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Hacks season 2 finale review: Deborah comes home

What comes next for Deborah and Ava's creative partnership?

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

Our Verdict

Hacks comes full circle in the season 2 finale, hitting emotional and funny notes, which only leaves us wanting more.

For

  • Deborah and Ava's journey
  • Their emotional final conversation
  • DJ and Deborah's post-show heart-to-heart
  • Lots of payoffs

Against

  • Some of the supporting cast didn't get a whole lot to do this season

NOTE: This post contains spoilers for Hacks season 2 episode 8, “The One, the Only.” Read our recap of Hacks season 2 episode 7 right here.

Ava’s (Hannah Einbinder) arrival at the start of Hacks was met with resistance. Though it wasn’t only Deborah (Jean Smart) who didn’t want to engage, as the partnership was instantly combative. Enemies to lovers is a classic romance trope and the HBO Max comedy takes this journey through its platonic rom-com narrative. 

Hacks season 2 has incorporated a lot of looking back, both in the content of Deborah’s set and recognizing the missteps she has made within her relationships. In the past, Ava would’ve been ejected from the tour and sued. The fact that only the latter happened speaks volumes.  

Rather than stand still in Las Vegas, Deborah jumped on a tour bus and tried to find her voice. By the time she comes back home, her perspective has shifted further and she has realized for the new material to work, she has to be honest rather than simply leaning into the woe-is-me victimhood. The material has finally come together, but there is still the matter of where Deborah will record the special, but what better venue than the stage she used to call home.

Jean Smart in Hacks

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

"The One, the Only" begins with a bidding war at Sotheby’s for a Kandinsky that Deborah doesn’t even like. However, the person with the other paddle is Marty (Christopher McDonald). He wants the painting to give to his girlfriend as an engagement ring substitute and Deborah successfully snags this piece for an extravagant $800,000. Over cocktails, Deborah uses it as leverage to shoot her special at the Palmetto, but learns Marty would’ve done this favor with or without the auction shenanigans. Deborah isn’t sure if she buys this, but the rapport is warm and ultimately there is still a lot of love here.

With the venue and date lined up, there's still the matter of distribution. First, Deborah is visited by Jimmy’s (Paul W. Downs) rival, Janet Stone (Ming-Na Wen), who is successfully snagging all of his old clients. Deborah’s initial reaction suggests there is an opening for this conversation and her chilly response to Jimmy’s pre-show hello is an additional nail in his coffin — or so it seems. 

Another slight snag comes courtesy of Ava getting a job offer from her friend Taylor (Ally Maki). The pilot gig is only for a week and Ava is nervous about bringing it up to Deborah after what happened in the season 1 finale. Even though it falls on the night of the special taping, Deborah encourages Ava to take the LA job. What follows is straight out of a rom-com, as Ava leaves the pilot shoot early to be by her boss’s side. 

In this scene, Ava's lipstick print shirt is a visual nod to their bond. During Deborah's earlier conversation with Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins), the veteran comic sports a blouse with a giant lipstick print. Their sartorial choices couldn't be more different, but costume designer Kathleen Felix-Hager subtly shows their growing closeness in what they wear.

Rather than her usual glitz and glam sparkles, Deborah’s black outfit with a little lace signifies this isn’t her familiar Palmetto Casino material. "I take up too much space," she says about why her marriage fell apart. This part of the set is killing and then the man sitting next to Jimmy has a heart attack. 

All attention shifts to this medical emergency. Jimmy follows to see how the man is faring and discovers he has died. He lies to the audience and says the guy will be fine. "No. Dead, absolutely dead," is what he tells Kayla (Meg Stalter), but the show must go on.

The first thing Deborah does after the show is to tell Jimmy that his father would be proud of him. She then kicks Janet out. Deborah returns loyalty with loyalty.

Paul W. Downs and Megan Stalter in Hacks

Paul W. Downs and Meg Stalter in Hacks (Image credit: Karen Ballard/HBO Max)

Deborah isn’t always the best at telling people she needs them and her relationship with DJ (Kaitlin Olson) has suffered from a lack of honesty. "You did try to be a good parent and you still f***ed up," doesn’t sound like much of an olive branch, but in this dynamic, it is. It also means a lot that Deborah wore a bracelet from DJ’s 2019 D’Jewelry line — though it hilariously turns Deb’s wrist black.

Since she doesn’t have a monster online following, Deborah goes old school with a DVD format to utilize her QVC fanbase. It's an inspired choice and "My Bad" sells out instantly. The networks call, Variety wants to do a cover story and The Wall Street Journal is keen to showcase the "bet on yourself approach."

Cut to a swanky LA party in honor of Deborah, in which Ava even wears the dress she moaned about in Lord & Taylor; it's a beautiful full-circle moment. Then Deborah breaks Ava’s heart by letting her go. 

Ava didn’t take credit for the special, she left the pilot gig early and she is willing to sacrifice everything for Deborah. But Deborah's decision is an act of love, allowing Ava to pursue her career even if Ava is scared. "I want to be wherever you are," she continues, but Deborah won’t let her make this mistake. 

When we see Ava back in LA, we find out she has been offered a staff position on that show and Jimmy also informs her that Deborah is dropping the lawsuit — meaning this storyline was just a massive red herring. Deborah is still in Ava’s life but on TV selling a "Back Buddy" zipper and the season ends on a ponderous note. 

Growth has been a significant element of the sophomore outing. While it would’ve been nice to see more from the excellent supportive cast, the focus on Deborah and Ava has been incredibly rewarding. 

We're waiting to hear if there is going to be the end of the road or if there's going to be a Hacks season 3, but even though our leading duo is apart, there are plenty of options for where Hacks can go in the future. 

All episodes of Hacks season 2 are now available 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.