What to Watch Verdict
Director Lucia Aniello successfully captures intimate, vulnerable and very funny moments.
Hannah Einbinder's performance
The big tour bus and the arrival of Damien
Guest star Laurie Metcalf
The bar and Grand Canyon scenes
Marcus feels a little disconnected from the main storyline
The Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) tour switches out the intimate interior of the veteran comic’s plush Rolls Royce for a cramped and spacious tour bus — depending on assigned sleeping quarters. While Ava no longer has to sweat out her email secret on Hacks, her confession has not eased the tension.
Now there are additional people on hand to witness Deborah’s increased mean streak, as personal assistant Damien (Mark Indelicato) and tour manager Alice, aka "Weed" (Laurie Metcalf), have joined the traveling circus. Pete Wentz gave Alice this nickname ("When Pete gives you a nickname, it sticks"), as she is not against name-dropping stars. Alice is also a stickler for keeping to the schedule she has drawn up, which immediately becomes an issue.
Metcalf plays everything Weed says with sincerity, which only increases how funny her interactions are with the rest of the cast. When Ava complains about the bed arrangement, Weed explains sleeping lying down is terrible for you and is part of a wider mattress industry conspiracy. Ava also doesn’t have anywhere to store her one piece of luggage, which plays a significant role in the events of the episode.
After telling Deborah the truth, Ava tries to make good on not drinking or getting high and using a phone that cannot connect to the internet. An old flip cell phone can’t fix Ava’s relationship with her boss, but she thinks it will avoid future issues. However, it does factor into the detour the bus must take when Ava wakes up to discover the tennis ball tube containing her dad’s ashes is missing.
Ava finds it challenging to adjust to tour bus sleeping and it isn’t only her bed causing issues. Damien sleep talks about the schedule throughout the night, as being Deborah's assistant is a 24/7 job. A newly acquired antique chest that Deborah picked up at an unscheduled yard sale stop is stored by Ava’s bunk and she is rudely awoken when one of the drawers smacks her in the face.
It would be understandable if Ava’s meltdown were caused by this alone, but what follows underscores the emotional tightrope she is walking.
The tennis canister has fallen out of Ava’s backpack side pocket and Weed threw it away as she thought it was simply dirt. "That dirt was my dad," is Ava’s exasperated response. Weed sent Ava a photo message asking if it was hers, but she tossed it when she didn’t get a reply. "I’m trying to be a good person," Ava screams when the fact her flip phone can't receive photos comes up and this commotion wakes Deborah in her palatial suite.
Ava is a frayed nerve and Einbinder excellently portrays grief and desperation. Weed refuses to go back to the dumpster and isn’t sure exactly where she threw it away either, as she bought food from three different fast-food chains. "I like the fries at McDonald’s, the burgers at Burger King and the Frosties at Wendy’s," she explains.
In this case, Deborah overrides the tour manager. Yes, she has been punishing Ava for the email but is empathetic to this unique situation. Not only is Deborah insistent on going back, but she climbs into the dumpster in her silk pajamas to help rifle through the trash. After Deborah has located the ashes, she suggests going for a drink. It doesn’t mean that all has been forgiven, yet some of the warmth returns during this conversation.
Deborah dishes out some advice about why you should ask for white wine from a bar on the road ("it’s chilled") and in return Ava tries to give her boss a confidence boost. The issue is the tour isn’t clicking like she thought it would; the season would be incredibly dull if Deborah found immediate success in these smaller venues. One problem is how little time these two women have worked together as a unit.
The rift means Deborah praises other young comics (to make Ava jealous) and tells her writer to work solo on punching up jokes. Deborah doesn’t mind they will have to skip the scheduled Oklahoma stop because the doubt is seeping back in. Ava combines thoughts of her father with the current mood and the basketball game on TV reminds her of something her dad used to say.
She tells Deborah to "trust the process," which means knowing you are on the "path to something bigger, so the individual setbacks don’t get you down." A philosophy that can apply to sports or comedy and Ava is happy to use something her dad imparted to her.
The gag comes when barman interjects that this mantra belongs to the Philadelphia 76ers and they "blow it every year," which also includes this year. Regardless, this conversation is the first step in healing their rift and helping Ava through her grief process.
Elsewhere, Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) is also struggling, but this storyline is a little disconnected from the main thread.
Back at the bar, Ava doesn’t know where she will scatter the ashes as her father never really went anywhere or had a favorite place. Ray (Joe Mande) from the front desk at the Palmetto Casino told Ava he had recently been through something similar and has become an unexpected shoulder of support. A phone conversation with him gives her the solution. Ava will take her dad to all the places he didn’t get to and scatter a few ashes in every location, beginning with the Grand Canyon.
The final scene captures this moment, demonstrating how director Lucia Aniello depicts intimate and vulnerable stories while also capturing the vastness of the US. Deborah’s supportive hand on Ava’s shoulder, followed by a reference to her lawsuit, resulted in tears and a snort-laugh — the dream Hacks pairing.
New episodes of Hacks premiere Thursdays on HBO Max.
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.