This is the way the season ends: not with a bang but a road trip. After nine-plus installments of ever-escalating mayhem — Deadites, demons, drug trips, and enough fake blood to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool — Ash J. Williams finally stood face to face with the (literal) author of all his troubles, Ruby. But instead of blowing her brains out or sawing her head off, he … accepted gas money for Jacksonville? Yes, the show’s first-season finale — entitled “The Dark One” — ended with its hero cutting a deal and hitting the road, rocking out to AC/DC while the Earth quietly collapses behind him. Who’d have thought that this perpetually cranked-to-11 series would sign off on a quiet note? Who knew it even had quiet notes? On a show like this, restraint is the most shocking thing of all.
Which is not to say it wanted for competition in the shock department. Until its final minutes, this swan song was cut from the same can-you-top-this cloth as its predecessors. For starters, it polished off Heather, the endearing Aussie hiker who hooked up with the gang last episode, with some of its most gruesome visuals yet. It seemed that the aspiring dental hygienist might make it through — she was trading one-liners with Kelly and Ash like a pro, setting up jokes about her poor chances for survival. When the evil began its attack, her separation from locked-out–of-the-cabin cohort was treated like a dangerous but surmountable obstacle.
But after all that head-faking, Heather had a sofa dropped on her leg’s exposed bone shard, nails driven through her face and foot, and was finally torn completely to pieces; our last glimpse of her is of Kelly weakly punting her severed head. Once again, AvED proved that the best approach toward supporting characters is treating them the way Ash treats his hand: Don’t get too attached.
The rest of the crew has their hands full too. With the Necronomicon’s cover plastered to his face, Pablo is being used by Ruby as a human birth canal, vomiting her deeply creepy demonic offspring into the world. They emerge from his mouth like grubs as the series’ single most frightening creature design yet: bald, filth-covered albino children with jagged teeth and black holes where their eyes should be. Sometimes they pop up when you least expect them, providing the show’s jumpiest jump scares to date. Other times they stand there, staring forward with those unnerving empty eye sockets, practically daring you to keep looking until you have to look away. Occasionally, you just seem them skittering through the background and wait for an attack that never comes. Apparently they’ve got other destinations in mind — Season Two, for example.
One of them doesn’t make it, though: In the episode’s most memorable moment of gore, Ash jams his shotgun down the creature’s throat, hoists it into the air, and blows its body clean off, leaving the skull stuck on the barrels and its blood, or whatever that viscous fluid is, all over El Jefe’s face. The overall effect is like Rambo fighting the kid from The Grudge, a collision of elements it’s impossible to imagine in any other horror show on TV right now.
Still, the biggest surprise before is that defiantly anticlimactic ending. Anyone hoping for a knock-down drag-out fight between Ash and Ruby, let alone him and the forces she controls, is outta luck. (Save it for your Bruce Campbell/Lucy Lawless fanfic.) What you’ve got instead is an exhausted middle-aged man who wants to save his own ass, keep his friends from getting killed, and give up the fight to go live the good life down in Jacksonville. Ruby talks a good game, claiming her goal isn’t the apocalypse but its opposite — an orderly world in which evil coexists with good under her command. That’s part of why Ash takes the deal, sure. But the real reason goes back to what Kelly said about him last episode: He always takes the easy way out if given the chance.
Maybe that’s what explains the character’s enduring appeal. Campbell, of course, is Exhibits A, B, and C in the case of Evil Dead‘s lasting legacy. But Ash isn’t just the cartoon character he comes across as. He often makes decisions that aren’t just stupid, but shitty — something action-horror-comedy hybrid heroes are rarely permitted. His carelessness with the Necronomicon is what got everyone into this mess, and his willingness to fob it off on anyone, even Ruby, appears to have brought on Armageddon. In the end, he saves his friends and hightails it out of there, leaving the entire world to its fate; he gets to the finish line and immediately hooks left. It’s not how heroes, even funny ones, are supposed to act. It’s not how stories like this are supposed to work, but Ash vs. Evil Dead never claimed that it would play by the rules. It’s too crazy and confident to be anything but its own groovy self.
Previously: The Dismemberment Plan