Sunday, July 29, 2018

Ash vs. Evil Dead - The Mettle of Man

Ash has left the building.

A couple days before the ninth episode of the television series Ash vs. Evil Dead aired on Starz, fans got the sad news that the network had chosen not to renew the show for a fourth season. Before the season / series finale 'The Mettle of Man' hit the airwaves, fans got even sadder news: not only was Ash vs. Evil Dead coming to an end, but 'The Mettle of Man' would also be the last time we would ever see star Bruce Campbell in the role of Evil Dead franchise hero Ash Williams. After playing the character in three films (Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness) and three seasons of TV over the course of thirty-nine years (not to mention the times he voiced the character for video games), Campbell formally retired from the role - dashing any hopes of the series either getting picked up by another network or getting a feature follow-up. The days of Ash are over.

Knowing it would be the last time I would get to see new Ash action, I held off on watching 'The Mettle of Man' for a while, but I eventually brought myself to watch it. I had to see how the story of Ash was going to reach its premature end (premature because everyone involved was ready to move forward with a fourth season if Starz had given the green light).

All Hell has literally broken loose as the episode begins. The demonic Dark Ones, the creators of the Book of the Dead, have escaped from the Deadlands into our world and are wreaking so much havoc in Elk Grove, Michigan that the governor has declared martial law. The streets fill with Deadites and soldiers... and the biggest Deadite in Evil Dead history - Kandar the Destroyer - is stomping through the area like a kaiju straight out of a Godzilla movie. It even breathes fire like one. Although this wasn't intended to be the end of the series, this is a resolution of sorts to everything we've seen before. As Ash's loyal sidekick Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago) says, the arrival of Kandar is the culmination of the prophecies in the Book of the Dead. This is the final test of the Chosen One. And he may be very reluctant to live up to the title, but Ash is the Chosen One. It's his duty to save the world from the forces of evil.

Ash being Ash, he takes his sweet time accepting his destiny, trying to go into hiding and hoping that Kandar will just go away. As the demon outbreak spreads around the globe, Ash starts chugging beer and hitting a homemade bong. It takes a pep talk from his recently discovered teenage daughter Brandy Barr (Arielle Carver-O'Neill) to get him to face up to what he has to do. After she helps him stand up from his recliner.

'The Mettle of Man' moves at a breakneck pace, packing a lot of action into its 29 minutes while also working to bring storylines to a satisfactory conclusion. It has to show that Ash and Brandy have truly bonded as father and daughter, and that Ash's offspring can now handle herself quite well against demonic adversaries; it has to give Pablo some heroic action; it has to revive Pablo's fellow sidekick Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo) and bring some closure to the Pablo / Kelly "will they or won't they?" scenario; and it has to make sure Ash goes out in an honorable way.

Written and directed by Rick Jacobson, who also wrote and directed the previous episode after directing the season one episode 'The Dark One' and the season two episodes 'Home', 'Home Again', and 'Second Coming', the finale accomplishes all of those things.

As heartbreaking as it is to know that we won't be seeing Ash again, 'The Mettle of Man' really is a perfect ending for his character and his supporting characters on this show. Everyone is left in a good place, and Ash gains the determination to live up to who the Book of the Dead has always said he is. In the midst of all this, there's even a great callback to the first Evil Dead film.

Of course, nothing ever goes smoothly for Ash, and his heroic world-saving act doesn't just simply save the world. Instead, it leads into a set-up for the fourth season we'll never get; a season that would have been set in a post-apocalyptic future, with Ash riding around in his Oldsmobile, now a customized war machine, with an attractive cyborg named Lexx (Jessica Green) riding shotgun. This isn't the first time the franchise has tried to put Ash into a post-apocalyptic future. An alternate ending to Army of Darkness would have done the same thing... I guess we just weren't meant to see the adventures of Ash in the future outside of the pages of comic books, where this idea has been explored.

I would have happily tuned in for another season of Ash vs. Evil Dead, and for more seasons beyond that, but a post-apocalyptic setting wouldn't have been an ideal one for me. I can accept not going further into that. And while I wish the show had a more definitive ending (why couldn't Ash have just been fully successful for once?), I love the final moment the set-up for the never-to-exist fourth season builds up to: Ash, after waking up in the future alive and well and ready to keep on fighting, is asked how he feels. His answer? "Groovy."

The last line Bruce Campbell ever speaks as Ash Williams is "Groovy." It couldn't be more perfect.

If Campbell ever decides to reverse his retirement and strap Ash's chainsaw prosthetic back on for another Evil Dead project, I'm certainly not going to complain. But if this truly is the end, 'The Mettle of Man' is a spectacular episode that takes things out on a wonderful note.

I'm grateful to Campbell, Raimi, Tapert, and everyone else who was involved with the making of Ash vs. Evil Dead and the Evil Dead films for providing us with so much entertainment. I'm thankful for every minute of Ash Williams we've gotten over the years, and I'm going to be going back to these things and rewatching them again and again for a long time to come... maybe I'll even be watching them in a post-apocalyptic future inhabited by attractive cyborgs.

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