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  • Writer's picturecasey

Hacks episode 1.10 "I Think She Will"

I should leave The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel alone… but I watched Hacks and thought, “now here is a show that understands and respects standup comedy”. Deborah and Ava are bitingly funny, both when working and not. But I chose this particular episode because it features one of the most impressive feats of both comedy and storytelling I’ve ever seen: standup at a funeral. And it works!! Midge could never.

This episode opens with Deborah being mystifyingly cold to Ava in the days leading up to her big show: the debut of her new set at her final show at the Palmetto. Her attitude is only a mystery to Ava, though; we know Marcus told her about Ava’s sneaking back to LA for a job interview. It’s unfortunate, because it’s one of the few times Ava actually didn’t do anything wrong, but when it all comes to a head perhaps it’s her rightness that makes Deborah think.

I’m actually not gonna talk about Marcus anymore though. I loved him in the beginning, but he turned into a kinda lonely, bitter sad sack and his meet-cute with the water guy quickly devolves in this episode into heavy-handed melodrama. But he snitched on Ava and that’s why Deborah’s acting like that.

The unfortunate timing continues when Ava gets a call from her mom- her dad had another stroke, and she needs to come home. Ava, distraught for her family but still aware of the significance of missing Deborah’s show, nervously enters Deborah’s dressing room with her opening night gift and explains the situation. Expecting her to put up a fight, she’s confused and hurt when Deborah stoically seems not to care. Of course, we know Deborah’s trust in her has already been broken.

Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder in Hacks. Image courtesy of Decider.

I appreciate that this show made Ava’s home life a part of this story. Her character needs it for us to sympathize with her- Ava rocks, except for when she does something inexplicably dumb, which is unfortunately often- but it also helps in this climactic moment to put things in perspective. One thing about Ava and Deborah, they care very, very much about their work. But comedy is not life and death, and Ava needs to go home. So, she walks out.

But! She passes Jimmy in the hallway, who asks her why Deborah isn’t doing her new set anymore. Well, this decision was clearly made in the last two minutes. So, Ava storms back into the dressing room, telling Deborah that anger at her is a ridiculous reason to throw away everything they’ve worked on.

Deborah has been incredibly rude to Ava in the past- she was genuinely brutal in the early episodes. The tear down on the bus tour? Actually not okay. But this is about to be the fight of all fights. As soon as Ava confronts her about abandoning the new material, Deborah admits that she knew Ava lied to go to the job interview. With everything that’s happened since, this is laughable to Ava. She did so right by Deborah in that interview, and she has a point when she replies, “this is why I had to lie to you about that job interview. Because your ego doesn’t allow you to take in information like a normal human being. No one’s allowed to communicate honestly. And if they do, you either shut them out or push them away or, I don’t know- hit them with your car”.

Deborah really is hiding right now. She shields herself with “I don’t really think about you… this isn’t about you. I just don’t want to do it. I know what works. The old stuff works, so that’s what I’m doing”. None of that is true. Sometimes, Deborah honestly makes me so sad. When she’s just grinning and bearing it while doing things like pizza ads and having a street named after her, letting people pretend to respect her in public while pulling her prized residency out from under her. It’s so sad. You can see it in her eyes.

And absolutely none of that is lost on Ava. “What a giant waste of time this all was… Oh I’m so sorry. What great opportunity did I keep you from? Does KFC want you to be the new Colonel Sanders? … You’re just scared to do the hard thing, so you’re jumping at the first possible chance to bail. You’re gonna do the same old tired shit you always do because I was right the day I met you. You are a fucking hack.”

And then Deborah slaps her in the face. Honestly, Ava says it best: “who slaps people?” This show is so good at organically displaying their generational differences. It doesn’t explain them or belabor them, but it’s the foundation of their base source of conflict. First of all, slapping someone across the face really is a boomer thing to do. And I won’t defend it, but we can understand where that well of emotion came from.

To Deborah’s standards of hard work and ethics, she’s the furthest thing from a hack. That integrity is so important to her. In fact, doing this new material poses a threat to everything she’s built the hard- and right- way. But to Ava, who measures integrity by authenticity and creativity, Deborah’s values are actively counterproductive.

In this instance, Ava’s right. Deborah, alone now, opens Ava’s gift. It’s Deborah’s Time Magazine cover, framed, with the title reading, “Will This Woman Make History?” In a note tucked into the frame, Ava’s written “I think she will”. Maybe this is what softens Deborah enough to see Ava’s point, but regardless, she does the new material.

Jean Smart in "I Think She Will". Image courtesy of IMDb.

Ava, meanwhile, is back home helping her mom deal with her dad’s arrangements. She wakes up early the next morning- before Kelly Ripa’s day is done (Deborah has rubbed off on her too)- and is immediately accosted by her mom being kind of nutty. She’s so realistic and funny in the “can you believe she just threw that into conversation” way that moms are:

“You know, you’ve chosen such an unstable career, and no mother wants to watch her child suffer. And now we’ll have to euthanize the cat.”

