Ash vs. Evil Dead: “Books from Beyond” is some yappening and not a lot of happening

I had very high hopes for “Books from Beyond,” so I was a little disappointed when this episode felt like a bit of a step back after the first two really excellent half hours of the show. It’s not a terrible half hour of television, but it’s not particularly scary, not as funny as the last couple episodes, and it doesn’t do as much as it ought to move the story along.

After a week without Lucy Lawless, it was nice to see her back in the opening minutes of this episode, although I think her scene might leave us with rather more questions than answers about her character. I had kind of expected her to play a bigger part in the action this week, as the preview for the episode seemed to imply she would, but she only has perhaps five minutes of screen time. It’s not quite a deal breaker, but it is irritating to feel misled by promotional material in this way.

What’s more unfortunate this week is that Lawless’s Ruby isn’t the only female character to find herself somewhat sidelined once Ash and company arrive at the bookstore. While Ash and Pablo deal with ancient book expert and obvious weirdo Lionel (Kelson Henderson), Kelly is left to keep an eye on a handcuffed Amanda Fisher, who’s got no idea what’s going on but is convinced that Ash is responsible for it. Kelly has almost nothing to do this week, and Amanda doesn’t have anything useful to do. Both women end up only hindering Ash’s efforts to find a way to stop the evil he’s unleashed, but the largest portion of their time is spent doing nothing at all. This would be annoying enough if all the interesting stuff was happening where the women aren’t, but that’s sadly not the case here.

You wouldn’t expect a demon-summoning to be boring, but this one somehow manages it. There are some funny moments, but there are even more missed opportunities. Aside from this episode’s failure to include Kelly and Amanda in most of the action, the summoned demon and the ensuing fight just doesn’t end up being particularly well-done on any level. The demon itself is dull-looking, the show has toned down it’s characteristic gore, and the huge number of creepy specimen jars that are shown over and over again throughout the episode are never used to their full possible effect. Considering how much the camera lingered on all those jars of pickled fetus-looking things, I kept expecting them to at some point end up out of the jars and attacking Ash’s face. Not having that happen is a major missed opportunity.

Overall, “Books from Beyond” is simply a much slower-paced episode than the last two. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t deliver on the promise of the episode preview. On the one hand, I’m not certain it’s reasonable to expect that the show could have kept up the level of energy and humor that characterized the first couple of episodes. On the other hand, I’m not sure the show works if it doesn’t somehow manage that. When you add in the fact that the show seems to have lost interest in its female characters, at least temporarily, “Books from Beyond” is layer upon layer of letdown.

Miscellaneous thoughts on the episode:

  • I did love Lionel’s costume, although I think his jacket really needed to have elbow patches.
  • They are seriously having Pablo get “friend-zoned”? I hate that trope so much. It’s the worst sort of low key misogynist bullshit.
  • I hate to harp on the fetus jars thing, but that really was an enormous disappointment. I know they already did Ash fighting a comically small opponent in episode one, but this would have been a whole bunch of exceptionally gross-looking comically small opponents, which is clearly an entirely different thing.
  •  Best line of the night: “Well, you two learned a very valuable lesson today: Cops don’t help.”
  • That said, I’m starting to get the feeling that the show either has a total disdain for Amanda Fisher or just doesn’t have any idea what to do with her. She’s clearly a tough, capable person, but this week in particularly she functioned as nothing but an obstacle to our heroes while also ending the episode worse off than she started it. I thought the show was moving towards having her join up with Ash and company, but that seems to not be the case. I suppose this may mean that Amanda is going to end up working together with Ruby (who is downright sinister at this point), but I’m not exactly holding my breath on that, either, after this week’s mishandling of her character. It is still early in the series, but Amanda deserves better than what she’s been given so far.

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