"What I'm about to say might upset you, but I think it's better for our relationship if I tell you."
It's the moment that "Hacks" fans have awaited for nearly a year, after the HBO Max series ended its debut season with a helluva cliffhanger: Comedy writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder), plenty drunk and freshly slapped, sent an email revealing deeply personal and damning facts about her boss Deborah (Jean Smart) to a showrunner developing a series about an abusive female boss.
"Making the email a cliffhanger last season, we really wanted to make sure that the payoff felt good," says Paul W. Downs, who co-created "Hacks" with Jen Statsky and Lucia Aniello. "But it's also not just a one-and-done plot device. It reverberates throughout the entire season and has a huge effect on the relationship and love they have for each other."
Ava doesn't immediately break the bad news to Deborah, as the comic legend is busy relishing the excitement of trying out new material for the first time in decades. With her Las Vegas residency now revoked, she's free to hone her act on the road.
But being trapped with Deborah and a big secret in a small car is torturous for Ava; between quirky rest stops and picturesque vistas, she sneaks in desperate calls to their shared agent (Downs), who goes to great lengths to try to make the email disappear.
Ridden with guilt, Ava eventually caves and confesses, just as they happen to be in a particularly zen setting: a crystal shop in Sedona, Arizona. Deborah's reaction sends lots of expensive rocks flying — made of rubber, of course, for the safety of filming.
"I feel bad because I'm not a professional pitcher, so in trying not to hit my co-star, I bonked her more than once," says Smart with a laugh. Adds Einbinder, "It got me back into the moment of the scene. Anything for the shot!"
At dinner, Ava informs Deborah that their agent has made the email null and void. Still, Deborah commands Ava to read her the entire email. "It says something about Deborah that she makes Ava read it out loud to her," says Smart. "It's sadistic, but also masochistic at the same time. I don't think she herself even realizes how much it's going to hurt until she hears what's in the email."
Ava pulls up the email on her phone. "Here are some stories you could probably use about someone who treats people like s— and has no remorse about it at all," she reads.
At first, even Deborah is pleased with some of the punch lines: "Once, when I was having an asthma attack, she said, 'Do you have to do that in here?' She once refused an employee maternity leave because she thought the baby was ugly and said, 'Why would she want to be at home with that thing?'"