‘Hacks’ Creators on That Cliffhanger Ending & Deborah’s ‘Kindness’ Towards Ava
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Hacks Season 1, Episodes 9 and 10, “Interview” and “I Think She Will.”]
Fresh off of its Season 2 renewal, Hacks has delivered its final two episodes and they were a doozy. After a tumultuous season of following the dark mentorship between Las Vegas residency comedian Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder), things came to a head.
When Ava steps out for a job interview, her excursion leads to distrust between her and Deborah. After learning that her father has taken a turn for the worst with a second stroke, Ava leaves on the night of Deborah’s final performance, leading to a rift. While things are repaired to an extent when Deborah visits Ava in Boston where they’re holding a funeral for her dad, the women make amends. But will it last? Before the makeup, Ava let her frustrations out in an email to the writers she interviewed with, leading to some possibly damaging stories about Deborah in the press. Yikes.
Below, series creators Lucia Aniello, Jen Statsky, and Paul W. Downs (who also plays Deborah and Ava’s manager Jimmy) open up about the season’s biggest lingering questions, and hint at what’s to come next.
That was quite the cliffhanger ending with Ava’s email to the writers being discovered by Jimmy. Should viewers expect some immediate blowback for her actions when the show returns?
Lucia Aniello: Beautiful question. We are not legally allowed to answer.
Jen Statsky: They will cut the recording. We’ll just go black on the screen if we start to answer.
Lucia: Whether or not it’s dealt with immediately or long-term, I think, ultimately serves as just a foil for their relationship moving forward.
Paul W. Downs: Yes. It will have an impact, let’s just say.
The season left some things unresolved, particularly when it comes to Deborah’s relationship with her sister. Now that she’s opened up about her ex-husband, is there more story to tell from this angle?
Jen: Without getting specific, I think, what you’re hinting at for both of these characters is the progress for people to change is not always a perfect straight line. With what Ava does in that moment in the finale is she’s sliding back into her old, more impulsive ways, and the same can be said for Deborah. Even though she’s made some strides, we always just want to be really truthful to real life and keep the show grounded. People don’t necessarily always change and then go, “Okay, great. I’m changed. I’ll never deal with those problems again.” So certainly Deborah, even though she’s taken a step forward, it wouldn’t be surprising if there were some steps backwards at times.
Paul: Maybe two.
Lucia: Maybe two. Maybe three. However many steps you think is right.
Paul: But we will say that she does learn to move on.
Lucia: I can’t imagine it’s the last time that we’ve seen [Deborah’s sister] Kathy (Linda Purl).
Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) tattles on Ava’s job interview in these final episodes. Is that the more cutthroat side of him coming out or is there a deeper meaning behind his actions?
Paul: He is a shark and he maneuvers. You are seeing some of that in his fanning the flames of the wedge between Ava and Deborah. But I think, for Marcus, we always wanted to showcase a character who prioritized the work and support of this woman, Deborah Vance, sometimes over his personal life. He’s starting to understand [he] isn’t necessarily Deborah’s priority and, because of that, it’s shaking the ground beneath him as well. So Ava’s coming into the mix changes the dynamic for everybody… So the stakes are very personal and high for Marcus.
Lucia: Yeah. It’s a bit more complicated than just being jealous of Deborah’s affection to Ava. He’s forced to analyze himself. I think that he’s not quite ready to do that and so he’s still fighting against it with every tool he has.
Jen: In regards to what he does in Episode 9 with tattling, as you said, he’s not a pushover. In fact, he’s built Deborah’s empire and made her a brand, and you don’t get to do that if you are not very savvy in business ways. So that was definitely not just a jealousy thing, but, like you said, that business acumen and kind of cutthroat-ness that has allowed him to build this empire for Deborah is seeping in.
Paul: I’d add that not only is it not just about jealousy. I do think Marcus is acting in what he feels is Deborah’s best interest, and the interest of [Deborah’s] empire.
When I spoke with you all before the show premiered, I asked if Jimmy would ever get his coffee from Kayla (Meg Stalter). Clearly he got more than just coffee when she books them the honeymoon suite in Las Vegas. Did you plan that after filming the first few episodes? The banter between Jimmy and Kayla is definitely a series highlight.
Paul: Actually, the finale episode’s honeymoon suite scene was written for her audition. So Meg Stalter auditioned with that scene.
Lucia: All Kaylas did.
Paul: All the Kaylas did, yes. We did have Meg Stalter in mind, but, again, it was the kind of thing where this is an HBO Max show and we do need to cast a wide net and just see who’s out there. But she was so incredibly liquid-funny that it was a no-brainer. That was something that wasn’t changed throughout the season. It was something that was our plan from the beginning.
Jen: The only thing that was changed while that scene was there from the very beginning… Both Paul and Meg are incredibly talented improvisers. So there are moments in that scene which is purely them just getting to go off. There’s a 45-minute-long cut of that scene that I think people would really love. This is our Release the Snyder Cut. It’s just –
Lucia: Release the Jimmy-Kayla Cut.
Paul: Yeah. Release the Jimmy-Kayla Cut.
Lucia: If you guys can get #releasethejimmykaylacut trending, we will release the full scene.
When it came to Deborah’s controversial comedy set, you didn’t reveal anything. Did she really bomb like she told Ava? What made you choose to take that direction?
Paul: Well, we feel that Deborah did bomb. She’s telling the truth. She bombed. As much as we may see the work that goes into that show in the future, for us, it was really more about the decision that Deborah makes to do that show, to do the hard thing, than the content of the show itself. When you’re writing about comedy and you’re writing comedy, sometimes it’s great to see it… For us, it was not the most interesting thing to see. For us, seeing this woman make that decision was more interesting than the content of the show. As you see in the finale when she shows up in Boston, she almost does a version of what that is: a raw and vulnerable performance piece that we feel took the place of that for us. But you never know. Going forward you may see [it].
Speaking of Deborah’s visit to Boston, the funeral scene was perfect. What goes into the planning of a moment like that? There was something extremely relatable about it.
Lucia: Well, we knew that what we wanted an olive branch being extended from Deborah to Ava. Obviously, her just being there and flying to Boston and showing up for the funeral is a pretty big moment for her… In terms of the actual speech and what she says, for us, I think we knew our purpose in having that scene and how we wanted the audience in the funeral and the audience at home to feel. I think that one was a particularly emotional scene for us, and for Jean, and Hannah, and everybody who was there, it’s a very special one.
Jen: It was a really special moment and day of shooting. That scene, I think, to us, we love it so much because it’s an olive branch. But it’s also like that’s a gift Deborah has that no one else has. That she can just go up and stand up there and make people laugh. No one knows what to say. Grief is something that is as much as we should all be used to it by now, we’re not. People don’t know what to say. It’s really hard. So for Deborah to give that gift to Ava and to her mom and her family of just letting people laugh and release that tension was very special and Jean just performs it so beautifully.
Lucia: I don’t know if this is of note, but it was actually in our original pitch for the show, that scene.
Paul: Yeah. We didn’t know exactly what would happen. We knew that Deborah would come to the funeral and we knew that she would make Ava’s mother laugh, because we said in the pitch, “Deborah is not always kind but she’s always funny.” So in that moment when they really need to laugh she comes and does the kindest thing she can.
The series follows the growing bond between Deborah and Ava. While it seems like there’s respect there, is there also love?
Paul: Well, I think love is and can be tumultuous and difficult and challenging and painful. I think that, to me, means they’re very much in love. They do love each other, but because it’s—
Lucia: You don’t always end up with the people you love.
Hacks, Season 1, Streaming Now, HBO Max