Ash vs Evil Dead loves to experiment with the reality our characters perceive. It’s something Craig DiGregorio and his team of writers have carried over from Sam Raimi’s style in the original films. With “Delusion” though, it’s a whole different ball game. The context of “Delusion” is one I was honestly dreading when I heard about it last week. Ash is put into a setup that seems to point towards all of the earlier events in the series being fabricated. A coping mechanism of a crazy old man unable to face the actions of his past while stuck in an insane asylum. Right from that context, I was worried “Delusion” was nothing more that frivolous filler that would pad things out for the season. Why bother with a whole episode based in a scenario where we know Ash is probably going to break out of so he can kick Baal’s ass to kingdom come?
Well, it’s clear the writers were aware of this from the onset. There’s plenty of hints here that show Ash’s perceptions are obviously hindered by Baal’s influence. We see some incredibly well put together visual bits of trickery that keep Ash second guessing, but these moments more obviously hint at the idea that his supernatural antics are real and just bubbling under the surface of this facade. While interesting on a visual level, they’re not the thing that keeps us engaged with “Delusion” despite what we know next week will continue. Every time we see Ash nearly tumble in the face of a room spinning out of control, we know he’ll just end up back in this seemingly normal realm and doubt his abilities. Rinse and repeat. Instead, the key asset that keeps this chapter of Ash vs Evil Dead from being total filler is a building sense of hopelessness to weigh Ash down.
This entire fantasy isn’t a mere setback that Ash snaps out of by the end of “Delusion.” This illusion of Ash’s incarceration is meant to totally break him… and it does in a believable fashion. Since he returned to Elk Grove, Ash has been facing the perception of his mythological “Ashy Slashy” status. Something he didn’t do decades ago due to still-unmentioned-time travel and eventual abandonment of his family. Now, Baal has created a fantasy to break Ash of his will. Not only does he emphasize the “Ashy Slashy” point of view, but he deprives Ash of the family he’s gained over the course of Ash vs Evil Dead. Ruby is now a nurse who dismisses the one thing Ruby appreciated: his ability to kill Deadites. Kelly is now a patient who lacks the strong will to lead that Ash respected. Pablo is now a guard who looks down on Ash instead of looking up to him. Even Chet returns to be killed again, emphasizing that Ash killed him when he took Cherly away.
This sense of extreme manipulation is given a very appropriate totem in the form of the Ashy Slashy puppet. In an episode that’s pretty devoid of much humorous context, this puppet is a brilliant source for relief of tension. Bruce Campbell‘s interactions with this felt creature are necessary levity, but also a perfect use of Baal’s sense of manipulation. Boiling down Ash’s entire persona to a silly plaything further emboldens Ash’s descent, which he actualizes through having near vaudevillian schtick with the goofy knock off that replaces his symbol of power and worth: his chainsaw. All of this sells Baal far more as a villain than anything else previously in this season of Ash vs Evil Dead. He can take the reality of someone and break it apart, making me wonder just what horrific similar stuff he did to Ruby in her past.
Yet, the real emotional power of all of this comes down to something I truly didn’t expect from Ash vs Evil Dead or it’s lead. Bruce Campbell is many things as an actor. Verbose, charming, goofy, dedicated. He’s a master at being the fool who think’s he’s the hero. He’s even more of a Jack Burton than Kurt Russell usually is. So, I’d never really describe him as being that dramatic. Even at his most serious in any of the Evil Dead films, it’d always be something extremely over the top. However, the final moments of “Delusion” show a different side of Campbell’s potential. After losing everything, Ash gives in. He admits to doing everything he was accused of and tells a visiting Linda Emery that he will probably never see her again. We’ve seen Ash in lowly states, but defeat and hopelessness on this level is something genuinely disheartening to see as Campbell lumps himself into a true state of existential loss. Our beloved head strong moron had turned defeated in the face of true adversity. And now he’s at the mercy of a true villain.
Kill of the Night: The “real” version of Kelly the inmate via lower jaw removal by puppet Ash.
Best Ash Line:”I like where your head’s at, almost as much as I like where your nubs at.” “That’s disgusting, but you know, I can’t be mad because that’s exactly what I would have said.” I need an Ash puppet in my life.
Next Week on Ash vs Evil Dead: “Ashy Slashy,” which will see the Ghostbeaters we know and love come back together… or break apart morbidly.
One More Thing: Ash references the end of the first Evil Dead as a time where “sun light did work.” It raises a lot of questions about the effects of the Earth’s rotation on Deadite powers, especially when you include the weird moon driven scenes in Army of Darkness.
Ash Vs Evil Dead Season 2 Episode 7 “Delusion”: (3.5 / 5)