When we first heard that Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell)—the crass yet beloved star of Ash vs. Evil Dead and all its preceding films—was going to meet his teenaged daughter in the third season of the Starz show, we were skeptical. We need not have worried; turns out the potentially ruinous twist has fueled the season’s best storyline.
Looking back, Ash vs. Evil Dead’s actually been positioning Ash as a father figure since the beginning of its debut season. When the show first picked up with the one-handed hero, it had been over two decades since his time-travel shenanigans in Army of Darkness. As we soon learned, he spent the intervening years partying and trying to forget he ever tangled with Deadites. That all changed when he drunkenly read from the Necronomicon to impress a chick, unleashing a fresh wave of supernatural mayhem.
Unlike his younger self, the Ash in Ash vs. Evil Dead doesn’t fight demons alone. He has a posse, in the form of Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) and Pablo (Ray Santiago)—a circumstance he grudgingly comes to accept and even kinda cherish in his own particular way. But though the trio comes to form a makeshift family, Ash isn’t exactly portrayed as a substitute father for Kelly and Pablo—he’s more of a reluctant mentor crossed with a macho uncle.
After two seasons of the “Ghostbeaters” (as Pablo calls them) doing their blood-drenched thing, alternatively tangling with and teaming up with the mysterious Ruby (Lucy Lawless), Ash vs. Evil Dead had a big shake-up behind the scenes. Original showrunner Craig DiGregorio departed due to creative differences with O.G. Evil Dead producer Rob Tapert, a split he elaborates on extensively in this A.V. Club interview. The most interesting nugget, however, is that DiGregorio’s original finale for season two would have revealed that Ash is actually Kelly’s biological dad—a retcon made possible by time travel, a convenient bar bathroom, and Ash’s ability to be horny even in the most inappropriate situations.
Of course, that’s not how season two ended up shaking out, but the idea of Ash suddenly becoming a father to a daughter obviously lingered in the air. The groundwork was certainly in place for Ash to become a little more... well, not mature, since this is Ash we’re talking about; let’s say... slightly less allergic to being a responsible adult. His season-two return to his Michigan hometown of Elk Grove gave him a chance to reconnect with his aging father, Brock (Lee Majors), a contentious relationship that eventually warmed in the literal seconds before Brock’s gruesome death. (The season-three appearances of this delightfully salty character, first as a Ruby-controlled zombie, then in the form of a helpful ghost, were very welcome.) After spending most of season two as Elk Grove’s most-hated citizen, Ash eventually redeemed himself in the town’s eyes and took over his late father’s hardware store—adding a porn section, since, again, this is Ash we’re talking about.
But Ash’s newfound normalcy has come at a price. Kelly, still hellbent on fighting the forces of darkness, has ditched Elk Grove, splintering the Ghostbeaters. And while evil has given him a temporary respite, Ash’s high-profile return to his small town hasn’t escaped the notice of his long-forgotten wife, Candy (Katrina Hobbs), who confronts him with the bombshell news about Brandy (Arielle Carver-O’Neill), the high school-aged daughter Ash never knew he had. Appropriately, perhaps, she was conceived in the back seat of Ash’s Delta on their wedding night.
This being Ash vs. Evil Dead, Candy soon meets a dramatically gory end, then pops back up in Deadite form, necessitating a second, even more dramatically gory end. Brandy is devastated by the loss of her mom, not to mention very freaked out by all the newfound terrors that are suddenly in her orbit—especially Ash, “the ol’ sperm shooter” himself. This makes sense, but after spending two seasons racing along with characters who’ve learned to work as a team, season three loses some momentum early on while Brandy works through her feelings.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take long for the pace to pick right back up as Brandy’s role in the ever-evolving Evil Dead mythology comes into focus. Ruby, back to being pure evil after season two’s brief stint as a Ghostbeater ally, is obsessed with taking out Ash, a.k.a. “the Prophesized One,” for good; she’s already given birth to a creature to take his place, spawned directly out of the Necronomicon’s pages. Thing is, Ash has to be killed by his own flesh and blood in order for this plan to work, so Ruby’s scheme also involves impersonating Brandy’s guidance counselor, raising Zombie Brock from the grave, hastening her Necronomi-baby’s escalation into a full-grown Bad Ash that slashes up a dance at Brandy’s school, etc.—anything to try and turn daughter against father. And, it probably goes without saying, all of Ash’s “seed” also has to be wiped out, which means Brandy’s on the kill list, too. (As are all of Ash’s contributions to Elk Grove’s local sperm bank over the years, which becomes the setting for one of the show’s most outstanding fight scenes to date... which is saying a lot.)
What Ruby’s sinister plot doesn’t take into account, however, is that Ash and Brandy eventually start to warm up to each other, bonding over Pop Tarts, the Delta, and Elk Grove’s bumbling police force. Even though he doesn’t yet know the full extent of Ruby’s game plan, Ash is well aware that her interest in Brandy means trouble. And while he may suck as a father (something he freely admits), he’s 100 percent invested in protecting the people he cares about—remember when he brazenly traveled through time to save Pablo’s life in season two? Though he’s just met her, it unsurprisingly doesn’t take long for him to feel similarly strongly about his own kid. And for Brandy’s part, even though she believes she’s just seen her dad carve up her classmates (thanks to Bad Ash), she can’t bring herself to kill him.
“Fatherhood ain’t easy,” Ghost Brock warns his son, but Ash has so far mostly taken it in stride—as has Ash vs. Evil Dead, which has made damn sure the horror hero we’ve known and loved for nearly 40 years hasn’t been fundamentally changed by his new dad status. Brandy’s sudden appearance in his life might have seemed like just a plot device at first, and that’s definitely part of her purpose on the show. But she’s also poised to help Ash evolve even more than Pablo and Kelly already have. Transforming Ash into a TV character has allowed Campbell and the show’s writers to develop him beyond what we ever saw in the movies; as we’ve gotten to know him better, it’s become clear that he always had plenty of heart deep down... while still retaining his baseline traits of being sleazy, rude, self-centered, crass, culturally insensitive, and so on. Having a daughter to fight for now means that the stakes are even higher for Ash—both in the spirit world, where he’ll have to go to retrieve her (thanks, Ruby), and in terms of his capacity for groan-inducing dad jokes. That can only mean good things for the show to come.
Ash vs. Evil Dead airs Sunday nights on Starz.