Hacks Season 1 Finale Review: I Think It Will

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NOTE: This post contains detailed spoilers for hacks “Interview” and “I Think She Will”. Discover our last review here.

Ghosts haunt the world of Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and the idea behind her latest show in Las Vegas at the Palmetto Casino is to breathe new life into her career by confronting the past. Death ends the first season of hacks with Deborah’s ex-husband Frank dying in the first episode and Ava’s (Hannah Einbinder) father suffering a second stroke in the finale after claiming he felt ready to travel again . The latter sends Ava on a flight back to Boston, but other confounding circumstances mean that Deborah is ready to banish the young comedian to the desert with the other people she thinks screwed her up. The veteran performer has already refused to wallow in the past in order to thrive in the present, however, some relationships can’t be killed so easily.

After the exhilarating experience in Sacramento — which doesn’t deserve a mention this week, surprisingly — the duo are back in Las Vegas to put the finishing touches on new material based on old stories. After hitting a solid momentum, Ava was offered a dream job interview with the British creators of the critically acclaimed series. The reunion is set for the eve of the 2,500th show, and Ava risks a quick return to Los Angeles using the excuse of a doctor’s appointment to free up time.

Even if you haven’t seen the episode (in which case, why are you reading this spoiler-filled review?), it’s not a stretch to guess that Deborah will find out about this lie and push the young writer away. It’s also no surprise that Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) is the architect behind this reveal, but he also manages to plant the seed without getting involved. Instead, he calls Jimmy (Paul W. Downs) to scold him for this unexpected meeting – a meeting Jimmy had no idea was taking place – and suggests that he call Deborah to apologize.

“Interview” puts all the pieces in place for the final showdown and effectively creates a sense of dread behind Ava’s every move. When she picks up the Fenty Puma sneakers from her townhouse, the subletter is on the phone with Marcus and he hears the purpose of this trip. Ava has no idea the jig is up and showed very different behavior from Ava during her stay at the house. She meets her ex at their favorite restaurant and instead of going back to Ruby’s (Lorenza Izzo) after a kiss, she chooses instead to get ready for her interview. She didn’t even do the bare minimum before her interview with Deborah, which shows organic growth over the season.

Lunch with the Brits (Chris Geere and Kirby Howell-Baptiste are the dream couple) goes wonderfully. The only downside is when they reveal they’re after Ava’s unfiltered takes to work for an older boss who’s a freak. The show’s premise is a “well-observed character study of a shitty woman” and claims to be feminist by pointing out that some women are actually crazy. Ava is horrified by this misreading of Deborah and the new hour they created is antithetical to this idea. Tapping another nail in her career coffin, Ava prefers to take her dignity (yes, she’s falling) and return to a town she kinda hates. It’s the loyalty Deborah craved, but unfortunately the version of this story she hears is that the Gen Z writer is repeating her ex-husband’s path.

Separating Deborah’s interview with a reporter and Ava’s business lunch in Los Angeles is the call Jimmy makes to apologize about Ava’s whereabouts, so this perceived betrayal sets the tone for this seated conversation. Somehow, all she reveals is a reworked version of what she told Ava about her creative relationship with Frank in episode 6however, now the remarks about improving each other and a shared private language are as much about Ava as Frank.

hacks is a love story reflecting the intense bond of a successful artistic partnership – and the heartbreak that plagues the next such relationship. “But his ambition got in the way and he left me,” is full of Ava’s subtext, and her insistence that she’s fine with living a solitary life is a lie. “I don’t pretend, I never did,” she says of not being afraid of loneliness.

When Ava returns to Vegas, the mood is off and Deborah is covered in fish guts in the kitchen. At the end of episode 3, after the comic book veteran sees his employee laughing out loud while watching the unaired late-night pilot, she goes fishing in her backyard and discards the squirming animal in the water. The fact that she’s now cutting one into pieces increases the tension before smashing in the credits with none-the-wiser Ava.

“I think I could be happy,” Ava tells Ruby in “Interview,” and as soon as a character says those words, their world is going to crumble. Not only does Deborah ignore her young protege in the finale, but Ava also receives a call from home that her father has had another stroke. Instead of telling Ava that she knows LA, Deborah is frosty about this medical emergency, and it takes Jimmy to meet in the casino lobby for a confrontation to occur. Finding out that Deborah isn’t doing the new material sends Ava back into the locker room and what follows is a sharp version of their first meetingwho now has the added benefit of knowing each other intimately.

