“Bait,” the second episode of Ash vs Evil Dead, picks up right where the pilot left off. Ash (Bruce Campbell) reunites with his chainsaw and decapitates his neighbor-turned-deadite, saving two Value Stop co-workers in the process. The immediate danger is over, but the one-handed hero knows all too well that everything isn’t awesome. He must figure out how to stop the evil he released after reading from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, or “Book of the Dead,” while stoned. Hence this television series.
If Sam Raimi and company left it at that, however, then the show wouldn’t be so good. Ash vs Evil Dead would just be one depressingly long movie told in 10 parts. Hence Kelly’s (Dana DeLorenzo) supposedly dead mother returning from the grave and visiting her father, which drives the main conflict of “Bait.” Ash wants to use the book to reverse the spell he read and defeat the evil. Kelly wants to check in on her parents. Ash says no. Kelly steals the book and heads home. Ash and Pablo (Ray Santiago) give chase. Cue the music.
When Ash and Pablo storm the Maxwells’ home, they find Kelly and her parents alive and undisturbed. Enter Suzy Maxwell (Mimi Rogers), Kelly’s mother, who claims to have no memory after driving off the road and through a guardrail months earlier. What follows is a second act rife with mind games played between Kelly and Ash, who constantly doubts her not being a deadite while everyone else accepts her miraculous reappearance.
Despite this being the first (of many) Raimi-less episodes, the story concocted by showrunner Craig DiGregorio and his team pays ample homage to The Evil Dead‘s legacy while expanding on it. This is most evident whenever Campbell and Rogers share screen time. Buffoonish machismo aside, Ash isn’t a complete idiot when it comes to deadites. He’s killed plenty of them across three movies. Suzy, meanwhile, is a mystery. Her Lazarus-like story is almost too good to be true, but considering how happy her presence makes Kelly and Mr. Maxwell, it’s difficult to doubt her as strongly as Ash.
Consider this brief exchange over dinner:
SUZY: You know, you could take off your gun and put it over there with your chainsaw limb.
ASH: You’d like that, wouldn’t you?
SUZY: Oh yeah. I would rather not have a gun at dinner.
ASH: Well we can agree to disagree.
On the surface, Ash comes off as a complete asshole. Here he is — a guest in the Maxwells’ home — feeling entitled to the nice dinner Suzy cooked for everyone, while ignoring her wishes and brandishing a shotgun at the table. Yet the Raimi-esque camera angles and visions of blood-soaked steak (and blood oozing from Suzy’s mouth while she eats) beg the question, “Is Ash right?” It’s difficult to answer, and considering how much of a “blowhard” and a “braggart” Ash is, DiGregorio isn’t making it any easier.
Most of the deadites encountered so far in Ash vs Evil Dead have been secondary and tertiary characters. Suzy’s arrival, however, presents the series with its first uncertain case. Plus, she’s the mother of one of the protagonists, a potentially heartstrings-pulling narrative device not unlike the evil’s first victims in The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, who were Ash’s friends and girlfriend. It’s one thing to kill the deadite version of your awful boss, but a possessed loved one? All the feels.
Rogers excels as Suzy Maxwell. The moral conundrum posed by her character’s murky position in the story is enough to push the show into uncharted territory, but Rogers’ performance seals the deal. Is she a deadite? Or is Ash being too paranoid? These questions drive “Bait” until the very end.
Watch Ash vs Evil Dead tonight on Starz at 9 p.m. ET.