“What?”

“Yes! We have to euthanize Mr. Cream Pie because he’s going to have to leave this room when you move in, and it is just wrong to take a cat back to the shelter, Ava. It’s just wrong… For the service, you’re reading Lamentations.”

“Oh. Well, I wanted to read a eulogy. I just started working on it.”

“A eulogy? Ava, please. It’s your father’s funeral, I don’t need you saying anything crazy, like when you told your grandmother you were pro-choice.”

“But I am pro-choice.”

“Yeah, but you don’t need to say it.”

I wish I wrote that tbh. I’m still laughing. But of course, it’s good-natured laughter because we really feel for her mom at the same time. In the two, maybe three snapshots that we’ve seen of Ava’s parents before this, we’ve learned that she was an overworked and attentive caretaker to Ava’s dad, and Ava loves them both very much amidst all the layers to this dynamic.

So Ava doesn’t read a eulogy at the funeral, and when the room is asked if anyone would like to come up and say a few words about Dennis, it’s crickets. Until:

“Oh, God. This is so awkward. This is painful. Excuse me. This is not how you’re supposed to do this. Excuse me. Sorry- if you wouldn’t mind. Yeah, see you can’t just ask people to come up impromptu and not warmed up. Because it’s just too hard to do cold, you know. There’s just too much pressure. And these people are exhausted. It’s exhausting to lose a loved one. And now everybody’s uncomfortable because they think that no one has anything nice to say about this man. And I know that you do.”

Guess who! Ava’s words must have really stuck with Deborah, because not only did she do her new set, but she apparently did some digging and confirmed Ava’s story. And felt bad enough about it to show up. I love this scene so much because everything she’s saying feels so organic and so true. She cuts the tension as if she had a knife, and she does it by validating these people and the man they’re there to honor. It’s not these people making this awkward, it’s this circumstance. And if Deborah fancies herself anything, it’s a woman of the people, as we’ll see next season when she takes her show on the road. So, she starts doing some crowd work:

“So, let’s try this again. You, sir! How did you know Dennis?”

“Uh, he was my cousin.”

“Oh, I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.”

“What was the drunkest you ever saw him?”

She gets the crowd talking, and more importantly, laughing. They start telling stories, with everyone else chiming in with choruses of “Oh my God, I forgot about that!” and the like. It’s really sweet and reaffirms for me the idea that you can laugh with love.

After the services, Deborah sits on Ava’s bed. Ava thanks her for making her mom laugh, and Deborah apologizes- sincerely- for hitting her. Incorporating a literal slap out of anger into this show felt like a risky thing to do; would Ava- and the audience demographic that her character brings to this show- be able to get past something like that? But I think it’s neither overblown nor underblown. It was a great apology, and she put some action behind it as well, given that she’s in Ava’s childhood bedroom right now. Also, Ava’s done some dumb shit of her own, but Deborah doesn’t know about that yet.

Jean Smart in "I Think She Will". Image courtesy of IMDb.

In that conversation, Deborah also admits to doing the new material, to Ava’s delight, and bombing, to Ava’s disappointment (“did you come all the way here to bury me with my dad?”). But Deborah is buzzing. She bombed, but she sees the potential. She’s excited and challenged by her work for the first time in a very long time. She wants to take it on the road, and she wants Ava to come with her, because she’s “too good to quit”. A ‘tour’ would be too strong a word for the state fairs and open mic drop-ins she’s planning, but she’s not above anything.

It’s really energizing and endearing to see all these human sides of Deborah. In terms of their growth, they really are both learning from each other. And it’s so nice to see the act of improving a piece of work like this. To shatter the illusion that talent is this mystical thing one either has or doesn’t. The thing that’s actually hard to come by is the drive to work and work until it works. And that’s what Deborah and Ava both see in each other.

I don’t think Midge Maisel ever bombed. I don’t think her world ever made her take a good hard look at her material and acknowledge that it’s not there yet, but it can be. Ambition is the trait I’d like to romanticize when we talk about art, over an inexplicable “knack” someone has that can’t be harnessed or understood. And I really appreciate Hacks for doing that.

So, this season finale sends Deborah and Ava on the road, Ava with her dad’s ashes in a tennis ball container to see the world. Oh yeah, and in the time between their fight and Deborah’s showing up to the funeral, Ava called those job interview people and violated her NDA to give them all the dirt on Deborah she could think of. It’s the last stupid, self-made sticky situation Ava will find herself in, thank God, and season two is even stronger for having her learn from her mistakes.

Season three is in the works, and I, for one, am hoping to see a Deborah Vance comedy special in full. That would make a pretty unique episode, I think.

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