When you talk about what makes a TV series succeed or fail, you typically want to avoid repeating the same points over and over. Who wants to sound like a broken record, right? Tell that to John Lennon and Yoko Ono when they made “Revolution 9” — and if repetition is good enough for the Beatles, it’s good enough for us, and for Ash vs. Evil Dead. The penultimate episode of the show’s first season — “Bound in the Flesh” — gets where it’s going by repeating the same trick it’s pulled since the pilot: taking the gore and nastiness as far as it can, then taking them one step beyond. Like that creepy voice saying “Number nine … number nine …” over and over, it works.
There was no guarantee that it would. Last week, the series killed off one of its core characters, Amanda Fisher, in a brutal and totally unexpected fashion. Short of taking out Pablo or Kelly, whose plot armor feels thicker than anyone save the title character himself, it seemed that simply amping up the violence wouldn’t be enough to maintain the show’s anything-goes attitude. But that was before Ash spent a solid minute of screen time methodically dismembering his clone with a chainsaw, while Bill Withers’s “Just the Two of Us” played in the background. (Eat your heart out, Mike Myers.) Watching Bruce Campbell push a whirring serrated blade through the meat, muscle, and bone of his own body in a series of loving close-ups, blood gushing all the while, is the sort of visual treat not seen since Tony Soprano and Christopher Moltisanti put a wiseguy’s head in a bowling bag.
Amazingly, it gets better (or worse). Out in the woods, Pablo and Kelly are accompanying last week’s trio of Aussie hikers to safety. But the now-reanimated Fisher has other plans, and announces her presence by ramming her forearm through one of the women’s bare midriff while shouting “HELLO, PUSSIES!” In short order, Amanda rams her head into the corpse’s brain, pulls the same trick with her terrified husband, and begins operating the pair like puppets. The Ghostbeaters are riddling all three with bullets the entire time, while the third member of their party, Pablo’s would-be love interest Heather, recoils in horror. It’s a symphony of bad taste and a joy to behold — even as you murmur “Jesus Christ!” with each new defilement of the human body.
Actually, we need to talk about Heather, an interesting late-breaking addition to the cast. Played by Samara Weaving, she’s convincingly endearing, to the point where Pablo’s sudden interest in her feels like more than a joke. She’s also quite realistically shellshocked by the carnage she’s witnessed. When she makes a run for it, Amanda tracks her down, saying “Before you die, I want you to know — there is no Heaven” before tossing her into a tree and snapping her leg so bad that the bone breaks through the skin. After a last-minute save from Ruby (Lucy Lawless) spares the pair, Ash’s sidekick explains to his new lady friend why this mysterious dead-hunter is dismembering her companions’ corpses before her eyes. “We gotta chop ‘em up, or else they could come back as something much worse.”
“Nothing is worse than this,” the blonde whimpers.
“Trust me,” Pablo replies, “everything is worse than this.”
It’s gallows humor, yeah, but it also feels true to how people might really react in these completely ridiculous circumstances. Given that Weaving looks like an even lovelier Margot Robbie, and since beautiful girlfriends have a very high mortality rate in this franchise, her fate may well be sealed. If so, that’s more grist for the series’ surprisingly brutal emotional mill. If not, also fine, because she could provide a pretty solid grounding for the more outsized personalities of Ash and company.
But the crew isn’t out of the woods yet. Together, the four survivors trek back to the cabin, where Pablo and Kelly killed Ash’s clone (identified as such by comparison with the original model’s relative laziness and unique variety of racism) at the beginning of the episode. Once they arrive, Ruby and Ash engage in some territorial pissings regarding her family’s claim to the cabin, the ownership of the Necronomicon, and the proper way to dispose of it. Handing Williams her magic dagger, she instructs him to slice the face off the front cover of the book — yet another engagingly repulsive practical effect — and surrender ownership to her. There’s just one problem, of course, which she soon spells out: “I wrote this book.” The severed face attaches itself to Pablo, Heather freaks out, Ash gets knocked out, and all Hell appears primed to break loose, just in time for next week’s finale. God only knows what kind of demented shit they’re gonna do then, but we’re fucking there, dude.
Previously: Cabin Fever