And that’s that. More than 30 years after he first swung an axe within those gristly Michigan woods, the battle between Ashley Joanna Williams (Bruce Campbell) and the all-consuming Evil Dead has finally come to a close. Or rather, the war now lives on in our respective imaginations—that is, until they either toss out another remake or opt to embellish Ash’s post-apocalyptic adventures with one more video game or comic series. Otherwise? Don’t hold your breath, pal. Our B-movie legend is retiring the role, and with good reason: The stakes don’t get much higher than the brazen insanity of “The Mettle of Man.” Between screwball stand-offs with tanks, Jerry-rigged Kandarian missiles, and a 600-foot beast with Hulk powers, yeah, this is it for Ash.
But that’s okay. Because if there’s one thing this de facto series finale gets right is a sense of closure for our prophesied hero. Sure, that whole stinger at the end suggests an entire new realm of possibilities for the series—from desert-style battles that could ape franchises as obvious as Mad Max and as serene as Dune to wasteland horrors as bleak as The Road and as awe-inspiring as Blade Runner—but his story has been told and his arc is complete. Bottom line: There isn’t going to be a better story for Ash, at least not as compelling as this one. After all, not only did he triumphantly take up the mantle as a savior of humanity, but he also managed to find some inner happiness in his own life through his previously estranged daughter, Brandy (Arielle Carver-O’Neill).
Campbell gets that, which is why he’s willing to put the Necromonicon back on the shelf for good—and so should we. Besides, what else would we get from the guy? Some fucked-up twist on Bye Bye Love, where he struggles to raise a daughter while she dates doofuses who double as the Knights of Sumeria? No, this is a much more agreeable ending to the Evil Dead franchise, particularly the legend of Ash Williams, even if that final coda unnecessarily molds him into Max Rockatansky. Seriously, what the hell was that? Both anti-heroes came up around the same time! That would be like if Snake Plissken returned to New York wearing John Rambo’s bandana. Or Indiana Jones came whipping around Cairo with a Magnum, P.I. ‘stache. They’re separate entities, folks.
Still, despite this clumsy drive down Fury Road, what’s fitting about this ending is that it spiritually aligns with Sam Raimi’s conclusion for Army Of Darkness: it sparks your imagination. From now until fans get something tangibly canon—and let’s be honest, long beyond that—they’ll continue speculating on all the mayhem Ash may be conjuring up, even if it does include that ludicrous robot sidekick, Lexx (Jessica Green). Looking back, that lingering adventurous spirit is what this franchise has long championed, much like the historic serials of, say, Gulliver’s Travels or The Odyssey or Sinbad the Sailor. Like those seemingly never-ending epics, Ash is destined to keep on fighting; he’ll never be dead by dawn and he certainly won’t find himself in a nursing home.
In that sense, director Rick Jacobson, who returns behind the typewriter for a second week in a row, gets by with this final curtain call. What he can’t do, though, is absolve the season of its nagging woes, which is why half of this episode is devoted to sorting out the rest of the dirty laundry that’s been collecting in a corner since the premiere. As with last week’s “Judgement Day”, Jacobson glosses over these glaring narrative fissures by wielding some dazzling sequences, taking fans to the sewers and the skies with all sorts of popcorn beats. And while he does wedge in a few heartwarming moments between Ash and Brandy, he sidelines our trusty Ghost Beaters—aka, Pablo Bolivar (Ray Santiago) and a newly resurrected Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo).
Because when everyone’s reunited and it’s time to fight, all Pablo does is pick up a stray kid like he’s playing Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker while Kelly gets a quick fix with a short round of Alien 3: The Gun Game. They’re short-lived moments for a pair of heroes who have become essential in the Evil Dead canon, and they’re really only there to prop up Ash’s Coach Taylor speeches before they’re hauled away in a paddywagon. It’s here Jacobson fumbles what could have been a legit teary scene, especially for Kelly. One minute she’s mocked for trying to be Ash with some unusually cruel frat-house cribbing, all of which goes against her “forge your own path” narrative, and the next she’s told she’ll be a strong leader for the people. It doesn’t help that Ash follows this up by telling Pablo he’s the new Jefe. When did this become Dunder Mifflin?
