Ash vs. Evil Dead: “Bait” is a perfect balance of humor, drama, and fake blood

This week, the show picked up right where last week’s episode left off and continued to deliver on the early promise it showed in its first half hour.

“Bait” is the first episode of the show without Sam Raimi at the helm, but I can’t see that it suffers for it. Director Michael J. Bassett retains much of the distinct style Raimi has created for the franchise, but he isn’t afraid to add a few of his own flourishes, either. It has the effect of making the episode feel both reassuringly familiar and refreshingly different. Ash vs. Evil Dead isn’t like anything else on television right now, and it’s shaping up to be something very special.

Anyone who has read my writings on Game of Thrones must know that I have a deep and abiding love for awkward family dinners (this probably also explains my love of Gilmore Girls), and “Bait” delivers a great example of the form. From the moment that Ash and Pablo burst in to “rescue” Kelly, every scene with guest star Mimi Rogers is perfectly handled. The dinner itself was riotously funny as Ash tried to get get Kelly’s mom to admit that she was evil, and the subsequent fight is wonderfully bloody.

I was a little disappointed that Kelly herself didn’t get much to do throughout and was essentially a damsel in distress once her mother was revealed as a deadite, but I actually think there’s a certain sense of realism to this. There’s some very real horror in what Kelly has to go through in this episode, and Dana DeLorenzo does a nice job of balancing drama and humor in order to bring Kelly to life as a character with, I think, the potential to be downright trope-defying. The real test will be how Kelly’s character is handled going forward as we see how she emerges from this crucible.

Kelly being damseled can actually be compared to Pablo’s slightly similar situation earlier in the episode. On the way to Kelly’s house, Ash and Pablo are attacked on the road by their old boss, and it’s quickly clear (and explicitly, verbally called out) that Pablo doesn’t know what to do in spite of Ash’s assurance that getting hit will trigger fighting instincts. Pablo does fight, but ineffectively, and he ultimately has to be rescued by Ash as well, which is what prepares Pablo to be more helpful later on in the episode. There’s a nicely devised symmetry to the character arcs of Pablo and Kelly in this episode that prevents Kelly’s brief damsel moment from being a sexist misstep, although I still contend that she could have been a little more involved in the action.

All that said, “You know they were Jewish, right?” was a perfectly hilarious line, shot with gorgeous irony in the beautiful morning sunshine. What I loved about this scene was that, while it establishes Kelly as a sort of wise-cracking character, it also allows room for her to show real emotion and grieve with dignity. This is something that isn’t often seen in this kind of entertainment, where film-length projects often rush around from action scene to action scene and don’t devote much time to these sorts of character moments.

While Ash and company are having the family dinner from hell, Amanda Fisher is investigating the trailer park attack, which strikes her as similar and perhaps related to her own experience. She is shooed away from the scene by the actual officer in charge, since she’s still not back to work, but before she goes she finds a business card for Books from Beyond. The end of the episode sees her arriving there, while Ash, Pablo, and Kelly are on their way, which sets us up for next week’s show.

I would have liked to see a little more of Amanda Fisher this week, but there just wasn’t time with only a half hour to work with. However, I think the thirty-minute runtime is an asset for the show rather than a detriment. It encourages smart use of the time and prevents overlong scenes of blood and gore. So far, the show has been an agreeable mix of its parts, and the pacing is pleasantly engaging.

All it needs is more Lucy Lawless.

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