Photo: Karen Ballard/HBO Max
Inspired by a good dick and meeting her stalker in Memphis, Deborah has a breakthrough in the latest episode. She and Ava understood that the set could not only tell of trauma, but also had to interrogate Deborah’s mistakes and flaws. At the end of the last episode, Deborah decided the self-deprecating ensemble was too good for another Vegas residency or tour. Now she and Ava have to sell a special to the Guardians of Hollywood Comedy.
This episode begins with the gang getting off the tour bus to Deborah’s mansion in Los Angeles. The house has fallen into disrepair because Deborah hasn’t been there since 2007. It’s a nod to how little she’s had to do with Hollywood these days. This whole season has fleshed out the chip on Deborah’s shoulder to be a “Vegas comedian.” Supposedly, Deborah has been trying to sell him the house for years but can’t because her hippie neighbors have built a treehouse in front of the skyline view which has caused the property’s value to plummet. Over a chatty team dinner, Marcus points out that she could easily sell the place if she lowered the price. He suspects she deliberately sets it too expensive because “she always secretly hoped she would have a reason to come back here”.
During the season premiere, she admitted to Ava that she was devastated by the reviews of her last Palmetto show and that part of the reason she moved to Vegas was because she didn’t like it. never felt taken seriously by the comedy elite of Los Angeles or New York. She was too lowbrow, too campy, too fluffy, too girly, like Joan Rivers, Lucille Ball and Phyllis Diller were all at times in their careers. It’s clear that after losing her late night show, she faced rejection by retiring from the big league of specials, TV and late night. She locked herself in Vegas and made herself a big fish in a small pond.
Deborah’s quest to conquer LA might seem hypocritical or like a concession. She and Ava fought fiercely over Ava’s coastal elitism, nerd taste, and disdain for the digestible punchlines of Deborah and her “Panera people” audience. Until episode two, Deborah insisted that she was happier performing for “ordinary people” and didn’t care what the critics said. But it actually feels vulnerable and brave for Deborah to put herself back at the mercy of the industry that rejected her, not out of ego or pride, but because she has a project she really thinks is awesome. and wants people to see.
Deborah is now a small fish in a big pond. She has a fruitful meeting with a former collaborator, Elaine Carter, a grizzled and eccentric old TV veteran (“It was her idea that Mary Tyler Moore tossed the hat to her. And she was just an intern”) who agreed to direct the special. But after a disappointing series of pitch meetings, Deborah, Ava and Jimmy realize that the producers are not particularly interested in the confessions of a comedian in his seventies in flowing pants and a bun made by a veteran of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Instead, they’re looking for sexy shows written by guys wearing hoodies, like the team that Jimmy and Deborah watched come out to celebrate selling their show when they arrived. A studio’s interest is piqued, but instead they want to tie up the director who “did the BLM Super Bowl commercial for Duracell.” “He’s amazing,” Deborah says through a condescending blonde executive.
Despite Jimmy and Deborah’s best schmoozing, the only offer they walk away with is a 30-minute special that would run as an episode of a series about women in stand-up that the production company has been “mandated” to broadcast, carried out by the Duracell type. It’s a moment that hits with a sickly crackle, capturing the unsettling change that women and other marginalized groups have faced in Hollywood. When Deborah was young, she had to fight and fight or be kicked out. Now, in an industry desperate to prove her awakening, she’s more pigeonholed than ever, valued for her identity, not her ideas.
Deborah knows the offer sucks and leaves. Later, while moodily strolling around her mansion, martini in hand, she looks at where downtown Los Angeles should be and gets an idea of what might make her feel better. She slams her glass down, grabs a chainsaw, and heads off to slaughter the neighbors’ treehouse while Cher’s “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves” explodes. Unfortunately, the whole sequence seems a bit empty and on the nose. “God, sometimes this town can instantly remind you that you’re worthless,” she said right after the meeting. It’s such a heavy line that even Jean Smart can’t make it look natural. They didn’t need to put so much into these scenes to show that Deborah is hurt and when she’s hurt, she goes wild.
His treehouse rampage inspires him to take matters into his own hands with the special. Afterwards, she calls an emergency meeting to announce that she wants to pass on the half-hour offer and self-fund and release the special. Everyone is in it: Ava is delighted to control the editing; Marcus points out that they’ll get a bigger share of the profit if they sell it directly from our website “just like Louis…just in that specific way.”
