Even considering the fact that we haven't even reached the half-way point, yet, I think that it's fair to say that the previous episode of Ash vs Evil Dead definitely had a 'series finale' feel to it. It was an episode which brought a very decisive end to the plot-line concerning Ruby's demonic children – with Ruby and Kelly proving to be a very effective team, as they took them all out. It even managed to end with a seeming victory for Ash and Pablo, as they defeated Ash's possessed car and tossed the Necronomicon through a portal to hell.
Of course, as we also learnt in previous episode's final moment, things aren't quite so straightforward – as it seems that, in keeping with the spirit of the Evil Dead franchise, it is Ash's own actions that will be responsible for the mayhem to come (although, to be fair, the decision was really Pablo's – Ash simply supported it). With Baal seemingly set free, in spite of Ruby and Kelly's best efforts to prevent it, it is obvious that there is still much worse to come.
But, Ash has no way of knowing any of this, as the fifth episode begins – and, instead, we find him eager to celebrate his apparent victory over the forces of evil. Or, at least, that is the case up until the moment Sheriff Thomas Emery (Stephen Lovatt) tracks him down, seeming almost gleeful at the prospect of being able to place him under arrest for the murder of Amber (the Deadite who he decapitated, two episodes ago).
Of course, it's only then that Baal, who has already displayed a rather morbid talent for wearing the skin of his victims, reveals his true intentions – seemingly set on targeting Ash specifically, though not before taunting Ruby with the promise of his inevitable victory. But, it's not going to be a straight-forward battle, just yet – as, with Baal's skill for deception and disguise, it seems that no one is entirely sure who can truly be trusted.
With all of the cast gathered together as they were, here, this was an episode that did a fantastic job of playing on the tension and uncertainty of the situation. Baal, as we have already learnt from Ruby, is a demonic figure who thrives on turning people against each other – and, the manner in which he is able to disguise himself as, seemingly, just about anyone is the perfect source for some genuine paranoia.
These scenes of increasingly hostile suspicion are, in fact, played so well by the cast that it actually comes as something of a let-down when the episode does, eventually, make a return to the usual violent spectacle (although, to be fair, the skinless corpse that the group is eventually forced to contend with is an impressively grotesque creation).
This would also have to be the first time, since Ash vs Evil Dead began, where the series's frequent moments of humour felt oddly inappropriate. Normally, that odd mix of gore-fuelled violence and slap-stick comedy works to the show's advantage – but, not here. If I'm being honest, this could very well be the first episode of Ash vs Evil Dead that could qualify as genuinely scary – and, unfortunately, the moments of comedy only really served to undermine that.
Regarding Baal, himself, though – well, I'm still not quite sure what to make of him. Joel Tobeck plays the character with a genuine sense of gleeful menace, when he is finally given the opportunity to appear in his 'true form' – and, the ease with which he tossed Ruby around promises a significant physical challenge for our heroes, when things eventually progress to that point. But, based on what we have seen so far, his 'Man in Black' performance is certain to feel very familiar to fans of Stephen King (though, whether that counts as a negative, or not, is purely a matter of personal preference). At this point, I think that Baal simply needs more screen-time to truly establish himself – because, so far, the indirect threat he posed to the characters, before his big reveal, was a much more effective source of tension than the 'man', himself.
Beyond the simple joy of seeing the show's cast forced into such a genuinely tense and frightening situation, I think that the part of the episode that most interested me is whatever is currently happening with Pablo. The strange connection that seems to have formed between Pablo and the Necronomicon (since he possessed by the book in the first season) has already proved to be one of the more fascinating aspects of the series – and, this episode provides a very interesting (if typically grotesque) twist on that. We have already learnt that the Necronomicon is intelligent, and even capable of speaking for itself, when it choose to – but, that just raises the question of what it really wants, and whose side it is truly on. Is the writing that is slowly, and very painfully, taking shape on Pablo's skin actually the Necronomicon's attempt to help them defeat Baal? Or, is it just a strange side-effect of Pablo's possession? Or, is there something else going on?
It is a very interesting note for the episode to end on – and, it definitely indicates that there are still interesting developments, for the rest of the season. It was definitely a great way to end such a naturally compelling episode, at the very least – so, I'll just have to hope that the next episode can make the most of this momentum.