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UPDATED: Craig DiGregorio on leaving Ash Vs. Evil Dead and the original season two finale

Photo: Starz
Photo: Starz

The second season of Ash Vs. Evil Dead has come to an end, and naturally, there are a lot of questions on the table. At the very top is where the series will head now that showrunner Craig DiGregorio has stepped down and will be replaced by Battlestar Galactica and Daredevil producer Mark Verheiden. Ahead of the finale, The A.V. Club spoke to DiGregorio about his sudden departure, the ensuing tensions behind the scenes, and the original idea for the second season finale.

Editor’s note: After this interview ran, DiGregorio wanted to provide more context: “I did this interview first and foremost to say ‘sorry’ to the fans. I felt the finale let them down and that was weighing on me. That was truly the only reason I opened up about the show.

This was not meant to be a contest to pick an ending. Both have merits, but the entirety of the season was building toward something and it disappeared. I felt that would be evident to fans, so I wanted to give some context.

In addition, I meant no disrespect to any parties involved. I was asked by Michael why I stepped down and I was completely honest about that. I was also honest about respecting the abilities of everyone involved, even though there were disagreements. Our producer was highly additive to the show when producing, and I never called that into question.”

The A.V. Club: It was quietly reported last month that you would be stepping down as showrunner for Ash Vs. Evil Dead. What happened?

Craig DiGregorio: Honestly, it was a big difference of opinion on what the show should be. It’s weird—when you do something with an established property, it’s great because people already love the characters and the world. The downside sometimes can be that there’s a lot of ownership and other opinions that might not complement yours perfectly. With the case of Sam Raimi, who directed the pilot, I got along with him perfectly. He was amazing and such a great collaborator—Bruce [Campbell] as well. But they had a third person as their producer [Robert Tapert] and a lot of times we wouldn’t see eye to eye on stuff. He’s a great person and producer, but creatively, we just didn’t have the same taste at all. So, that’s what led to my decision. He owns part of the property and had a lot of creative opinions, but it was my job to creatively steer the show and so it became a hindrance.

A microcosm of the relationship would be like—you know that morgue scene where he battles a colon monster? That, to me, was one of the most fun, the most Evil Dead scenes you could have in the show—I loved it. I thought it would be really funny and scary and have Bruce at his best and have the visuals be amazing. To me, that fight was like, “Yes, that is exactly what the show should be,” and I had a lot of disagreements with the producer about that. “This is not Evil Dead” would be something that was said a lot, and the end of the day, you can’t really get too much done if the person who is creatively steering things and the person who is physically producing things aren’t agreeing on what is Evil Dead. I fought for weeks and weeks to get that colon fight in the show and I thought that was a no-brainer. To me, that is one of the most fun sequences we did on the show in two seasons.

AVC: It’s the grossest scene in the entire franchise.

CD: Yup. By the way, Tony Tilse, who directed that episode, is the best. He’s a great guy who gets the show and saw that scene from the get-go and added so much to it. Just the fact that I could see it and other people could see it and then I had to argue with the physical producer about whether or not this belonged in the universe of Evil Dead, that is a very good single example of what my life was like every day. What I took away from that scene was—and what I think most people would take away from it—is that the show is fun, it’s funny, it doesn’t take itself seriously, it has legitimate scares and horror, and it has those visual idiosyncrasies of Sam’s. And that was all very important to me. It just seemed like we had a very different list of things that were important to us about the show.

AVC: Did these tensions between you two start in the second season?

CD: It was from the get-go. For the most part, I fought hard enough for the things that I really believed in that had the show checking off all of the boxes that I wanted it to check. Sometimes, I couldn’t argue hard enough, and I see those misses, I see those places where I think I failed and I think the show could’ve been better and it’s just very hard. By the way, I don’t fault the producer at all for arguing what he believes in for the show. He was there watching when Sam directed the original with Bruce, he wants what he thinks is best for the show, but so do I, and at the end of the day, we just didn’t think that was the same thing. I can’t fault him, though. He works very hard, he’s a great producer. But it was the creative environment where I felt he was lacking a little bit, and that is the area where he would want to be heard most of all. That made my job very difficult.

Photo: Starz

AVC: What’s his overall vision and how did it contrast to yours? Did he want the show more serious with less comedy?

CD: It was very important to me that the show would never take itself too seriously because it’s about a guy with a chainsaw on his hand. I don’t know how to do the highly dramatic version of that show and, honestly, I think if you watch the highly dramatic version of that show, it would fall flat. To me, there was no question that it needed to lean into the comedy. And Bruce, he’s so funny, and Dana [DeLorenzo]’s so funny and Ray [Santiago] is so funny and Lucy [Lawless] is really funny. And I’m not saying they need to be cracking jokes all the time, but I just didn’t think it needed to be quite as self-important as maybe other people thought it should be.

