And so Ash vs. Evil Dead ends just as it begins: with Ashley J. Williams making a terrible decision to satisfy his own self-interests.
Before you grab your pitchfork and rally the townsfolk to march on Ash, lend the poor bastard your compassion. He has been fighting the good fight, so to speak, against the Deadites and the evil of the Necronomicon for three decades, and in doing so relinquished any hope of enjoying a normal life. Ash and the mundane have passed each other like two ships in a horrible, horrible night. Even settling down at a trailer park in Michigan, the guy can’t escape from the traumas inflicted on him in both Evil Dead films; that damn book is with him always, just like his memories of the horrors of his past. Ash vs. Evil Dead has made a point of referencing the loss of his friends and loved ones for good reason. Being a Ghost Beater sucks.
So when he accepts Ruby’s awful deal and buys into her clearly BS proposal for controlling evil, we get it, or at least we should. Ash is tired. He’s run down. He isn’t quite over the hill yet, but he’s starting the decline from its peak; it’s amazing that he has any energy left in him to fight on for an entire season of premium cable television. Grant that he does sort of, kind of, totally love taking out Deadites—the finale of “The Killer of Killers” is gleefully violent for a reason—and that being a jefe is exactly the sort of adrenalizing ego boost that he craves. Ash is nothing if not his own biggest admirer, after all. But he’s a genuine good guy, braggart or no, and so it’s only natural that he leap at the chance to be that guy again. (It’s the least he can do, seeing as he caused this whole mess to begin with.)
Let’s step deeper into Bruce Campbell’s filmography for a second and examine Bubba Ho-Tep, where Campbell plays Elvis and fights a mummy in a Texas nursing home. (Ossie Davis plays JFK. It’s every bit as amazing as it sounds.) There’s a monologue scene where Campbell, as the King, muses about being the hero he’d always fantasized about being. It’s an affecting scene, and it rings surprisingly true in Ash vs. Evil Dead, in which Ash makes the choice to be the hero everyone else thinks he can be. That has been the character’s journey here, but when presented with the definitive hero’s choice—doom the world or shoot Pablo—he takes the coward’s way out and rides off into the sunset with an incredulous Kelly and Pablo giving him side eye from the backseat.
The choice, of course, isn’t supposed to be easy. That would defeat the point. But Ash, tempted with the promise of getting a piece of the life he abandoned thirty years ago, does the easy thing. This is great in the abstract; it means Ray Santiago will return to help kick evil’s butt in season two. In the present tense, though, it means Bad Things™ for mankind. Admittedly, there’s nothing wrong with saving Pablo’s life, and there’s no denying that until Ash intervenes and makes his accord with Ruby, everything sucks for poor Pablo, who looks like he’s trying out for the torture porn remake of The Mask. Come to that, everything sucks for Kelly, too, and everything really, really sucks for Heather (Samara Weaving), who, after surviving Deadite Fisher, ends up becoming fodder for the cabin.
But as the Ghost Beaters make their getaway from that accursed place, we realize that Ash just Ashed things up all over again. Maybe we shouldn’t blame him. Being a badass zombie-killing demon hunter isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, especially following the introduction of those horrible, screeching, child devil monster things, which provide the biggest action and scare pay-offs in “The Dark One.” We get to see Ash’s shotgun put to its best use yet, and Kelly has an intensely frightening moment in the dark where the world is lit up only by the glare of a flashlight, wielded by persons unknown as its beam comes rushing at her through the blackness. With everything Ash and his new friends have gone through, wouldn’t you want to just kick back and rest, too?
Watching Campbell arm up and venture down into the basement one last time will serve as the ultimate thrill for hardcore Evil Dead fans. With that image, Ash vs. Evil Dead comes full circle in embracing its roots. But for all of the nods to its predecessors, the series has managed to be very much its own thing, a proper amalgam of the horror-comedy Sam Raimi helped give shape to back in the 1980s. Season one comes to a close with a roundly horrific climax, though, and even if we had a lot of laughs along the way, there’s no avoiding what a down note we’re ending on. Bad news for the Ghost Beaters, but good news for us; it just means more Deadites to deal with in season two.
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.