‘Hacks’ Star Jean Smart Says Hannah Einbinder Blew Her Away With That ‘Brilliant’ Season 3 Finale Moment

Note: This story contains spoilers from the “Hacks” Season 3 finale.

The final episode of “Hacks” Season 3 ends on a chilling about-face. After nearly 30 episodes spent watching Ava (Hannah Einbinder) push her comedy collaborator Deborah (Jean Smart) to be a better version of herself, “Bulletproof” ended with Ava taking a page out of Deborah’s book, specifically from the chapter titled, ‘How to Blackmail Your Boss.’

“Deborah gives her this instruction manual, and she has no choice but to put the fridge together, if you will,” Einbinder told TheWrap.

In Season 3’s penultimate episode, Deborah Vance achieves her ultimate dream of hosting her own late night show. That new gig comes with the promise Deborah can hire anyone she wants, and initially, Ava is at the top of her list for head writer. But the more Deborah digests how big this opportunity is for her, the more nervous she becomes about letting her young employee take over such a major role. Choosing the safe route rather than the one that brought her to this moment, Deborah lies to Ava, telling her that the network insisted she keep the show’s previous head writer.

It’s a lie that Ava quickly uncovers. That’s when Ava plays her hand: either Deborah give Ava the head writer job or she leaks that Deborah slept with Bob Lipka (Tony Goldwyn), the CEO of the media conglomerate that owns her new network.

“We see a glimmer of reluctance in Ava’s eyes in that final face-off scene where Deborah says, ‘You wouldn’t,'” Einbinder explained. “Ava was kind of scared for a second, and then she reigns it back in.”

“Her face was so brilliant,” Smart said of Einbinder’s performance in the pivotal scene. “When I stepped toward her, I say, ‘You wouldn’t.’ She says, ‘I would. Wouldn’t you?’ But when I first stepped towards her, for just this second, this look in Ava’s eyes was like, ‘S–t,’ because she’s still scared of Deborah. But it’s for a nanosecond.”

Einbinder joked the “scary” side of Ava was something you would expect from a “mafia boss.” “That flicker is Ava, and ‘Wouldn’t you?’ is Deborah,” she said.

Plus, Ava isn’t the only one who turns on Deborah this season. “Everybody lets Deborah have it this year,” Smart said.

“Welcome to my world! It’s about goddamn time,” Einbinder joked.

Season 3’s “The Roast of Deborah Vance” ends with the comedian’s daughter DJ (Kaitlin Olson) cheerily calling Deborah an addict, a moment that Smart called “very sad.” “There was a finality to the chasm between them. Even though, from DJ’s point of view, she felt like things were better with her mother now … for Deborah, it was devastating, because she could see now that she’ll never get her daughter back. That window of opportunity, whatever it might have been, was gone.”

Then there’s Deborah’s relationship with her sister Kathy (J. Smith-Cameron). For three seasons, Deborah has painted her sister as a the cheating harlot who stole her husband. But “Bulletproof” shows another side of their relationship as they try to reconnect.

Kathy (J. Smith-Cameron) in “Hacks” Season 3 (Photo Credit: Max)

After Kathy convinces Deborah to visit their late parents’ graves, the career-obsessed Deborah can’t put down her phone during the first time the two have been alone in decades. When Kathy calls her out for the disrespectful behavior, Deborah shrugs off her criticism and admits she moved their parents’ bodies to a Las Vegas plot years ago and never told Kathy. That’s when Kathy hits her breaking point, telling her sister, “I’m through going to the hardware store for milk.”

“If you’re in a bad relationship and you keep expecting to get something out of that other person that you know is not there, you’re almost punishing them because they’re not giving it. They don’t have it to give,” Smart said. “Then that becomes your problem for staying and expecting it and asking for it over and over.”

Since Season 1, “Hacks” has chronicled Deborah and Ava’s uphill climb for their art. While Smart believes that getting late night will make Deborah happy, she doesn’t think it will solve all of her problems.

“There’s always some big gaps in her life that, when she goes home at night, are hard. You know, being alone, not feeling good about her daughter, not having Marty. So the show will fill in a lot of that, the holes inside of her heart,” Smart said. “The show represents so many things to her, not just a career high, but also it’s the ultimate eff you to her ex-husband.”

As for Einbinder, though she believes that Ava does want to reinvent late night like she says, she sees this career move as being more about Deborah than Ava.

“She really thinks, as we saw from the test show, that she can write something that is actually good and elevated,” Einbinder said. “But it’s more so about Deborah. Like, yes, Ava has these great ideas; she is a very passionate writer and a careerist in many ways, but I also think that it’s mostly to get Deborah what she wants.”

All three seasons of “Hacks” are now streaming on Max, with a fourth season on the way.

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