The grooviest, goriest show on TV is finally back this weekend—and since it sure feels like a hell of a long time since December 2016, when Ash vs Evil Dead’s season two finale aired. So we’re here to refresh your blood-splattered brain on what’s happened on the show so far.
Though certain choice moments probably still haunt your nightmares (like, say, Bruce Campbell fighting a particularly nimble but not-quite-disembodied colon), chances are you still might need a brush-up on some of Ash vs Evil Dead’s other finer points to prep for season three. Or if you’re new to the show, and don’t have time to do the right thing and binge-watch everything before Sunday (if you don’t have Starz, seasons one and two are both available on Netflix, for what it’s worth), we’ve got you covered. Read on, screwheads!
Here’s the deal
The basic premise of the show, of course, is that it follows the continuing supernatural misadventures of crude, swaggering badass Ashley J. “Ash” Williams (Bruce Campbell), who’s been battling Deadites since he first stumbled across the Necronomicon in Sam Raimi’s 1981 The Evil Dead. Evil Dead II, which came out in 1987, also gets a lot of shout-outs in the show, while so far, due to some rights issues that have since been cleared up, 1992's beloved Army of Darkness has only gotten a single nod, but it was a crucial one that provided an in-canon way for the characters to travel through time at the end of season two.
When we first catch up with Ash at the beginning of season one, he’s reached paunchy middle age and is living in a trailer park with his pet lizard, wearing a wooden hand (and a man-girdle), still working as a stock boy at a big-box store, still driving his beloved Delta. He’s also very into partying and wooing random ladies, one of whom he decides to impress by reading some “poetry” from the Necronomicon. Noooo! Silent for decades, the evil that once swirled around Ash awakens, and freaky mayhem begins anew. Ash’s co-workers Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) are drawn into his gory orbit, and they quickly win him over despite his stated preference for being “an alone wolf.”
Season one is basically Ash trying to figure out how to undo his drunken incantations while allowing his stone-cold heart to melt a little after Pablo and Kelly join his crew. Along with cutting down the saucy demons that get in his way, he’s also gotta dodge skeptical cop Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones), who’s initially convinced that he’s a serial killer. Most importantly, he has a new nemesis: Ruby (Lucy Lawless), a mysterious figure who’s revealed to be an immortal with ties to the demon realm. She’s also the author of the Necronomicon and is trying to get ahold of the book for her own nefarious purposes; at one point, she uses Ash’s severed hand from Evil Dead II to literally point the way. At the end of season one—after many off-color wisecracks, exceedingly gory fight scenes, and a return to the cabin where Ash’s ordeal began and Amanda meets an unfortunate end—Ash strikes a deal with Ruby so marvelously short-sighted that Pablo and Kelly can’t quite believe he does it. In very simple terms, he agrees to give her the book, and she agrees to keep the demons off his back.
In season two, Ash and his grumbling posse are living large in his dream town of Jacksonville, Florida... for about three minutes, until the Deadites come calling again. Realizing Ruby’s having trouble holding down her end of the bargain, the trio heads to Ash’s hometown, Elk Grove, where his reputation as the maniacal “Ashy Slashy” has grown into legend over the years. Even his own dad (Lee Majors) despises him. But that unpleasantness takes a back seat once Ruby’s ex, the manipulative demon Baal (or “Bill,” as Ash likes to call him; he’s played by Joel Tobeck) sleazes onto the scene.
Season two has less focused momentum than season one, which was basically a wacky road trip to get to the cabin. There’s more soul-searching in season two, as Ash’s past comes back to haunt him in multiple ways. His long-dead sister Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) pops up for an unwelcome visit; he also spends time with his dopey best buddy Chet (Ted Raimi) and his onetime sweetheart Linda B. (Michelle Hurd), who’s now married to the Ash-hating town sheriff. Meanwhile, Pablo struggles with his sanity after being gruesomely possessed by the Necronomicon, and Kelly tries to keep everyone on track while mowing down as many undead assholes as possible. Ruby, meanwhile, becomes an unlikely ally when she sides with Ash and company against Baal.
And there’s so... much... more, like an extended subplot in which Ash is held prisoner by Baal under the guise of being a mental patient and is tormented by a puppet version of himself. Also: The Delta briefly comes alive and breathes fire; Ash fights a possessed colon; Ash and his father engage in competitive mechanical bull riding; and a moment of profound and inebriated sadness is underscored with “(I Just) Died in Your Arms Tonight” by Cutting Crew. It’s certainly a lot to take in, but every episode after the series premiere has clocked in at around 30 minutes, so all the craziness whizzes by in a pleasant jumble of quips and chaos.
He was one of horror’s most memorable characters long before Ash vs Evil Dead hit the airwaves, so he doesn’t really need much introduction, does he? He’s actually evolved a bit over the first two seasons, most notably taking Pablo and Kelly under his wing and genuinely caring for them like family. Of course, he still hits on every woman he sees, and is ever-fond of making culturally obtuse remarks about Pablo’s heritage—but don’t worry, the show couches his crassness in a way that’s careful to make sure we know Ash is the real butt of all those jokes. His motto is “shoot first, ask questions never.” He has a chainsaw arm, a boomstick on his back, a stunning chin, an alarming amount of self-confidence, what seems to be an endless supply of evil doppelgangers, and zero desire to ever filter anything coming out of his mouth.
