Ash vs Evil Dead, Season 1, Episode 4, “Brujo
Written by James E. Eagan
Directed by David Frazee
Airs Saturdays at 9pm (ET) on Starz
Ash vs Evil Dead has adopted a “road movie” aesthetic to its weekly routine, having our heroes travel from one location to the next in their quest to vanquish evil. But a side-effect of this format is that each week the audience is more or less treated to a bottle episode. The characters are stuck in one location, then the next episode comes along and they’re stuck at another. This week’s episode, “Brujo”, successfully breaks the mold by having everyone stay in one place while also sending Ash on a wild trip.
Pablo (Ray Santiago) brings Ash (Bruce Campbell) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) to see his uncle (Hemky Madera), the Brujo of the title. The heroes first outrun a huge dust cloud of death — perhaps a visual representation of that ever-moving evil force that’s always been glimpsed in POV fashion smashing through the woods — before ending up on Brujo’s land, which is protected by spooky totems that look like they were purchased from the Blair Witch’s yard sale. These bundled twigs, mixed with crumbling doll parts and bones, enable director David Frazee to bring a new visual aesthetic to the Evil Dead franchise, stepping outside the established bounds fans are accustomed to.
Brujo believes that Ash has the power to vanquish evil, but it’s a dim power buried somewhere inside. Ash needs to take a wild acid trip to find his inner strength, and that’s where “Brujo” gets interesting. Viewers are treated to a trippy, dreamy sequence where Ash first must battle demons dressed both like himself and his dead girlfriend Linda before ending up at his ideal location: Jacksonville, Florida! It’s a highly stylized (and computerized) version of Jacksonville, where the sky is a lovely orangey red and there’s plenty of fishing. This, to Ash, is heaven. A place he’s never been to, but has always dreamed of. It’s both amusing and kind of sweet that of all the places in the entire world, this would be the one Ash has hung his dreams on. In his dream he tells Brujo that he had intended to bring Linda here when he was younger, but then there was that major setback of Linda turning into a deadite and Ash having to cut her head off with a shovel. The serene nature of the fantasy is short-lived, however, because it seems Kelly has been possessed by the jittery demon summoned in last week’s episode, and everyone’s in danger.
Elsewhere, the continuously useless Amanda (Jill Marie Jones) teams up with the continuously awesome Lucy Lawless, and Lawless’ character begins to clue us in as to what her purpose is. It turns out her character is named Ruby Knowby, and die-hard fans of the Evil Dead franchise will recognize that surname: Professor Raymond Knowby was the poor sap who discovered the Necronomicon and brought it to the very same cabin Ash and Linda ended up in 30 years ago. The professor was Ruby’s father, and Ruby’s sister Annie and mother Henrietta were possessed and subsequently vanquished by Ash all those years ago. Ruby apparently has it in for Ash, blaming him for their deaths, but something about this doesn’t ring true. Ruby clearly knows about the deadites, and knows that the person possessed by them isn’t the same as the human being they once were. Based on that knowledge, one would think she’d be a little more forgiving of old Ash. Then again, there’s a chance she’s not telling everything. At one point, while she’s laying her story out for Amanda, possessed bookstore owner Lionel (Kelson Henderson) blurts out “We know who you are!”, before being rudely interrupted by Ruby as she chops off his head. Perhaps he was about to spill something else about Ruby before he got the axe. Ruby’s backstory isn’t the only thing she reveals, though: she also has Ash’s severed hand, which is still possessed and alive. This is a great little detail and a fun way to tie the series in with the films, although it’s unsure what more the writers can do with this detail.
Last week’s episode of Ash vs Evil Dead was a misfire, but “Brujo” does a much more admirable job of furthering the storyline. At the same time, the half-hour runtime continues to hamper the show greatly. There’s just too much packed into an episode like this for it to be truly satisfying, and just when the narrative is really trucking, it’s over. It may seem like a knee-jerk reaction in an age when most people have embraced binge-watching as the chosen method for consuming TV, but Ash vs Evil Dead continues to come across as a show that would play much better when binged, rather than broken up weekly. The cast is still the best element here, with Campbell consistently hilarious and his “Ghost Beater” sidekicks likable. Having Kelly become possessed actually hurts things a tiny bit, just because Kelly and Pablo both help round Ash out so well for the show. Taking Kelly out of the equation this soon thus hinders things, but who can say how long this unfortunate condition will last. “Brujo”’s best aspect, though, resides in the attempt of episode writer James E. Eagan to make Ash more than just a wise-cracking jerk with a chainsaw for a hand. Glimpsing Ash’s simple dream of retiring to Florida — to a “city so nice they named it Jacksonville!” — mixed with Brujo’s reveal that Ash can be a much bigger hero if he can find the strength within himself, aids in bringing Ash out of the work shed and into a much more three dimensional realm. It’s a nice surprise, and this show could use more of them.