Ash vs. Evil Dead: “The Dark One” is a near-perfect finish to a solid first season

The frantic pacing of last week’s penultimate episode feels like it’s mostly paid off, as “The Dark One” is a nearly perfect finale to the first season. While I’m still a little bummed that we didn’t get more fighting with Evil Ash, and I still think Amanda Fisher was criminally poorly utilized, this episode was truly excellent as well as being, hands down, the most truly horror-filled half hour of the season.

Last week’s “Bound in Flesh” ended with Pablo being possessed by the front cover of the Necronomicon. This week, he’s spirited away by Ruby, dragged down into the basement of the house to be used in, well, obviously nothing good. Ash follows, reluctantly, to try and rescue his young friend. Meanwhile, Kelly and Heather find themselves trapped upstairs until Kelly is thrown out by the house and has to try and find a way back in. It sounds chaotic, but on screen all these moving pieces are perfectly harmonized and manage to feel fast-paced but not rushed as in some previous episodes.

I’ve written pretty consistently about the ways that I think Amanda Fisher was served badly in the narrative of the season, and I still stand by everything I’ve ever said about her. She was a likeable character that the writers just never seemed to know what to do with. What I found interesting about this last episode, however, is that even though Amanda’s story was disastrously mishandled and unforgivably botched at every turn, the effect of her death and her return as a Deadite actually worked as intended—if the intent was to raise the stakes for all of the other characters in this final showdown (of sorts) with Ruby.

The most truly masterful part of “The Dark One” is the real sense of peril that pervades the episode, and Amanda Fisher’s death made this possible by showing that any one of the characters could die—even when as important-seeming as she was. When Pablo got possessed by the book, that danger felt real. Similarly, when Kelly is ejected from the house, I was legitimately concerned for her safety. Poor Heather, who I thought might have a chance, actually didn’t make it through the episode.

One of the enduring problems of the horror genre, especially in television, is getting the audience to believe the danger that characters face. In an ongoing series, there’s some expectation that most of the people we meet and care about will be around for a good while. Ash vs. Evil Dead, though, has definitely proven that it’s not afraid to kill people off, and if it doesn’t kill its characters outright it’s certainly willing to torture them. Even now, I get the feeling that the only person in the show who is really, truly safe is Ash himself.

The other way in which this episode shined was in the sheer amount of actual horror it delivered. The Evil Dead franchise has always been secondarily comedic, and there were still a few laughs this week, but there were also great gouts of fake blood and body parts, flayed skin, Pablo vomiting up Ruby’s “babies” and said babies (actually about the size of a kindergartener) running around and attacking people. Kelly’s time outside the house is just harrowing, and Pablo’s ordeal was a masterpiece of body horror that was actually difficult to watch. That it was all filmed as artfully as anything else in the series so far was just a bonus.

I have seen some complaints about the actual ending of the episode, but I think Ash’s deal with Ruby was exactly in character while still reflecting his emotional journey over the course of the season. Ash has never been a particularly intelligent or forward-thinking guy, so of course he would sell out the rest of the world to save these young people that he’s come to deeply care for in spite of himself. The trio riding off into the post-apocalyptic hellscape Ash has created is a perfect set up for the second season of the show.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • The roaches from Heather’s crotch felt weirdly out of place. So much of the horror of Evil Dead has always been gore and blood and Deadites that the bugs seemed like a weird thing to include. It was also kind of a weirdly sexualized and gendered horror, if you think about it, which doesn’t seem quite fair to a character who is going to end her time on the show getting her head dropkicked by Kelly.
  • When Kelly was outside the house, all I could think was “please no tree rape.” Thank goodness they didn’t go that direction.
  • Ruby’s Basic Instinct pose is iconic.

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