … the lobe can be removed, all he’s going to lose is his sense of smell and any feeling of pleasure from the waist down.”). So while Brujo busies himself with his ceremonial blade — NOT his bread knife — Kelly and Pablo retreat to the trailer. Ray Santiago does some funny panic acting here as Dana DeLorenzo sinks into a slinky possessed-seductress role (which I think we all knew was only a matter of time before DeLorenzo would be used to seduce Ash or Pablo for evil). Evil Kelly convinces Pablo the best thing they can do right now is just relax, and roots out some of Ash’s dank nugs for that purpose.
In a long, awkward, sometimes funny scene, Eligos, via Kelly (Keligos? I’m using it.) plans to seduce Pablo into smoking out of Ash’s shotgun (from boomstick to bongstick, huh?), then replacing his plug of bud with a shotgun shell and getting Pablo to light it. A very devious and unsettling trick, and the thought of poor Pablo blowing his own face off is genuinely horrifying. It’s a great premise for a scene with these two, we get to see more of what a sincere sweetheart Pablo is and have an opportunity for a few good ironic jokes (“I see what’s inside of you Kelly, and I want you to know I think it’s beautiful” “What’s inside of me can’t wait to tear you apart!”). But this scene goes on for too long without any real suspense — we know Pablo’s probably going to stick around until at least the end of the season, right? — and without dialogue that really rises above moderately humorous — the whole forehead kissing bit is just cringey — to fully pull off either horror or comedy, and the whole thing ends up feeling a little padded.
Meanwhile, Ash (who seems pretty with it for someone coming out of an ayahuasca trip with a demon kicker) escapes his gag and gives Brujo the 411 on Eligos’s current host, and he and Evil Kelly soon switch places. This is a pretty cool little transition montage from Ash’s trailer to Brujo’s barn, and I wish we got more than one or two of these cool flourishes every episode. The rest of the episode is filled with the exorcism of Evil Kelly. Bruno applies some light blood magic and a little holy water boarding, but other than expelling copious green vomit, Eligos seems unfazed.
Until Pablo finally steps up! Seemingly motivated by his intimate moment with Kelly earlier and his Brujo’s encouragement to be braver, offers himself up as a willing host for Eligos in order to lure it out of Kelly (Eligos climbing out of her continued to be appropriately creepy, an effective CGI effect). Once trapped outside its host in a physical form, the demon proceeds to dispatch the witch doctor (and almost as if to compensate for Eligos’ coolness, Brujo’s death is a particularly egregious moment of bad CGI … bye bye, Brujo) and generally evade our heroes with its teleportation powers. In a rare moment of keen thinking, Ash begins to piece together that, being a mind demon, Eligos might anticipate his moves. Recalling his own maxim of “shoot first, think never,” Ash clears his mind, does a cool gun-throw chainsaw-spin move, and blasts Eligos into a fine mist of green goo.
So Eligos is gone and Tio is dead and Ash is only marginally closer to figuring out what exactly he’s supposed to be doing here. AvED continues to plow through its heavily serialized plot, and now halfway through the first season we still don’t seem to have much more insight on what Ash’s quest is, how the threat of Evil may be growing, or even really where we’re caravaning off to next episode. Like the extended helicopter shot I mentioned earlier, even though it looks nice, ending the episode with 30 seconds of beautiful footage of our heroes driving into the sunset doesn’t really mean anything if we don’t know where they’re going. It just feels like running out the clock a little bit. Now that Eligos is out of the way, all we’re left with is “Oh, evil is out there,” rather than any kind of feeling of specific threat. It’s going to get tedious if every second or third episode any kind of specific danger is dispatched and we have no stakes on the table.
And it could be fine for these episodes to continue flowing seamlessly from one into the next, effectively forming one five-hour-long film … but without building any sense of a larger narrative, goal, or threat, I’m afraid we’ll continue having a series of episodes like “Bait” or “The Host,” where the entire half hour is spent clearing away a specific threat in what might be a cool fight (this week’s fight wasn’t that cool …), and leaving the heroes without any sense or purpose for what they’re doing next week, or the viewers with what we should get excited to tune in and see.
A few lines make me wonder if it all might not be leading back to the cabin where it all started (especially all of the clips of Ash and Linda from Evil Dead II in Ash’s ayahuasca trip …). If structured like the rest of the season, that could almost create a mini–Evil Dead III at the end, which would be pretty fun. And perhaps once Ruby and Fisher finally catch up to Ash & Co., have their inevitable fight, then realize they’re on the same page, Ruby can use her Knowby family knowledge to present a quest for the crew. But right now that’s my best hope for getting some propulsion into the back half of this season that AvED currently seems only able to sustain for an episode or two at a time.
But, hey, on the plus side, he now has a new robotic gauntlet, courtesy of Pablo’s completely unexplained and unexplainable mastery of DIY cybernetics. (Look, I know it’s a demon adventure fantasy show, but at least give us a throwaway line or even better, an over-stylized montage justifying this?)
Listen Up, Screwheads:
- This week’s hard rock classics: Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” and Alice Cooper’s “Is It My Body”
- Seeing possessed Kelly made me excited to inevitably encounter possessed Pablo and possessed Ash.
- I was hoping we’d get a little more from Brujo than this, but I’m also holding out for him to come back as a force-ghost, or a giant disembodied head, like Knowby in Evil Dead II.