Editor’s Note: The following contains Hacks Season 2 spoilers.When Season 1 of a series is so well-received by both critics and fans, the pressure is on to deliver an equally strong, if not better, Season 2. Fortunately, Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downsand Jen Statskythe Emmy winning creators of the hit HBO Max series Hacks, were up to the challenge. Season 2 brought along the laughs, the tears, and the kombucha as our favorite comedy duo of long-time stand-up comedian Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and her young comedy writer Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder), hit the road and toured the country as Deborah worked out her new material. This, of course, was slightly overshadowed by the fact that Ava wrote a scathing email to television producers about how Deborah really is when she’s offstage. In Ava’s defense, Deborah had just slapped her, and she was also incredibly drunk and high when she wrote the email. Regardless, there were jokes to be written and performed. After all, the show must go on. Right?
Season 2 features a lot of growth and introspection for our favorite characters. Ava comes clean about the scathing email she wrote, and as punishment, Deborah makes her read it out loud directly to Deborah. Oh, and she also sues her for violating her NDA. Aside from the lawsuit, it was water under the bridge for the two women, as they continued through the country working out new jokes. Deborah knew she was going to struggle, but she did not anticipate it being quite as difficult as it was shaping up to be.
Amidst the chaos and unpredictability of tour life, Ava and Deborah manage to squeeze in moments of bonding. When Weed (Laurie Metcalf) accidentally throws out Ava’s father’s ashes, Deborah demands they turn the bus around to search the dumpster, even though it would screw up her schedule, and gets down and dirty until they find the missing tennis can. Deborah is initially furious when Marcus mistakenly books her on a lesbian cruise instead of a gay men cruise (as gay men are some of her most passionate fans), but manages to embrace the roadblock. Not only does she take the time to listen to Ava and learn about her more progressive views on sexuality, but she even serves as her wing woman at the club.
As they continue on their journey, Deborah runs into an old friend Susie who has since given up comedy and works in a department store. Deborah thinks she quit because she did not win a college showcase, and is shocked to hear it’s because she did not want to be an absent mother like Deborah. Ava’s own mother makes an unexpected visit to her while on tour and Deborah finally realizes what her new material is missing: accountability. It all comes together once she balances her “woe is me” jokes with some more honesty. Instead of another Vegas showcase, Deborah wants to make a comedy special.
In Episode 7, Deborah brings her entourage to Los Angeles to stay in her “side mansion,” a property she’s been desperate to sell for years but can’t because the property value is down ever since her hippie neighbors built a tree house (more on that later). Jimmy’s boss Dan (and Kayla’s dad) is furious when he learns Jimmy canceled Deborah’s showcase to focus on selling a special. Frankly, he isn’t even sure if he wants Jimmy working with Deborah anymore, as he feels like she’s holding him back from younger, more profitable clients. Determined to make this special dream a reality, Deborah reconnects with the woman who directed her Oxygen special, who is excited to take on this new challenge with her.
Ava reconnects with a few people herself while she’s back on her old stomping grounds, including Taylor, the girl she harassed for a job following her insensitive tweet debacle in Season 1. Taylor’s delighted to see that Ava’s… what’s the word… less manic? And invites her to her birthday party. This positive experience is quickly followed by a tense meeting with Ava’s lawyer and her lawyerer’s son, who wants to break into comedy. Sure, the resentment between Ava and Deborah has cooled down, but Deborah has zero plans to ease up on the lawsuit. Also, should the lawyer’s son go to Harvard? Because he can.
Josefina indulges Marcus, Ava, and Damien in some gossip, but Ava is whisked away when her subletter gets locked out of her condo. Couldn’t the subletter have just called a locksmith? Well, yeah, but she wanted an excuse to see Ava. The two spend the night together in Ava’s condo, which would be the last break Ava gets before the never-ending pitch meetings. Ava sees a massive poster of her ex-girlfriend Ruby on the wall of one of the production offices and tries to send a picture of the poster to her as an excuse to talk to Ruby, but her “dumb” phone can not quite handle. such an arduous task. The pitch meetings go fairly well, but not as well as they all hoped. They get one offer for a special, but it would only be a half-hour, and it would be part of a series of specials on women in comedy. Jimmy is under pressure at the agency to get and accept an offer for Deborah because as of right now, she’s dead weight.
Back at the side mansion, Deborah takes it upon herself to tear down the tree house with a chainsaw. Hear that? That’s the sound of her property value skyrocketing. To the horror of everyone involved, Deborah calls an emergency meeting and announces that she’s going to reject the offer and self-fund her special instead. Though a risk, it has the potential to be a financial (and hopefully critical) success. Jimmy decides to side with Deborah, even though he knows the folks at Latitude will not be happy. And, he was right. When his boss hears that he passed on their only offer, he freaks. Jimmy, on the other hand, sticks to his guns and reminds everyone how much revenue Deborah has brought in for them over the years. Enough is enough, and Jimmy announces in front of everyone that he quits. Also, Kayla quits too, much to Jimmy’s aggravation. But, it works out, because she wants to use her trust fund to start a new agency with Jimmy. So win-win?
