“Life is hard and dangerous, and sometimes you just gotta chop off somebody’s head to survive.” Wait, since when did Ash vs. Evil Dead become The Walking Dead? We kid, of course. Unlike the smash-hit zombie series, Starz’s resurrection of the beloved splatstick franchise is neither pretentious nor nihilistic enough to serve up that line of dialogue with a straight face. While TWD doles out its sadistic, kill-or-be-killed valorization of violence in all misguided seriousness, tonight’s Ash episode — “Fire in the Hole” — treats it like the joke that it is. In this go-round, Ash J. Williams and his merry band come across a militia full of Rick Grimes–style might-makes-right gun fetishists, and promptly pull their asses out of the fire.
The episode establishes its sardonic approach toward its over-the-top slaughter right from the start. As the “Ghostbeaters” trek into the woods toward the compound where Ash hopes to secure weapons from his alcoholic pal Lem, Pablo nervously insists on thinking positive about the inevitable massacre to come. “Yeah, we’re not leaving a trail of bloody death behind us,” Kelly responds. “We’re keeping Michigan moist.” Hey, it’s all a matter of perspective.
But they soon discover the compound has gotten plenty “moist” long before their arrival. They’re greeted by some of the gnarliest corpses the show has yet produced, including one that’s been memorably torn in half, entrails glistening. It seems that Lem’s been turned into a Deadite, and he’s already ambushed his former comrades-in-arms. Naturally, this kicks the survivors’ preexisting paranoia about government conspiracies into high gear. These clowns quickly capture Ash and the gang, suspecting their involvement in the release of toxic chemicals by “Big Brother” to take the group down. Before long, the youngest, twitchiest member IDs Amanda as a cop; when a new attack by Lem allows Pablo and Kelly to make their escape, she and Ash are handcuffed together and tossed into a bunker to await their fate.
The rest of the half hour splits its time between El Jefe and the good detective flirting/fighting their way out of their prison with Lem on their trail, and the younger pair on the run from weekend warriors and Deadites out in the woods. Huge surprise: Each dynamic duo solves their respective problem through splatteriffic violence. After smooshing an undead goon against a tree with a pickup truck, Kelly riddles its blood-soaked body with bullets from a machine gun so powerful she can barely wield it; Pablo then punches the corpse until he’s absolutely covered in gore. Meanwhile, Ash and Amanda treat their showdown like some kind of synchronized Olympic event, twisting and turning to keep the creature from igniting a nearby cache of propane, then using a shovel and a pickaxe to brain him. The battle’s so beautifully choreographed that they come across like the Rogers and Astaire of demon-slaughter.
But the real meat of the episode is in the handling of the militia types. No one’s gonna mistake Ash vs. Evil Dead for one of the great works of social satire anytime soon. But there’s definitely something Strangeloveian about the disconnect between this band of maladjusted, semi-competent gun nuts and the pure evil they’re up against but can barely comprehend. They’ve decorated their headquarters with a sign containing the text of the Second Amendment and a centerfold of a topless woman in military togs, not-so-subtly sending the message that both are equally masturbatory. They waste valuable fleeing-for-their-lives time by refusing to listen to Kelly’s warnings: “Save your lies, Hillary!” They spout half-assed jargon like “Watch your six!” and get dragged out screaming by Deadites anyway. “In this war, we’re all on the same side” Ash instructs them once the fight’s over, but it took getting schooled by the very people they blamed for the evil dead incursion for them to listen.
Don’t worry, though — there’s a little sex mixed in with all that violence. Ash and Amanda have almost instantly hit it off, now that they’re not trying to kill each other: “You wouldn’t know what to do with me,” the cop smirks when Williams comes on to her. His reply? “Oh, honeybunny, I would destroy you in the best possible way.” It’s fitting that the guy’s seduction technique is a lot like his fighting style — loud, direct, and in-your-face. And believe it or not, it works! The happy couple are just about ready to get it on when they’re rescued by their pals.
Lucy Lawless’s character Ruby spices things up even further (or at least her body double does). While Amanda explains to Ash how this mystery woman blamed him for the Deadite scourge, Ruby rises from the fiery grave we saw her in back at the Brujo’s house, and bare-ass naked at that. She no longer has El Jefe’s evil severed hand — that appendage has crawled its way back to the cabin where it all began — but she’s still got the snake-handled dagger she’s used to torture the evil dead before. It’s clear now that she’s more than human and has her own agenda, one very different either from the Ghostbeaters’ or from the one she told her erstwhile partner about. All this is revealed through that strangely sexy image of her ash-covered body returning to life, like Daenerys from Game of Thrones but with Deadites instead of dragons. Winter may not be coming, but trouble sure is.
Previously: Hell’s Kitchen