Photo: Karen Ballard/HBO Max
In episode four, hacks gives Deborah a great test which she fails spectacularly: a weekend aboard a lesbian cruise.
Deborah and Ava end up here because Marcus dropped the ball (more on that later) and forgot lesbians exist by booking Deborah on a “gay cruise” – a smart jab at the precarious position of lesbians in the world. cultural imagination, not to mention queer culture. Gay as lesbian, Margaret Cho informs Deborah with a smirk (in an unfortunately brief cameo) as she disembarks after entertaining the cargo of queer women.
After bombing the entire Southwest, Deborah was eager to perform in front of a boat full of gay worshippers, as she calls them: “her people.” Deborah is horrified. “Gays get me. Lesbians are not my audience,” she complains to Ava, who suggests it might be related to Deborah’s “hundreds of thousands of jokes being made at their expense” over the years. when they first met, Deborah asked Ava if she was a lesbian because she was “dressed like Rachel Maddow’s mechanic”.)
In Vegas, Ava was the fish out of water; Deborah was the queen of the desert. On the cruise, Ava is the superstar. She is immediately complimented on her Chacos and picked up by a mule woman named Linda who compliments her “strawberry mane”. Ava reconsiders her sobriety out of necessity after timing a couple that Linda tells her is the “It” couple of the “lavender trip” circuit. Ava was hung up on her ex-girlfriend Ruby in season one, but they ended the season on good terms as friends. This season, she’s single, horny, and has completely forgotten how to interact with queer women and people her own age.
Fortunately, Deborah agrees to play the role of wingman. They share a fun sleepover scene as they prepare to go out. Deborah paints Ava’s nails; Ava coaches Deborah as she FaceTimes her crush Marty (she fades after he turns out to be a butt dial). Although Deborah lies to Ava about Jimmy’s bad news (he’s having trouble getting her a new reputable residence), the pair are on better terms than they’ve been all season.
The intimate, feminine ritual encourages Ava to ask Deborah how she writes about sex in her sets, usually in terms of unsatisfying sex with unhelpful men. Deborah insists it’s just part of her shtick but admits she’s never really considered being with a woman before and it wouldn’t have been easy being queer when she was growing. I like this moment because it suggests that the same baggage (Deborah’s refusal to be vulnerable, honest, and open about her desires) holds both her life and her comedy together. This scene could so easily be a nerdy game of millennial versus boomer, where Ava teaches Deborah about the nuance and fluidity of sexuality (they do it a little, but briefly, when Ava asks Deborah if she “even knows where she is on the Kinsey scale”). But Ava reflects in real time, articulating her anxieties about her bisexuality. She feels confused about whether her attraction to men is “real” or just a factor in the attention bonus. male in society. His only lesson to Deborah: “Your sexuality is not a choice, whether you examine it or not.”
hacks is a show about queer characters, performed by queer actors and written, in this case, by queer writers. But it doesn’t often explicitly address queer issues, like many queer-marketed shows, instead opting to portray queer characters living out their complicated personal lives and professional ambitions. It ends up being refreshing for the show to use the intelligent and nuanced characters it created to portray what conversations about dating, sex, and homophobia between a young queer woman and an older woman might really look like. (apparently) heterosexual.
However, hacks fakes us out with the idea that Deborah might be happy to eat pussy (or at least become more enlightened about homosexuality) by the end of the episode. hacks is true to its characters’ flaws and doesn’t fiddle with growth arcs from episode to episode. At first, it’s unclear if Deborah is acting in bad faith when, after her and Ava’s powwow, she starts flirting with a woman and takes the stage to lead the lesbians in an impromptu karaoke of “You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman).” The next morning, she tells Ava in the buffet line that she thinks she’s a “high woman” and compliments a woman’s Chacos.
On her set, it becomes clear that Deborah hasn’t really warmed to lesbian culture or reflected meaningfully on her sexuality. She has just realized that she can also sell tickets to gay women. His set is shamelessly flattering, sexist and homophobic. She does Ellen’s dance, flirts idly, and jokes that she’s out of levee league and the ship’s captain can’t “parallel park.” The set ends when a Chaco is thrown at her head; soon after, she is thrown off the boat by a quorum of lesbians.
Being booed off a cruise ship in a dingy could be as low as we’ve seen Deborah. What does it mean that she fails this test so spectacularly? This episode could have been a one-liner: Old people! Out of reach! Problem! Instead, it asks what it takes for someone to be open to new ideas and experiences, especially late in life, and especially an artist, for whom to understand and empathize with others. is crucial to his work. And that shows the stakes of doing so. At this point, Deborah has yet to learn how to extend the generosity, self-reflection, and empathy she (at least occasionally) shows Ava to other people. But maybe it will take to hit rock bottom for Deborah to face her arrogance.
Deborah isn’t the only character at rock bottom in this episode. Marcus drowns his sorrows with Molly, Adderall and a pack of club gays. It’s clear that he’s here to feel superior to a bunch of messy, juvenile dudes, even though he uses the same drugs and makes the same bad choices. Sorry, but what horse is he on when he snaps, ‘No offense, but I’m not a waiter, I’m a CEO’ as he changes for breakfast in the club’s bathroom . But he’s spent too much time partying and neglecting his career (i.e. accidentally signing up Deborah for that shitshow), the one thing that usually makes him feel good about himself. He can’t make a boss or a slacker properly.
The show doesn’t pull any punches describing its spiral. Marcus returns home to find he left Adderall within reach of his new puppy. He finds the dog moaning on the floor. He is humiliated when the vet does not return the dog to him, as he is clearly on drugs.
But the episode shows Deborah’s duality. When Marcus breaks down on the phone, explaining how bad he is, she immediately relents and tells him to come meet them on tour and take over as tour manager (unfortunately that’s the end of the weed road). Next episode, the whole gang will be together again. Ava, Deborah and Marcus have their work cut out for them.
• There are so many ways a TV episode about a lesbian cruise could be cheap and goofy, relying on easy situational humor and lesbian fashion jokes (I personally thought it had the perfect number of Chacos bits ). Kudos to Pat Regan and Ariel Karlin, who skillfully crafted an outrageous script to portray nuanced conversation and move each character’s arc forward. “The Captain’s Wife” is a dark horse contender for the funniest and most brutal episode of the season yet.
• If you are interested in the dynamics of the “gay diva cult” at work in hacks As for Deborah’s queer staff and fans, here’s a writing breaking down 50 years of discourse on the idea “that gay men appreciate divas because women’s struggles resonate with their own experiences in a homophobic society”.
• Ava is the MVP of this episode. She’s just trying to relax, have a threesome and help Deborah’s sex life! It’s hard to outshine Jean Smart, but Hannah Einbinder is utterly charming, playing the silly, serious side of her acerbic character as she stumbles and stutters around the boat full of beautiful women. She’s the source of most of the episode’s funniest moments (like the precise way she yells “No!” like an 8-year-old who’s pulled from a slumber party when Deborah ruins her self- saying hot threesome), which are the glue between the serious, painful and gritty scenes of the episode.
• The karaoke scene is a perfect example of how Smart pulls off the character of Deborah. She portrays Deborah as such a natural and charismatic performer that you never wonder how she got to where she is. Meryl Streep should watch herself: Smart has the cheeks and the voice.