The Hacks Season 3 Finale Has Me Excited for Season 4

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the Season 3 finale of Hacks, “Bulletproof.”]

When I first watched the Hacks Season 3 finale, I needed to double-check with other critic friends that it was, in fact, the actual final episode of the season. That’s because I was surprised by the way the season ended with a genuine, all-out cliffhanger when it came to the volatile yet captivating relationship between stand-up comedy icon Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and writer Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder).

Season 3 doesn’t immediately reveal the path it’s taking towards its ultimate conclusion: When we first return to the lives of Deborah and Ava at the start, a year has passed since their Season 2 “breakup,” and both women are actually thriving — Deborah basking in the success that came with her landmark comedy special, and Ava excelling as a writer/producer for a show that is definitely not at all inspired by Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. (Except the host is a British man with brown hair and Ava’s writing monologues about environmental collapse and other uplifting topics.)

However, creators Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky know that this show’s power comes from its central characters slinging barbs at each other, and quickly Ava finds herself back in Deborah’s sphere helping to craft her next phase, which becomes a quest to take over a network late-night talk show on the level of The Tonight Show. Despite everything working against her, as a woman over the age of 60 trying to get a job no other woman has held long-term, Deborah actually succeeds by the end of the season — but in the process further complicates her relationship with Ava.

It’s a cliffhanger that excels because it leans so hard into the biggest flaws of its two characters, who are more alike than they’d like to admit. At least when it comes to their ability to be ruthless: Deborah lies to Ava about giving her the job of head writer on the new show, because Deborah’s not prepared to take a chance on Ava. Ava responds by literally blackmailing Deborah into giving her the role. (Yet another powerful woman fails to learn from Olivia Pope’s mistakes — there are always consequences for sleeping with Tony Goldwyn.)

In that final scene of Season 3, Hacks set up a new dynamic between its two leads, and a new battleground for them to fight; while the Season 2 finale felt a lot more vague about where these characters might go next, Season 4 has a clear path ahead of it, bringing audiences behind the scenes of Deborah’s new show.

As The Larry Sanders Show proved for six seasons on HBO, that’s a world rich with comedic potential, making May 30th’s confirmation that the series had been renewed for a fourth season all the more exciting. In an age where shows struggle to get renewed for even a fourth season (Google “third and final season” to discover just how many recent series have ended abruptly before reaching that milestone), it’s exciting to see a finale that can build on three seasons worth of stakes while still setting the stage for more to come.

It’s probably too much to hope that Hacks will last as long as Larry Sanders did, given today’s ecosystem. But what the Season 3 finale showcases is the writers’ ability to find new ways to explore these people and their complicated dynamics. There are perhaps players whose storylines might have reached a natural end: For example, Carl Clemons-Hopkins has always been a wonderful presence on the series, but with Marcus embracing a new role outside of Deborah’s shadow at QVC, he might be better as a recurring character going forward. But there are always ways for the show to surprise us.

And frankly, that’s what we lose when shows fail to progress past just the third season mark — the opportunity to see characters grow and change as the years pass. That’s where TV really finds its power, in the way the format allows for both the show itself and the people involved to evolve. So many big iconic series didn’t even hit their stride until Season 3, with stellar Season 4s to seal the deal: Game of Thrones, The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 30 Rock… Imagine the greatness we might have lost, had they ended before Season 5. (Yes, maybe Thrones should have ended a little earlier, but that’s not a problem so many shows have to worry about these days.)

So, cheers to Hacks on a fantastic third season. (J. Cameron-Smith! The Roast of Deborah Vance! “I put the jokes in comic sans so you know they’re supposed to be funny.”) While it may not ultimately run as many seasons as the show with the dragons, it definitely has the juice to do so.

Hacks Seasons 1-3 are streaming now on Max.

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