While fans (including me) are still reeling from the news that Ash Vs. Evil Dead has been canceled, the show reveals its best episode this season in “Judgement Day.” Returning champion Rick Jacobsen both writes and helms the penultimate episode, bringing his deft touch to the proceedings and delivering some grade-A horror in the process. It was both a joy to watch and a punch in the gut because it came with the knowledge that there’s only one episode left of a series which has proven yet again it has a lot of life left in it.
Jacobsen hews much closer to the original spirit of the Evil Dead series, emphasizing the horror of the situation over easy one-liners and slapstick comedy. There’s still some comic relief in the episode—there always will be as long as Ash (Bruce Campbell) is there to deliver it—but Jacobsen uses those moments to release some tension instead of making the entire scenario one big joke. Getting a brief respite after seeing the horrifying torture and desecration of Zoe (Emilia Burns) and watching a bartender flay his own face is welcome.
The stakes have never been higher for Ash (Bruce Campbell) and the Ghostbeaters now that The Dark Ones have managed to cross into the living world. The stakes are equally high for Kaya (played in this episode by both Dana DeLorenzo and Chelsie Preston Crayford) and Ruby (Lucy Lawless), who must defeat The Dark Ones before The Dark Ones kill them. Nothing less than the fate of the world is in the hands of our heroes and their evil nemeses.
And what a fate it is! After The Dark Ones appear and wreck massive havoc on Elk Grove and its hapless citizens, a giant hand breaks through the ground in a scene out of Cabin in the Woods, causing Ash to let loose with the granddaddy of all curse words. The hand is massive. Whatever it’s attached to is sure to be fearsome.
However, Ash has to defeat all these new monsters without his trusty chainsaw; Ruby robbed him of it after crushing it with her bare hands when they fight as Ash tries to stop her from further demonic activity. His boomstick is still around, somewhere near his garage after Brandy (Arielle Carver-O’Neill) dropped it trying to escape the Deadite menace. He gave it to her for protection. What a good dad!
Brandy also proves to be her father’s daughter; not only does she lose a thumb to her possessed cell phone, but she wields a mean boomstick and an even meaner circular saw. Instead of cowering in fear, waiting to be possessed or killed outright, she uses every means at her disposal to keep herself alive and get back to her father so she can help him in his prophesied task of destroying evil once and for all.
Can Ash rid the world of The Dark Ones? Can he save Kelly’s soul before her body is destroyed, now that The Dark Ones have expelled Kaya from it? Can Pablo finally figure out all the powers of the Brujo Especial and help? Will time travel be involved? Will we get a direct reference to Army of Darkness now that the show is ending for good, rights be damned? For the last time (sniffle), I say to you: Stay tuned!
Previously on Ash Vs. Evil Dead: Ash (Bruce Campbell) is wanted by the police for the massacre at Brandy’s (Arielle Carver-O’Neill) high school dance. Ash recalls seeing Prof. Knowby in another realm begging to be set free, and correctly surmises Knowby was in The Rift. He also correctly surmises that he and Pablo (Ray Santiago) can rescue Brandy and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) and restore them to their own bodies. First, though, he has to die by the hand of Evil, Pablo says. Ash (with a big assist from Pablo) stabs himself with the Kandarian dagger, enters The Rift, and rounds up the souls of Brandy, Kelly, and Dalton (Lindsay Farris), who are being pursued by a rather grim reaper. Several teens from the massacre are also avoiding the reaper, whose minions grab them and drag them down to Hell. Dalton sacrifices himself so Ash, Kelly, and Brandy can get to the portal and return to the real Elk Grove. Brandy and Ash are able to get through the portal, but Kelly is blocked by a force field. Ash vows to rid the world of Ruby (Lucy Lawless) for good, and to rescue Kelly. Meanwhile, Kaya (also DeLorenzo) and Ruby capture Zoe (Emilia Burns) and plan to use to her in a scheme to defeat The Dark Ones.
“Judgement Day” opens with Zoe tied to a chair, hooked up to tubes that are siphoning her blood into a bucket. Kaya wants to leave before The Dark Ones arrive, but Ruby wants to create a new page to mask the Necronomicon from them until she can destroy them for good. She cuts a page-sized patch of skin off Zoe’s back. A weakened Zoe still attempts to escape, but is attacked by some creepy vine-looking thing and slips in a puddle of her own blood. Kaya catches Zoe and gouges her eyes out. Bloody opening credits!
Ash and Pablo bring a sick, vomiting Brandy back to Ash’s house. Brandy apologizes to Ash for getting Kelly killed, but Ash says it’s not her fault. Ash is ready to put an end to Ruby—“once and for all,” they all say in unison, but this time, Ash means it. Okay, he meant it all the other times, too, but now he’s more motivated than ever. Pablo is suddenly blinded and has a vision. His eyes are red; he can see Zoe’s dead body and Kelly/Kaya. Pablo says he can see someone else inside Kelly’s body; he realizes he is seeing through the eyes of the Necronomicon. He sees Ruby and now can hear her and Kaya, finding out that Ruby is scared of The Dark Ones. Ash tells him to go to the hardware store to make sure “The Rift is locked down tight.” Ash gives Brandy his boomstick and tells her to stay in the house, locked up for her own protection. She hugs him and says “Be careful,” then pukes on his back. Nice.
In the hardware store’s cellar, Pablo sees The Rift is already open. He touches the Sumerian writing on the wall and attempts to close The Rift with a spell, but it doesn’t work. Oh, no! Meanwhile, Ash drinks and drives his way to Ruby’s, rocking out to Deep Purple’s “Stormbringer”. “Time to die!” Ash wails along.