AVC: Did the tension affect other episodes outside of the season finale?

CD: To some extent, yes, it affected other episodes, but not in such a way that I thought we failed. The season finale wasn’t what I wanted at all. This is the first time where I actually thought that the creative push-and-pull adversely affected the final product and I think it really shows. We could usually hide some of the tonal push-and-pull underneath fun dialogue, or underneath fun story points, or underneath fun visuals. It’s a show that goes so fast and it’s paced so quickly that you may not notice some of the things that bug me the most, but it was always there. Again, I fault nobody for wanting to make a great show, it just became very difficult.

Photo: Starz

AVC: How late into the season did the finale get changed?

CD: It was very last minute. We had started writing the entire season in October or November of last year and had the entire season planned out—just as far as storyline goes—by Thanksgiving or Christmas or somewhere around there. We all knew what we wanted to do in the finale, and it was agreed upon very early on. I think altering the direction of the show by last-minute changing the finale was a unique opportunity for our producer to show that he owned this thing. It has to be hard when you’re the producer for Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell—those guys are geniuses—and you don’t quite get the accolades or acknowledgment that they do. I’d imagine you would want to assert your power where you can, and in this case he could.

I couldn’t really do anything about it. Starz is great—they always give great notes, and they always pushed us to do even crazier stuff with the show—but our producer owns part of the property, so there wasn’t a lot of recourse there. He was saying that, as a co-owner of this thing, this is the right way to go, and this is the wrong way to go, and at a certain point, they had to listen. I don’t exactly know, but I know by that point, I had been so set on doing the version we had talked about for months and months, and I wasn’t going to make those changes that he wanted.

We always wanted to go back and show people what happened before Ash got to the cabin [in season two, episode nine] which I thought would be really fun to see. I think it pulls everything together, and it’s a fun, interesting idea, especially if you’re a fan. You want to know what happened before this all started. And to show that, and have good reason to show that—like bringing Pablo back—I thought that was interesting.

Photo: Starz

AVC: The penultimate episode of the season hints at that idea, but the finale tosses that aside pretty quick.

CD: The finale’s story is so vastly different from what I wanted it to be and tonally it feels like another show. I think anything past the first three minutes is just completely different and I thought it really suffered because of that. We set up so much stuff for the entire season, so if you wipe the slate clean of an entire season before you pay off anything, that’s not really successful.

AVC: What was the original plan?

CD: Here’s what I remember—please forgive me if I gloss over anything—this alternate version was written almost a year ago. Basically, Ash kills Henrietta, gets the book, and runs outside with it. I wanted to get the episode outside of the cabin as quickly as possible because I thought I only wanted to see the cabin for episode nine. I didn’t want it to be there in 10 because I thought it was a repeat of last year with the last two episodes in the cabin. So, we got out of the cabin quickly, and that’s when Ruby and Kelly return. Inside, young Ash has entered but the book is gone, so he never reads it in this timeline. At that moment, the trunk rattles, Pablo’s in there, and he’s okay.

So, now they have the book and they have Pablo. Ash decides Ruby and Kelly are going to destroy the book. Meanwhile, Ash and Pablo head into town because Ash secretly wants to see his present-day deceased father Brock one last time before they go back to the present—remember that in 203 Brock starts to reveal a big “secret,” we wanted Ash to want to get to the bottom of this. So, Ash and Pablo go to the bar, Kelly and Ruby go to the woods to destroy the book. In the woods, Ruby runs into 1982 Ruby and makes that same sort of plea to her, the “your life is going to be different, you don’t have to do this.” But 1982 Ruby thinks that her future self has gone completely soft, kills Ruby, but then Kelly holds her own against 1982 Ruby, grabs the book, and runs with it. 1982 Ruby chases her because she wants to bring her husband and kids back and she didn’t listen to her future self.

Photo: Starz

Meanwhile, at the bar, Ash doesn’t see his dad, but does see a nice young lady, who seems very sad because she just got passed over for a teacher position. She’s distraught, and Ash, having learned a lot about how you can fail and come back from it, starts talking to her very genuinely in the charming Bruce way. They end up drinking together and go in a bathroom stall to have some early-’80s unprotected sex. What you don’t realize is that the woman Ash is having sex with is Kelly’s future mother [a young Suzy Maxwell]. So, what happens is that Kelly, while running in the woods, all of a sudden feels her entire being change and drops the book. That’s when 1982 Ruby catches up and realizes what just happened. She looks through the Necronomicon and sees Ash’s picture, and then next to it, a picture of Kelly starts to appear. Because of the unprotected bathroom stall incident, Kelly has become Ash’s daughter.