It’s just unfortunate. Let’s be real, nobody expected to love Pablo and Kelly. When it was first announced that Ash would be straddled with two sidekicks, there was a collective groan from the fans who worried things might get too sitcom-y for their preternaturally subversive Evil Dead universe. That wasn’t the case, though, and they quickly became crucial inclusions to Ash’s story. Pablo’s journey opened up the world of the undead, allowing for spiritual shamans and otherworldly twists that were previously only accoutrements of the franchise’s anarchic storytelling. While Ash finally met his match Kelly, a wild soul that was just as ballsy and fearless as he had been since he first hit the woodshed. So, it’s a disservice to the series that they don’t do much on this final go-around, and no, that lazy second kiss hardly counts. For Christ’s sake, how many times do I have to say it? There’s no time for love in this universe, Dr. Jones.
If anything, though, it just cements the notion that the show never figured out what to do with Kelly once Brandy was introduced. If you recall, prior showrunner Craig DiGregorio originally planned to have Ash alter reality in the season two finale, so that Kelly would become Ash’s daughter through some pretzeled, time travel logic. Who knows how long that would have lasted, but it would have made sense given her trajectory and the traits she had been picking up from Ash. But with Brandy tossed in the mix, that arc quickly splintered into something else, and it’s easy to see why Kelly was the most marginalized of the bunch this season, from her superfluous time as Kaya alongside Ruby (Lucy Lawless) to her extended vacay in the Rift for multiple episodes.
With that in mind, it’s not too surprising then that Ash’s most impactful speech is to Brandy. When he finally turns to her and tearfully says, “I’m doing this for you,” shortly before he doubles back and adds, “I’m doing this for all of you,” there’s a palpable weight to his words. And why not? Their bond has been the only structured narrative of the season. For 10 episodes, we watched as the father and daughter slowly drew closer and closer, giving each other hope and purpose and all that mushy mumbo jumbo. It’s been an effective arc, but not without its share of collateral damage. All of which is why the season has never found a steady footing and why the Ghost Beaters come off feeling like an afterthought by the time Kandar stomps across Elk Grove.
But for Ash, it works. Despite the fact that Brandy has always been a retooled plot device from DiGregorio’s tenure, she has provided the necessary revelations for our blue-collar hero. That’s not to be ignored, which is why Jacobson commits to that story at the end zone, and the smartest thing he does is dust off a callback to bring it all home. In the sewer, Ash pulls out Linda’s necklace, which he gives to his daughter. “I can’t keep doing this shit forever,” he admits, and while this line may suggest a torch being passed, it’s really more of a reawakening. That necklace is a token of his humanity, something he lost on that cabin trip long ago, and becoming a father for Brandy woke that up in him.
That’s very powerful. It’s also an elegant bookend to the character, one who has since become more synonymous with gratuitous one-liners than a denim-clad heart. In hindsight, that emotional callback might not have served a different narrative, at least not with DiGregorio’s vision for Kelly. Their bond would have instead been more about a familial team, similar to the band of brothers in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables. Granted, that would have certainly been more cohesive, but there’s something to be said about that nostalgic touchstone. Namely how just seeing that necklace traces it all back to a time when Ash Williams was a young stud trying to save his girlfriend ... before chopping her into pieces. That focus has never wavered; this has always been Ash’s story—hence the title—and really, that’s what we got from the very beginning to the very end of Ash Vs. Evil Dead. Not all of it’s been perfect, but when it did hit that sweet, groovy spot ... we all wanted some.
Probably always will.
- Note to self: When Ash says run, you run.
- Kandar the Destroyer is one hell of a design and oddly not out of place in the Evil Dead canon despite its gargantuan size. It’s also wild that the effects manage to outdo most of the crap in theaters. How?
- Understatement of the Episode: “This is ... a bit worse than usual.”
- Would love to see some Parisian Deadites.
- Ash’s exasperated, self-defeatist monologue at the Williams house really hit home, and makes you realize Campbell totally knew this was his final rodeo all along. Each line carries so much weight, particularly when he starts choking up as he asks, “You think I want this horseshit?” Chills.
