In terms of bang for your buck, you’d be hard-pressed to find another horror franchise that delivers the goods as consistently as Evil Dead. Starting with Sam Raimi‘s iconic original film, through his increasingly comedic (and deranged) sequels, Fede Alvarez‘s grisly remake, and the long-awaited return of Bruce Campbell‘s chainsaw-wielding hero in the Starz original series Ash vs. Evil Dead, the horror franchise has proven as elastic as it is enduring, able to mold to the specific demands of each new iteration without losing that delirious double shot of zany personality that defines it.
However, if the Evil Dead movies have burned bright and fast, Ash vs. Evil Dead is facing new territory — not just endurance, but abundance — delivering ten half-hour episodes per year. That’s more Ash in three years than we’ve seen in the previous three decades, and lucky us while we’re on the topic, but that also means these three seasons of television have demanded a whole lot more linear narrative and mythological world-building than the franchise has ever had to support before. That demand has led to hit or miss results over the first two seasons, including some exciting expansions of the mythology and timeline, some less exciting additions (ahem, Baal), and regular returns to the cabin in the woods that started it all. Likewise, Season 3 is a mixed bag, more good than bad, that hits new highs, but also one very specific disappointing narrative low.
Season 3 is an easy pickup from last year’s finale that finds things more or less where we left them (Except Linda, who has seemingly vanished. But hey, you know how Ash is with the ladies…) Ash is now running his dad’s hardware store in Elk Grove, where he’s living large as the newly redeemed town hero. Pablo (Ray Santiago) is ever loyal at his side, helping out in the store — unpaid, of course — and living his modest dream as the owner of Pablito’s Fish and Chips. Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) has headed off on her own to carry on the Deadite fight, teaming up with Dalton (Lindsay Farris); descendant of the so-called Knights of Sumeria, an ancient bloodline devoted to defeating the forces of evil. When the Necronomicon pops up on an Antiques Roadshow-esque TV show, Kelly witnesses a massacre that could only be Ruby’s handiwork and heads back to Elk Grove to reunite the Ghostbeaters and stop Ruby for good.
Unfortunately, evil moves fast, and before Kelly can sound the alarm, the Deadite scourge makes its way to the local high school, where Ash’s newly introduced daughter Brandy (Arielle Carver-O’Neill) comes face-to-face with the forces of evil — and her brash, blood-soaked father — for the first time. This is where Ash vs. Evil Dead’s third season threatens to drop the ball, because everything about Brandy feels like rehashing old material. Given the grisly details of how they meet, and all the viscera-soaked torment unleashed on Brandy in the episodes that follow, it’s easy enough to understand why she hates her dad, but that doesn’t make it any less tiresome.
We spent all of Season 2 watching Ash clear his name as a hero and win over the town of Elk Grove, so it’s frustrating to have to do it all over again with a character who, frankly, is willfully stupid in her refusal to accept the things happening in front of her eyes. But we’ve also already done the daughter thing — not biologically, but Kelly has always been Ash’s heir apparent. In fact, departed showrunner Craig DiGregorio intended to make her Ash’s actual daughter in the timey-wimey Season 2 finale, which means that relationship was very carefully and intentionally established. We’ve already watched Kelly make the journey from the blood-soaked young woman who can’t believe her eyes to the hardened Deadite fighter, and we’ve already put in the work to build her mutual respect and unorthodox camaraderie with Ash, so the abrupt turn away from that dynamic in favor of a newly introduced character is jarring.