If there’s one takeaway to be had from the second season of Ash Vs. Evil Dead, it’s how the show has chewed on genre tropes like a family of five at a rib house in Reno, Nevada. For nine straight episodes, the Ghost Beaters have conquered the franchise’s titular darkness at abandoned factories, dark morgues, sleazy bars, demolition derbies, haunted houses, desolate mental hospitals, and, yes, creaky cabins. They‘ve fought, they’ve partied, they’ve … time traveled. It’s often been very out of this world, but that’s always been the luxury of this series, and one they’ve capitalized on with, as I stated last week, “a healthy mix of clever writing, crude gags, lovable characters, jaw-dropping physical comedy, imaginative set pieces, and simple nostalgia.” More importantly, the screwball horror and action has long felt as if its building towards something substantial—-like some kind of sobering realization.

But, you’ve heard this mumbo jumbo before. All season. From me.

Sadly, “Second Coming” recklessly plows through that magic, splattering everything with jarring, discombobulated results. Without pause, strands of narrative logic are tossed aside for frustrating action, rickety dialogue, and speculative motives. Granted, this franchise has always been fueled by a warped fusion of breakneck pacing and unforgiving gore—cutting through characters both major and minor like a shiny new machete to a soggy old coconut—but there’s always been a structured finesse to the chaos. ”Second Coming” is like watching a sugar-rattled six-year-old playing with his sticky action figures, or even worse, a stack of questionable fan fiction that’s about as smooth as Gene Parmesan. No, thanks to some behind-the-scenes shakeups, It’s an adrenalized hack-and-slash job that moves as fast as it can in order to arrive at a clean slate for season three—and that’s hardly hyperbole, but more on that later.

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For now, let’s talk about the actual story: Picking up where “Home Again” left off, the second season finale swiftly kills off Professor Knowby and his student Tanya, opting to shimmy right into the much-hyped battle between Ash and Ted Raimi’s Henrietta. Save for some achingly disgusting nipple action, the match up is rather uninspiring and short-lived, namely because the episode has far too much else to tackle. There’s a younger, villainous Ruby, who’s disgusted by her future self. There’s the rebirth of her demon children, who admittedly do some pretty nifty things up on the cabin ceiling. And yes, there’s the return of Baal, who’s back to his rock star Randall Flagg ways. That’s not all, though; the twisted family reunion continues when Baal, similar to the T-1000 at the end of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, tosses out a few familiar faces (see: Chet, Cheryl, Brock) during his mindless and meandering “mano a mano” royal rumble with Ash. Eventually, bargains are made, twists ensue, and it all ends with a Spider-Man 3-esque parade featuring three nodding Jedi ghosts…

If ”Second Coming” tries out any type of convention, it’s this: The Shakeup. Very rare has an episode felt so plagued by its hush-hush drama behind the camera. In other words, if you didn’t know that showrunner Craig DiGregorio left the series last month, then this episode likely clued you in. As he explains in our post-finale Q&A, there were some major creative differences with executive producer Robert Tapert over the finale, which resulted in an entirely new story. Not surprisingly, that conflict rears its ugly head here and explains why so much of it feels hollow and often relies on a number of all-too-perfunctory setups. Pablo’s corpse serving as the vessel for Baal? All too easy. The moronic blood oath between Ash and Baal? Clown shoes. Ash drowning his father Brock until, for some reason, he dissolves into a chainsaw? Dumb. A dual chainsaw fight? Gimme a break. Even worse is when the entire cabin predictably catches on fire and starts imploding like something straight out of the very Hollywood fodder this show has ingenuously subverted. It’s a damn shame.

Fortunately, the scenes between Kelly and Ruby are the episode’s saving grace, even if the two are arguably marginalized amid the patchy storytelling. “You know what to do, you go forge that path, alright,” Ruby says to Kelly, acting all maternalistic before dying. It’s a nice, dramatic reference to a short conversation they had during their not-so-pleasant walk in the woods last week, and yet, it’s not the last one involving Ms. Maxwell. Later, Ruby’s younger, sinister self takes things back to this season’s first episode by recalling Kelly’s quick, watery possession in the sewer. “What are you doing with Ash,” she asks her. “You’re stronger than him. Why be a follower when you could be a leader?” This callback is a little more of a stretch, all things considered, but it hits harder, especially when you realize how aligned the two characters have been all along. Because when you actually think about Ash’s dubious gamble with Baal—“an apocalypse and a side of Kelly for the kids”—it’s hard to argue with an angry Ruby when she hypnotically tells Kelly: “They’ve shown us how little they think we matter.”

