A mid-season slate clear can be a godsend or a disaster. Shaking up matters to keep things fresh and new can just as easily leave previous plot threads dangling or even switch off viewers altogether if not handled right and it’s exactly where we find ourselves in episode seven of Ash Vs Evil Dead.
Having essentially cleared up a lot of story points in the previous installment, the aptly named Delusions sees lantern-jawed, paranoia demon Baal launch an all-out assault on the psyche of Ash by sticking him in a One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest scenario if said film had been directed by James Wan. But with no Elk Grove, no random Deadite brawl to close things out and no real connection between the Ghostbeaters, is this “time out” episode simply too different to work?
After the triumph of chainsawing off the head of his resurrected sister meant that the people of Elk Grove finally saw him as a hero, Ash wakes up to find himself a patient in a decrepit asylum. After some typically brash questioning, our Deadite slaying saviour has some troubling news to digest that’s going to be tougher to swallow than a cap full of medication – after slaughtering his friends up at the cabin, he’s actually spent the last thirty years languishing in the loony bin under the delusion that demons exist. That’s right, everything that’s apparently happened since The Evil Dead has all been in Ash’s head and after all these years of electroshock and pills, his doctor is just about to give up on him. However, he has one last method to try and in an attempt to get Ash to face what he’s done and admit that he’s solely responsible for the murders he committed he introduces Ashy Slashy, a felt, smack talking puppet in Ash’s image who is supposed to help him confront who he really is. But, wait a minute…. Doctor Peacock looks suspiciously like Baal (or Bill, as Ash keeps forgetting) and as he mopes around the asylum he stops and notices other familiar faces too – a stern nurse is the living spit of Ruby, Reg the orderly looks a hell of a lot like Pablo and a crazy, wild haired patient could pass as a twin of Kelly despite all the shit stains all over her walls…
Is Ash’s psychotic break actually a temporary break from reality courtesy of Baal mind warping powers or has he really spent the last thirty years being nuttier than squirrel shit while bothering nurses with come on lines like “Maybe Nurse Ratchett needs a little injection from Dr. Groovy?”? The truth isn’t that hard to predict, but will the button eyed Ashy Slashy manage to sway our hero over to Dr. Pecock’s way of thinking and accept this new status quo as reality?
Like I mentioned before, “Factory Reset” episodes can be fun as the cast get to do something a little different for an episode, but on the other hand they can feel a little like inessential padding to a season that should be gearing up to something big.
Thankfully, thanks to Ash Vs Evil Dead’s habit of forging ahead haphazardly like the mad, crazy bastard of a show that it is, Delusion actually works pretty damn well and even brings the odd sober moment to a programme that once dragged its lead through the butthole of a corpse.
This episode is primarily The Bruce Campbell Show, which is never a bad thing, especially seeing as the last couple of episodes have seen the rest of the cast do the emotional heavily lifting while he’s been doing his usual idiot hero schtick. Merging his usual egotistical dufus stuff with moments of actual “clarity”, this may actually be Campbell’s single best performance of the entire show and his frustration at being locked in an asylum has nice parallels to his time spend playing an elderly, old people’s home dwelling Elvis Presley in cult classic Bubba Ho-Tep. It’s also nice to get to spend some real time with Baal/Dr Peacock too as he works his brain mojo through the guise of a sinisterly benevolent psychologist and while at no point do you think that Ash is actually crazy – well… not that kind of crazy, anyway – its hugely beneficial that we’ve got some actual face time between Ash and the season’s big bad, even if he’s giving him repeated electroshock therapy and a little, felt hand puppet.
Ah yes, Ashy Slashy – while the little fuzzy bastard may not have obsessed the world much like “Baby Yoda” (aka. Grogu) did during The Mandalorian, he’s still a fantastic addition to Evil Dead lore with people’s reactions of him (Ash: “Get your filthy puppet butthole offa my arm!” and Kelly: “What the Fraggle Rock is that thing?”) scoring big laughs. While he does feel a little reminiscent of that amazing episode of Angel where David Boreanaz spends the majority of the episode as an angry browed muppet, he still is immensely memorable as offensive, Ash-style crap starts coming out of his mouth. Altogether now – “Wakey wakey, hands off your snakey!”.
Lucy Lawless and Ray Santiago essentially take a low key break here as Pablo and Ruby are essentially just hospital staff, but Dana Delorenzo’s Kelly (or at least a hallucination of her) gets to stalk around giving real good crazy as she bugs those big eyes of hers while being encrusted with filth and it adds yet another extra layer of camaraderie between her and Ash and the argument between them about whose delusions are realer as they debate the various rules of their imaginary terrors is great.
Altogether a much more somber episode than Ash Vs Evil Dead has ever given us before (and that’s with a Chainsaw handed puppet), some might be frustrated with the lack of action or the more serious gore (Ash rips the jaw right off a similarly deranged patient with his Ashy Slashy hand) but as an interesting speed bump in the season that gives the villain time to spin his web, the slight change in tone is worth it.
Plus, it’s apparently Bruce Campbell’s favourite episode – so who am I to argue?