- Brandy: “I don’t know much about this Evil Dead crap.” Hey, that’s the name of the show.
- The WWE reference to Kane is a nice callback to the pilot, a more simpler time for Ash and Pablo. You know, back when they could leave Value Stop and bust open beers as opposed to their boss’ head.
- Do you think anyone ever walked out of The Evil Dead back in 1983 and thought, Man, I can’t wait ‘til this series has fighter jets?
- In addition to revisiting his go-to one-liners, Ash also goes all in on the visual puns here: “Your momma shoulda taught you not to speak with your mouth full” and “Heads up” were very choice lines.
- Visually, this episode is quite gorgeous. Love the pinks, greens, and blues. It’s like a live-action version of The Real Ghostbusters.
- The double dose of Deep Purple in this finale was a welcome button to what’s arguably been the best rock ‘n’ roll rollercoaster on television save for maybe FX’s The Americans. “Stormbringer” added so much levity to Ash’s clumsy tank ride and “Space Truckin’” fitfully bookended the series.
- Come to think of it, the whole Mad Max coda also feels like a subtle nod to Roger Avary’s vision for Phantasm IV, then titled, Phantasm 1999 A.D. His script saw Campbell as this post-apocalyptic hero rolling around the wastelands not too dissimilar from this ending. Hmm.
- Lexx: “The Dark Ones are on the move.” That’s not good for anyone.
- It’s tough, but this season’s Top Deadite goes to Candy (Katrina Hobbs). Not only for emotional value, but also because she was a real pain in the ass for our titular hero. Okay, that was foul. I apologize. Kind of. Not really.
- On that note, let’s give some final nods, starting with the series’ Top Deadite, which goes to the one who started it all: Cheryl Williams (Ellen Sandweiss). Her return in season two’s “Trapped Inside” hit all the right notes—literally. Gotta love that Romeo Void. Such a sexy track.
- We’ve got time. Let’s keep this going with some Top Hero moments, huh? For Pablo, the first thing that comes to mind is how he took out that one prom goer in Ash’s hardware store a few episodes back in “Rifting Apart”. Guy was also keeping the Rift alive, too. Most impressive, Jefe, Jr.
- You’d think that Kelly’s near-swan song against Ruby this season would be her most triumphant, but not so. Let’s circle back to the season one finale, “The Dark One,” when she not only evaded arguably the grossest death of the series, but braved a brutal beating by nature (see: cold rain, hurricane winds) as she took on the entire cabin herself. Not even Ash did that.
- Ash is nearly impossible to pick, but anyone who can be dragged through a goddamn colon and live to say “groovy” again is a hero in my book. This is still the craziest sequence of the franchise and also its most hilarious, all fueled by Campbell’s signature ability to be a human crash dummy.
- Choosing the greatest episode is fool’s work, so let’s round up some highlights. If you’re looking for a range in performances, then revisit “Delusion”, which features some fine puppet work by Campbell (miss you, Ashy Slashy) and a transformative performance in DeLorenzo. If you want something out of this world, there’s the boozy ayahuasca trip of “Brujo”. If you want premium nostalgia, do not miss “Home Again” or “Trapped Inside.” And if you want legitimate scares, try and sit through the murderous dinner party of “Bait” or the cellar chaos of “The Dark One”.
- So, what do you think? Is this the end? Or would you want a spinoff series that follows Brandy, Kelly, or Pablo? Maybe to fill in the gaps between whatever happened after Kandar’s demise and whenever Ash woke up? That box he was sleeping in could make a cameo! Eh, maybe not.
- Sigh. It’s really over. For those of you who actually scrolled down this far, and have also been reading all these years, I’d like to say thank you. It’s been an incredible honor to write about this series, and I loved talking about each episode with all of you in the comments. It’s a shame it had to end and I’m going to miss those goddamn Ghost Beaters, but to quote Suzy Maxwell’s favorite author, the great Ernest Hemingway, “I love sleep.”
- See you on this flip-flop. Or, over at Consequence of Sound.