Ava is in the dog house this episode. This dog house takes the form of a coffin-size bunk bed on Deborah’s luxury tour bus (half-size to make room for her regenerative LED light therapy bed). After the bombshell of Deborah’s lawsuit, the episode begins with the girls being scooped up in a Dollar Tree parking lot by Weed (Laurie Metcalf), their eccentric, gruff new tour manager, and Damien (Ugly Betty star Mark Indelicato), Deborah’s rude, sycophantic personal assistant.
“Trust the Process” is a 30-minute obstacle course of tests designed to make Ava pay for her email. Her subpar quarters get coffin-like when Deborah buys a dresser at a yard sale (the multimillionaire bargains it down from $250 to $150) and stores it next to her bed, boxing her in. Deborah appraises Ava’s condo on StreetEasy, calculating how much it’ll go for when she wins it in the lawsuit. She tosses Ava’s kombucha out the bus window when Ava asks to remove a face cream from the fridge to make space. And Deborah ignores Ava’s preshow notes to flirt with another flannel-adorned millennial comic just to make Ava jealous. (She goes so far as to compliment her baggy overalls after asking Ava why she was dressed like “Rachel Maddow’s mechanic” in season one).
Worst of all, Deborah refuses to laugh at any of Ava’s jokes about Weed, an absurd creature that they would typically find mutually hilarious. Weed bosses them around in military time and explains (she prefers sleeping upright in the driver’s seat) that “horizontal sleeping” is terrible for you, a fact that the mattress industry has kept hush-hush. “Interesting that’s not more widely known,” deadpans Ava. Deborah gives her nothing. It’s torture: You just want to see Ava and Deborah cackling, riffing, and exchanging looks as Weed babbles on. But the silent treatment and lashing out effectively prove just how wounded Deborah still is by the email.
Laurie Metcalf and Mark Indelicato steal scene after scene as they dutifully antagonize Ava. When Weed asks where Ava is, running late from a lunch stop, Damien answers: “I don’t know, I wasn’t listening, the girl talks too slow.” It’s fun to spend time with Damien. He ensures roadside diners serve Deborah’s favorite cottage cheese, orders baggies to lock away audience members’ phones, and sleep-recites Deborah’s rider and schedule (“pellet ice, turn down Chobani, SiriusXM”). We don’t know much about him, but we learn one interesting fact. Unlike Marcus (Deborah was his hero as a closeted kid), Damien does not like comedy (“Everyone’s trying too hard. It’s like, so awkward” — Ava can’t argue). Damien’s in it for the glamour. His devotion to Deborah is hilarious if a bit distressing. The show depicted and challenged the clichéd dynamic of “gay diva worship” in the last season when Marcus pushed to be more of a partner and less an employee to Deborah. It could benefit from continuing to interrogate these dynamics.
At home in Las Vegas, Marcus is working late, gazing wistfully at Wilson’s Instagram thirst traps (though he blocked his number) and fending off his mother’s attempts to cheer him up. Marcus gets a French bulldog puppy to distract himself from how much he misses Wilson. While this delights his mother and her girlfriend, Miss Loretta (played by a scene-stealing Luenell), he won’t be able to ignore his feelings forever.
On the bus, Ava’s hanging by a thread. She’s coping with her guilt about the email, Deborah, Weed, Damien’s antagonism, and her grief for her father with a full lifestyle cleanse (“no alcohol, drugs, screentime, junk food”). She gets a flip phone, buys a giant water bottle, and announces to no one that she won’t be touching the bus liquor cabinet. It’s a fun subplot that speaks precisely to the millennial impulse to slap Band-Aids of “self-care” and wellness over pain. “I’m trying to be good,” Ava says feebly. “Making a big change in my life.”
Hacks sometimes stumbles when it works too hard to make Ava a Hannah Horvath–style Every-millennial. See the kombucha scene or Ava correcting Deborah’s use of the term “master bedroom.” Ava’s self-righteous wokeness is meant to emphasize her age, but it sometimes feels confused since she comes off as an anti-PC contrarian, the type who’d be exhausted by that stuff. Her origin story was getting canceled for making fun of a conservative politician’s gay kid, after all. (A Rachel Sennott– or Cat Cohen–flavored character would work better if the show wanted Ava to be that kind of cringe. It just goes to show: There are so many different ways for millennials to be annoying. Get it right!). But Ava’s cleanse plotline gets it just right, coming off as accurately tragic. Ava, like the rest of her generation, is deeply concerned with being “good.” But mostly because she thinks being good will make her feel better.
Mid-episode, Weed fulfills her destiny to become the mutual enemy Ava and Deborah need. When a vintage dresser drawer hits a sleeping Ava in the head, she wakes to find that Weed has thrown out the tennis ball can of her dad’s ashes. Einbinder and Metcalfe share a perfect scene when Weed explains she texted her a photo before tossing the ashes. Ava didn’t get it … because she has a flip phone. “Oh, you should really get a smartphone; they’re a game changer,” Weed says earnestly. Ava screams, with convincing rage and hysteria: “I KNOW ABOUT SMARTPHONES. I’M TRYING TO BE A GOOD PERSON, YOU DUMB BITCH.”
It’s the setup for Ava and Deborah’s reconciliation. Ava’s vulnerability activates their maternal dynamic, perhaps reminding Deborah of how truly young Ava is, of how many mistakes Deborah herself made at that age. Deborah cuts off Ava and Weed’s screaming match over how Ava will call a highway-side Uber in the middle of the night to the strip mall where Weed threw out the ashes, sans smartphone: “Turn the bus around.” Don’t choke up, I dare you!
In this episode, Ava and Deborah are both humbled. Ava’s a straight-up mess. And by helping Ava with the ashes, Deborah is forced to show how much she really cares for Ava, as much as she’d love to hate her guts. The scene shows the way Ava and Deborah bring out the best in each other — creativity, generosity, loyalty, compassion — as well as the worst. They share a tender scene in a dive bar after successfully dumpster-diving for the ashes.
In the bar, we get a fresh update on Deborah’s material. The ashes search means they will miss their show in Oklahoma City. “Those poor people have seen enough bombings,” quips Deborah. Earlier in the episode, she grimaced at a clip of herself doing a lousy joke addressing the rumor about her burning down her ex-husband’s house. Deborah knows her approach — using her regular breezy, hyperpolished, formal shtick only with more “authentic” material — isn’t working. As she tells Ava, usually, “something clicks by now.” With Ava back in her corner (and a shitload of genius comedians writing for the show), I’m hoping she’ll figure it out.
This episode is a delightful, well-choreographed comedy of errors, as Ava and Deborah each spiral separately, just a plywood tour bus wall away from each other. None of their problems are close to being solved: Deborah’s set still sucks, Ava’s still getting sued (“You know, it’s probably good your dad didn’t live to see me take you for everything you’re worth”) and sleeping in a coffin under Weed’s rule of terror. But now they have each other cling to while they circle the drain.
• The MVP of this episode is Ray (played by co-executive producer and comic Joe Mande), a concierge at the Palmetto who Ava repeatedly annoyed while living there. They shared a tender moment in episode one when they realized both their dads died recently. When Ava calls him up out of the blue from the bar bathroom, he comes up with the idea for Ava to scatter her dad’s ashes in each state, which is why the episode ends at the Grand Canyon.
• After Ava and Deborah’s reconciliation, they finally share an eye-roll moment at Weed when they’re at the Grand Canyon. Weed pops out of the bus to announce it’s time for Ava to “bottle up papa and hit the road.” Looking forward to more Weed-Ava-Deborah face-offs.