Though she introduces herself as part of the Knowby family—as in Professor Knowby, the guy who discovered the Necronomicon and brings it to his family’s cabin just prior to the events of the first Evil Dead movie—her origin isn’t that simple, and her motives have little to do with revenge. In season one, she’s immortal and is hellbent on finding the Necronomicon so that she can create demonic “children,” believing somehow that they will keep the Deadites in check. By season two, she’s become mortal and has completely lost control of her evil spawn, so she turns to Ash for help. Humbled and newly human, but still capable of kicking butt when needed, and becomes a full-fledged part of the team. She even mentors Kelly (as much as a former demon can, anyway) along the way. Unfortunately for O.G. Ruby, her life expectancy becomes a major problem when the crew goes back to 1982 and encounters that timeline’s more powerful Ruby, who’s still full-on evil. Moving forward, it seems that Evil Ruby is the one we’re going to be encountering in season three, though it wouldn’t be too nuts if we see O.G. Ruby again—resurrection is kind of Ash vs Evil Dead’s bread and butter, after all.
He’s nerdy—he built Ash a mechanical hand using random video-game electronics—and he’s spiritual, having been raised by his shaman uncle who taught him about “El Jefe,” a certain chosen hero that will save the world from darkness. He’s incredibly loyal to Ash, and though his unrequited crush on Kelly was a big season one plot point, their relationship has since shifted to more of a best friend vibe. Physically, Pablo’s been through a lot. At the end of season one, the Necronomicon attached itself to his face as part of Ruby’s evil spawn birthing ritual, and the aftereffects of being so closely connected to the book followed him into season two. Eventually, he becomes a human embodiment of the book—with spells bubbling up on his flesh from the inside out—which makes him the only person able to banish Baal back to the underworld. Unfortunately, he’s sliced in half in the process, a gruesome death that inspires Ash and company to travel back in time to 1982 and prevent young Ash from ever discovering the Necronomicon in the first place. Happily—in a process that requires a second banishing of Baal, who was hiding in Pablo’s corpse, as well as the complete annihilation of the cabin—Pablo is restored. Will his time in the underworld have changed him? Only season three will tell.
Pablo’s BFF went through some shit in season one—it would definitely be traumatizing to see both your parents turned into Deadites—but she was made of tough stuff even before she became motivated by furious revenge. Ash even remarks that Kelly reminds him of a younger version of himself; she’s bold, fond of big guns, and doesn’t take shit from anyone, which includes cops, redneck militia members, and trash-talking demons. (She’s also smarter than Ash, but that probably goes without saying.) She’s survived being possessed, fought her own evil double, sampled Chet’s ketamine cocktail, held off an angry mob of Elk Grove citizens, and formed a power team with Ruby. Her one sticking point has always been figuring out her place in all of this. Ash is “El Jefe;” Pablo is tied to the Necronomicon; Ruby obviously has a shit-ton of demonic baggage. Kelly, who may be the most fearless of this entire bunch, doesn’t always agree with Ash’s plans, but she’s always been ready to back him up... at least until she figures out her own path.
In season three, Ash meets his long-lost daughter, Brandy (Arielle Carver-O’Neill), an Elk Grove high school student who becomes an unwilling addition to Ash’s life when her mother suddenly dies. The other big new character is Dalton (Lindsay Ferris), part of an ancient secret society called the Knights of Sumeria that’s trying to recruit Ash to their cause. Seeing as how Ash is contentedly running his late father’s hardware store, basking in the glow of being the town hero, it’s doubtful he’ll be too thrilled with that idea. (It’s doubtful he’ll be too thrilled with being a father, either, but who knows.) It’s important to mention that season three has a new showrunner, Mark Verheiden, who replaced Craig DiGregorio when the latter stepped down due to creative differences with Ash vs Evil Dead producer Robert Tapert, the juicy details of which are detailed in this AV Club interview. (Most notably, the addition of Ash’s daughter Brandy came after DiGregorio’s actually really clever idea to reveal that Kelly was Ash’s kid—a story twist that would come courtesy of that 1982 time-travel mission—was scrapped.)
The evil to come
Obviously, Ash’s fake sense of normalcy won’t last long. The official synopsis for season three notes that Kelly, off on her own warrior adventures while Pablo hangs back in Elk Grove, witnesses a “televised massacre” that could only have been caused by Evil Ruby. (An early review of the season notes that the slaughter happens after the Necronomicon—which was unearthed near the cabin wreckage by an unseen, clearly unaware character in the last moment of season two—finds its way onto an Antiques Roadshow-type program, which sounds... delightfully messy). Looking ahead, showrunner Verheiden told Empire Magazine:
I think the big thing is we don’t want to do seasons one or two again, we want to be sure that the new season seems fresh, that we’re opening up the mythology a little bit and opening the characters up a little bit more, but never losing that Evil Dead flavor.
It seems likely that new character Dalton and whatever Evil Ruby have cooked up will serve to push out the mythology a bit, while Ash, Ruby, and Pablo will do what they do best, involving guns, chainsaws, rusty chains, and so forth. And obviously, a big part of the season will be Ash and Brandy’s tentative new relationship; it’s not too hard to imagine that she’ll eventually get over being horrified about everything (a natural reaction, to be honest) and learn to love stomping out Deadites, too.
Why you should watch
We’ve sung the praises of Ash vs Evil Dead plenty of times since its debut on Halloween 2015, but the best horror comedy on TV is special for many reasons. It builds off Raimi’s cinematic trilogy in all the right ways, expanding on the story’s mythology and bringing new characters into its universe, but it also stays true to what made it great in the first place. It elevates the franchise’s trademark sick sense of humor and its commitment to gore, often at the same time, and has unleashed some of the most repulsively creative special effects ever seen on TV. It also has random cool touches; the soundtrack (heavy on the prog rock and weird pop) is killer, and there are always in-jokes (like Shemp’s Beer) sprinkled in for movie fans. But the number one reason to watch has gotta be Ash himself—one of horror’s most original and consistently enjoyable characters, portrayed for over 30 years by one of its most iconic and charismatic actors. Hail!
Ash vs Evil Dead returns to Starz on February 25.