Ash vs Evil Dead, Season 1, Episode 2, “Bait”
Written by Dominic Dierkes
Directed by Michael J. Bassett
Airs Saturdays at 9pm (ET) on Starz
The premiere of Ash vs Evil Dead left this reviewer a little cold. The tone of the episode felt too wonky, the prospect of sustaining the introduced story over a series of half-hour episodes seemed dubious, and the general creepy but humorous charm of the first two Evil Dead films had given way to the full-blown Three Stooges-esque mayhem of Army of Darkness. So the second episode, “Bait”, being a vast improvement in every conceivable way is a great surprise and relief . What makes this all the more unexpected is that this is the first episode without Evil Dead mastermind Sam Raimi directing or writing. Has Raimi been out of the Evil Dead game for so long that he just didn’t quite know how to make it all gel in the premiere? Possibly. In “Bait”, however, Michael J. Bassett, director of Solomon Kane and Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (yes, that is the full title) perfectly captures a mix of humor and horror as Ash and his new sidekick friends head off to a very uncomfortable dinner party.
Last week, Ash (Bruce Campbell) discovered those pesky Deadites were back and looking for fresh souls to swallow, and his co-workers Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) were drawn into the bloody action. Near the end of that episode, Kelly received a FaceTime call from her father and learned that her mother had just returned home. This was fairly shocking, because Kelly’s mother is supposed to have died in a car accident. In “Bait”, Kelly runs off for home, and Ash and Pablo follow after her. Ash is convinced that dear old mom is a Deadite in disguise, but he’s having a hard time convincing everyone of that since Kelly’s mother, Suzy (Mimi Rogers) seems so normal at first. And she has a perfectly good explanation for her return: Her vehicle swerved off the road into a body of water, but her body was never found. Suzy claims she bumped her head in the accident and ended up in a hospital with amnesia — but now she’s back and ready to pick up the pieces of her old life.
“Bait” plays out with a series of hilarious and unsettling scenes where Ash keeps shooting Suzy question after question, trying to get her to crack. He also notices disturbing little hints that something is amiss, such as when Suzy brings a bloody, extra-rare steak to the dinner table, and when blood begins oozing from her mouth as she stares at Ash. Suzy is a Deadite, of course, and a particularly nasty one: at one point she clutches Kelly and proclaims that she didn’t “accidentally” drive off the road — she committed suicide to get away from Kelly. There’s something so cruel and, well, evil about this that it’s a stark contrast to the vulgar, sarcastic, joke-spouting Deadites who occupied Army of Darkness and seemed to populate the first episode of Ash vs Evil Dead. In effect, Bassett and episode writer Dominic Dierkes are bringing Ash vs Evil Dead back to its roots — less concerned with slapstick and more concerned with effective, propulsive horror.
Bassett relies on practicality to convey the creepiness: the moment where his camera simply rests on Mimi Rogers’ face and watches as the bright-red blood drips down her chin is eerie, made all the more so when Ash looks to the others to see if they’re noticing this, then back to see the blood is gone. Later, when Suzy is in full-on Deadite mode, she crawls on her hands and knees up the walls and onto the ceiling, and it’s clear that this is done with the use of a revolving set and trick photography, instead of copping out with cheap CGI. Bassett also gives the episode some Raimi-like innovative touches, such as when he mounts his camera on the end of the barrel of Ash’s gun, the camera moving along as Ash quickly loads and aims the weapon.
As for the humor, it’s still present in “Bait”, but it’s not nearly as intrusive as in the premiere. The jokes are less blunt, and many of the laughs simply come from how Campbell plays his scenes. A moment at the end of the episode, with Ash burying Kelly’s dead parents, is laugh-out-loud funny: After Ash hammers two crude crosses into the graves, Kelly informs him that her parents were Jewish. “I wish you had told me that before I made those dumb crosses,” Ash mutters, and Campbell’s delivery of the line is so perfect that it goes over big. Campbell also delivers the best line of the episode when Ash tells Kelly, “You’re kind of like a young me: Deadites ruined your life, and you’re hot as hell.” Ash vs Evil Dead is, at the very least, a great showcase for Campbell, who continues to have great comic timing and an infectious charisma. Ash is an asshole, even more so in the series than he was in the films. But Campbell makes the character so likable in spite of, and because of, his crudeness.
As for the supporting cast, they appear to be blossoming into their roles. Santiago and DeLorenzo, as Pablo and Kelly, seemed more like set dressing than characters last week, but in “Bait” they’re given room to grow: Santiago balances his character’s clumsiness and idolizing of Ash amusingly, and DeLorenzo equips herself very well during the emotional moments where she learns her mother is in fact a demonic monster. Jill Marie Jones, as Officer Amanda Fisher, is stuck in the background this week, still trying to put together the pieces and finding herself on Ash’s trail in the process. It doesn’t amount to much here, but it will likely (and hopefully) evolve in the weeks to come. In her appearance here as Suzy, Mimi Rogers has the perfect blend of seeming innocence and lurking menace, and it’s a shame her character gets her head chainsawed off, because it would’ve been nice to see more of her.
There’s still plenty of time for Ash vs Evil Dead to go off the rails, but it’s immensely pleasing that, after the disappointing premiere episode, “Bait” course-corrects the show greatly. If the remaining episodes follow the lead of this one, Ash vs Evil Dead might turn out to be one pleasant surprise.