On Saturday, the first season of the hugely anticipated Ash vs. Evil Dead came to a close. The show has proved to be an enormous hit, winning over new fans and providing old fans with what they want at the same time. It’s already been greenlit for a second season coming later this year. What really, pleasantly surprised me about the series was its ability to make nostalgic references that don’t distract from the developing storyline.
This is something that every property is trying to do right now. From Star Wars all the way down the ladder, almost every current movie and TV franchise is trying to appeal to the viewer’s inherent sense of nostalgia. Ash vs. Evil Dead is among the very best of them. It’s a series that’s irreverent, funny, goofball, but also pretty smart about exactly what it’s trying to be. This is an extension of the films, but at the same time, it does a great job of reminding people why they cared so much in the first place. What drew people to Evil Dead and what made them become such loyal fans over such a long period of time? Because that fandom, rabid as it was, is the only reason a show like this was ever allowed to happen.
Naturally, the fans deserve callbacks and references, but these aren’t just dished out right out of the gate. They appear gradually, maybe one or two an episode—at least until the finale which is a virtual Evil Dead movie in its own right. As a longtime fan, this series was everything I wanted. All of the old stuff I loved was there, making it so much easier to accept and embrace everything new.
Be warned. There are spoilers ahead for anyone who has not yet seen the finale.
Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness both contained an evil version of Ash and both came by him in completely different ways. In Evil Dead II, Ash is possessed. In Army of Darkness, he grows a new full-sized version of himself after swallowing a tiny version of himself. And now, in Ash vs. Evil Dead, his long-lost evil hand grows a whole new Ash after returning to the cabin. It knocked me for a loop to see this new Evil Ash appear, especially with the damage he wrought. Bruce Campbell gave a really great performance to, as an identical version of his character meant to play on that character’s many insecurities.
It might not be S-Mart—only because they couldn’t get the rights to the name or any other specific details from Army of Darkness—but to see Ash at Value Mart was nonetheless a treat. Thirty years later and he’s still in the same dead end job and that’s exactly, realistically what Ash would be doing now. He wouldn’t have made anything of himself, not if he’s been running from himself this long. Plus, Sam Raimi, claims S-Mart was just absorbed into Value Mart anyway, so continuity—such as it is—is still intact.
I was not expecting any returning characters from any of the original films. One, we were introduced to such a fresh new cast in the pilot. Two, all of the other characters but Ash are dead. Of course, that doesn’t really mean much in the Evil Dead world. When Ash returns to the cabin, the severed head of his girlfriend Linda is still there, waiting to torment him. And once I was done being amazed that I was just seeing a callback like that, I realized how well the character was being used. The end of the season was really good at playing on the sweet, naive person Ash used to be—and using that to torment him—and then stopping just shy of Ash actually changing, because hopefully we’ve got a lot of show left.
This might be the number one most important thing to have in Evil Dead, other than Ash himself. It’s not so much about Ash having to just fight his way through possessed people. The Deadites get into his friends. At the end of the day, he’s always having to carve up the people he’s made any kind of real connection with, including his girlfriend and sister. That’s so much of what makes him who he is and so much of the reason for why he acts the way he does. So it made sense to see Pablo, Kelly and Amanda all get possessed at different points in the season, even if some of them do make it out okay. This is always the way Ash’s relationships end and that was why he was so scared of bringing Pablo and Kelly along in the first place.
I’ll admit that this might sound weird, but I’ve always wanted Ash’s hand to come back. That’s a character I was invested in and wanted to see return. It took on its own personality in Evil Dead II and the battle between Ash and hand was one of the funniest in horror history. I never in a million years thought there would ever be a way or reason to bring the hand back, so I was completely blown away to actually see it. Possessed hands haven’t really been used in horror since Idle Hands. Hopefully this sparks a comeback.
“Honey, I’m home.”
My God, that line was so perfect, from the delivery to the big reveal itself. Ash had already announced that he’d (finally) figured out that the only way to properly stop this evil was to return to the cabin where it all began. But it’s another thing entirely to actually see that happen. And the moment works so well because we’ve earned it by that point. There’s a whole season of build up before Ash finally walks up to the cabin, ready to face his demons with a smirk, and says “Honey, I’m home” as we get our first glimpse of the place looking exactly as we left it.
Again, this is a perfect and absolutely essential reference that works because it’s earned so well. There could be no Ash vs. Evil Dead without hearing this line uttered at least once. But it’s not saved for the finale; that wouldn’t really work. No, the line and Campbell’s perfect delivery of it are exactly how we end the pilot. This is how we finish catching up and bringing everyone back up to speed, showing audiences that this is indeed Evil Dead exactly as they left it. The classic line is there to basically say, “If this doesn’t get you on board, nothing will.” For me, it worked perfectly and I think most people who were willing to give the show a shot were really hooked in that moment.