Ash vs Evil Dead, Season 1, Episode 3, “Books from Beyond”
Written by Sean Clements
Directed by Michael J. Bassett
Airs Saturdays at 9pm (ET) on Starz
“Bait”, the second episode of Ash vs Evil Dead, was an exciting course correction for the series after a disappointing premiere. But declaring Ash vs Evil Dead a success based on that episode might have been premature. This week’s episode, “Books from Beyond”, is a quick, weightless oddity that tries to pack a bunch of elements into a brief 30 minutes, and doesn’t quite succeed. Ash (Bruce Campbell) and his new friends Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) (a group Pablo has now dubbed “The Ghost Beaters”, much to Ash and Kelly’s chagrin) head off to Books from Beyond with hopes of finding something in the Necronomicon to stop the recently unleashed evil forces. The series has been teasing getting to this store for the past two episodes, which makes the actual result all the more disappointing.
The store is run by Lionel Hawkins (Kelson Henderson), and the character should be much more interesting for all the build-up he’s had. Instead, Henderson plays him flatly, with neither charm nor menace. He’s just sort of there. This is in part due to the writing, but also due to Henderson’s underwhelming performance. Imagine if the show had filled this part with a character actor with a cult following — Jeffrey Combs, perhaps? Instead, Lionel is a rather boring bookstore owner. Ash talks him into summoning another, lesser demon to find out how to stop the Deadites, a terrible idea that Ash mistakenly attributes to Pablo. Of course, the demon they summon is anything but “lesser” and, as is the case on this show, all hell breaks loose.
This set-up is fine, and the audience treated to some more information about the Necronomicon which helps flesh out the Evil Dead mythology, but nothing in the main story connects. Director Michael J Bassett brings more of the same skill he brought to “Bait”, with another nice Sam Raimi-esque shot of of the camera mounted to Ash’s arm as he swings it around clutching his shotgun, looking for a target to aim at, but Sean Clements’ script is wonky, peppered with flat, unfunny jokes. There is one moment that is laugh-out-loud funny, and it has more to do with Santiago and Campbell’s delivery than what’s scripted. In trying to convince Pablo about summoning another demon while they already have a problem with current demons, Ash states: “It’s kinda like spilling paint on a painting. It’s okay, because there’s already paint on it!” Pablo’s hilarious, matter-of-fact response after a beat: “That is incorrect.”
A few moments of “Books from Beyond” work, though. Lucy Lawless’ mysterious Ruby Knowby makes her first appearance since the series premiere, and she’s a blast. Viewers learn that she’s searching for the Necronomicon, and also that she doesn’t mince words with Deadites. When she pays a visit to Kelly’s house and is confronted by the demonized version of Kelly’s dead father, Knowby more than handles her own, easily overpowering and painfully torturing the demon. In these brief moments, one can already pick up on how great a foil Lawless’ tough as nails, no bullshit character will be to Campbell’s pro bullshit Ash. The demon Lionel summons is suitably creepy, and it’s great to see a creature design so different from the standard Deadite look, and one achieved with practical make-up effects to boot. There’s also a nice character moment shared between the “Ghost Beaters.” Even among all the gore and terror, Pablo feels happy to have found a group to run with. And while Ash finds the idea laughable at first — “I’m an lone wolf!” he states, grammar be damned — by episode’s end, he’s learned that having some friends to watch his back isn’t such a terrible idea. Ash has been a true loner ever since the first film in the franchise; he had to be, since everyone around him kept getting killed or turned into demons. The prospect of him accepting that maybe he doesn’t have to be alone anymore is a good way to twist the already established Evil Dead formula. Whether or not the showrunners will do anything further with this remains to be seen.
The same thing could be said for Jill Marie Jones’ Officer Amanda Fisher. Fisher has been stuck in the background so far, always one step behind Ash. “Books from Beyond” has the two of them finally come face to face, but nothing comes of it. After she tries to arrest Ash (twice), he gets the drop on her and leaves her handcuffed to a bookshelf, and inadvertently in the path of certain doom, as a recently demonized Lionel awakens and advances on her. Jones’ performance is strong, and she’s a nice counterbalance to Kelly and Pablo, who are ready to follow Ash into hell without even really knowing who he is. But the character feels too peripheral to everything else that’s going on.
“Books from Beyond” would feel more at home had the series landed on Netflix. This is the type of quick, harmless episode that works in a binge-watch, but comes across as far too slight on a regular weekly schedule. It’s too soon to write Ash vs Evil Dead off yet, but this is an unfortunate step backwards from the progress of last week’s episode.