SPOILER ALERT! Do not read unless you have seen the second season finale of Hacks on HBO Max.
Deborah Vance is finally back in Hollywood, but not without sacrifice. In the bittersweet season finale of Hacks, Deborah (the Emmy-winning Jean Smart) gutpunches Ava (Hannah Einbinder) by giving her the old heave-ho in the final moments of the episode. Is Deborah really trying to help Ava with her career or does she just want to stick it to the cynical young scribe? Here, the Emmy-winning writing team of Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky take us inside that moment before addressing the future of Deborah’s Tinseltown comeback.
Deadline: You Gave Deborah a lover this season! Why was that so important to the story?
Lucia Aniello: It gave us an opportunity for Deborah to open herself up just a little, to be honest with somebody who isn’t ordinarily in her ecosystem and for her to say something that maybe she didn’t even realize she thought of. It allowed her to be in the moment with somebody new. It made her see the situation of her [marriage] in a slightly different lens. That led to the moment on stage where she decides to go off book. It’s shifting perspective of her own life. Having this new lover gave her that opportunity.
Deadline: I don’t know if you set out to do this, but it feels like you had a lot to say about the way Hollywood works, particularly in that moment at the management company when the conference room table was surrounded by white young men. Was that by design?
Paul W. Downs: Yeah, it was, down to the people in that room and the attitude of that agency, the collective culture of it. We wanted to represent something that we have observed. We also wanted to underline that not everybody is like that. Deborah is sort of an outcast and doesn’t fit in like Ava, which is why they find themselves together in the desert. Jimmy and Kayla don’t fit into that kind of bro-asshole-style management company. They’re also on the fringe. All these people in the show are fringe people. We hope that we’re giving them winning moments.
Deadline: I’m glad you brought up Kayla (Megan Stalter). I didn’t see that coming, that we would actually end up liking her. Is that something that surprised you, too?
Jen Statsky: I think from the beginning of the show with Kayla, people were so enamored with Megan’s performance and just found her so funny. Even though she was a terror to Jimmy and made his life very difficult, I think people really latched onto that performance. In season two, we wanted to further the Jimmy-Kayla dynamic by making Kayla feel more like a three-dimensional character. Like in episode five, when she tells Jimmy ‘everyone thinks I’m a joke, but I do wanna be a manager. I wanna be like you.’ That gave insight into her character.
Deadline: The ending was truly bittersweet. Does this make it official that Deborah sees Ava as a daughter figure who she wants to treat well since she wasn’t so nice to her own child, DJ?
Statsky: There are times where they [Deborah and Ava] both kind of mother each other, but I don’t know if we solidly think that it’s like a mother-daughter replacement relationship. I think there are shades of it, certainly. You never know who can offer you a maternal-moment out in the world. Sometimes it can be a stranger. Deborah as a character is constantly evolving. Deborah certainly sees how her mothering DJ did not go well. But I don’t think she’s completely a tragic character. Deborah’s learning how she could treat people better overall. I think that her decision to fire Ava is a partly a moment of growth for her and partly her being a little scared of the intimacy of their relationship. I think it’s both things at the same time.
Deadline: It was kind of a throwaway line in the Nashville episode but you had Ava say that she was clinically depressed. Are you explaining where her humor comes from?
Statsky: Ava is a character who we established growing up as feeling pretty lonely and who didn’t have the strongest family connection. Comedy was something she really sought out to make her feel connected to other people in the world and to make her feel like people saw the world the way she did. I don’t think people who are funny always have to come from pain. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but certainly Ava is someone who grew up dealing with depression and found comedy as a place where she finally felt at home.
Deadline: Why you make Ava suffer through the whole season, knowing the lawsuit was there, looming?
Aniello: It was used as a means of needling and torture from Deborah to Ava. And then at the very last minute, it’s not used as leverage anymore. It’s actually something that Ava then wants, because she could see Deborah again. For Deborah to alleviate that was a really unexpected way to twist the expectations of how the lawsuit is used and what it meant between the two of them. It became an act of love.
Deadline: Was it difficult to get Laurie Metcalf to play Deborah’s road manager? I mean, she obviously has another day job.
Downs: It was difficult to schedule because she does have another day job, but we were really lucky that Linda Lowy, who does casting for HBO and Warner Brothers, happens to be essentially family and was having dinner with Laurie the day that she read our script, which said ‘think Laurie Metcalf’ because it was a dream of hours to work with her. Linda [told Metcalf that], ‘I just read a script where your name was mentioned and the character’s name is Weed.’ So I think that piqued her interest enough that she read it and agreed to do it. So getting her was weirdly easy and Kismet. But yes she is prolific and works a lot.
Deadline: It feels like you are starting to set up the potential of Deborah getting a late night talk show. At the same time, that seems where The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is going with Midge Maisel in the final season. Were you conscious of that happening?
Downs: I had no idea!
Statsky: I didn’t know it until this very moment.
Downs: We try not to let too much [from outside] influence what we do. We try to let it be character and story first. We weren’t aware of what was going on over there. We’ve always wanted this show to be about two individuals who find their comedic partner and in so doing, make each other better and are set on a path of redemption. So we’re not sure yet what that means. But maybe we are, we just don’t wanna say.
Deadline: So then as you’re sitting here, do you know where you want to take Deborah? Do you know where you want her to end up?
Statsky: What’s so crazy is we actually pitched the show with the series finale. So yeah, we do know how we want to end it. There are a couple people in town who know, though I don’t know if they remember. There are executives who know how the series ends.
Deadline: So for today, you’re still sticking with that ending?
Statsky: As of today, yeah.
Deadline: Do you have a pickup yet for next season?
Downs: We don’t have an official pickup yet. We have been together doing a blue sky this week about what we would do if there were an official pickup.
Aniello: We feel like we have just told two chapters of a larger story. We feel like what we’ve done at the end of season two is just as much of a cliffhanger as what we did at the end of season one, considering what we intend to do with the story. We are really excited about how we want to continue.
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