The Ending of 'Hacks' Season 3 Proves Ava and Deborah Aren't So Different After All

The latest season of the Max comedy wraps up with a shocking exchange between Ava and her boss—making for one of the best TV episodes of the year.

hannah einbinder as ava in the hacks season 3 finale
(Image credit: Jake Giles Netter/Max)

As much as Gen Z writer Ava Daniels is the foil to old-school stand-up comic Deborah Vance on the Max comedy Hacks, the two are not so dissimilar.

Ava (Hannah Einbinder) began working for Deborah (Jean Smart) partially because she struggled to find work after posting a controversial tweet—but largely because she was difficult to work with. As one of her former writing partners tells her during a chance encounter in season 1, she “was an a--hole before the tweet.”

By the end of season 3, Ava has had ample time to learn from the very best at behaving badly. So when Ava’s wronged by Deborah once again, as she lies about being unable to make her the head writer at her new late-night hosting gig, Ava makes certain to level the power dynamic between them.

In the season 3 finale (which hit streaming on May 30), Ava goes behind Deborah’s back to anoint herself with the role and plans to blackmail her if she disagrees. Ava declares that, if she doesn’t get to lead the writers’ room, she’ll make sure it comes out that Deborah had sex with the chairman of the network (Tony Goldwyn) on a company golfing outing weeks before she was hired (episode 6, "Par for the Course"). It’s a move straight out of the Deborah Vance playbook—and makes for one of the most jaw-dropping TV moments of 2024 thus far.

jean smart and hannah einbinder in the hacks season 3 finale

Jean Smart as Deborah and Hannah Einbinder as Ava in the Hacks season 3 finale.

(Image credit: Jake Giles Netter/Max)

While season 3 begins months after Deborah lets Ava go, telling her to pursue her dreams at the end of season 2, Deborah lures Ava back in when the opportunity arises to become the host of a major network show. Being the first woman to helm a late-night series has been a dream of Deborah's for decades and one she lost out on in the ‘70s due to tabloid fodder. (She was said to have committed arson upon learning her husband cheated on her with her sister, although her ex made up the fire, and Deborah ran with it and incorporated it into her routine.) But to see the dream finally come to fruition, the comedy star needs her No. 1 writer (and best friend, whether she would admit it or not) back by her side.

Ava concedes and the two spend much of season 3 schmoozing network bosses and perfecting Deborah’s public persona to get her behind the late-night desk again. Eventually, the job is Deborah’s. When she finds out, she’s, for once, at a loss for words, and you can imagine she’s thinking about the young woman who shot a late-night pilot 50 years ago.

Yet again, in the ninth and final episode of the season, “Bulletproof,” Deborah tells Ava she wants her to come with her. Ava accepts and reveals she’s exclusively been writing jokes for Deborah’s show in her downtime, then quits the TV writing job she went on hiatus for to work with her old boss, even after they offer to promote her to head writer.

jean smart in the hacks season 3 finale

Jean Smart as Deborah in the Hacks season 3 finale.

(Image credit: Jake Giles Netter/Max)

However, when the two connect after Deborah’s first meeting with the whole network team, she tells Ava that the network's one request was to keep the same head writer who has been there for 20 years. Deborah insists she pushed back and reiterates Ava would still be in the writers’ room.

Hours later, Ava discovers Deborah lied to her when she runs into the network CEO, Winnie Landell (Helen Hunt). She uses the fateful encounter to pitch herself for the head writer job, only for Winnie to say, “Deborah can hire whoever she wants. We told her she has full hiring power.”

What follows is a culmination of all of the complicated feelings at the helm of Ava and Deborah’s connection and Hacks itself—their loneliness, fierce ambition, and rage over how they’ve been treated, by each other and their industry. (It’s also a solid contender for their Emmys reels!) Ava bursts into Deborah’s home unannounced to confront her and call her a liar. Deborah matches her ferocity by not backing down and saying the network took a risk by choosing her, which Ava couldn’t understand, and that she needed the show to be “bulletproof.”

Ava pleads that Deborah should give her the head writer job because of their relationship and how Deborah needs her, to which she says, “I do, but not to be my head writer.”

“You specifically told me to be ambitious, except when it inconveniences you, I guess,” Ava responds, calling her mentor “selfish” and stating that she doesn’t want to be a shark or selfish herself.

hannah einbinder and jean smart in hacks season 3

Hannah Einbinder as Ava and Jean Smart as Deborah in Hacks season 3 episode 8.

(Image credit: Jake Giles Netter/Max)

Ultimately, being selfish is what Ava chooses. Days later when Deborah strolls into day one of her new job, she finds Ava waiting for her in the writers’ room. In a menacing tone, Ava says she’ll be filling the head writer position unless Deborah wants a tabloid scandal to surface—and inevitably ruin her chances at hosting late-night once again.

“The show needs to be bulletproof like you said, so I think I am your head writer after all,” says Ava. “You wouldn’t,” reasons Deborah, to which Ava snarkily responds, “I would. Wouldn’t you?”

There’s anger in their exchange, but there’s also a sense of pride. Deborah has successfully inspired Ava to be the shark she may have always been, and Ava has finally one-upped her boss by wielding her own words against her. Throughout Hacks, Ava has witnessed Deborah blackmail the CEO of the Vegas casino that hosted her residency (Christopher McDonald), admit she sabotaged her friend’s comedy career, and even sue her for going against an NDA. And time and time again, Deborah has told Ava to move on from their creative partnership in a fit of rage and then asked her to come back since no one knows her better; toughening her up with each impulsive move. It’s no wonder Ava’s come out of her stint working for a “hack” in Vegas by playing her cards like a hustler; she’s learned from Sin City’s very best.

In a New Yorker profile of Deborah published before she lands late-night, Ava describes a hack as “someone who does the same thing over and over again.” The young joke writer says it’s what the comedy legend is not because of how committed she is to evolving, which is true—largely because of her. Deborah certainly plays dirty over and over again, though, and it’s hard to see her stopping that routine anytime soon. Now that Ava is ready to match her game—and accepted they’re not so different after all—it feels like the show has been leading to this point, and just beginning. With season 4 likely on the horizon, the two will rival one another more than ever. If it’s anything like their fiery argument and gasp-worthy exchange at the end of the season 3 finale, it’ll be Ava and Deborah's most riveting act yet.

Sadie Bell
Senior Culture Editor

Sadie Bell is the Senior Culture Editor at Marie Claire, where she edits, writes, and helps to ideate stories across movies, TV, books, and music, from interviews with talent to pop culture features and trend stories. She has a passion for uplifting rising stars, and a special interest in cult-classic movies, emerging arts scenes, and music. She has over eight years of experience covering pop culture and her byline has appeared in Billboard, Interview Magazine, NYLON, PEOPLE, Rolling Stone, Thrillist and other outlets.