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So, what now? Judging from Ruby’s appearance at the end, it’s quite clear that Ash, Kelly, and Pablo have once again been relegated to some sort of fantasy realm akin to Jacksonville, Florida. The only difference is that Ruby is unlikely to yank them out of their bubble this time around, which means we could be in for some trippy adventures in the near future. Maybe. Though, as we learned this past season, Ash is no fool and already he’s a little suspicious of the raving fanfare. “All of this? It’s just … so perfect. I never expected any of this,” he tells Linda. “Well, you deserve this,” she says. “You’ve done your part. Now, you can live a normal life. This time, you relax and do whatever you want.” Of course, Ash has the final line: “Whatever I want? Well, I want some sugar.” Ultimately, it’s his own ego that may doom him for the time being, and that’s something Ruby knows and will surely use to her advantage.

But who knows. Battlestar Galactica and Daredevil producer Mark Verheiden, who also has strong ties to the Evil Dead franchise (he wrote the original film’s comic book adaptation for Dark Horse), will serve as the new showrunner and it’s too early to tell what changes he’ll bring for the show. “We don’t want to repeat ourselves,” he recently explained to JoBlo. “It’s all the same characters, but we’re exploring different ways they can interact, maybe introducing a new character or two into the mix, and challenging them in sort of different ways. But it will still be Evil Dead, it will still be Ash doing his chainsaw-swinging action. Those parts are still very active. I think the big thing is we don’t want to do seasons one or two again, we want to be sure that the new season seems fresh, that we’re opening up the mythology a little bit and opening the characters up a little bit more, but never losing that Evil Dead flavor.”

Groovy? We’ll have to wait and see. Though, that last line about the mythology and the characters is a little baffling considering that, up until this episode, the show had been doing just that. Hell, “Home Again” was even materializing into an inventive Evil Dead prequel-of-sorts, one that could have led to some very intriguing mythology for the franchise and pushed the characters into scenarios that were far more compelling than the rote nonsense that “Second Coming” offers. Still, it would be unfair to dismiss everything that came before this episode. Ash Vs. Evil Dead has been an absolute joy this season, an ideal escape from a dismal year that’s been smeared with bitter disappointment, and it would be downright idiotic to think that the show won’t bounce back from this. So, while DiGregorio’s departure doesn’t exactly leave us jamming out to AC/DC like last year, we must not forget that Campbell’s our true king to hail.

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Stray observations

  • Not only is Ash the town hero, but he also doesn’t owe Ruby $200.
  • Ruby: “I’m not dead, you dumb bastard.” Very funny moment.
  • Ash: “Brand, spanking new hand. Or, brand new spanking hand?” Great line for such a pointless addition to the story. The little things!
  • Someone needs to edit Back to the Future with Kelly’s titular line: “I hate to be a buzz kill, but we kind of need to get back to the future…”

  • Gotta love Ash’s reaction to Baal’s return: “Bill?!”
  • Anyone else thrown off by a few of Ash’s lines in this episode? The whole “Fuck you!” and “Game over!” sign-off seemed way out of character and more fitting of a teenager going nuts after beating Halo 3.
  • Ash Going Full Indy: “How the hell should I know? I’m making this up.”
  • The way the multiple piano hammers hit Ash’s face was an admirable reference to Army Of Darkness.
  • This season’s Top Deadite goes to the one who started it all: Cheryl Williams. Even though Ellen Sandweiss was crudely shoehorned into this episode, it was still a joy to see her again.
  • Needless to say, Town Hero Ashley J. Williams is no President Andrew Shepherd when it comes to making positive, bi-partisan speeches.
  • Oddly enough, the ending does play into the whole #Ash4President hashtag campaign that was trending during our own election. It’s hard not to laugh a little at that unlikely coincidence.
  • Food for thought: Who do you think took the book?
  • Well, that was a disappointing way to end an incredible 10-week run with you all. Considering we got lucky this year, who knows if we’ll be back to doing weekly episodes in 2017. With that in mind, I leave you with that great quote from Shawshank: “I hope I can make it to another week-to-week. I hope to see my friends and comment on their comments. I hope the third season is as great as it has been in my dreams. I hope.” See you on the flip-flop. Or Twitter. Whatever works.

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