At its core, Hacks is a romance. It can serve one-liners like a sitcom and spiral like drama, but the essential love story between Deborah and Ava makes the show special. It sobers things up when it gets goofy and sweetens the show when things get dark.
The series began with the oldest rom-com trope in the book. First, two people hate each other, then they fall in love. Season two’s adventures, betrayals, and breakthroughs have deepened Ava and Deborah’s bond from a volatile, star-crossed connection into something much less cliché: the kind of singular, fierce, redemptive relationship that changes your life. Season two’s finale perfectly taps into the romantic core of the show, culminating in another rom-com trope: If you love someone, let them go.
The finale begins with Deborah in a Sotheby’s auction house. The crew has returned to Vegas to tape the self-funded special at the Palmetto. Deborah’s at the auction to outbid the Palmetto’s owner, Marty, on the Kandinsky he wanted to get the casino for a night. (Deborah was playing hardball when she didn’t need to: He would’ve given it to her if she just asked. She’s grown up, but some things never change).
Ava, meanwhile, is struggling with her co-dependency on Deborah while choosing a new apartment in Las Vegas (she’s sold her L.A. condo and is relocating full-time). She tells Marcus that “it would just make more sense” to go with the worse place ten minutes closer to Deborah (although it has an open-concept bathroom). It’s a factor of how Ava has spent the season completely ensconced in helping Deborah tell her story. She seems to have no sense of her own anymore, let alone her ambitions. When she gets a call from Taylor, a friend she reconnected with the last episode in L.A., asking her to do punch-up writing on her pilot, she’s flustered, unsure what Deborah will say and whether she wants it at all.
When she tells Deborah, she expects rage. She stands “out of slapping range” and diminutively presents the gig as something Jimmy thinks she should do. Deborah encourages her to take it, though it falls over the taping date. Ava crushes the punch-up gig and looks blissed out to be on the set of a TV show, her original passion (keep in mind, Ava has never been a stand-up). But she dutifully leaves the gig early to get back to Vegas for the taping.
The taping scene is perfect. Elaine is boisterously commanding the sound booth, firing off one-liners left and right (“You wouldn’t have lasted a day with Andy Kaufman. He ran my dog over as a bit and I loved it”). The lines of Deborah’s act that we see are an impeccable mix of self-critical, crass, and earnest, that feel worthy of the blood, sweat, and tears she and Ava have poured into it: “I take up too much space in every room I’m in, on my tour bus … on the icons float at the Vegas Pride Parade,” she cracks. “But I love taking up space, which is painfully ironic because, as we’ve established, I’m a high-functioning anorexic.” Ava’s mouthing every word from stage left.
Disaster strikes mid-joke when the guy in the seat next to Jimmy starts seizing. It’s a suspenseful moment that feels like it could tank all of Ava and Deborah’s hard work. He dies outside the auditorium. But Jimmy saves the day, lying to the crowd that the man’s fine so Deborah can finish the show (the best comic can’t keep on making jokes after a guy drops dead). Deborah recovers: The taping is a massive success. Deborah never knows, but karmically, Jimmy is rewarded for his heroism: Affirmed by the success of the show, she sends away his nemesis agent Janet Stone, who’d been hanging around to poach her.
The taping is a moment that takes stock of how far Deborah and Ava have come. When they met, they were miserable and mean, each adrift in their own personal and professional self-sabotage cycle, unable to be vulnerable or sincere in their art or relationships. But, alike in so many ways, they’ve seen each other fully, for all their beauty and ugliness, and continued to stick by each other and learned to heal each other and themselves.
Titled My Bad, the special represents Deborah making peace with a past that has tortured her, especially her failures as a mother, as we saw in “Retired.” She finds DJ, after the show, upset and reconsidering her IVF treatments. “I always thought that you just didn’t even try. But after tonight, I’m finding out that you did try to be a good parent, and you still fucked it up. Now I’m kind of scared that I’m going to too.” She’s resolute that she regrets nothing and encourages DJ to keep trying.
