Star Wars: The Force Awakens just came out this past Friday, so you’re probably sick to death of seeing the word “spoilers” bumped around on the Internet like a pop culture volleyball. That being said, it applies very much to Ash vs. Evil Dead’s most recent episode, which ends with a nasty shocker that can be most accurately described as “a very big deal.” (If you’re the smug type and an Evil Dead know it all, you might also adjoin that with “nyah, nyah, told you so.”) People simply do not die on this show. Correction: they do, but if you’re a person on Ash vs. Evil Dead and you die, it’s only because you are either a bystander who is irrelevant to the plot, or a Deadite. In some cases, you might be both.
So the fact that “Ashes to Ashes” concludes on an overhead shot of Jill Marie Jones’ impaled, dead, deceased, murdered body means that the game has changed. Sam Raimi has flipped the George R.R. Martin switch. He has whacked a member of the primary cast. This is sort of disappointing, purely from an entertainment perspective; things were just starting to heat up between Amanda and Ash, and Jones has proven that she’s tough as nails nearly every time she gets caught between the Ghost Beaters and a Deadite. “El Jefe” saw her blowing away not one, but two demonically possessed unfortunates within the passage of a few measly minutes. She is—was—an ass-kicker, and for a moment there she looked like one of its fresher cornerstones, too.
Watching her shuffle off her mortal coil, then, is nothing short of a big ol’ letdown, but it’s the kind of letdown that validates Raimi’s creative instincts. The jaw-dropping jolt of seeing Amanda die at the hands of Evil Ash 2.0 means that she did her job as a character, and also that Jones did her job as an actress. We cared about her. Thus, her death has some measure of meaning for us. It is absolutely a shame to see Jones go, but there’s a contrary kind of satisfaction to that—and besides, if you think we’ve seen the last of her, Raimi has a flesh-bound tome he’d like to sell you.
Remember: we’re in Deadite territory here, not just in terms of Ash vs. Evil Dead’s brand, but in terms of its new location. The series has brought us full circle and returned Ash to his old stomping (and stabbing, and sawing, and hacking, and crushing, and shooting) grounds. Industrious fans have probably been following the story’s Evil Dead trajectory since the premiere, and in doing so noted that the further things progressed, the closer they came to adopting the video nasty/spook-a-blast qualities of both Evil Dead and Evil Dead II. Equally notable is that along that journey, the roundly humorous bent of Army of Darkness has been shunted to the side. Yes, Ash vs. Evil Dead is funny. Yes, it’s splatsticky. No, it’s nothing at all like Army of Darkness, which is by far the softest film in the franchise, the entry that’s obsessed by cheeky humor instead of gory, inventive terror.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Army of Darkness is a great film and, depending on who you ask (say, yours truly, for instance), it’s the best of the Evil Dead flicks by a hair. But that movie is fundamentally different from its predecessors, both of which Ash vs. Evil Dead has chosen to more closely emulate in terms of violence and terror. Case in point—the cabin, which is just as immediately creepy as ever, mostly because it hasn’t had a proper cleaning in a few decades and change. Foreboding floods over us the moment that Ash and Amanda set foot inside that decrepit old place. You almost wonder why they bothered to make the trek here to begin with; “Books from Beyond” and “Brujo” both made the case that Ash can only end the reign of evil by going back to where it all started, if a bit loosely, but strictly speaking we know that this is the way things have to be.
That doesn’t stop their trip to the cabin from feeling like the worst idea ever. At least it isn’t a trip made only in the name of fan service (à la 2013’s Evil Dead). “Ashes to Ashes” makes excellent use of the setting while running through a minor checklist of greatest hits: Linda’s head is still stuck in that vice, for example, and as mentioned before, there’s an Ash clone running around, too (though that’s an Army of Darkness nod, which feels a little odd since the show has decided to act like that movie isn’t part of the canon). Evil Ash even loses his hand, again, when Amanda lops it off with a butcher’s knife. But the homages to the past are few and far between. Ash vs. Evil Dead is much more concerned with doing its own thing than with simply repeating what works. The music, the atmosphere, the design work, the effects; all of these combine to make “Ashes to Ashes” one of the most unsettling chapters in Ash vs. Evil Dead’s first season.
And Amanda’s demise makes it one of the biggest gut punches. The Deadites aren’t playing around, and guess what? Neither is Ash vs. Evil Dead.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has contributed to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Birth.Movies.Death. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.