With “The Dark One,” Ash vs Evil Dead has come to an end. For now. Thank goodness the best new show on TV will return for a second season. But for now, we’re still in awe of how well the show captured everything we loved about the Evil Dead films.

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Spoilers!

First of all: the obvious and necessary choice of making the show focus on Bruce Campbell’s character, who is uniquely hilarious, brave, and completely frustrating. Without Ash, there’s no Evil Dead—even though we kinda liked the spinoff/reboot a few years agoand without Campbell, there’s no Ash.

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In the show, Ash was there when the Necronomicon first unleashed its terrors, and it’s haunted him ever since. The guilt and fear he’s lived with for 30 years has stunted his personality (though surely he’d have been a wise-ass no matter what), and he devolves from a devoted boyfriend (albeit a boyfriend who’d deploy a fatal chainsaw when necessary) to a sleazy lady’s man who accidentally re-awakens the Deadite menace one drunken night. Most of the show takes place in a universe that’s been shaped by Ash’s inability to get past the event that shaped his life all those years ago—those awesome retro jams that he blasts on his awesome vintage car are not chosen by accident.

The beauty of Ash vs Evil Dead is that it allows Ash—a character who is defined by an incredible lack of self-awareness—to evolve ... sorta. His dual sidekicks Kelly and Pablo help him to realize that he’s missed out on having a family, or even close friends he can count on. But in authentic Ash fashion, he blunders. First, he tries (and fails) to ditch the duo before he gets to the haunted cabin, fearing they might not survive. Then, in last night’s episode, he makes a hell of a devil’s bargain with Ruby—choosing to stand down against “the Dark One,” in favor of saving the skins of his beloved buddies.

Yeah, it’s an obvious set-up for the next season, but it fits the character of Ash perfectly. He’s changed enough to know he wants to save Kelly and Pablo ... but not enough to weigh the consequences of letting Ruby rule all the world’s evil forces “like The Godfather.” Duh, CERTAIN DOOM AWAITS, though Ash would rather pretend that nothing is wrong. He’d rather go fishing in Florida, frankly, than boomstick any more cackling ghouls. It’s not the right thing to do ... but it’s the Ash thing to do.

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Meanwhile, the TV show also did a killer job of capturing the horrors of the Evil Dead movies. Not just the blood and gore, which it does magnificently, but also the specific nightmare of seeing a loved one turn into something unspeakably horrible. On the lead-up to the finale, we saw the valiant Amanda Fisher die and become a Deadite; in “The Dark One,” Deadite Amanda meets the business end of Ash’s chainsaw (“Wow, I dumped you at just the right time,” he mutters). And Pablo nearly succumbs when he becomes possessed by the Necronomicon cover that’s attached itself to his face; heartbreakingly, he slips in and out of Evil Pablo mode, begging Ash to kill him when he briefly shakes off its spell.

Plus, there’s the cabin itself. (Who knew that cellar was so huge?) The finale ran with the idea—already showcased by the films—that the structure itself is haunted by the most terrifying entities imaginable. It takes down Heather, the unfortunate hiker, with a mind-fucking preamble involving underpants cockroaches and flying nails; then Kelly actually engages in a full-on, action-hero fight with a house.

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The finale did show the influence of more modern horror films—those black-eyed “creepy kids” that Ruby conjures, for instance. But mostly, it hews to the spirit of Evil Dead. It’s gory and brutal, and it all hinges on the actions of a character who still isn’t quite ready to choose saving the world over saving himself.

The big difference is that this time, Ash makes sure Pablo and Kelly are also safe, though they both insist he’s making a big mistake. And the kids are probably right. With the book in her clutches, Ruby—who’s somehow still human enough to drop her guard when Ash asks, “Have you lost weight?”—has all kinds of terrible forces available to do her bidding. And her character was so thinly sketched, we still don’t know if we can trust her to be the gatekeeper that she tells Ash she’ll be. (Likely, we can’t. Duh!)

“I can’t believe you did that!” Pablo exclaims as the trio drives away from the cabin, probably not for the last time. “I can!” Ash crows. Come on, Pablo. Of course he did that! And of course, “normal life, in Jacksonville, the three of us” will last, oh, a week at best, before beasties come a-calling. What will it take to get Ash to break the truce, and get back in the slice-and-dice game? Season two can’t come soon enough.

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Photo: Starz