Even Jimmy is on board, though he’s under serious pressure to sell the special from his agency’s CEO, Michael (Kayla’s father). Michael already wants to take her away from Deborah and give her to a 98-year-old agent who “works” out of his memory care center so Jimmy can focus on younger, hipper clients. Jimmy tells Ava that Latitude is in “asshole bro” fashion, which we see in full swing at an all-staff meeting, a sea of guys in suits. Jimmy is mocked and says he’s “wasting time for a lost cause” when he announces Deborah’s plans to self-fund.
For the first time, Jimmy, a business-loving star, tells Michael to fuck off and quit, saying he’ll help Deborah get her special out on her own. The show begged for a Jimmy-Kayla alliance to form, and it’s finally here. At first Jimmy is horrified when Kayla stands up and announces that she is quitting as well. But he’s forced to admit she’s right when she suggests the boss’ daughter leaving to join his company sends a powerful message – and offers him a trust fund to “keep them afloat for a year”.
Ava has a better episode than Deborah. She encounters a series of lucky run-ins, first with her hot sub, whom she encounters when she goes to his apartment to collect tax returns for the trial. They hook up after the sub calls her on the pretense of being locked out, though Ava overstays her welcome the next morning, having forgotten one-night etiquette during her time on the road. She also meets an old TV friend, Taylor, whom she pissed off back in LA, makes amends, and even gets invited to his birthday party, where she has a nice and flirty encounter with her ex, Ruby. , now a movie star in her own right. Ava seems to make peace with LA (who kicked her out in season one) and decides she doesn’t miss her old life.
Yet Ava’s story seems lost and scattered at this point in the season. Or maybe Ava lost herself helping Deborah, who she’s centered her growth on this season. She tells Jimmy that she doesn’t even want to write credits to Deborah’s special (“these are her stories”) and that she has no side projects going on (not a word about the satire of the late capitalist mall she told Deborah a few episodes ago). She doesn’t even seem to think about it when he asks. She’s too busy ranting about the shitty offer. She likes her place in Deborah Inc., and it becomes clear that she has become too comfortable there.
Well, Ava didn’t nothing pass. She is still being pursued. Ava meets with a lawyer (accompanied by her teenage son and aspiring comedian), who informs her that Deborah is not likely to drop the lawsuit and that her lawyers are going “scorched earth”. The plot of the trial began to feel like a confusing attempt to keep Deborah-slash-Ava’s beloved and snippy conflict dynamic alive despite their relationship becoming obviously very loving. Would Deborah really do an about-face cradling Ava in her arms in a pool, teaching her to swim, and trying to bankrupt her? Whether or not Deborah accepts the lawsuit, sooner or later Ava will have to find out who she is without Deborah.
The episode ends in a dark place. Elaine agrees to direct the special, even with self-funding. But Marcus no longer feels optimistic: Louis CK had a significant number of online followers before posting an online special himself, which Deborah notably does not have. Jimmy arrives, announcing that he has left Latitude and no longer has the clout of the company or their connection to the Nokia Theater. Deborah is furious. “Okay, we’ll just make it work,” she concludes with fake joy. It’s an unsatisfying episode close to a somewhat awkward episode with lots of jokes that didn’t land and bits that were too long. It’s a disappointment of an episode by design, and it’s clearly setting itself up for a big twist in the finale. There are a lot of clichés that crop up whenever a show is gearing up for the big game or the big gig or the big show. With a bit of luck hacks figure out how to surprise us.
• Hacks really let Meg Stalter go in this episode, and it pays off. Her deranged rant as she storms out of the meeting behind Jimmy (“There’s a good man! He saved my life! Taught me everything I know!”) and into the elevator on her way out of their office is one of the few laugh-out-loud moments of the episode for me.
• The other episode MVPs are the boss executive who offers Deborah the offer of women in comedy, Ava’s hot sub-letter, and Ava’s lawyer and her son (“Should he join the National Lampoon?” “Are you going to Harvard?” “I can”). Frankly, the supporting characters stole this whole episode.
• Good to see that Jimmy’s storyline is really starting to mesh with Deborah and Ava’s. In the past, it felt like watching a completely different show when episodes switched to him or Marcus. The team is reunited for the final.