Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Review - 'Ash vs Evil Dead', S02E09 - 'Home Again'

Much like with its first, the second season of Ash vs Evil Dead has always display an impressive commitment to the goal of keeping things constantly moving forward – going out of its way to set, and maintain, a rapid pace largely free from any sort of padding or 'filler'. Already, this season, we have had two fairly significant threats, each of whom had seemed intended to be the main driving force behind the season's conflict, put in an appearance, only to be quickly dealt with.

I suppose, in the end, that much of this is owed to that initially somewhat baffling decision to limit the series to half-hour episodes. Sure, you could probably make the argument that this rapid pace often comes at the expense certain members of the supporting cast (who, often, aren't given the screen-time they need to make much of an impression) – but, at the same time, it's practically impossible to accuse Ash vs Evil Dead of ever being dull.

With Baal's defeat, at the end of the previous episode, it seems that our heroes have found themselves at something of a loose end, going in to the second season's penultimate episode. By all accounts, they have just one a significant victory of the forces of evil by sending Baal back to hell. But, of course, with Pablo's life being the price of that victory, it seems that no one is really in the mood to celebrate.

Instead, as the season's ninth episode opens, we see Ash expressing his grief in a manner that feels very fitting for such an absurd character – by drinking and doing donuts in his beloved Delta, while Pablo's corpse is propped up in the seat next to him. The fact that these opening moments manage to strike such an effective balance between being legitimately hilarious, while also being genuinely sad, is actually very impressive. Death has often been treated like the punch-line to a joke, on this series – so, it feels very fitting that there would be elements of that even in the death of a character as impotent to the series as Pablo.

Of course, it doesn't last for long. In what could be either a drug-fuelled hallucination, or a genuine vision, Ash soon finds himself speaking to Pablo – and, he quickly comes to the realisation that there may be a way to save his friend, after all. Suddenly remembering that time he went back to the Middle Ages, Ash realises that time travel is a very real possibility – and, with Pablo's mangled corpse still playing the part of the Necronomicon, they have everything they need to do just that. So, despite Ruby's reluctance and Kelly's baffled confusion, the team heads back to 1982 – where Ash plans on preventing his younger self from ever encountering the Necronomicon and, in doing so, creating an alternate time-line where Pablo is still alive.

From there, we end up in what almost seems like a prequel to the original film, as Ash makes his way back to that cabin in the woods – eventually encountering its owners, Professor Knowby and his wife Henrietta. Of course, Henrietta is a character that long-time fans of the franchise would already be familiar with, being a major part of Evil Dead 2 – but, it is actually Professor Knowby who is the most interesting figure. It was Professor Knowby's recordings of readings from the Necronomicon which originally kicked everything off – but, we have never had the opportunity, before know, to really learn anything about what sort of person he actually was.

What we do learn here, of course, is that Professor Knowby is clearly a very sinister figure, even when not actually possessed – willing to lure an innocent student to the cabin, with the intent of trying to save his possessed wife by transferring the demon. Much like with the episode's opening moments, the staging of the entire sequence in the cellar was able to achieve a great balance of different tones – with the genuine tension of Ash finding Henrietta chained up in the cellar, and of Professor Knowby luring an innocent woman into a trap, balanced out by the comedy of Ash's reactions. And, of course, it all comes to an end with the hilarious moment of Ash finally choosing to release Henrietta only moments before overhearing Professor Knowby reveal that she actually is possessed, after all.

Along with some great moments of comedy, this is also a great episode for some more of the franchise's signature gore-fuelled action – as Ash's battle with Henrietta, in the cellar, is placed side-by-side with Ruby and Kelly's own struggles with a demonically possessed tree, out in the woods (a tree which is, thankfully, only really interested in trying to eat them). Honestly, as fun as Ash's encounter was, I would have to say that it was the fantastic mix of physical stunts and practical effects that went into creating Ruby and Kelly's fight sequence that actually proved to be the most exciting past of the episode. Considering that they didn't actually have very much to do in this episode, beyond wander about lost in the woods, this felt more than fair.

The most interesting part of the episode, though, would have to be the sense of genuine uncertainty about what direction things are going to go, in the season finale. This is a series that has already proved, many times, that it isn't shy about taking things in unexpected directions. So, while it's possible that everything will end well in the next episode, it actually seems even more likely that Ash's time travel adventures are going to lead to some entertaining new catastrophe for the, already confirmed, third season.

With the season's penultimate episode setting the scene for great finale, with its wonderfully tense cliff-hanger, I'm definitely eager to see where things are headed for Ash vs Evil Dead, as its second season comes to an end.

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