What to Watch Verdict
Deborah still has a mountain to climb in a strong penultimate episode.
Jimmy's big moment in the work meeting
Kayla's unbridled loyalty
Seeing Deborah in Los Angeles
Guest star Susie Essman
Ava's cringe comments to her subletter
Las Vegas isn’t the only city where people gamble daily. In Hollywood, studios, networks and agents like Jimmy (Paul W. Downs) bet big on people and stories. Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) is returning to the place that represents a lost dream. It comes as a surprise to Ava (Hannah Einbinder) that her boss still keeps a "side mansion" in a city she doesn’t particularly like.
The house — which Deborah hasn’t stepped foot in since 2007 — has been on the market for over a decade. Her neighbors built a treehouse for their children, which decreased her property's value because it obstructs the fantastic view. It's just one of the reasons why she has negative feelings toward LA, but there are some people Deborah wants to see.
First, she has brunch with old friend Elaine Carter (Susie Essman), which functions as catch-up and a job offer. Elaine remarks that she has been teaching more than directing because she has aged out of the director demo and there is more consistent work in the academic field. Elaine immediately comes off as a woman who knows what she wants, whether using a spoon to have a better syrup to pancake ratio or saying yes to Deborah’s offer. "I’m in! Big f***ing time!" is her enthusiastic response when Deborah asks her to direct her new special.
Meanwhile, Ava has productive conversations with her friend Taylor (Ally Maki) about her new pilot and a pleasant chat with her ex-girlfriend. LA isn’t spitting her out this time, although she does get into it with her subletter Rian (Paula Placido). "I identify as more of a tenant than a landlord," is Ava’s cringe-worthy introduction when she goes to pick up tax returns in storage. Later, after they sleep together, Ava steps over some lines and this messy hookup shows the writer is still clumsy in her approach.
Everything is going great, but some rumbles point to the obstacles regarding the network pitch. Jimmy is facing scrutiny at work and his boss (aka Kayla’s dad), Michael (W. Earl Brown), threatens to hand Deborah off to a very old agent who works from home. This would end Deborah’s comeback and Jimmy assures Michael he has "a very good feeling" about her prospects.
Jimmy has spent all season putting out fires for Deborah and Ava and he is invested in her success. This ties back to Jimmy’s father, a founding partner of the talent agency, as Jimmy has long lived in his dad’s shadow. Explaining his constant need to prove himself in "Retired," Jimmy’s methods don’t match the "bro a**hole style" dominating his office.
A montage of Deborah explaining why she needs to tell her story is met with smiles and understanding nods, but it's clear no one is biting. The one vaguely interested TV executive is against Deborah’s choice of director and wants it to be part of a series of half-hour shows. Deborah’s set is an hour-long and these parameters mean her "special is not so special."
It immediately reminds the star why she left LA, as "somehow this town can just instantly remind you you’re worthless." After the high of "The Click," it is disheartening to see Deborah lose confidence, but she quickly gets her groove back after demolishing the treehouse next door.
Earlier, Deborah mentions the neighbors' children are now adults and she shows zero guilt about this chainsaw-supported endeavor. Ava’s lawyer also referenced how rich people love suing each other, likely giving Deborah a new lawsuit to enjoy. Perhaps she will finally drop her case against Ava, although that does not occur in the penultimate episode of the season.
The network disinterest is a temporary kink in their plan as Deborah and Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) have found an alternative path to self-produce the special. During the emergency meeting, Marcus says it's "just like Louis [CK] (in that one specific way)," and it has proven successful in the past. Everyone is all in on this idea and Jimmy is adamant they should get Deborah what she is worth. Unfortunately, his boss sees it differently.
Jimmy’s on-the-spot decision to quit his job occurs during a big staff meeting when Michael scolds him for passing on the terrible offer for the half-hour episode. "Your dad would be ashamed of you," Michael cruelly tells the son of his deceased partner. Rather than smile and nod, Jimmy offers some home truths, including how much his dad fought for Deborah when no one else believed in her.
It is a stirring scene with a funny Hacks twist thanks to Kayla (Meg Stalter) making a stand against her father and quitting alongside Jimmy. Earlier in the episode, he inferred to Deborah that he could not shake his assistant, which extends to this scenario. "God, this place is toxic," Kayla yells as she departs with Jimmy. As a viewer, it's both satisfying and hilarious.
Immediately after in the elevator, Kayla goes off on a tangent about the hard-boiled eggs she left at her desk. Jimmy looks like he is trying to figure out what he has got himself into, but Kayla’s willingness to use her trust fund puts their new agency in good stead for a year at least.
Jimmy is quickly brought back to earth because he lost the venue for Deborah's special but promises that he won’t let her down. "Well, you already did," is her curt response. If only she knew what he had done for her.
The venue isn’t the only problem, as Deborah’s lack of a built-in subscriber list (which Louis did have) could make this a costly mistake. Nevertheless, Deborah is Las Vegas through and through and this is one gamble she is willing to bet everything on.
All episodes of Hacks season 2 are now available to stream 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.