‘Hacks’ Episode 3 + 4: Queen Bitch and the Princess of Tides (Recap)

Hacks episode 3, “Trust the Process,” picks up where last week’s episode left off – with Deborah (Jean Smart) suing Ava (Hannah Einbinder) for breaking her NDA. Whether or not it’s a bit (Deborah says no, but I think yes), Deborah commits to it like the true professional she is. And what better time to do so than when you’re about to be stuck with someone in close quarters on a cross-country road trip?

Deborah’s tour bus has everything you can imagine she’d need need. A queen sized bed. A regenerative LED bed. Photos of her beloved corgis. The most important customization, though? Her soda machine, to fuel her Coca Cola addiction. If that’s not #goals, I really don’t know what is. Of course, Deborah’s customizations take up a lot of space, leaving little room for the bunk Ava’s supposed to sleep in.

To make it up to Deborah for the email fiasco, Ava vows to stay off of drugs and alcohol for the entirety of the tour. She wants a new, less dramatic lease on life. But the most dramatic way Ava commits to her particular bit isn’t with a pledge to be drug and alcohol free – very D.A.R.E. of her – it’s by deciding to downgrade her iPhone to a flip phone.

Hacks episode 3 also introduces Laurie Metcalf as Deborah’s tour manager, Alice, aka “Weed” – a nickname given to her by Pete Wentz. Because apparently, in the year 2022, we still care about Pete Wentz. Weed is insistent on sticking to their schedule in order to make it to their tour stops in time. Little does she know that what Deborah wants, Deborah gets. That includes bringing the bus to a screeching halt when Deborah notices a yard sale sign.

Anyone who has gone to a stand-up show lately might have a little experience with Yondr, a pouch that locks your phone in for the entirety of the set so that you’re not able to record any part of the set. When this tour’s equivalent of Yondr fails to arrive in time for Deborah’s first performance, Damien (Mark Indelicato), her assistant, decides that numbered paper baggies are the way to go. The only problem? He doesn’t write down the number and of course not a single patron remembers their baggie number and it is a hot-ass mess. As was Deborah’s set: she got little to no reaction from her audience.

While Deborah is still an absolute demon to Ava, the ice does start to thaw. Hacks episode 3 is filled with Deborah’s microaggressions – like flat-out ignoring Ava when she’s talking to her and throwing Ava’s kombucha out the window when she asks for space in the refrigerator. But when Ava freaks out in the middle of the night upon learning that Weed had discarded Ava’s father’s ashes (because Ava was keeping them in a Wilson tennis ball container), Deborah orders the bus turned around so they can retrieve them. She even jumps in to help, literally, when Ava and Damien’s dumpster diving efforts are coming up short – and of course it’s Deborah who recovers the container.

Jean Smart as Deborah Vance, Hannah Einbinder as Ava Daniels, and Mark Indelicato as Damien in Hacks. (COURTESY: HBOMAX)

She and Ava end up at a bar, allowing Deborah another moment of vulnerability about where her career is headed and how badly she wants these shows to do well. She also insists that Ava not let her drink alone, because it’s the only thing she’s good for. It seems like things between them are starting to go back to normal, if anything about their relationship was ever to normal to begin with.

Except that Deborah is definitely still suing her.

Hacks episode four, “The Captain’s Wife,” puts Ava and Deborah in even closer quarters, forcing them onto a week-long gay cruise together. At least with a tour bus, you can get off every few hours. But a boat? While getting on, Deborah runs into Margaret Cho getting off. The previous cruise’s comedian-in-residence reveals that this isn’t a cruise full of gay men – it’s a cruise full of lesbians. And it turns out that this might be a problem for Deborah, who makes it very clear that gay men have always loved her because they get her humor. Lesbians, on the other hand? They hate her because of how many lesbian jokes she’s made throughout her career.

Ava, by contrast, is absolutely thrilled to be on a lesbian cruise; it’s this young bisexual woman’s dream to be on a boat surrounded by beautiful women of all ages. She even learns a few things, like how some lesbian couples open up their relationships while at sea because different rules apply than on land, which Ava takes to mean that she can drink again! Hooray! And it’s fun to watch Ava navigate the waters of her sexuality, like how she gets flustered when a woman who’d caught her eye flirts with her. Just because Ava is bisexual doesn’t mean that she knows what she’s doing at every moment. Seeing her struggle to flirt is refreshing and realistic! Some of us don’t have any game and it’s okay!

