Ash is back to fight more Deadites and other assorted demons.
In my book, the first season of the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead was a soaring triumph. After more than twenty years, Bruce Campbell returned to the role of bumbling Evil Dead franchise hero Ash Williams, strapped the chainsaw prosthetic back on, and kicked demon ass over the course of ten episodes that wonderfully captured what was so great about the initial Evil Dead trilogy and the character of Ash. Having kept in practice by voicing the character in video games, and by sort of adapting his bravado into his own public persona, Campbell brought Ash back to life so perfectly it was like not even a day had passed since Army of Darkness was released, let alone two decades.
The first season ended with Ash making a terribly stupid decision, as you expect from him. This series was kicked off by him getting drunk and stoned and reading a evil-summoning passage from the Necronomicon Ex Mortis, the Book of the Dead, simply in an effort to impress a girl. Facing off with Ruby (Lucy Lawless), the Dark One who wrote the book centuries ago, Ash agreed to a truce: Ruby can unleash the forces of evil on Earth, as long as she can keep them in control, and Ash will get to enjoy a life of retirement in Jacksonville, Florida with his sidekicks Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago) and Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo). In the final moments of the season, Ash was happily driving his less enthusiastic pals down to Florida while supernatural sinkholes were reportedly opening up all over the place.
When we catch up with Ash at the beginning of season two, he is living his idea of the dream life in Jacksonville - a life of non-stop partying, alcohol, and casual sexual hook-ups that are sometimes morally questionable. Pablo and Kelly are just slogging through this existence with him, with Pablo feeling grateful that Ash has saved their lives and Kelly feeling anxious and ready for action. She doesn't trust Ruby, she knows something bad is going to happen.
And something bad does happen, or else there wouldn't be a second season of this show. Ruby has found the evil forces that are causing sinkholes and increases in crime rates to be much harder to control than she expected. The demon offspring she was creating at the end of the previous season have turned against her, and they seem to want the Necronomicon for themselves. Ash is the Chosen One, destined to deal with the troubles presented by the Book of the Dead, so Ruby realizes she needs his help... a realization that she comes to while hiding from the demons in a morgue, so during Lawless's dramatic scene we have the bare breasts of a female corpse lingering in the background of the shot.
This show wastes no time; it can't, each season consists of ten half hour episodes. We've seen less than three minutes of Ash's peaceful existence in Jacksonville before Ruby disrupts things, sending the evil force to possess people attending Ash's latest party. Then we're off and running, as the show springs right into the slapsticky, extremely bloody action we expect from Evil Dead, with Ash and his cohorts making quick, gory work of these possessed saps. During the battle, Ash gets the impression that Ruby and the evil want him to go back to his hometown of Elk Grove, Michigan when one of the Deadites taunts him with a rhyme, calling him "Ashy Slashy".
"Ashy Slashy" is the derogatory nickname Ash is known by in Elk Grove, where a lot of the residents don't believe his supernatural version of what happened in that cabin in the woods thirty years ago (the events of The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II). They don't think demonic entities were involved, they think Ash simply went crazy and massacred a bunch of people, including his sister Cheryl and his girlfriend Linda.
Ash has been the star of three movies and a season of television, but never before has one of these Evil Dead stories dug into what his life was like before he departed on that ill-fated cabin vacation. Season two of Ash vs. Evil Dead dives in deep, as he returns to his childhood home and meets up with his estranged father Brock Williams, who is played by Lee Majors and shares a lot of Ash's more crass traits - he immediately starts hitting on Kelly upon meeting her.
Majors' history in classic television also gets a nod, as there's a bit of a Six Million Dollar Man reference when Brock notices the mechanical hand Pablo built for Ash to replace his long ago lopped off right hand, for times when the chainsaw prosthetic isn't appropriate.
Brock isn't the only person from Ash's past we meet. Stopping by a bar, he finds his high school sweetheart Linda (Michelle Hurd) working as a waitress, and discovers that she's married to the local sheriff, Stephen Lovatt as Thomas Emery, a guy Ash used to make fun of when they were kids. Emery and the people in the bar make it very clear that Ash's presence in Elk Grove isn't welcome. Their past, Ash's reputation, and the fact that they're both into Linda should make for some interesting drama between Ash and Emery this season.
And yes, apparently Ash's high school girlfriend had the same first name as the college girlfriend he took to the cabin with him. That's slightly odd.
While Ash, Pablo, and Kelly search Elk Grove for Ruby, Pablo also seems to be suffering a supernatural twist on post-traumatic stress following the events of the season one finale, experiencing terrifying visions that replicate the predicament he was in there, as well as seeing strange writing and having forces take control of a drawing he's trying to make - much like Cheryl experienced while sketching in the first Evil Dead movie.
Pablo's visions lead our heroic trio to a large crematorium, a perfect setting for something like this, where they find Ruby's shadow-manipulating demon children waiting for them. More fighting and Three Stooges-esque antics ensue, including a moment where Ash once again fights a version of himself. This time he's tormented by his own shadow.
With this episode, season two starts off just as strong as season one ever was, picking up where the characters left off and continuing their story down a very interesting path. I'm looking forward to seeing how the tenuous alliance between Ash and Ruby will play out, and I want to know what her demons have planned for the Book of the Dead... and I want to watch Ash and his sidekicks thwart those plans, or at least put in their best efforts to do so. Ash vs. Evil Dead continues to be terrifically entertaining and captivating.
The one disappointment? Franchise creator Sam Raimi didn't come back to write or direct the first episode of the season, as he did for season one. Rick Jacobson, a long time collaborator of Raimi's in the TV realm and director of the season one finale, returned to the helm for the season two premiere, working from a script by showrunner Craig DiGregorio. Jacobson and DiGregorio both did a fine job, but still... where's Raimi?