It’s the end of the world as we know it, and Ash feels fine. All season, we’ve watched our Midwestern hero come to terms with his past by dismembering his present demons—both literally and metaphorically. Now that we’ve seen his future, we know he needs to get Moonstruck. “It’s not just about my life anymore,” he confesses to Ruby, to Pablo, to Kelly in the burning fruit cellar, “I want their lives back, too. They’re coming with me.” Where to? A “normal life” in Jacksonville, of course. True to his stubborn soul, Ash believes that Ruby will serve as a Gatekeeper who’s “just gonna Godfather all the demons together” to “make the world a better place for all of us.” Pablo and Kelly see right through her, but it’s not up to them. Their foul-mouthed jefe has made a not-so-smart truce with The Dark One, and it involves an ill-fated escape to Florida and the coming apocalypse. The good news is they have the Kandarian dagger … and AC/DC.
What’s tragic about all this is that Ash thinks he’s making the right sacrifice. “I’m doing this for you buddy, so a little thanks might be nice,” he spits back at Pablo with misguided altruism when his partner-in-crime rebuffs his decision. The problem is that this current Ash isn’t the “alone wolf” of yesteryear, but the paternalistic guardian of two faithful compatriots, and his newfound devotion to them has clouded any sensible judgment on his part—you know, like sparing the entire world. Now, he’s like a rabid mother lion, out to protect her cubs at all costs, and that’s not surprising in the least. For 10 blood-soaked episodes, we’ve watched him patiently tighten his discerning grip around Pablo and Kelly, trying his damndest to stave off any threats. How the entire season boils down to this Sophie’s Choice, and that Ash would be the one to make the decision, compliments his arc with precision and highlights the storytelling at hand.
Show runner Craig DiGregorio penned “The Dark One” and it’s further evidence that the veteran producer and writer knows what he’s doing with Ash Vs. Evil Dead. In just under 34 minutes, he collates the series’ respective threads in a succinct and efficient manner, tagging back on a few nostalgic beats (Jake’s corpse) while also exorcising some of the most terrifying moments since Sam Raimi’s 1981 original (Pablo’s demonic bulimia). From beginning to end, the episode thrives from an intimidating blend of horror, action, and comedy that’s relentless and frantic for its midnight mayhem. By now, there’s a familiarity to the settings, from the living room to the woods to the fruit cellar, yet each one are all fractured by the unthinkable terror that DiGregorio and his writers have scared up—those eyeless children, for one. They’re a design straight out of a Blumhouse production, and an expected entity we likely wouldn’t shudder at in any of those films, but here? It’s alarming how they linger and wander around in this bubble.
Part of that tension stems from DiGregorio’s inclination to allow such a merciless evil. Those of you hoping to see Heather survive were probably shocked at her not-so-forgiving death. They really put her through the ringer, embellishing her compound fracture with some light slamming, an army of cockroaches, a splattering of eyeball juice, a game of human pinball, a dangerous couch surfing session, a handful of rusty nails, a reenactment of Dana Barrett’s abduction, and the ol’ Charleston Chew. Whereas it’s a total romp watching Ash split Fisher in half, thanks to the top-notch one-liners he’s tendered (“Wow, I dumped you at just the right time”), the torturing Heather endures is downright sickening. It’s a ruthless reminder that the stakes are never too high or too low in this world, and the grim horror is always just a shade behind the carnal comedy. We laugh, we shake our heads, at times we scream.
It takes a mighty pair of capable eyes to oscillate maniacally between those feelings, and longtime TV director Rick Jacobson delivers with aplomb. He’s the fifth man behind the camera for this series following Raimi’s pilot and by far his truest successor. Similar to Michael Hurst, Jacobson’s resume also includes work on Renaissance’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, so it’s understandable how he’s able to match most, if not all, of Raimi’s techniques. Yet Jacobson upgrades several of this episode’s memorable sequences with a variety of unique motifs: the 90-degree shift from Kelly down into the fruit cellar; the back-and-forth POV shots between Ash and his eyeless (and mouthy) foe; and the demon’s clever use of the flashlight. There’s also a splendid conjuring of sounds; at one point, we hear lightning, Knowby’s dusty incantations, Heather’s screaming, and Kelly’s axe work.
In any other episode, those stylistic choices might seem pointedly exhausting, but given that “The Dark One” is a season finale, such escalation is essential. Again, the noose is tighter than ever in this chapter, trumping any of the final showdowns we’ve seen in The Evil Dead trilogy. The only reprieve comes from the minor bouts of humor that Ash affords from time to time—though, even he’s stunned at all the chaos going down. “That’s a fucking shotgun, kid,” he hilariously emphasizes to one demon child during a testy showdown. It’s a funny scenario, but the harsh realization that he has to double-barrel his way through this cherubic entity is a sobering moment, to say the least. In fact, Ash hesitates a number of times throughout the half-hour, either from Ruby’s temptations or the unlikely evils that are tossed his way. When he observes Pablo’s insufferable purging, he struggles to muster up the observational joke. “That’s why I didn’t have kids,” he wheezes out, sounding as if he’s about to lose his lunch.