The show, and the industry, reward Deborah for her growth. They’d originally planned to drop the special online, but she has the idea to sell the special on her QVC show. The special breaks records for units sold. Overnight, every network wants the rights and every magazine is calling to profile her.
The special is a triumph for both Deborah and Ava, but they end the season in different places. This tension comes to a head at the special’s premiere party. Deborah has just released a magnum opus and appears to be reaching new heights of self-actualization. Ava, who hasn’t yet found or established herself, seems to have little concept of what she wants outside of being with Deborah. She mills around in the dress Deborah bought her in “Retired,” looking startled when studio execs start approaching her to network.
Deborah sees this and knows what she needs to do. She fires Ava after she comes to find her for a toast, telling her she needs to make space for her own work. At first, Ava thinks she’s joking. She scrambles, trying to manipulate her with therapy talk: “I know what you’re doing; you’re pushing me away because you’re afraid.” But Deborah lists all of the opportunities Ava has already missed while working for Deborah: not taking credit on the special, leaving the punch-up gig early. Ava cries, protesting that she doesn’t want to be in L.A. and wants to be where Deborah is. It culminates when Ava finally admits, “[Deborah’s] the one with all the stories. What do I have to even say?” and it becomes clear that at some point, working with Deborah became a refuge where she could hide from her own ambitions and ideas.
Every rom-com needs a break-up. It’s (500) Days of Summer, it’s Casablanca, it’s Call Me by Your Name. Ava is completely devastated and can’t fathom her life without Deborah. But Ava is the one who pushed Deborah to write this special, and Deborah is intent on pushing her to pursue her passions in return. If true love is about putting someone else’s needs first, then firing Ava is an act of love. Of course, putting other people first is what Deborah has always failed to do. Losing the person who helped her find this kind of success and happiness must be scary for her too. Ava asks if they really won’t be in each other’s lives anymore. Deborah jokes that they’ll see each other in court.
In the closing scene, Ava is in her new L.A. sublet, watching TV and unpacking. Jimmy calls with good news: The pilot she wrote punch-ups on has been picked up, and they want her in the writers’ room. Jimmy has an update from Deborah: She’s dropping the lawsuit. Ava seems crushed: The court date was the next time she’d see Deborah. Jimmy is babbling about another gig (Ice Age 12 is looking for a female perspective on a wooly mammoth character), and we see that Ava was watching Deborah’s QVC show when he called.
It’s an excellent finale that closes a hilarious, big-hearted, and utterly original season, which balances the push-pull between Hacks’ sweet and provocative sides. The messages it offers are fundamentally sweet and wholesome: loving someone else can teach self-love, how art can heal, and how growth is nonlinear. But the show will always tear the rug out from under its characters just when they’ve found their footing.
• It’s a compelling choice to have Ava and Deborah’s trajectories diverge. People fell in love with Hacks because of Deborah and Ava’s friendship, the way it showed that covering pain with humor and a steely exterior is intergenerational. But the reality is that Ava is 25, and Deborah is in her 70s. Deborah knows who she is and has finally accepted it. Ava is just starting to find out. A season where they’re not working together presents interesting questions about how the show will work, how each character will progress, and how audiences will respond.
• The show’s creators really brought the lawsuit plotline around here. It had started to feel half-baked and absurd. But when Ava clings to it as a connection to Deborah, it becomes a genuinely moving twist.
• Again, letting Meg Stalter go off pays dividends. “Look, Janet, we can swing our big dicks around all day, but the fact of the matter is …” she says, jacking Jimmy’s call with Janet. Her cartoonish hard-ass new agent person is one of the most hilarious parts of this episode. They really go there.
• Hacks won’t give one single character a romantic happy ending, and it works. Marcus ditches the special to make peace with Wilson, admitting he wasn’t ready for a relationship and asking if they can be friends. Meanwhile, Deborah is rattled when she finds out Marty bought the Kandinsky as an engagement present for his new age-appropriate fiancée and we find out he once proposed to her. For now, love isn’t their first priority.