Hacks season 2 episode 2 review: honest Ava

Ava and Deborah's road trip gets off to a bumpy start.

Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder in Hacks
(Image: © Karen Ballard/HBO Max)

What to Watch Verdict

Laugh out loud moments and a gut-punch is Hacks at its best.


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    The scene in the diner and Lucia Aniello's directing

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    Jimmy's bad luck

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    The sunglasses conversation

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    Deborah enthusiastically singing along to the radio


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    Again, only a few supporting cast members

NOTE: This post contains spoilers for Hacks season 2 episode 2, "Quid Pro Quo." Read our recap of Hacks season 2 episode 1 right here.

Ava (Hannah Einbinder) is honest to the point of revealing far too much about every facet of her life, so it isn’t surprising she cannot keep the email transgression secret for too long. 

The second episode of the Hacks season 2 opens with Deborah (Jean Smart) enthusiastically singing along to "You’re No Good" by Linda Ronstadt, as she is having a blast on this road trip. Ava’s face continues to depict a queasy mood, but so far Deborah hasn’t picked up on anything being awry, which points to a level of self-absorption from the star. Whereas "There Will Be Blood" is a satisfying start, "Quid Pro Quo" is a reminder of why Hacks took award season by storm last year.

It might have been a different story if the Hacks creators Jen Statsky, Lucia Aniello (who also directed the first two episodes) and Paul W. Downs didn’t pull off the email Band-Aid this early on. The tension in the first half of the episode is dominated by Ava’s internal battle between doing the smart thing and what she believes is the right thing. She can’t handle Deborah’s pleasant mood and little gifts like gas station sunglasses that perfectly suit Ava’s face. Deborah doesn’t see the latter as a big deal because they only cost $4.99, but intimate gestures like this point to their growing bond.

Each tiny act pushes Ava closer to ruining this pleasant road trip vibe and a visit to Deborah’s psychic in Sedona is the final straw. A snapshot reveals Ava’s blue aura represents honesty and Deborah wholeheartedly agrees with this assessment. One tarot card suggests a "cosmic wrecking ball" is coming Deborah’s way, making Ava sweat. A disastrous truth is about to be revealed and the owner of a crystal store finds themselves caught in the middle of this storm.

Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart stare at each other in a store in Hacks

Hanna Einbinder and Jean Smart in Hacks (Image credit: Courtesy of HBO Max)

Ava chooses this public place to tell Deborah because she can no longer hold it in — and also, she is afraid of what her boss might do in private. "You did what?" is Deborah’s initial and somewhat calm response. Ava notes it might not even go to series and showbiz experience informs Deborah’s follow-up question, "Who's starring in it?" When she finds out it is Helen Mirren; her fury erupts because Mirren all but guarantees this show is getting made. As she throws whatever crystals and rocks are close to her hand, she yells, "I’ll buy what I break!" 

Later, Ava is surprised Deborah wants to go for dinner with her, but this is part of Ava’s punishment. Deborah asks to hear the entire email, which Ava does reluctantly. The diner scene is a showcase for both performers and the impact of Ava’s words typed while in a cloud of fury strikes both women. Director Lucia Aniello also doesn’t give the audience the chance to look away and it is painful to watch this exceptional scene unfold.  

Smart’s reactions range from bitter amusement to a gut-punch of pain at the secrets Ava shared with the writers. The petty observations are fair game, but it has gone too far when she digs into Deborah’s relationship with DJ (Kaitlin Olson) and notes that everyone in her life is on her payroll. 

Einbinder excels in reading words she wishes she could take back and her attempts to counter these views with how she feels now are worthless to Deborah. This moment is equally uncomfortable and riveting; it's hard to see how they will come back from this point of no return.

Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart outside a frozen yogurt store in Hacks

Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart in Hacks (Image credit: Karen Ballard/HBO Max)

Ava is not surprised to see Deborah’s car gone in the morning but is shocked when her boss returns with coffee. She views this beverage suspiciously as she knows Deborah has banished people from her life for way less. 

However, it all becomes clear when Jimmy (Paul W. Downs) calls to tell Ava she is being sued for breaking her NDA. Deborah wants a professional partnership and revenge. It's a fun twist to this email saga and the current standup tour situation.   

While the Ava and Deborah scenes are fraught and funny, poor Jimmy’s no good terrible day provides the episode's biggest laughs. His new assistant is everything Kayla (Meg Stalter) wasn’t and he cannot believe the difference it has made. The British TV show mess is in hand as he has a lunch meeting with Janet Stone (Ming-Na Wen) arranged to bury the email. 

Ming-Na Wen and Paul W. Downs sit in a restaurant in Hacks

Ming-Na Wen and Paul W. Downs in Hacks (Image credit: Karen Ballard/HBO Max)

It's all going well until she asks to toast her house selling success and Jimmy is reluctant because it's bad luck to clink with water. He ignores his gut instinct and quips about almost buying a home in the same neighborhood. She quickly deduces he was the buyer who cost her $500,000 (due to a discovery of mold) and the email is back on the table.

Jimmy isn’t out of options. The quid pro quo comes into play when his boss (who happens to be Kayla’s dad) has a director client that Janet wants for the show. He can make it all go away, but the one caveat is Jimmy must take Kayla back as his assistant. He reluctantly agrees to this and this buries the email once more. 

Unfortunately, events in Sedona have already taken a turn and Jimmy is aghast when Ava tells him what she did. "Why? Why?" is all he can get out at first. It somehow gets worse for Jimmy as he is now committed to a 52-week anger management course that he cannot skip. 

The wrecking ball has hit and Hacks has come out swinging.

New episodes of Hacks release on HBO Max every Thursday.

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.