Let’s Unpack Santa Clarita Diet’s Weirder Than Weird Season 3 Ending

PHoto: Courtesy of Netflix.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for Santa Clarita Diet season 3 finale, “The Cult of Sheila.”
There are weird finale cliffhangers, and there’s the last minute of Netflix's Santa Clarita Diet season 3. As the horror comedy’s finale “The Cult Of Sheila” comes to a close, the Hammond family’s life finally appears to settle down. No more Serbian labs, no more Sheila Hammond (Drew Barrymore) stuck on the edge of a massive spike. But then, a giant, fleshy spider-like zombie creature crawls into Joel Hammond’s (Timothy Olyphant) ear and directly into his brain. In an effort save her spouse, zombie Sheila bites human Joel.
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It’s a genuinely terrifying moment that leaves fans questioning whether Joel is dead, undead, or possessed by his wife’s Mr. Ball Legs (because every zombie has their own heavily-eyed spider creature). But, before you panic about Joel’s fate — or wonder if Sheila is now technically married to her pet — there may be some good news. If you look at all of season 3’s evidence, you’ll realize Joel is probably just a regular old zombie now.
Amid all the paranoia about Serbian Knights, Serbian zombie experiments, and ecoterrorism accusations, Santa Clarita season 3 had one especially emotional subplot: Whether Joel wants to be with Sheila forever as a fellow zombie. She offers him the undead-making bite in third episode “We Let People Die Every Die.” Joel then spends the next seven episodes panicking over the existential crisis that is immortality. The realtor is worried about his id taking over. The whole eating people thing doesn’t make zombieism appetizing. Plus, as Joel finally admits in finale “Cult Of Sheila,” he’s afraid the promise of eternity will put the Hammonds’ marriage at stake.
“What if love is only possible because life is fleeting? That knowing it’s going to end is the reason why people cling to each other?,” Joel asks. It’s a question that clearly hurts his wife, who spends the season hoping Joel will say yes to forever. Now, he’s denying her on the specific grounds of their relationship.
Yet, all of that darkness turns around with the final official scene of “Sheila,” when Joel overcomes all his fears. “I never want to live or die without you,” he tells Sheila, announcing his desire to join her in zombieland. Yes, even though he’ll have to gorge on human flesh and throw up a Mr. Ball Legs of his own. That is the exact moment Sheila’s spider creature crawls into Joel’s brain and says “Mama,” through his body. That is the single word Sheila has been teaching Mr. Ball Legs since it was thawed out in earlier 2019 episode “More Of A Cat Person.”
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It doesn’t make any sense for Sheila’s Mr. Ball Legs to directly thwart her biggest dream at the precise moment it’s realized. Just look at everything the spider creatures do for their zombie masters over the course of season 3. In “Cat Person,” socially awkward zombie Ramona (Ramona Young) is harassed by a motel owner who tries to intimidate her over payment. Without speaking, Ramona’s Ball Legs hops off of her shoulder and attacks the guy. That is exactly what the undead teen wanted, and it’s accomplished telepathically. This is the first time we realize the many-legged creatures are more powerful than they appear, as Ramona tells her Ball Legs during the violent-sounding scene, “Oh cool. I didn’t know you could do that.”
Similarly, Sheila’s Mr. Ball Legs escapes his cage at the end of “Forever!” when he hears the Hammonds want absolutely no evidence of Sheila’s zombieism in the home ahead of a Knights of Serbia visit. Mr. Ball Legs is obviously a huge indicator something undead is afoot in the Hammond household. When Knights Grand Prior Petra Blazic (Kerri Kenney-Silver) shows up for Joel’s big interview, Ball Legs never attacks her, even when it’s within inches of the zombie hunter. Instead, Ball Legs stays directly out of Petra’s line of sight. While the Hammonds assume the creature is up to something murder-y, all evidence points to the opposite.
In fact, it looks like Ball Legs was trying to help Sheila with her latest scheme.
That is why it’s doubtful the supernatural spider decided to kill Joel in the finale. Instead, it seems possible Mr. Ball Legs took Joel’s confirmation that nothing about zombieism scares him as permission to make Sheila happy. Remember, she spends so much of season 3 trying to get her Ball Legs to say “mama.” By hopping in Joel, the creature finally can. While that is a terrible response to a sweet gesture, no one said zombie spider monsters can read social cues.
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At least, it’s unlikely Mr. Ball Legs can remain in Joel's body for much longer after Sheila bit her husband. The entire zombie-making process is built around expelling a spider creature — why would one remain in Joel’s body after the transformation? Even if it’s rummaging around his brain rather than his stomach?
No wonder Sheila smiles at the close of “Cult Of Sheila.” She’ll probably have her husband forever. Sheila is going to need him if she’s going to handle the actual, mostly undead cult of Sheila that appears as a mid-credits button.
Only Santa Clarita Diet.
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