In a way, the arc of the season feels like the pilot was dunking your head into ice water, taking it out, then submerging your entire body over the next nine episodes. We got an explosive taste of what the show would be like, followed by a season that slowly ratcheted up the extremity and frequency of gore. And suddenly seeing one of the main characters being held aloft, impaled through her gut by a chainsaw as she cackles in demonic ecstasy, is just one of like 15 crazy things you’re yelling “oh, Jesus!” at in a single episode. “The Dark One,” this season’s final episode, throws so much crazy shit at you it’s hard to even catch your breath until WHAM, suddenly we’re dropped back in the Delta 88, taking a leisurely road trip down to Jacksonville. But how did we get here?
In a chaotic flurry of action skillfully arranged by new episode director Rick Jacobson (who’s an alum of, uh ... Baywatch, among other more genre fare), we drop back in on our crew right where we left off. Evil Fisher reappears for one final showdown, resulting in the aforementioned totally badass levitating overhead chainsaw impalement. During the fray, Ruby and Pablo — who’s now partially possessed by the Necronomicon’s skin — escape to the Cellar.
Oh, the Evil Dead Cellar ... has any dark staircase ever generated as much fear or as many gruesome scares? All the achingly slow dolly shots focusing into your abyssal maw, the gruesome sounds emanating from your unseen bowels, you are truly a menacing hole. Throughout this episode, Jacobson does a fantastic job making the cabin itself evil, because in the end it is one of the series's greatest villains. Heather and Kelly “fight” the cabin while Ash is preoccupied, and in a barrage of couches and nails, Heather is eventually reduced to a gush of viscera and entrails. RIP Heather, for a moment it seemed like she was about to step up, fight back, and become a part of the Ghostbeaters, but alas she remained pretty-but-ineffectual Deadite chum. It probably wasn’t a good sign when Ash addressed them as “Kelly, ... other girl.”
Speaking of Ash, our hero suits up (remembering to re-black his grey spots) and heads into the Cellar, where he immediately gets force pushed down the stairs (gleefully employing one of my favorite effects from Evil Dead II) and lands ... straight back in the pilot, or specifically at the moment before he first reread the Necronomicon to begin with. Speaking to him in this hallucination (or maybe alternate dimension?), Ruby offers Ash the deal that forms the centerpiece of this episode: lay down his weapons and consent to her organizing all Evil under her control (ostensibly to provide order and restraint to it, a balancing yin to the all the good in the world) and she’ll end his torment give him his fantasy life in Jacksonville. (Ash postulates he has 40 more good years, Ruby is quick to adjust that down to 10.)
Ash rejects this and is tumbled back to reality, where he finds IRL Ruby using possessed Pablo to vomit up demon children. Terrible, horrifying, black-eyed demon children. Watching Bruce Campbell fight something much smaller than him is always a joy, and his struggles with these munchkins conjure some Three Stooges–inspired action gags. It’s hard to imagine any other live-action show right now having a character say “Now I’ve got you!” before doing a two-fingered eye-poke on an adversary, but AvED does it with panache. And of course, Ash washing the demon-child’s mouth out with both barrels of boomstick was another one of tonight’s ample “oh, Jesus!” moment.
So Ash finally confronts Ruby, who glances off several shotgun blasts to the gut and uses a possessed Pablo threatening Kelly’s life to once again pose the deal: Leave me with the book, and get Jacksonville (Ash: the deal is “Normal life in Jacksonville, the three of us ... and $10,000 in cash?” No deal on the cash; Ruby may be a sorceress with fantastic reality-bending powers but she’s “not a bank”). This time, almost shockingly, somewhat anticlimatically, Ash takes the deal. And just like that our heroes find themselves “safe,” back in Ash’s Oldsmobile, caravaning to the safe haven of a fish-filled retirement in Florida, AC/DC blasting on the tape deck, and demonic sinkholes opening ominously in their wake ...
So we end the first season of Ash vs. Evil Dead with the show more or less triumphant on its own terms. We’ve been reintroduced to Ash by celebrating all the bumbling machismo that made us love him in the first place but watching him learn to set aside his look-out-for-numero-uno attitude and care for others. Kelly and Pablo, while maybe not as iconically unique as their Jefe, have solidified into fun and memorable aspiring demon killers in their own right. The level of brutality has been thrillingly, hilariously high, and characters we never dreamed would eat it have indeed eaten it, creating startlingly emotional moments. And after a series of small misdirections, we’ve established a Big Bad who seems poised to ascend to the level of all-powerful Dark Enchantress.
Ash taking Ruby’s deal in the final moments was a bit of a shock and almost anticlimatic, but it gives a good sense of how far he’s come. One of Ash’s big questions was just how responsible he is for the Evil he’s been forced to flee or fight his whole life. Right now we know he feels at least responsible for his friends, not responsible for all of humanity. And honestly, sure, who is? Let those among us who haven’t accidentally recited cursed funerary rites from a book of unspeakable evil cast the first stone. But can he trust Ruby, is he really dumb enough to? (The answer, or course, is yes.) Next season perhaps we’ll watch Ash stumble backwards through his endless series of cop-outs into realizing that this time, he’s responsible for the whole world. Or at least all of Michigan.
Listen Up, Screwheads:
- I have to at least mention the roaches swarming out of Samara Weaving’s cutoffs as another particularly creepy one of those “oh, Jesus!” moments.
- Did anyone else notice the Freddy Krueger glove hanging on the wall in the cellar? A call back to a now almost 40-year-old friendly feud between Sam Raimi and Wes Craven.
- There’s been some discussion about whether Army of Darkness is canon in the Ash vs. Evil Dead universe. The picture of Ash as “the chosen one” who “showed up” in Ruby’s Necronomicon seems to imply that timeline exists, yet perhaps Ash never actually made it to the past here? Guys, I really, REALLY want Ash vs. Evil Dead to do time-travel.
- Throughout this season, I’ve kind of loved how little the show cares about blood splatter consistency? Like, Heather gets SPRAYED DOWN with blood when Fisher gets separated, then when the wall eyeball explodes and she’s sprayed down again, she’s clean. I think it helps add to the goofiness and fantasy of everything, a way to keep what could be relentlessly disturbing just a liiiiittle lighter.
- One of the best parts of this show has definitely been the soundtrack, a perfect collection of ’70s hard-rock classics. I’ve tried to assemble as much as possible in an Official Evil Dead Jukebox on Spotify. (Note this is missing two great songs: “End of the Line” by Frijid Pink and “Freakin Out” by Death, two Detroit-area bands that are unavailable on Spotify.)