Cover of Time Magazine in Hacks season 1 finale

(Image credit: HBO Max)

Deborah tries it best Don Draper when she tells Ava “I don’t really think about you”, and unlike how Don feels nothing, this attempt to push away a new confidante is pretty transparent. She then sums up her whole philosophy about it, rejecting everything they worked for, while accidentally guessing the job Ava turned down out of loyalty:

“You can’t tell me what’s important. You’re safe here, it’s just a blip. You can fly out tomorrow and it’ll just be a fun story about a job you once did. It’s my life! I don’t need to make a show of dwelling on the past. I’m moving on, I always have. End of discussion.

Generational and even comedic sensibilities are points of contention, but Ava refuses to be kicked out and cites Deborah’s propensity to bail. “You’re a fucking hack,” Ava spits before Deborah slaps her in the face. She quits and leaves for Boston, but the unwrapped gift she had already dropped off makes a big impact – a framed copy of the 1976 Time cover bearing the cover line “Will Deborah Vance Make History?” with a note from Ava that says “I think she will”. To heighten the emotional resonance, the same piano music that accompanied Ava’s first discovery of this magazine – this score is indeed their love theme – plays during this scene.

Deborah takes the stage in her killer outfit and we don’t see her on set or the reaction. Instead, Ava arrives home to her mother who is trying to cancel her father’s baseball television subscription. It’s slightly shocking that he went from a second stroke to death without a scene covering his disappearance (Ava isn’t shocked by this, so maybe a scene was deleted) . In Ava’s childhood bedroom, now gym equipment and a cat litter box – she’s allergic – reside along with leftovers from her teenage years via Entertainment Weekly covers on her wall and a true blood attach. The already strained relationship with his mother Nina (played by the excellent Jane Adams) follows one another and the funeral is a stark and impersonal affair.

In “1.69 Million”, Deborah explains that she doesn’t do funerals, which makes the sequel all the more poignant. Deborah flew to Boston and only makes her presence known when the congregation needs a warm-up number. To break the ice, she asks for stories about Ava’s father that reveal his kindness through hilarious anecdotes. Nina is seen laughing for the first time and this magical moment highlights just how compelling comedy is. In Ava’s bedroom-turned-gym, she finds her former boss looking through the time capsule of her life, including a childhood photo that proves she has alien fingers.

Jean Smart in Hacks season 1 finale

(Image credit: HBO Max)

What follows is a beautiful scene about how comedy has helped Ava with loneliness and grief management issues. Deborah offers an excellent tutorial on how to cry without moving your forehead (to avoid wrinkles). This reconciliation includes an update on the final issuance. She bombed, but she loved that feeling, and some of the set pieces really work.

Included between Easttown Mare and hacks, the last few months have been dominated by Jean Smart. Although they are wildly disparate shows, the thread of heartbreak connects the two. Delivering powerful performance on both counts, it’s safe to say that when we do the Best of 2021 lists, Smart will be high on the list. “I Think She Will” is dedicated to Jean Smart’s husband of nearly 34 years, Richard Gilliland, who sadly passed away last March, and the added poignancy of the funeral scene and that overall theme is hard to ignore.

Setting up season 2 (it’s been officially renewed) the plan is to take it on tour and the added bombshell at the end is that Ava emailed the UK writers with a screed on her bad boss. Series creators Lucia Aniello (who also directed those two episodes), Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky have cleverly plotted this season, along with additional challenges, and Deborah Vance is TV’s It Woman.

Additional rewards

– It’s not just Deborah and Ava whose storylines have left us wanting more. Marcus received a promotion but also potentially lost his personal life. Its final scene suggests that Wilson (Johnny Sibilly) is no more, but the fact that Marcus is wearing the ugly shoes is a hope for reconciliation down the line. Plus, Wilson is a dream ship who gets helpful suggestions from TikTok sanity and won’t let Marcus’ co-dependency with his boss usurp their relationship.

– Deborah asks DJ (Kaitlin Olson) if she’s comfortable with her talking about moments in her life and it’s a rare sweet moment between mother and daughter, in which DJ says she trusts to his judgment.

– “Kayla did it again,” is a hilarious line read by Paul W. Downs and Meg Stalter continues to steal every scene she’s in while making Jimmy’s life hell.

– Costume designer Kathleen Felix-Hager offers another glitzy ensemble delight and the perfect pair of painful but pretty stilettos that Deborah chooses over the most comfortable option.

– If season 2 goes down the road, I hope Kiki (Poppy Liu) comes along for the ride and there isn’t enough of this wonderful character in the last two episodes.

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