Three Dark Ones appear in the cellar wearing flowing, hooded robes and scaring the crap out of Pablo. Ruby also can sense their presence. One flowing monster goes up to Pablo and puts his hand straight in Pablo’s chest, then takes the missing pages of the Necronomicon from him. The three disappear, leaving Pablo to wonder why they didn’t kill him.
At the bar, the bartender is carving parts of his face off. A woman gets Deadite’d and leaps to the ceiling, attacking the other patrons. A storm is brewing outside; it starts to rain. Evil swoops right past Pablo and heads to the cemetery in a classic Evil Dead point-of-view (POV) shot. Pablo tells Elk Grove’s citizens to go back inside their houses and lock their doors. Like that will help!
At Ash’s, Brandy sees a bunch of cop cars go by. The bartender with the flayed face is across the street. She hears something in the kitchen and approaches cautiously, boomstick ready. The TV comes on by itself, and she hears other noises; something is trying to open a locked door. We get another evil POV coming to Ash’s and heading straight for Brandy. It makes growling noises (a new wrinkle!) and chases her upstairs. Shooting it doesn’t stop it. Brandy jumps out her window and falls near Ash’s garage; she locks herself inside. Evil tries to break in, but Brandy keeps it out, so it stops. Brandy realizes she dropped the boomstick outside, though. Just then, her dead mother tries to call her on her cell. When she clicks “Answer,” it turns into a mini-Necronomicon and bites off her thumb. Brandy wraps her thumb up and hears her mom on the phone. Her mom is telling her she knows Brandy is scared and also that she tastes good. EWWW.
Back at House of Evil, Kaya is smearing Zoe’s blood all over the walls and in a circle around her and Ruby. Ruby puts the fake page she created with Zoe’s skin into the book and seals it with blood. Ash shows up and sees Ruby reciting an incantation over the book. Ash takes Kaya hostage, telling Ruby he’s been in The Rift and that Kelly’s kicking asses there. Ruby says the Dark Ones are here and she can stop them if she, Ash, and Kaya go to The Rift. Deadite Zoe attacks Ash and he cuts her arm off. What a thankless task being a Knight of Sumeria! Poor Zoe.
In the garage, evil starts to blacken Brandy’s arm. The chainsaw is gone, but there’s a circular saw. Brandy cuts her arm off, just like her father, but thankfully, it turns out it’s just a vision her demonic phone made her see. Her phone has turned into a little monster with big eyes, so she grabs a screwdriver to kill it. It attacks and bites Brandy, who wrestles it to the ground, impales it, and mows it over, getting soaked in its copious amounts of blood in the process.
Pablo shows up and finds the bloody Brandy. He tells her he has one foot in each world, evil and good, which is why Evil doesn’t want him—it thinks he’s already aligned with it. Something explodes in the distance. Pablo tells Brandy that The Dark Ones have the lost pages. They head to Ruby’s Den of Iniquity and Blood.
Ruby, meanwhile, is beating that tar out of Ash; she takes his chainsaw and destroys it with her bare hands, which really pisses him off. Just as Kaya is about to gouge out Ash’s eyes, The Dark Ones appear, shove Kaya’s soul out of Kelly’s body, bring a naked Kaya back to life, and set her on fire because she’s betrayed them. They grab Ruby, too. While they’re all busy killing and dying, Ash takes advantage of the distraction, grabs the book, and drags Kelly’s body out of harm’s way. The Dark Ones siphon out Ruby’s soul and toss her desiccated body aside. Before she dies, though, Ruby says, “The savior of humanity will destroy you all!” She screams bloody murder inside The Dark One which absorbs her soul, too. It’s on par with Laura Palmer’s blood-curdling scream from Twin Peaks.
As he flees the carnage with Kelly’s body beside him, Ash uses the Necronomicon as a walkie-talkie to contact Pablo, telling him to go to The Rift. Pablo, driving with Brandy, says no, but they can’t really hear each other because the Necronomicon gets worse reception than my cell does in my own house. On the radio, a newscaster says the governor has declared martial law in Elk Grove. Everything is going insane; Deadites are where they’re not supposed to be, cars careen around, and people run around in fright. Pablo reaches the heart of the town and tells Brandy to stay in the car because The Dark Ones are there and it’s dangerous. The Dark Ones throw Ash out of the Delta ’88; Brandy goes to help him. The Dark Ones put the lost pages back in the Necronomicon and when Pablo tries to stop them, they send him flying.
“The time has come to test the mettle of man,” Pablo says, telling Ash The Dark Ones have the book. The Dark Ones can be heard talking Sumerian; it sounds as if it’s coming from everywhere. The ground starts ripping apart; lightbulbs burst and windows break. People run away screaming. A large hole appears in the street and Ash approaches to see what it is. A giant blackened hand comes out of the ground in a large plume of smoke and smacks the ground.
“Fuuuuck,” Ash says. End credits!
This week in Ash (and other) one-liners (plus other stuff I liked):
Ruby: “Never bet against the house.” Turns out the house was The Dark Ones, though.
“Poor Ruby, ‘I’m melting!’ Fuck off, bitch!” Never change, Ashley J. Williams.
The tagline of the season, “The time has come to test the mettle of man,” gets said by Pablo. Way to grab the spotlight, you Powerful Vagina.
Now we also know why the promo poster (used in all our recaps) has Ash fighting a gigantic Deadite. That hand was huge. Cabin in the Woods crossover, anyone? I’ll take the unicorn.
Linda B. Watch: Linda B. does not appear. One last chance to find out it was all a dream, perhaps?
This week in AvED music: “Stormbringer” by Deep Purple and “Human” by Rag’n’Bone Man. Ash is only human, after all, prophesied or not.
UPDATE: Just after completing my reviewcap, I learned that Bruce Campbell announced on social media that he is retiring the character of Ash for good. Here’s his statement:
All photos courtesy of Starz