Hacks season 1 finale review: I think she will

Ava's loyalty is put to the test in "Interview" and "I Think She Will."

Jean Smart in the Hacks Season 1 Finale I Think She Will
(Image: © HBO Max)

What to Watch Verdict

An emotional finale that packs a punch, provides closure and proves this is a different kind of love story.


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    Jean Smart delivers yet another layered powerhouse performance

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    Ava has shown real growth over the season

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    The gift Ava gives and the score callback to episode 3

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    Several threads already set up for a second season

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    Deborah's stage stilettos and another sparkly suit dream


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    Not enough of the supporting cast like Kiki and DJ in this pair of episodes

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    No real reaction or aftermath to the comedy club moment in episode 8

NOTE: This post contains detailed spoilers for Hacks "Interview" and "I Think She Will." Check out our last review here.

Ghosts haunt Deborah Vance’s (Jean Smart) world and the idea behind her final Las Vegas show at the Palmetto Casino is to breathe new life into her career by confronting the past. Death bookends 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 was feeling ready to travel again. The latter sends Ava on a flight back to Boston, but other conflating circumstances mean that Deborah is ready to banish the young comic to the wilderness with the other people she believes have screwed her over. The veteran performer has previously refused to wallow in the past in order to thrive in the present, however, some relationships cannot be killed that easily. 

After the exhilarating experience in Sacramento — which doesn’t warrant a mention this week, surprisingly — the duo is back in Las Vegas putting the final touches to the new material based on old stories. After hitting a solid rhythm, Ava has been offered a dream job interview with the British creators of the critically acclaimed series. The meeting is set for the day before the 2,500th show and Ava chances a quick return to LA using the guise of a doctor’s appointment to free up the time. 

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

"Interview" moves all the pieces into place for the finale showdown and effectively builds a sense of dread behind Ava’s every move. When she goes to grab the Fenty Puma sneakers from her townhouse, the subletter is on the phone to Marcus and he hears the purpose of this trip. Ava is completely clueless that the jig is up and has exhibited very un-Ava-like behavior during her sojourn home. She runs into her ex at their favorite restaurant and instead of going back to Ruby’s (Lorenza Izzo) after a smooch, she instead chooses to prepare for her interview. She didn’t even do the bare minimum before her Deborah interview so this shows organic growth over the course of the season. 

Lunch with the Brits (Chris Geere and Kirby Howell-Baptiste are the dream pair) goes swimmingly. The only downside is when they reveal they are after Ava’s unfiltered takes on working for an older female boss who is a monster. The premise of the show 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 misread of Deborah and the new hour they have created is antithetical to this idea. Tapping another nail into her career coffin, Ava would rather take her dignity (yes, she falls over) and go back to a city she kinda hates. This is the loyalty Deborah has been craving, 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 LA is the call Jimmy makes to apologize about Ava’s whereabouts, so this perceived betrayal sets the tone of this sit-down chat. In a way, everything she reveals is a reworked version of what she told Ava about her creative relationship with Frank in episode 6, however, now the remarks about making each other better and a shared private language are as much about Ava as they are about Frank. 

Hacks is a love story reflecting the intense bond of a fruitful artistic partnership — and the heartbreak that impacts the next relationship of this kind. "But his ambition got in the way and he left me," is full of Ava subtext, and her insistence that she is fine living a solitary life is a lie. "I don’t pretend, I never have" she claims about not fearing loneliness. 

When Ava arrives back in Vegas, the vibe is off and Deborah is covered in fish guts in the kitchen. At the end of episode 3, after the veteran comic has witnessed her employee laughing her head off while watching the unaired late-night pilot, she goes fishing in her garden and throws the wiggling animal back in the water. The fact she is now chopping one to pieces ups the tension before smashing to the credits with Ava none the wiser.

