Ever since The Evil Dead, Ashley “Ash” J. Williams (Bruce Campbell) has spent his life trying to escape the sleepy Michigan cabin where it all began — where his girlfriend, Linda, became a deadite and tried to kill him, forcing the Value Stop stock boy to decapitate her and bury the body. Where the Knowby family, the cabin’s owners and supposed relatives of Ruby (Lucy Lawless), met a gruesome end in Evil Dead II. And where, in the latest episode of Ash vs Evil Dead, the titular hero shuns escapism and returns in the hopes of defeating evil once and for all.
This is the most difficult challenge Ash has ever faced. That’s because his motto — shoot first, think later — no longer applies. He can no longer get by with mindless brawn and little to no brainpower. As Evil Dead creator Sam Raimi puts it, Ash is “a blowhard and a coward and a braggart and just the worst hero that they ever made.” He doesn’t need to think, which is great because he’s not very good at it. Yet coming back to the cabin requires nothing else, and this terrifies him.
“I have to do it alone. Don’t you get it?” he tells Michigan state trooper Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones) after trying to leave the group behind to go it alone. “Everybody dies here. It’s just a rule. Death, taxes, more death, and I don’t pay taxes. So all I know is death.”
Viewers familiar with the movies will easily recall the horrors visited upon Linda, Ash’s friends, the Knowbys and a few strangers at this place. People were mutilated, murdered and possessed — sometimes all at once. Just in case, “Ashes to Ashes” director Tony Tilse and writer Michael J. Bassett provide the audience brief glimpses of the past. Like when Fisher tries to open a familiar basement door chained shut with a rusty padlock. She sees an obstacle, whereas Ash sees the possessed body of Henrietta Knowby with her white, pupil-less eyes and blood-soaked mouth.
Other reminders include the makeshift cross Ash used to mark Linda’s grave, combined with audio clips from The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II. This and additional throwbacks suggest just how frightened he is, and it works. For unlike the physical scares that have typified Ash vs Evil Dead thus far, these moments are more about what isn’t on screen.
One of the best scenes in “Ashes to Ashes” revisits Linda, whose reanimated head Ash previously locked in a vice out in the tool shed. She tortured him in Evil Dead II — alternating between begging for mercy and appealing to their love, and telling him he would soon burn in hell. The psychological torment had a profound effect on Ash at the time, though he was eventually able to grab the iconic chain saw and split Linda’s possessed head in two.
When Ash leaves Fisher in the cabin to find the generator and turn the power on, he passes near the tool shed and hears a familiar voice. A voice that, considering what he did to shut deadite Linda up before, he shouldn’t be hearing at all.
“Please, Ash. Please don’t hurt me,” it pleads. “You swore that we would always be together. I love you!”
The faint, disembodied voice stops Ash in his tracks, and the look on his face is haunting. This is obviously because he cut his demonic girlfriend into pieces 28 years ago, so there shouldn’t be anything left for the deadites to possess, but also because Linda was the first person to die at the cabin, thereby establishing Ash’s “everybody dies here” rule. She was the evil’s first victim, as well as its most significant.
“Ash honey, why won’t you look at me? You left me here,” the split skull-turned-reanimated head says after trapping him in the tool shed. “You killed me.”
While the argument could be made that this exchange reproduces the one Ash and Linda had in Evil Dead II, which it does, the scene conforms to the series’ most pressing issue — that everyone Ash comes into contact with dies as a result of the evil he accidentally unleashed three decades before. It’s why he abandoned Fisher, Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) to head for the cabin. It’s also why Ruby seems hellbent on finding him and confiscating the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, or Book of the Dead.
Unfortunately for Ash, Linda’s constant reminder that everyone around him dies has already proven true with the show’s rising body count. “Ashes to Ashes” just adds to the growing pile in a big way.