Let’s just address the undead elephant in the room: Ash vs Evil Dead probably deserved a victory lap of some sort before being shuffled off to become part of Starz’s streaming catalogue forevermore, with a high probability of being seen by many more eyeballs when it inevitably makes its way to Netflix. Consolation prize or not, a victory lap would have given the show four, five, or six episodes to play around in the Mad Max-like post-apocalyptic future set in motion by the arrival of the Dark Ones, and it would have given Bruce Campbell the opportunity to act without a gigantic Nintendo Power Glove on his right hand, especially since Campbell says he’s now officially retired from the role of Ash.
But that’s not what the Television Gods had in mind for Campbell, Ashley J. Williams, or the rest of the Ash vs Evil Dead cast and crew. And so, ‘The Mettle of Man’ and that brief glimpse of future Ash, as well the nifty, Ex Machina-like effects on the cyborg knight of Sumeria, is all viewers are likely going to get. It’s tough when a show and an audience — no matter how small — is dealt a hand like this (no pun intended), ostensibly forcing a season finale to do the heavy lifting of capping off a series, especially when all signs point to that not having been the intention of the creators at all.
Still, it’s not like the Evil Dead series doesn’t have a history of ending one story by placing Ash at the start of an entirely new one. Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness both pointed — one with more specificity than the other, sure — to the continuing adventures of the unlikely blue-shirted hero, so the sight of Ash cruising through the apocalypse in a high-octane death machine is a new circumstance but not really a new phenomenon when it comes to the franchise’s idea of how to end a story. Pretty much everyone who’s ever watched an Evil Dead movie understands on some level that the story of Ash and the Deadites and the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis is all meant to run in perpetuity, to cycle through variations on essentially the same story again and again. So, when you think about it, though it would have been nice to have an actual Final Season of Ash vs Evil Dead, ‘The Mettle of Man’ delivered — unknowingly or not — an ending that feels appropriate in its open-endedness.
The real disappointment in the cancelation of Ash vs Evil Dead, then, isn’t in the way the series concluded, but in how that cancelation means the show will never capitalize on the potential of, yes, that ending, but also the more fluid, funny, and consistent storytelling the series was just now beginning to harness. More than the promise of watching Ash atop the ash heap of civilization, Ash vs Evil Dead season 3 felt like a giant creative leap forward for the series. The story was solid, the season maintained a near-frenetic pace for 10 straight episodes, and there was an admirable emotional through line running through the whole thing with Ash accepting his responsibility as both the Prophesized One and as a father. The two went hand-in-hand all season long, proving not only could the show handle expanding the cast by retro-engineering a family for Ash, but it could make it count for something, too.
Season 3 honed in on what makes the show so much fun to watch and then delivered that on a weekly basis. The humor felt more natural than in seasons prior, and the action-horror set pieces brought a welcome propulsion to the overall plot and the plots of all the supporting characters. Newcomer Arielle Carver-O’Neill deserves a large share of the credit, as she made Brandy’s journey to becoming a full-blooded Williams an Evil Dead trope-filled journey worth taking, particularly when she was being drenched with gallons of fake blood.
The same is true of the always-entertaining Dana DeLorenzo and Ray Santiago. Handing them each their own storylines, separate from Ash’s but still meaningful to the overall plot, made spending time away from Ashy Slashy more entertaining that it has been in seasons past. Pablo stepping into the role of Brujo Especial and Kelly’s ambitious but ultimately deadly plan to take on Ruby by herself turned out to be important side quests in the overall scheme of the season 3 of things. Sure, Pablo's role as Brujo Especial felt like it would have been explored more deeply in season 4, but what the series managed to deliver here at least did its job in terms of keeping the story moving as it built toward an inevitable climax.
That season 3 managed to deliver a few surprises without stopping to luxuriate in them was perhaps the best evidence of the degree to which the writers’ room was on point this time around. Though Ruby’s shtick had by now become mostly stale — through no fault of Lucy Lawless — these final episodes reinstated her as a force to be reckoned with, while also doing away with her in such a wonderfully banal way that when she was essentially benched by her bosses it felt oddly more satisfying than yet another showdown with Ash. The details of Ruby’s master plan and co-conspirator were both given short shrift, which wasn’t too surprising considering both revolved around the MacGuffin that is the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, but at least it kept the character busy and afforded her the opportunity to land one final devastating blow with Kelly’s death — even if it was inevitably going to be reversed.
Unlike Kelly or Ray or even Ash and Brandy, at various points this season, the show is dead and isn’t coming back. It’s odd, then, to have the season’s story become weightier on account of the show’s assured demise, but somehow Ash vs Evil Dead managed to turn its untimely but not necessarily surprising cancelation into an ending that felt both painfully unfinished but also significant enough to be satisfying. Ash’s goodbye to Brandy, Ray, and Kelly brought an unintentional but fitting finality and poignancy to what became a CGI showdown between a giant fire-breathing monster and a tank. It’s even more remarkable given the coda at the end, and the promise that the story is actually far from over, even though the franchise is, for now anyway, really over. It was a fun, gore-filled ride while it lasted.
Ash vs Evil Dead ‘The Mettle of Man’ is currently available to stream on the Starz app. The episode airs tonight @9pm on Starz.