Ava makes it to Taylor’s birthday party and tells her that she’s planning on moving out of Los Angeles. Taylor tells her that she’s filming a show near where Ava grew up, but their conversation is interrupted by Ruby, who seems very excited to see her old flame. At the house, Jimmy tells everyone he quit the agency, which means they’ve lost what little support they had for the special. Deborah, however, is not looking back.
Grab your tissues, because the Season 2 finale is one emotional masterpiece. It opens on a more silly note with Marty being aggressively outbid at an art auction by Deborah. She admits she does not even like art all that much, but that she wants leverage. She’ll give him the painting if he gives her the Palmetto main stage for one night so she can tape her special. Marty agrees, and it’s clear that, despite him being engaged, there’s still a spark or two left in their fire.
Marcus shows Ava a gorgeous potential apartment for her in Las Vegas, but she kind of wants the less glamorous one that’s closer to Deborah. She gets a call from Taylor, who offers her a one-week job punching up jokes on the pilot she’s directing. Season 1 Ava would’ve jumped at this opportunity, but Season 2 Ava is much less impulsive. She tells her she has to think it over and decides to talk to Deborah. Jimmy gets a call from the always-pleasant manager Janet Stone, who just wants to let him know that she is stealing his old clients one by one. Kayla has some choice words for her and does not hold back. Deborah opens up to Marcus about having mixed feelings about Marty’s engagement, and we learn that Marty actually proposed to her when they were younger, but she had to prioritize her career. Sacrificing real relationships for a career is something Marcus knows about all too well.
Ava has trouble asking Deborah for time off for the other writing job, but Deborah is surprisingly encouraging. When Ava finds out that it conflicts with the taping of Deborah’s special, though, she does not even hesitate with turning the other job down. Deborah, however, insists that Ava take the gig because she’s seen the show hundreds of times and should take the other opportunity. She even offers her Los Angeles house to Ava for the week, but she’s going to stay with Ruby instead.
The night of the taping is finally here, and Deborah gets a visit from Janet, who not-so-discreetly tells her she wants to steal her from Jimmy. Even though Deborah is a comedy pro, she still has pre-show jitters. She receives a precious surprise visit from Ava, who left her gig early in order to make the taping. It’s a special moment between the two that would have been almost unimaginable last season, but if there’s one thing this season made clear, it’s that these two talented and flawed individuals are fully capable of growth.
With the exception of that one audience member dying, the taping was a massive success! Deborah shoos away Janet and tells her she’s sticking with Jimmy. She even has a moment with DJ, who was understandably shaken after learning intimate details about Deborah’s heartbreaking marriage from the special. The mother and daughter share a much needed moment of honesty, as DJ expresses her fears about becoming a parent. Deborah assures her that, warts and all, being a mother is absolutely worth it.
Marcus takes what is quite possibly his first ever break from work and misses the taping to stop by Wilson’s. Wilson tells him he is in a relationship but would be willing to talk as friends, which is something Marcus actually needs. Jimmy thinks they should re-pitch the special to networks, but Deborah decides to go a different, more old-fashioned route. She heads to QVC to sell a DVD of her special to the fans that have been loyal to her the most. To everyone’s delight, the special sells out rapidly, and all the networks want the rights. Deborah is officially back on top.
Deborah gives a heartfelt speech at a party for her special, and thanks Ava for being her co-writer. Deborah sees the bright future that’s ahead for Ava and the many opportunities that are starting to come through, and could not be prouder. More importantly, she does not want to stand in her way. As the two stand alone on the rooftop, looking over the city, Deborah tells Ava she’s firing her so that Ava can make space for her own work and life experiences. Ava is completely caught off guard and breaks down, but Deborah insists it’s for her own good. As Deborah said in her special, she takes up too much space in people’s lives and she does not want Ava to be one of them. Glad you packed your tissues?
The episode ends on a bittersweet note, as Ava unpacks her new apartment and relaxes with some TV. She gets a call from Jimmy, who tells her that her contributions to the show were a success, and they want to hire her for the writing staff. He also tells her that Deborah decided to drop the lawsuit. Though this should be good news, Ava’s secretly devastated because she was looking forward to seeing Deborah again. As she walks around her apartment and listens to Jimmy, we see that she’s been watching Deborah sell a new dress zipper accessory on QVC. The final words of the episode are spoken by Deborah to the consumer, though it feels like she is talking and winking directly to Ava: “You may not know what the night has in store for you, but at least you know you’re ready for whatever comes. ”