Deborah, noticing that Ava’s nails are a complete disaster as she’s getting ready to go out to one of the clubs on the boat (sorry, ship, as every lesbian corrects them when they refer to it as a boat), offers to fix them up. As they’re sitting across from each another on Deborah’s bed, Ava asks Deborah if she’s ever been with a woman. To absolutely no one’s surprise, she says no. The response starts a conversation about how there’s room for nuance in sexuality and how while one’s sexuality itself isn’t a choice, what is is whether or not one chooses to examine it. It’s a good exchange for Deborah in particular, considering that, while not homophobic, she has made plenty of questionable comments about people’s sexuality. For Deborah to listen to what Ava has to say instead of shutting her down outright means there’s room for growth, and more importantly, acceptance.

The two go off to the bar together, Deborah agreeing to be Ava’s wing woman for the night. She helps Ava get the attention of the woman who’d flirted with her earlier in the day and that woman’s girlfriend, and Ava winds up with an invite to hang out with them the next day. Of course, Ava’s not the only person who catches someone’s eye. A woman named Marla starts flirting with Deborah so heavily that Deborah stops her as she’s leaving and asks Marla if she wants to buy her a drink.

Jean Smart as Deborah Vance. (COURTESY:HBOMAX)

The highlight of the episode is when a buzzed Deborah hijacks the microphone from the lounge singer and gives the audience her rendition of Carole King’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” because HBOMax said “We are NOT letting Ted Lasso be the only show this season have a musical number by the hot blonde in the fourth episode of its second season.” As a lover of musical numbers, Jean Smart, and Hannah Waddingham, who am I to complain? Deborah’s performance wins over the entire room, and rightfully so.

Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins), still reeling from the aftermath of his breakup with Wilson last season, has decided to do the best thing possible to cope: he’s gotten a French bulldog puppy, aka the most stereotypical dog for LA gays. Joe (sadly not named after Jo March from Little Women, something Miss Loretta, his mom’s bestie, implies) is actually Marcus’ healthiest response, because his other one is staying up all night at gay bars and doing drugs before going straight to work. This habit comes back to bite him in the ass when he leaves a bottle of pills lying around the house and poor little Joe gets into it. Yes, the drama could have been avoided had Marcus not kicked his mom and Miss Loretta off of the puppy cam for watching it while he’s at work. But it also could’ve been avoided if he hadn’t, you know, left a bottle of pills laying around his house with a puppy around. Marcus rushes little Joe to the vet and it turns out he’ll going to be just fine – but the vet refuses to release him back to Marcus, forcing him to call his mom to come pick up the poor baby.

Back on the boat ship, Deborah’s set seems like it’s going well. The audience is laughing at her jokes and she feels and looks good up on stage. Until, that is, a joke about golf falls flat with one audience member, and Deborah implies that she’s distracted by her breasts and quips “My jokes are up here,” pointing to her mouth. The woman replies that Deborah isn’t her type, but Deborah just can’t let it go, which is how things head downhill fast. She points out Marla in the audience as an example of someone who did find her attractive, only it turns out Marla was just flirting with Deborah to get her wife a refund for some faulty leggings she bought off of Deborah’s QVC line. The resulting textbook comedian meltdown is Deborah-flavored with misogynistic comments toward her gender. She heckles the audience, singling several women out for ridicule, and ends up picking on the captain’s wife. Which gets both Deborah and Ava kicked off of the ship the very next day.

As Hacks‘ second season continues, one can’t help but wonder how much longer Deborah is going to stick to her guns about suing Ava. She knows the girl is broke (she is Ava’s boss, after all) and that she clearly regrets her actions. And while watching Deborah be a bitch about the situation is funny, she can only ridicule Ava about it so many times before the bit gets as stale as Deborah is old. The one constant in every episode of Hacks is the bond between Smart and Einbinder, so strong that it shines through in every second they share on screen.

Rating: 8/10

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