"I think I might be happy," Ava tells Ruby in "Interview," and as soon as a character utters these words their world is going to come crashing down. Not only is Deborah ignoring her young protege in the finale, but Ava also receives a call from home that her dad has had another stroke. Instead of telling Ava she knows about LA, Deborah is ice cold about this medical emergency, and it takes running into Jimmy in the casino lobby for a confrontation to occur. Finding out that Deborah is not doing the new material sends Ava back to the dressing room and what follows is a pointed version of their first encounter, which now has the added benefit of them knowing each other intimately.

Time Magazine cover in the Hacks Season 1 finale

(Image credit: HBO Max)

Deborah tries her best Don Draper when she tells Ava "I don’t really think about you," and unlike how Don doesn’t actually feel anything, this attempt to push away a new confidante is rather transparent. She then sums up her whole ethos on the matter, rejecting everything they have been working toward, while also accidentally guessing the job Ava turned down out of loyalty: 

"You don’t get to tell me what is important. You’re risking nothing here, this is just a blip. You can get on a plane tomorrow and this is just going to be a funny story about a job you once had. This is my life! I don’t need to do a whole show dwelling on the past. I move forward, 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 for bailing. "You are a f***ing hack," Ava spits before Deborah slaps her around the face. She quits and leaves for Boston, but the unwrapped gift she had already dropped off has 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 reads “I think she will.”  To up the emotional resonance, the same piano music that accompanied Ava’s initial discovery of this magazine — this score is effectively their love theme — plays during this scene.

Deborah heads out onto the stage in her killer outfit and we don’t see her set or the reaction. Instead, Ava arrives home to her mom attempting to cancel her dad’s baseball TV subscription. It's slightly jarring that he went from a second stroke to dying without a scene covering his demise (Ava isn’t shocked by this so maybe a scene was deleted). In Ava’s childhood room, now gym equipment and a cat litter box — she is allergic — reside along with remnants of her teen self via Entertainment Weekly covers on her wall and a True Blood poster. The already fraught relationship with her mother Nina (played by the excellent Jane Adams) is dialed up and the funeral is a dour and impersonal affair. 

In "1.69 Million," Deborah explains that she doesn’t do funerals, which makes what follows even more poignant. Deborah has flown to Boston and only makes her presence known when the congregation needs a warm-up act. To break the ice, she asks for stories about Ava’s father that reveal his kindness through hilarious anecdotes. We see Nina laughing for the first time and this magical moment highlights how comedy is a binding force. In Ava’s bedroom-turned-gym, she finds her former boss looking at the time capsule of her life — including a childhood photo that proves she has alien fingers.

Jean Smart in the Hacks Season 1 finale

(Image credit: HBO Max)

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

Between Mare of Easttown and Hacks, the last few months have been dominated by Jean Smart. While they are wildly disparate shows, the thread of grief links the two. Delivering powerhouse performances in both, it is safe to say that when we are drawing up Best of 2021 lists, Smart will feature heavily. "I Think She Will" is dedicated to Jean Smart’s husband of nearly 34 years, Richard Gilliland, who sadly died last March, and the added poignancy of the funeral scene and this overall theme is hard to ignore. 

Setting up season 2 (it has been officially renewed) the plan is to take it on tour and the extra bombshell at the end is Ava did email the British writers with a screed about her bad boss. Series creators Lucia Aniello (who also directed these two episodes), Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky have expertly plotted this season, along with additional challenges, and Deborah Vance is TV's It Woman. 

Extra Gags

- It isn’t just Deborah and Ava whose storylines have been left with us craving more. Marcus has been given a promotion but also potentially lost out on his personal life. His final scene suggests that Wilson (Johnny Sibilly) is no more, but the fact Marcus is wearing the ugly toe shoes is hope for reconciliation down the line. Plus, Wilson is a dreamboat who gets helpful suggestions from mental health TikTok and won’t let Marcus’ co-dependency with his boss usurp their relationship. 

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

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

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

- If season 2 is set on the road, hopefully, Kiki (Poppy Liu) will come along for the ride and there is not enough of this wonderful character in the last two episodes. 

Emma Fraser

Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.