For two months, Ash Vs. Evil Dead has served as a Saturday night rock ‘n’ rollercoaster, often coasting by on Bruce Campbell’s physical and comical prowess. “The Dark One” capitalizes on those strengths, but it also confidently champions everything else this series has to offer, namely its ensemble cast. There’s something vaguely meta about Ash’s climactic choice, how we’re right there with him, readily willing to gamble on the entire world for two new characters. We understand and maybe even applaud his course of action because we’re not ready to let go of Pablo and Kelly, either. Isn’t that an interesting and reassuring twist? Let’s not forget that we were initially sold on the title of the series alone—Ash and the Evil Dead—and most of us only tuned in to see what was promised: more of our chainsawing Lothario. Now, we’d be willing to petition NECA to carve out Pablo and Kelly action figures. Or statues. Whatever you call them!
When you think back to the origins of The Evil Dead, and how the entire production spawned from a group of college buddies working off a shoestring budget, it’s just unbelievable to see how far this series has come along. It wasn’t long ago that Ash’s extracurricular activities were relegated to the final two minutes of Army of Darkness, or the piles of comics that ludicrously paired him up with everyone from Darkman to Freddy Krueger to Re-Animator. No, there’s been some magnificent world-building as of late, and it goes way beyond whatever Evil Dead 4 could have mustered up—actually, it goes way beyond any similar retro mining as of late. In this stale Fan Fiction Era, where audiences are taken back to Jurassic Park, told to run from T-1000s again, and tasked to blow up another Death Star, Ash Vs. Evil Dead has been a handful of sugar, a guaranteed slice of ballistic, irreverent entertainment. So, when Pablo insists, “You have no idea what’s out there,” we should simply lean back, smile, and wait.
Good fishin’, that’s what’s out there.
- Fun fact: The original trilogy clocks in at around 260 minutes, which varies depending on which cut of Army of Darkness you watch, and now we have a hearty 312 minutes to add. Get that grin off your face, dammit!
- Fisher: “Pucker up and gimme a kiss.” Ash: “Fat fucking chance.” Me: Dead.
- Well, that mid-air split pretty much guarantees that Jill Marie Jones is gone for good, barring any flashbacks. She was cruelly underwritten, sure, but she did wind up being this season’s Top Deadite. That voice alone.
- Same goes for “other girl” Samara Weaving. What a sport. Another dental hygienist taken from us too young. Bummer.
- “That lady has my book, and she has my Pablo.” Ash’s admiration for his sidekick is all sorts of adorable. Speaking of which, do you think the Pedro flub later on was a goof they left in? It seemed so random.
- Don’t expect to find The Godfather on Ash’s Amazon Wishlist. He’s more of a Death Wish kind of guy, and thinks Francis Ford Coppola’s epic is “too long and boring and not enough boobies.”
- We can’t close out this season without commending Lucy Lawless on her excellent work as the threatening yin to Ash’s yang. She ate up every scene throughout the season, but she shined on this final episode as the devilish equivalent to Catherine Tramell. She even had the outfit:
- The same goes for Ray Santiago and Dana DeLorenzo. Both punched in their most physically demanding performances to date. The former reached Brundlefly-levels of grotesqueness, while the latter collected a handful of rainy icebreakers for any future encounter with John Cusack. Their agents should be fielding offers to them by the dozen.
- Anyone else cheer when Ash’s sleeve was torn off? That was a moment.
- Can we take a moment and give a standing ovation to music supervisor Janine Scalise? From Alice Cooper to Deep Purple, PJ Harvey to The Stooges, Bill Withers to Whitesnake, the soundtrack has been nothing short of spectacular. I’ve been on such a ‘70s kick because of it.
- So, what can we expect from season two? Well, before Ash went “Back in Black”, an emergency broadcast warned listeners to stay in their homes due to massive sinkholes all over the city. That suggests a rather post-apocalyptic, Romero-esque setting, which should provide quite a sandbox for the writers to play in this year. Eat your heart out, The Walking Dead.
- Thank you everyone for reading this season. Much like you, I’ve been a longtime fan of the franchise, and it’s been an absolute honor writing for you. To be honest, it’s going to be sad not having this to look forward to each week, but hey, there’s always next season. Here’s to a groovy 2016!