‘Ash Vs Evil Dead’ Asks What Ash’s Life Would Have Been Without ‘Evil Dead’

When Bruce Campbell spoke with us about Ash vs Evil Dead last year, the first season finale was at hand and nothing about the character had really changed. Or at least that’s what he wanted us to believe, that despite the 23-year gap between the Halloween premiere and Army of Darkness, Ash had “been doing jack shit.” Campbell insisted, “There’s no backstory to do. He hasn’t been doing anything. He’s been hiding. He’s been PTSD-ing.” Yet episodes like “Ashes to Ashes” proved this wrong with deep dives into The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II lore, and season two’s inclusion of Lee Majors as Ash’s father offered further evidence to the contrary. Despite the actor’s sentiment for the character, Ash was changing before our very eyes.

As he should, because without the faintest modicum of narrative progression, an arc-less Ash in Ash vs Evil Dead wouldn’t have resulted in a second season — let alone a third. Hence Majors’ casting as Brock Williams and the season two premiere‘s need to send Ash, Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) to the titular hero’s hometown in small-town Michigan. The results so far have portrayed him as — per Campbell’s prior insistence — a mostly unchanged individual, though one whose past is far more complicated than Evil Dead fans and himself have ever realized. Which is why “Confined” stands out well beyond previous episodes featuring father and son “bonding” time between Ash and Brock.

If the first third of season two was all about exploring Ash’s past, then last Sunday’s episode emphasized what could have been. Specifically, with his Elk Grove rival Thomas Emery (Stephen Lovatt), who became sheriff after “Ashy Slashy” skipped town, and former girlfriend Linda (Michelle Hurd), whom Emery married. Together, the pair and their daughter Lacey (Pepi Sonuga) remained in a place that, along with Brock and Ash’s best friend Chet (Ted Raimi), cast him out following the events of the first two Evil Dead films. But what if a much younger Ash, his sister Cheryl and their friends hadn’t driven out to that cabin deep in the Michigan woods? What if they’d never discovered the Necronomicon Ex Mortis and the professor’s old recordings of its incantations? Who might Ashley “Ash” J. Williams have become instead?

“Confined” never explicitly asks nor answers these questions, per se, but the Emery family’s presence begs them nonetheless. The arrival of Sons of Anarchy alum Joel Tobeck as the villainous Baal practically forces their consideration when he corrals everyone together at the sheriff’s department jailhouse for a thrilling half hour of “who’s possessed this time?” As Ruby (Lucy Lawless) explained in a previous episode, this particular demon “gets into people’s psyches, turning them against each other until they annihilate themselves.” Sometimes “psyches” actually means “skin suits,” for Baal enjoys wearing new faces (and everything) else while mingling among his victims and inciting violent rage among them. Though this new baddie’s penchant for whispering certain suggestions to his targets proves just as effective.

Like when he briefly whisks Linda away from an argumentative Ash and Thomas during the climax. While battling a reanimated, skinless corpse, Ash rescues the damsel in distress and defeats the deadite. As for the sheriff, the gunshot wound in his thigh (put there by Ruby) and Baal’s constant manipulation render him momentarily useless in the eyes of his wife and daughter. This elevates Ash’s position in Linda’s esteem, thereby demonstrating one of the more contrived plot points of the episode. However, not everything about the “strong man rescues the girl” trope displayed here is what it appears to be. For if Baal is as conniving as Ruby indicates and he demonstrates, there may be more to the pair’s post-high school reunion than an unsurprising rekindling of love lost. Besides, how did the demon know Linda’s capture in particular would catch Ash’s attention?

What if there’s more to our Brock Williams theory? What if Ash vs Evil Dead‘s new big bad has more in store for the hero than “a familiar deadite” in next Sunday’s episode, “Trapped Inside”? According to the description provided for the episode that follows, “Delusion,” the title character “wakes up in an asylum and a seemingly helpful doctor tries desperately to get him to admit his horrific acts so his healing can begin,” but then the “world seems to crumble around him.” Aside from his recently murdered father’s frightful reappearance, one of the worst things Baal could do to Ash would be to drive him crazy with visions of a wife (Linda) and daughter (Lacey) he never had.

“We’re trying to introduce more dimensions to him so people can see he’s not just a wise-cracker. There’s more to it,” Campbell told us at this year’s New York Comic Con. “You’re fleshing out Ash’s home life. You’re meeting his family. You’re meeting his old friend, his old girlfriend, his father. I think, as a story element, it’s great.” Not just because the enlarged Evil Dead lore gives him and his fellow cast members more to play with, but because these changes help Ash become more two dimensional. (Or “two-and-a-half dimensional,” as Campbell jokes.) How better to accomplish this than to torture him with a life without “Ashy Slashy”?

Ash vs Evil Dead airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on Starz.