Saturday, 1 October 2016

Review - 'Ash vs Evil Dead', S02E01 - 'Home'

Throughout much of its first season, Ash vs Evil Dead came to rely pretty heavily on a few key elements – there were the moments of extreme violence, a truly absurd amount of blood, moments of genuine horror, and a truly bizarre sense of humour which combined black comedy with pure slapstick. Then, of course, there was Bruce Campbell.

These are, in fact, the very same elements that the franchise, as a whole, has become famous for – so, it had definitely been a truly wonderful experience to see them embraced so enthusiastically by the show's first season. It had been bloody and very violent. It had been occasionally scary, and often very funny. And, it was all topped off with Bruce Campbell giving the sort of performance which he has, quite rightly, become famous for – fully embracing the overblown bravado of this popular character.

Of course, Bruce Campbell wasn't alone in turning the first season of Ash vs Evil Dead into a success. It might be his show, but he also received some great support from Dana DeLorenzo and Ray Santiago throughout the season. Lucy Lawless was also great, in her time on-screen – though, unfortunately, her character often felt underutilised.

With the first season ending with Ash making the truly terrible, yet still somewhat understandable, decision to give up the fight and enter into a truce with Ruby, the original writer of the Necronomicon, it was obviously inevitable that things would go very wrong, very quickly, as the second season began. But, as we see in the episode's opening moments, it is actually Ruby who finds herself in over her head, as she seems to have lost control of her own demonic children, and they are now currently trying to take the Necronomicon for reasons of their own.

This is a great way to start off the new season, not just because it instantly seems to give Lucy Lawless a much more compelling role to play than she had in the previous season, as Ruby finds herself forced to reach out to Ash for help, but also because the more 'grown-up' versions of the demonic children that we met at the end of the previous season are incredibly effective creations. The overall design of these creatures is fantastic – and, their seeming invulnerability to conventional weaponry, and ability to move through shadows, instantly makes them a truly formidable new adversary. This is, of course, especially appropriate when you consider the fact that these creatures seem destined to serve as the primary adversaries for much of this season.

It was also very interesting to see the confident and powerful antagonist that we briefly glimpsed throughout the previous season so quickly turned into someone vulnerable, and in desperate need of help – with Lucy Lawless doing a great job of portraying the sort of stubborn resignation that leads to her reluctantly reaching out to someone like Ash.

For his part, Ash seems to be quite happy living out his ideal dream-life in Jacksonville – enjoying what seems to be an endless party in the company of an enthusiastic and supportive Pablo, and a very pessimistic Kelly. But, of course, it's not long until Deadites sent by Ruby crash the party, with the result being an inevitable blood-bath.

Following up on a comment made by one of the Deadites, Ash comes to realise that Ruby must be hiding out in his old home-town of Elk Grove, Michigan – and so, the trio set out off in search of Ruby, determined to discover why she would break the truce, and to put a stop to whatever she has in mind.

From here, things take a particularly interesting turn, as we begin to delve much more deeply into the past of Ashley Williams then we ever have before. The idea that there would have been any long-term fallout for Ash, after his encounter with demonic forces in that cabin in the woods so many years ago, is the sort of thing which seems obvious, when you think about it – but, it is also the sort of thing which have never really been explored in any detail, before now. So, the idea that an entire community might have come to see Ash as a notorious murderer (even giving him the label 'Ashy Slashy'), who brutally killed his entire circle of friends, is a very interesting direction to take things – particularly since it suggests a clear character arc for Ash over the course of the season, as he is forced to confront the events of his past from an entirely different angle.

It is also here that we get our first, however brief, glimpse of Lee Majors in the role of Ash's father, Brock (a brief scene which does, of course, come with a seemingly obligatory Six Million Dollar Man reference). Not only does this brief scene do a great job of establishing the tense relationship between the long-estranged father and son, but it is easily counts as the funniest scene of the episode – with Brock displaying all of the casual racism and sexism that his son is known for. It might have only been a single scene, so far, but Lee Majors has already managed to establish himself as an entertaining new addition to the cast – and, I hope that we see much more of him throughout the rest of the season.

Of course, all of this is intended primarily as a lead-up to the inevitable reunion between Ash and Ruby, as the two find themselves forced to enter into a reluctant partnership against an intimidating new threat – and, it is here that we receive clear hints about where the season is headed. One recurring issue that I had with the first season is with how unfocused it occasionally felt – so, it is gratifying to see the second season begin with a clear goal in mind (of course, whether that sense of focus can be maintain for the entire season is another matter, entirely).

While Ash and Ruby are clearly, and appropriately, the true focus of this first episode, it is also clear that Kelly and Pablo haven't been forgotten. Pablo, in particular, seems to have a very interesting arc in sore for this season, as he is clearly suffering lingering consequences from his time possessed by the Necronomicon – and, I'm definitely interested to see how that develops. Kelly, meanwhile, does not yet seem to have a clearly defined role in the new season (although, that one scene in which a demon attempted to tempt her into turning on Ash by claiming that 'she was stronger' did seem to hint at something potentially interesting) – but, she remains the same entertaining presence that she was in the first season.

Overall, this first episode of the second season of Ash vs Evil Dead does a great job of reintroducing the audience to this wonderfully deranged world. It is as bloody and violent as anything from the first season, but there are also moments of great humour to take a bit of the edge off – and, it just makes for a very entertaining episode, overall. It is clearly still too early to make any final statements on this point, of course, but it also seems as though the second season might be attempting to learn from the weaker elements of the first, as the first episode works to set up a much more focused arc.

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