At that point, Pablo rushes into the bar, says there’s something wrong because the skies are going dark now that 1982 Ruby has the book, and they’re starting to summon things back. They go get Kelly, who’s somehow pissed at Ash, even though she doesn’t really know what happened, and while they don’t have the book, they have Pablo and use him to jump back to present day. When they get back, Ruby is standing there with Baal and her kids and they take Kelly away. Apologies, I really ran through a bunch there in about two sentences. But basically, we were setting up a season three where Ash had to go rescue his daughter… Kelly.

Photo: Starz

AVC: It makes sense considering Kelly was a major focus point of season two.

CD: The whole season was a setup. I mean, honestly, if you go back and watch through, we even have lines in early episodes where Ash says, “Glad you’re not my kid.” We set up little things like that because we knew we were doing this the whole entire time. We were making Kelly more and more badass because we really wanted her to be Ash’s heir apparent. Not to marginalize Ash at all, but we thought it would be so much more emotional for him to be able to start season three knowing that he has this daughter, and since it’s Kelly, he would already have these feelings for her and that would inform his quest to go find her. Not to mention Pablo’s feelings.

By the way, I know that, time travel-wise, Ash becoming Kelly’s dad is nonsense—but time travel is inherently nonsense and we wanted to have some fun with the medium. That was what we intended to do. There were a lot of fun time travel things, too. You know how Kelly always has on that anchor necklace? We were going to set up that Ash gives that necklace to Kelly’s future mom in the bar to make her feel better. And close observers would know that is the same necklace that Kelly has worn for the whole series, so Kelly’s mom passed it on to Kelly at some point. But it originated with Ash.

At one point, we even had young Ash pull up at the beginning of the finale. The idea was that Ash had just killed Henrietta when his younger self walks up to the cabin with Linda. He gets out just at the nick of time with the book and we were going to use footage from the original movies to show young Ash at the moment when he previously sees the book, but it’s not there now, and at that exact moment, Pablo wakes up.

AVC: It sounds like something out of Back To The Future Part II.

CD: Yeah, we wrestled with the idea of having a couple near misses where Ash protects his younger self from getting killed by Henrietta—something like that. We also had little Easter eggs where we see that Ash brushed by a rocking chair and then hid, which would explain why the rocking chair is going by itself in the movies, and there was something with the piano, as well. Sorry if that’s vague—we had a lot of versions.

AVC: The sudden changes must have been disappointing for Dana [DeLorenzo, who plays Kelly].

CD: As soon as I realized what was happening, I talked to Dana. I love Dana, she’s amazing, she’s so funny, and just a great actress, but yes, it was something we had worked toward all season, and to have it be immediately taken away—to have her marginalized over some sort of power play issue...

It comes down to the thing I said earlier, which is, “That’s not Evil Dead.” I argued back as much as I could, I got that colon fight in and I got countless other things in, but this—it’s the season finale and he owned the thing. At the end of the day, he didn’t want Ash to have Kelly as a daughter and I really did.

Photo: Starz

AVC: How did the other writers feel?

CD: Luke Kalteux wrote an amazing draft, most of which you don’t see on screen. None of the story that he wanted or that any of the writers wanted is in that finale.

AVC: Having now seen it, where do you think it will go from here?

CD: I don’t know. I have no idea. I mean I guess the good thing is you can go anywhere and if the push is going to be to make the show more drama and horror and stay in Elk Grove, then that’s what they’re setting up. Maybe Ash is the sheriff of the town, I don’t know. I try not to think about it because it’s not something I would have wanted.

AVC: Had you already had an outline of season three in your head?

CD: Yeah, I had some ideas of what we wanted to do, but when you’re deep in a season, you only think, “Oh that could be cool for later.” We set up some stuff that I think would play nicely in season three—the whole Ash/Kelly daughter thing—but I didn’t know exactly what the big set pieces were or what was going to happen or how it would end or anything like that. In my head, the sketch of season three was just playing on their relationship and the fact that Pablo also loves Ash but now feels like there’s someone stepping in his place, and the jealousy that comes out of that. I thought it would be a lot of fun to play off that idea.

By the way, I pitched that “Kelly becomes Ash’s daughter” idea last year at Comic-Con. We were all in New York at dinner and I pitched to Bruce that at the end of the season, Ash goes back in time and fucks Kelly’s mom and becomes Kelly’s dad and Bruce laughed so hard. He loved it. Again, it’s the question of, “Are we going to take ourselves too seriously or are we not?”

I’ve worked on a lot of comedies, and to have a show that was, I hope, legitimately funny, like actually made you laugh, not just little quick one-liners—because anyone can write a one-liner—but a show that actually made you laugh in its dialogue and in situations, and the fact that it was so over-the-top and gory and crazy and frenetic and scary, that—that’s what I wanted the show to be. You don’t want wooden dialogue and all one-liners. The show lives in how weird it is—it’s not supposed to be straightforward emotion.