‘Hacks’ The Bitch Is Back – Episodes 1-2 (Recap)

Hacks' opening episodes raise the bar higher for the comedy's second season while making it clear that Jean Smart will get that second Emmy.
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HBOMax’s Hacks returns today for its sophomore season, debuting with two new episodes and letting audiences know that our beloved Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) is back – and bitchier than ever.

Season 2 picks up right where S1 left off: with Ava (Hannah Einbinder) fearing for her life (and rightfully so) after getting high and sending an email detailing just how terrible Deborah is for a writer she knows on an up-and-coming series to use as inspiration for their main character. It’s a real shame, because it seemed that the dynamic duo had been finally learning to appreciate one another for their individual strengths. And the first two episodes of Hacks’ second season show us that Ava has started to chip away at Deborah’s cold exterior, making her a little, well, softer than we’re used to seeing…and perhaps even growing a little fonder of her younger companion, such that Deborah even starts to be a little more environmentally friendly. How? By the minimal effort of buying a resuable cup, which she claims will offset the carbon emissions caused by her jet. But, hey – it’s a start, isn’t it?

Season 2’s first episode focuses primarily on Ava trying to keep the email she sent about Deborah from getting out, while Deborah deals with trying to be a more supportive daughter to DJ (Deborah Junior, played by Kaitlin Olson) before going off on tour again. It’s been established that DJ is a product of the environment in which she grew up. Having been toted around on tour buses when Deborah was at her peak, it’s no surprise, considering her mother cared about her career above all, that the comic’s daughter she grew up to be unstable. Deborah, now older and better understanding her role how DJ turned out, tries to make amends with her.

More importantly to DJ, Deborah makes an active effort at accepting MMA fighter Aiden (Paul Felder), the man DJ married on a whim a few months prior. Stunningly enough, Deborah does come to actually accept Aiden by the end of episode one. While attending Aiden’s MMA fight, Deborah gives him a pep talk from the side of the steel cage, reminding him that he’s a Vance now and he’s gotta prove people wrong. It’s a touching scene, especially when we remember that Deborah’s giving herself the pep talk, too; in a rare moment of vulnerability just moments earlier, Deborah revealed to Ava that the reason she doesn’t read reviews of her performances is because she does care what people think about her. She cares a lot, actually. The admission is the first of many scenes in Hacks Season Two that will rightfully garner Jean Smart her second consecutive Emmy for the series.

Kaitlin Olson as DJ Vance and Jean Smart as Deborah Vance. (COURTESY: Karen Ballard/HBO)

Episode two of the new season is where the cross-country tour gets moving. It starts with a pit stop at a gas station where Ava rejects Deborah’s offer of buying her sunglasses – until Deborah points out that they’re only $5. When the audience gives Deborah a lukewarm response on the tour’s opening night, she drags Ava to her psychic with her. That’s right: Deborah Vance uses a psychic. It’s a scene straight out of a buddy comedy, as the psychic insists on reading Ava’s energy, telling her that she can sense how honest she is; and Ava, still sitting on the secret email, looks like she’s going to shit her pants out of pure terror. In fact, the psychic left Ava so shooketh that she decides to tell Deborah the truth…which ends in Deborah completely destroying the interior of a crystal store (yes, crystals, you read that right).

The worst is yet to come, though. Later that night, Deborah makes Ava read her the email, and, well…we knew it wasn’t going to be pretty, but nothing could have prepared me for how goddamn mean Deborah’s response was. Ava’s email even brought DJ into the mix – which was uncalled for, considering DJ is just a bystander in all of this. While it’s painfully clear that Ava regrets sending the email and doesn’t believe the awful things she said about Deborah, it’s just as obvious that Deborah is hurt by Ava’s words, plain and simple, no matter how much of a wall she puts up to deny it.

Ming-na Wen and Paul W. Downs as Jimmy. (COURTESY: Karen Ballard/HBO)

Hacks episodes 1-2 also feature Jimmy (series co-creator Paul W. Downs) dealing with the fallout from Kayla’s (Meg Statler) sexual harassment of him last season. In episode one, he’s successfully gotten Kayla reassigned to someone else’s desk by pretending he needs anger management – and it turns out his new assistant gives a damn about him and his well being without needing to be asked! It’s seems everything’s coming up Jimmy! Until it isn’t.

Ming-na Wen guest stars as one of the executives behind the show that’s planning to use Ava’s email for character inspiration. When Jimmy meets her for lunch, he convinces her to let the whole thing go…but then the conversation shifts to real estate and she learns that Jimmy is the buyer who pulled out of a sale on her home at the eleventh hour because the house had black mold. I mean, can you really blame him for that? To top it all off, Kayla’s dad personally asks him to have her reassigned back to his desk; and, because her dad is technically one of his bosses, Jimmy gives in. The insult on top of injury is not only is Jimmy once again stuck with the world’s worst assistant, he also can’t get the anger management issues scrubbed from his HR file, and has to go through an entire year’s worth of weekly meetings. Poor Jimmy.

The end of episode two really gives audiences an insight at how the rest of Hacks‘ second season will go – especially the reveal, at the end of episode two, that Deborah is suing Ava for violating her NDA. The highlight of the scene? Elton John’s ‘The Bitch Is Back’ slowly fading up into the background, setting the bar maybe even higher than it was during season one.

Rating: 8/10

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