“Hacks” stars, creators on Ava's fire in that anger-filled season finale — and gasp-worthy final scene

Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder break down the tears and anger of the season 3 closer.

Warning: This article contains spoilers about the Hacks season 3 finale, "Bulletproof."

Jean Smart is the one fielding questions about Hacks season 3, but when the conversation turns to the finale, she turns the tables on this reporter.

"Did you cry?" she asks. "She made me cry."

That "she" Smart is referring to is Hannah Einbinder, whose Ava confronts Smart's Deborah Vance after discovering that Deborah lied about the network vetoing her as head writer on Deborah's new late-night show. A betrayed Ava storms into Deborah's mansion, revealing what she's learned, but Deborah tells Ava to trust her when she says that the network does care who she chooses to write the show.

<p>Max</p> Hannah Einbinder on 'Hacks'


Hannah Einbinder on 'Hacks'

"I don't trust you. You're a f---ing liar," Ava exclaims in return, before things become emotional — tears for Ava, exasperation for Deborah.

"I cannot give them any excuse. This show has to be bulletproof. It has to work," Deborah firmly explains to Ava. "I've lost way too much for it not to."

"And you're okay with losing me too?" Ava wonders. Deborah, her volume dialed down, replies, "I'm willing to."

Related: J. Smith-Cameron unpacks that emotional showdown with Jean Smart on Hacks (Exclusive)

"It was just excruciating watching her because I felt I was being so cruel, and she was so remarkable in the scene that she actually made me cry on camera," Smart recalls to Entertainment Weekly. (Check out the video below for more on that — and why it's not the take you see in the episode.) "When I watched the episode, I just thought it was amazing and unexpected. And it was shocking, though, how Deborah was with her. And I was a little taken aback by that at first. But I think that it's right for the show, and I think it's right for ultimately what happens. But when she finally says that she's willing to lose her to make the show work, it's like, wow, how do you take that back? How do you ever take that back, even if she didn't mean it a hundred percent? I think she did mean a hundred percent that you are not going to be my head writer, and if you don't get that, then there's nothing I'm going to do because I am not going to lose this over you. Do I want to lose you? No, I do not. And she doesn't really think she will."

Einbinder describes the scene as "an incredibly rewarding experience," boosted by the writing of co-creators/co-showrunners Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky.

"The words are what will take you there. It really is on the page," Einbinder says. "And looking at Jean and her being my scene partner — I feel like they have taught me everything I know on this show. This is my first show, and at this point, I felt that doing that work was possible because of everything that I've learned from Jean and Paul and Jen and Lucia and everything they've given me, and every opportunity they've given me to do dramatic work. I loved it. I was like, wow, this feels good."

Downs remembers Einbinder as "unstoppable" during the tense, heartbreaking moment, while Aniello, who also directed the episode, says it's "the most incredible acting I've ever been a part of."

<p>Max</p> Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart on the 'Hacks' season 3 finale


Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart on the 'Hacks' season 3 finale

Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.

"It's kind of incredible," Aniello continues, "how in the span of a couple seconds, you can see Ava — Hannah — go from so hurt to understanding, to deciding something truthful about the person she's two feet away from, and then delivering her sentencing. This is what is in store for you now. And you see it all with no words until she does have some dialogue. It's an incredible performance that is so beautiful and nuanced and impressive."

Related: Inside Deborah Vance's Hacks roast — and DJ's catchphrase 'What a c--t!'

Her sentencing turns out to be two-fold: First, after Deborah tells Ava she's willing to lose her, Ava basically condemns Deborah to a life of loneliness (a throwback to their walk in the woods, when the comedian opens up to the young writer). But then, later, when you least expect her to be there, Ava is waiting in a conference room at the network when Deborah shows up to begin work on her late-night show. Thinking Ava has reconsidered and is happy to be second to the male head writer, Ava explains to Deborah that she actually is her head writer — inserting herself into the position — because, well, it wouldn't be good for Deborah if word got out that she slept with the CEO just before landing her new job.

<p>Max</p> Jean Smart on 'Hacks'


Jean Smart on 'Hacks'

"You wouldn't," Deborah says, after taking a few steps closer to Ava's face.

"I would," Ava replies, steely-face. "Wouldn't you?"

Smart begins clapping when I tell her I gasped with the realization that Ava is blackmailing Deborah. "All about Eve!" she exclaims, referring to the plot of that 1950 film, laughing. “As furious and shocked as she was, there’s a couple of [brain] molecules that are going, ‘Wow, my baby listened to me. She listened to, unfortunately, everything I said.'”

Einbinder admits being “scared dot com” watching the scene, which just happened to be the very first one they filmed after resuming production following last year's writers' and actors' strikes. "It's a scary scene. It's like Ava Mafioso — Ava Montana — in that moment. I was like, what? That's crazy. It's brilliant."

Related: 2024 Emmy nomination predictions: Outstanding Drama, Comedy, and Limited Series

Einbinder pauses to think when asked if she knew Ava had that in her, but then she realizes, "Ava's kind of beaten down into submission to do that. She has no choice. She doesn't want to do that. She doesn't want to be a shark. She is doing what Deborah is telling her to do," Einbinder says. "But the fire and being mad at Deborah, that is certainly something that I think she has in her, and she is mad and that is what is obviously pushing her to be able to sustain that."

Aniello says that power has been building in Ava as the show has progressed. "We didn't know if she would ever use it, because I think she said in that big fight, 'I wanted to do this with you,'" Aniello explains. "As a fan of Ava's, I think that she's also doing it to protect Deborah to make a better show for Deborah. She's almost saying — to quote Taylor Swift, an ultimate queen as well — 'Look what you made me do.'"

And now, Einbinder's curiosities are piqued about what that could mean for the recently announced season 4. "I'm really looking forward to where that goes," she says. "Maybe there's more of that adversarial stuff that would be really cool."

Hacks season 3 is now streaming on Max.

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.