Will somebody get me the Ghost Beaters?
One can’t help but feel like Ghostbusters’ Mayor Lenny (David Margulies) by the end of “Judgement Day.” Just as Pablo (Ray Santiago) predicted, shit’s gone loco: Hell has come to the little town of Elk Grove, Michigan, and the once-private war between Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) and the undead has essentially gone public. Now, everyone’s invested, whether they’d like to be or not, so much so that the governor of Michigan has even declared martial law across the state. To make matters worse, the Dark Ones have patched things up between the Necronomicon and its lost pages, and judging by this episode’s closing moments, they’re apparently huge fans of Cloverfield.
Here’s the good news: All of this actually favors Ash, who finally has the agency to do his own thing without anyone calling him names like Ashy Slashy. (Or, you know, arresting him?) No, this is his Big Hero Moment, the same one that fell into the laps of Venkman, Spengler, Stanz, and Zeddemore at the end of both Ghosbusters movies. At this point, there’s no Walter Peck or Jack Hardemeyer standing in his way, and there’s literally no one else to convince; there’s only what needs to be done. That’s an ideal place to be standing ahead of what’s officially now the series finale, which is why “Judgement Day” is more or less an effective penultimate episode. Still, things could be groovier.
Director Rick Jacobson returns behind the camera for the first time all season, lensing both this episode and next week’s “The Mettle of Man.” This isn’t surprising, seeing how he’s handled the last two finales. (Yes, even that one.) What’s surprising is that he also wrote the two episodes, a task he’s never assumed throughout the entire series’ run. In fact, with the exception of Sam Raimi, not a single one of the show’s directors have been given the sole writing credit for any of the episodes. So, it’s a curious move, particularly given the importance of these last two episodes, and especially since they were designed to close out the series in the event Starz didn’t come calling again.
For the most part, it’s a move that works. Jacobson wraps up a number of loose threads and cleans the slate for the final showdown that will (hopefully) expand upon the sprawling battles of Army of Darkness. He also drums up the kind of manic action and gross horror fans would want in the waning days of this franchise. (Though, if I’m being honest, I couldn’t look at the Dark Ones and not wonder if Bill Murray was looming behind them.) Instead, the problem lies in the episode’s clunky, expository dialogue, namely how everyone sounds a little like Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China, pondering aloud to keep ushering along the narrative—and that only works if you’re Kurt Russell.
That’s not to suggest that Ash Vs. Evil Dead has a history of nuanced dialogue, but there’s traditionally been a jazzy cadence that’s missing here. Much of this has to do with the issues at large this season: there’s too much going on and too much yet to wrap up. This is why any exchanges between Ruby (Lucy Lawless) and Kaya (Dana DeLorenzo) strictly illustrate everything they’re doing at that given moment. Or why Pablo has to run around Elk Grove and play messenger like an El Brujo Expositional. Jacobson is briskly cleaning up a messy house like Cruise in Risky Business. Even so, that doesn’t give him a pass on the tone-deaf one-liners he’s tasked Ash (“Poor Ruby! I’m melting! Fuck off bitch!”), or Ruby (“Never bet against the house!”), or Brandy (“You want me? I’m Ashy Slashy’s daughter. Come get some!”). Christ, those are embarrassing.
They’re also eerily familiar to the flavorless one-liners from last season’s finale, which is a little disconcerting. To be clear, “Judgment Day” is a far, far cry from that Hail Mary lunacy, but there are similarities. Both episodes feel compelled to sweep past narratives in favor of the finish line and both feature shifts in the creative department. Granted, Jacobson’s first crack behind the typewriter for the series is hardly on the same level as Craig DiGregorio’s 25th hour departure, but it’s admittedly weird to see such little collaboration on what is arguably now the ending to the Evil Dead franchise. Then again, hindsight is 20/20, and now that we know it’s officially over, anyone could say anything, like, “Why didn’t Sam Raimi come back?” or “Why wasn’t Ivan at least involved?”
Either of those alternatives would have been preferable, especially given how monumental these episodes will wind up being in the long run, but neither would have been able to smooth the wrinkles. Truth be told, “Judgement Day” does everything it can at this point in the series ... and that’s a lot. Sure, the proverbial fat lady has yet to sing her proverbial closing song, but it’s safe to say the third season has been one long attempt to save face from everything that went down last season. Jacobson, to his credit, fills in the remaining cracks with enough imaginative sequences to keep the momentum going. That cell phone bit with Brandy is one such example. While it lacks a certain whimsical punch, you can’t fault the guy for at least trying something different.
Looking back, different has been a fairly good look for the third season. Not all of it’s landed—see: that ludicrous Stranger Things stinger from two weeks ago—but most of it’s been entertaining. “Judgement Day” keeps that trend alive by tinkering with all sorts of disturbing oddities, from the unforgiving body horror brought upon Zoë (Emilia Burns) to the Drag Me to Hell-style wrath of the Dark Ones to Brandy’s aforementioned cellular scuttle. None of these additions absolve the season from its bigger issues—I’ll give you a topic: Ruby’s grand scheme was entirely perfunctory by the end, discuss!—but they’re at least enjoyable distractions as the table’s being set for the grand finale.
- Anyone else feel bad for Zoë? Jesus Christ.
- I really, really love those quick establishing shots outside the Williams residence. The way Ash always quickly drives up is so cartoonish.
- Pablo: “I didn’t get a manual for being a Brujo Especial.”
- Even though it ended with disgusting yellow gunk, that moment between Ash and Brandy was surprisingly effective and sincere.
- Legit chills when Brandy saw the Deadite staring at her from across the street. Who knew they could act like Michael Myers?
- Brandy’s marathon run through the house proves she’s far more resourceful than her father was years ago. Ash turned around, Brandy jumped right out the goddamn window.
- To paraphrase Patrick Bateman, “Relief washes over me in an awesome wave when it’s revealed that Brandy didn’t actually chop her hand off.”
- This week’s Top Deadite goes to that Pascow-looking bastard walking around town. Someone page Brad Greenquist.
- No doubt Ash has a replacement, but the way he cringes and cowers as Ruby destroys his chainsaw is pretty much why we love Bruce Campbell.
- Their collaboration didn’t amount to much, but at least their deaths were cool: Seeing Kaya and Ruby taken down by the Dark Ones was haunting in ways that reminds me why I hope Dante’s Inferno isn’t real.
- Anyone who’s seen the promotional poster—or better yet, the season’s official trailer—knows we’re getting something huge next week. I’ve yet to see the finale, so your guess is as good as mine. My hope, however, is that the original Ghost Beaters gets a chance to reunite and do some good.
- Kind of bizarre we only have one left. No, it hasn’t hit me yet.