‘Hacks’ Season 2, Episode 5: Deborah’s No Longer the Prize Cow (RECAP)

This first of this week’s double episodes, Hacks 2.5 (“Retired”), reminds us of the many ways that Deborah (Jean Smart) is old. The first reminder comes when she and Ava (Hannah Einbinder) are in the middle of discussing touching up punchlines and she pulls out her handy dandy pill organizer, dumps an entire handful of medication into her palm, and she swallows it all in one go. For any Real Housewives fans, the scene is reminiscent of Lisa Rinna’s pill baggy, especially when Deborah goes through her pills and hands one over to Ava, telling her she could use one. Of course, she doesn’t say what the pill is – and Ava doesn’t ask; she simply takes the big-ass pill and then chokes on it.

While Ava chokes on the pill, Damien (Mark Indelicato) informs Deborah that her signature fragrance, Black Pashmina, is being discontinued. This prompts a pit stop at Lord and Taylor (those still exist?), because, as Deborah intends to live to 102 (and to 109 if she has any say), she’ll need 57 bottles to last her the rest of her life. They head off to the mall, where, while looking through the clearance rack – just because she’s rich doesn’t mean she has to be lavish! – Deb starts pulling out clothes for Ava to try. Last week, I mentioned that I don’t think Deborah is actually going to go through with suing Ava; scenes like this, where she essentially takes Ava clothes shopping, further convince me that Deborah only wants to teach Ava a lesson.

As they leave the store, Deborah runs into Susan (Harriet Samsom Harris), an old friend from her early comedy days now working on commission in the Lord and Taylor shoe department. Upon hearing this, Deb sends Ava off to pick out new shoes, and Ava skips off in excitement…until Deb calls “Not from the men’s department!” The pep in Ava’s step instantly disappears. Her shoulders droop dejectedly. It’s the female equivalent of George Michael Bluth getting broken up with.

Deborah invites Susan to the Illinois State Fair where she’ll be doing her next set. As the two women struggle to exchange phone numbers (only to have Ava swoop in and do it for them), we’re reminded once again that Deborah is a boomer. Once they’re finally out of the store, Deborah reveals the secret she’s been keeping: it’s her fault Susan quit doing comedy. Before Deborah was famous, she and Susan were essentially rivals. At one point, they were both in Reno for a stand-up showcase, the winner of which would be booked on college tours. Because the comedy industry was (and still is) so cutthroat in regard to women, Deborah erased Susan’s name from the list of finalists, leaving her the only woman on it.

Hacks‘ second season has made an effort to show us that while Deborah is a bitch, she’s not heartless. From making an active effort with DJ’s new husband in episode one, to dumpster diving with Ava for her dad’s ashes, it’s clear that she does care about the people in her life. After her encounter with Susan, Deborah wakes in the middle of the night and googles her. As expected, nothing comes up – which bothers Deb a lot more than she wants to accept. It’s a moment that shows she really does feel remorse for her past actions.

Personally, I love all fair episodes of TV shows, state, county, or otherwise, because they’re guaranteed to be a complete and utter shit show for the characters. And Hacks 2.5 does not disappoint. Deborah spends the first half of the day with Susan and her grandsons, spoiling them with VIP passes so they don’t have to wait in lines, plus 600 tickets to use on rides and games. Anyone who’s gone to a carnival recently knows that those are not cheap. Deborah also lets her competitive side get the best of her while playing one of those water gun games with Susan, winning and being obnoxious as hell to the point that Susan actually walks away for a bit to calm down. Deborah apologizes not only for her behavior, but for being the reason that Susan retired from stand-up.

As it turns out, though, Susan quit doing comedy because she was pregnant, not because she didn’t advance to the final round of the showcase. She also tells Deborah that she’s got her competitions mixed up and the one in question was when DJ stole a bottle of vodka at ten years old and hit her head on a table in the green room, resulting in a concussion. Deborah remembers none of this. What she does remember is that she closed that night with a joke about a one-legged cheerleader that just killed. Susan points out that what solidified her decision to quit to raise her child was seeing how Deborah was a great comic but an awful mother, neglecting her daughter by dragging her around the country on tour. Her point is further driven home by the fact that Deborah couldn’t even remember the concussion incident.

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Carl Clemons-Hopkins as Marcus and Hannah Einbinder as Ava Daniels. (Courtesy: Karen Ballard/HBO Max)

Meanwhile, Ava and Marcus go off on their own after doing soundcheck for Deborah’s show. It’s the first time Hacks has allowed these two to share scenes that don’t revolve around Deborah, and the result is absolutely hilarious. While getting their caricatures drawn, the artist asks them if they’re a couple and Ava quickly confirms they are (for those of you just joining us: they are not), running her hand down Marcus’s face to his chagrin. Marcus also opens up to Ava about his break-up with Wilson and how he’d almost killed his dog. For a moment, she becomes his hype-woman, reminding him of all of his great qualities. As the series’ two openly queer characters, it’s refreshing to see them bond; as a thank you, Marcus agrees to go on one (1) ride with Ava. She chooses the sling-shot and immediately regrets it. She wants off of the ride so badly that she even shouts about having a bomb and diarrhea, and the desperation on her face is wonderfully hilarious because we’ve all had that “oh no” moment before an amusement park ride sends us on our way.

Back on the home front, Jimmy (Paul W. Downs) is still having to deal with Kayla (Meg Statler) as his assistant. He comes into work on Saturday to find her in the office too, because she figured she might be useful to him while he works. Kayla’s starting to make an active effort (albeit the most minimal effort possible) to actually care about her job, and Jimmy appreciates it. So much so that he decides he’s going to give her more responsibility, such as letting her do script coverage. Kayla happily accepts, then googles what script coverage is.

Deborah’s set for the good attendees of the Illinois State Fair brings a new meaning to the term “haywire.” At first, she gets a good laugh, and it seems for the first time in Hacks Season 2 that we’ll see Deborah have a successful set. Right?


An announcement comes over the PA: a cow is giving birth. This overshadows Deborah completely, because there’s a raffle for the birth time of the baby calf – the person with the closest guess time wins $1,000. This information, it turns out, is far more important to the crowd than any of Deborah’s jokes. Instead of showing Deborah, the projectors switch over to live footage of the cow birth.

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Jean Smart as Deborah Vance, Hanna Einbinder as Ava Daniels (Courtesy: Karen Ballard/HBOMax)

Hacks 2.5 episode ends with another heartfelt conversation between Deborah and Ava by the pool. A dejected Deborah wonders whether or not she should’ve just retired when she was still on top, instead of having to flounder in order to redefine herself. Ava reminds her that she’s not going to retire; she’s going to be on stage until she dies at age 109, and that while she was on top in Vegas, that was just a hill. Now, she’s climbing a mountain – which is where the real work begins.

Deborah knows this, then refers to a joke from earlier in the episode for which they still have no punchline. They still can’t figure one out, so, as a way to get their minds off of it (but mostly hers, let’s be real) Deborah decides it’s time to teach Ava how to float. She reassures a reluctant Ava that she’s going to support her, and she does – until they figure out the punchline for the joke and Deborah swims off to write it down while reminding Ava that she’s got it on her own. It’s an almost perfect summation of their relationship. Deborah is willing to be there when Ava needs support, regardless of what’s going on between them (i.e., the likely bogus lawsuit); and when she knows Ava’s got it, she lets her go, because she already knew Ava was capable of doing it on her own.

Rating: 8/10

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