Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart in 'Hacks' season 3

Two Words Changed the Entire Game in the ‘Hacks’ Season 3 Finale

The third season of Max’s comedy series Hacks concluded on May 30, 2024, and we’re still processing that ending!

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Just when we thought we had a handle on the complicated relationship between the show’s two leading ladies, everything was turned on its head in “Bulletproof,” the ninth and final episode of the season. Previously this season, Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) has made actual progress at being a better human, with help from millennial writer and unlikely sidekick Ava (Hannah Einbinder).

Their friendship has blossomed from contentious yet inarguably compatible at work, to Deborah noticeably asking for Ava to be in places and situations that make the older woman uncomfortable. This is progress, pure and simple, and the smile that Ava gives Deborah when they find out Deborah landed a late night gig is so joyful and full of hope that we can see the close bond between them. They’re officially friends … until they’re not again.

Deborah’s chickens come home to roost

As with most season finales, plenty of loose ends were tied up while leaving still more undone to leave room for a potential next season. “Bulletproof” did more than that, expanding on the relationships between the major players and exploring the concept of taking the people closest to us for granted. Deborah is almost always guilty of this, putting her career first time and time again. Her daughter took a backseat to her career, as did her estranged sister and everyone who’s ever worked for her.

In the finale, Deborah finally agrees to see her sister Nina (Jane Adams), but she of course cuts their time together short before admitting that she selfishly moved their parents’ graves to a new plot without ever telling anyone. Nina realizes she’s been “going to the hardware store for milk,” stops blaming herself for a mistake she made when she was nineteen, and cuts Deborah off for good. We don’t blame her a bit. Deborah has always used her anger towards Nina and her ex-husband as fuel to push herself further in her career. She didn’t really think or care about her sister, as a person, and she still refuses to do so.

Next, there’s Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins), who decides to move on after being offered a job at Home Shopping Network. He’s sick of being the brains behind her organization and receiving nothing but grief in return, and again, we don’t blame him. When he finally tells Deborah off, we’re glad.

Jimmy talks to Kayla in Hacks

Elsewhere, Jimmy (Paul W. Downs) and Kayla (Megan Stalter) meet with a rising star named Bella (Kathryn Newton), who turns out to be a former classmate of Kayla’s. As we listen to the starlet talk, it’s clear that she and Kayla were frenemies, not friends. In fact, Bella was a nasty bully with a cruel nickname for Jimmy’s sweet, bubbly assistant, and just a few minutes into the meeting, Jimmy has had enough. Proving once again why he’s one of our favorite characters, Jimmy tells Bella they aren’t interested in representing her after all.

Kayla confesses that she’s tired of being criticized for her many mistakes at work and threatens to leave, but Jimmy tracks her down on a plane and finally admits how important she is to him. (“Just a work thing!” he assures everyone round them.) He makes her a full partner, which, let’s face it, she totally deserves. For all of her failings, Kayla is a “visionary,” as Jimmy says, and it’s nice to see him finally acknowledge that fact.

A new dynamic for Deborah and Ava

Maybe some viewers thought after episode 8 that Deborah and Ava would be besties for life and never disagree again (yeah right!), but savvy observers know that the real meat of Hacks is the push-pull relationship between them. Without conflict, what would the show even be about? Still, we saw red flags as soon as Deborah told Ava she can’t have the head writer job for her new late night show after all. It felt like Deborah was being scared, selfish, and self-serving once again … and she was.

When Ava finds out the truth and confronts Deborah, we see clearly why Deborah has no real friends or loved ones in her life. She’s so determined to make her new show “bulletproof” that she snatches Ava’s dream job (and her friendship) from her without batting an eye, telling her “you have to be” selfish to get ahead in the entertainment industry. Tearfully, Ava refuses to “be a shark, or whatever,” and says she just wants Deborah to treat her fairly.

In the final scene, Deborah arrives at her new office and finds Ava is the first writer to report for duty. Her relief quickly turns to astonishment, however, when Ava blackmails her into making her head writer after all. “You wouldn’t,” Deborah hisses.

“I would,” says Ava, dropping two incredibly telling words to drive things home: “Wouldn’t you?”

The answer, tragically, is yes. Deborah would (and has, repeatedly) always choose herself and her career over anyone else’s wellbeing. She would use blackmail to get her way (and has). She would force someone’s hand to get what she feels is rightfully hers (and has). It seems that Ava has been learning a lot more from her mentor than mere comedy; she’s learned to look out for number one, even when it costs everything you are.

There’s no word yet on whether Hacks will be renewed for season 4, but with they way they left our characters in season 3, I certainly hope so! There’s still so much to explore in this ever-changing relationship, and I’m totally invested in seeing what comes next.

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Beverly Jenkins
Beverly Jenkins (she/her) is a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She writes about pop culture, entertainment, and web memes, and has published a book or a funny day-to-day desk calendar about web humor every year for a decade. When not writing, she's listening to audiobooks or watching streaming movies under a pile of her very loved (spoiled) pets.