Sunday, April 30, 2017

Ash vs. Evil Dead - Second Coming

The second season of Ash vs. Evil Dead gets a mixed-up finale.

The second season finale of Ash vs. Evil Dead is the point at which the TV series continuation of the Evil Dead films branches off down a different path than the one it had been on, leaving showrunner Craig DiGregorio and his intentions for the series behind. DiGregorio will not be working on the upcoming third season, he's being replaced as showrunner by My Name Is Bruce / Timecop writer Mark Verheiden, and while the first nineteen episodes of the show represent DiGregorio's vision, more or less, this twentieth episode does not.

DiGregorio always planned to introduce time travel into the mix at the end of the second season. He was going to send our hero Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) and his companions Pablo (Ray Santiago), Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo), and Ruby (Lucy Lawless) back to 1982, now officially the year The Evil Dead was set in, and steal the Necronomicon Ex Mortis, the Book of the Dead, from that isolated cabin in the woods before '82 Ash and his '82 companions could arrive, find the book, and kick off the events of the Evil Dead franchise. He had considered doing some Back to the Future Part II sort of shenanigans, with modern Ash and '82 Ash making their way around the same location at the same time, but since the show doesn't have a Robert Zemeckis budget that didn't seem possible. However, DiGregorio, his writers, and director Rick Jacobson (who also directed the episodes 'The Dark One', 'Home', and 'Home Again') did manage to work in some great callbacks to The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, including getting Ted Raimi to reprise the role of possessed old lady Henrietta, wife of the professor who brought the Necronomicon to the cabin in the first place.

The first 10 of the finale's 33 minutes reflect a lot of what DiGregorio wanted to accomplish with this episode. Ash and Henrietta have a battle to the death, and it's a wonderful sight to behold, these characters fighting again thirty years later. The fight goes as well for Henrietta as their fight in Evil Dead II did, Ash and his companions get the Necronomicon and the events of the Evil Dead franchise to this point are wiped out - Ash even gets his severed right hand back. Pablo rises from the dead, but unfortunately Ruby encounters the more evil 1982 version of herself, who kills her when she hears the things Ruby has helped Ash and his sidekicks do during this season. Now the only Ruby is an evil Ruby again.

The changes begin when Ash and Pablo start to leave the woods in Ash's Oldsmobile. The guys were supposed to be heading into Elk's Grove, Michigan, where Ash wanted to catch up with his father - and hopefully find out the secret his dad wasn't able to reveal before getting killed back in the 'Last Call' episode. That's not what happens in the finale that aired. Ash and Pablo don't get out of the woods at this point in the episode. Instead, the resurrected Pablo peels off his face to reveal that he is actually the demon Baal (Joel Tobeck). The happiness that comes with the return of Pablo has quickly been taken away.

Ash and Kelly are then trapped in the cabin by Baal and Ruby, and we get a repeat of things seen in the season one finale. Ruby's monstrous offspring being brought into our world, Ash making deals with demonic characters. In this case, Ash challenges Baal to a fistfight, for which Baal will need to set aside his supernatural powers. If Ash wins, Pablo will be brought back from the netherworld and the evil characters will be exiled from our world. If Baal wins, Ruby will bring about the apocalypse and Kelly will be devoured by her evil children.

It's an utterly ridiculous deal, and of course the demons don't stick to the rules of the agreement, so not only does Ash have a fist fight with Baal, and not only does that turn into a chainsaw fight, but Ash is also presented with violent visions of lost family and friends. His father Brock (Lee Majors), his sister Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), his buddy Chet (Ted Raimi again). It's like a "greatest hits" of season two characters.

None of this was supposed to happen. Everything after that scene in the Oldsmobile is the result of an eleventh hour course change that writer Luke Kalteux (who has also written for the Daredevil series on Netflix) and Jacobson had to try to translate to the screen.

As originally planned, Ash and Pablo were supposed to make it to Elk's Grove. They wouldn't meet up with '82 Brock, but Ash would end up charming his way into having unprotected sex with an unhappy woman in a bar. The result of that tryst? Suddenly Ash has become Kelly's father, because that unhappy woman was her mother Suzy Maxwell (who was played by Mimi Rogers in the season one episode 'Bait').

In DiGregorio's mind, the whole season was building up to the time travel twist that Ash becomes Kelly's father (somehow without altering the character too much, or changing her looks). That's why Kelly was gradually becoming more and more badass as the season went on, because she was going to become the child of the Chosen One.

The "Kelly becomes Ash's daughter" story didn't end up making it into the show because DiGregorio had to run his ideas past the three men who hold the rights to the Evil Dead franchise: Campbell, franchise creator Sam Raimi, and franchise producer Robert Tapert. In an interview with A.V. Club, DiGregorio said that he and Tapert would frequently butt heads over what was and wasn't fitting for Evil Dead. They would always work things out, but it wasn't until the season two finale and Tapert's dislike of the idea of making Kelly Ash's daughter that plans had to be substantially altered, resulting in a negatively compromised episode. This led to DiGregorio's departure from the show.

Personally, I'm fine with the parentage angle having been abandoned, I have no need for Ash and Kelly to be related and the idea that having his genes wouldn't make her a different person is a bit too silly for my taste. But just because I'm fine with the original story not playing out doesn't mean I'm fine with the episode that replaced it.

In the end, evil is thwarted, even though it costs Ash his hand again to defeat the demons, and the cabin is destroyed before '82 Ash can ever get there... And then we get a final scene that makes absolutely no sense and renders the whole journey through time completely pointless. Returning to his home town of Elk's Grove, Michigan in present today, Ash is greeted as a hero. The townspeople have realized that he isn't a psycho killer, as they thought before, but instead a demon-killing badass. But the events of the Evil Dead films and the series up to this point have been wiped out. The townspeople should have no memory of anything demonic ever happening, because it didn't. Also, Ash's friends and family should have been brought back to life, just like Pablo has been. But Brock, Cheryl, Chet, and everyone else who has ever died in the Evil Dead series remains dead. The show has suddenly forgotten what Ash just accomplished. For disregarding the changes that have been made to the past, this last scene is frustratingly mind-boggling. It really brings the whole episode crashing down.

This last scene is also one of the happiest and most triumphant scenes in Evil Dead history. Ash has won and things are all good... Except for people being dead who shouldn't still be dead... The closest the series has ever gotten to the level of jubilation on display here is the post-battle celebration in Army of Darkness. Things went terribly wrong after that celebration in the original version of the film, but things went okay for Ash in the canon theatrical version, aside from the fact that he had to gun down a random Deadite in the S-Mart store he was working in. Instead of a random Deadite, here we just see that Ruby is lurking in the crowd. And that's that. As this finale comes to an end, it leaves the writers a rather blank slate to work with when crafting season three.

DiGregorio's finale would have ended on a cliffhanger, with Kelly in the clutches of Ruby and Baal. There was a very specific direction to go in for the next season. But the show is headed in a different direction now. The story of Ash vs. Evil Dead to this point has reached a conclusion, and next time they can start from scratch.

The last scene of this finale stirs up some worry, but I'll be tuning in for season three regardless. There's no way I won't be watching Ash vs. Evil Dead when it returns to the airwaves.

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