Christina Hendricks Arrives on ‘Hacks’ To Top Ava

Welcome back to my weekly Hacks coverage, where I delve into the highlights from both episodes from the week. Today, we’re talking season three episodes five and six: “One Day” and “Power Play.”


Early on in the first of this week’s Hacks episodes, Deborah and Ava get lost in the woods, yielding a tight basically bottle episode so situated on their ever-complicated dynamic, a romp in the Pennsylvania forrest highlighting just how lost both characters feel in their lives.

Deborah suggests the hike when they’re both struggling to work on material: “I have writer’s block; you have manic depression,” she says, referring to Ava spiraling out about hearing from Ruby who wants to know where to ship her things. That relationship really is dead, which means Ava has to kill it working with Deborah. She sacrificed her personal life for this job. To be fair, Deborah doesn’t suggest a hike at all; she suggests walking around an outlet mall. But Ava teases Deborah about a hike being too hard, and that’s all it takes. Already, the episode has established starting with its cold open in a doctor’s office that Deborah is experiencing some renewed insecurities about aging. The network made her get a physical, and she doubts they did so for her younger male competition.

Before the hike goes south, Ava brings up the breakup, and Deborah asks her why she even wants to be in a relationship, tells her to use the time to focus on herself. Deborah suggests relationships aren’t conducive to succeeding in this business, but Ava says she has always wanted one. Deborah says she’s only lonely when opening a bottle of Krug: “Can’t recork champagne.”

Deborah and Ava often say things that don’t align with their behaviors. Because, sure, Deborah says she doesn’t want a husband. But she’s always making the people who work for her satisfy social and personal needs and wants for her. Ava literally lives with her, checks a lot of the boxes of partnership even if it’s more creative than romantic. Sure, she can claim she isn’t lonely. But it’s because she’s constantly surrounded by people. People she pays.

Deborah and Ava are actually connecting pretty well here — until Deborah falls down a ravine and knocks Ava’s phone into a creek. They find themselves stranded, Deborah hurt, Ava unable to perform basic wilderness skills despite mere minutes earlier talking about the importance of communing with nature. (The visual gag of her splint immediately falling apart is so good.) Deborah laments to Ava she doesn’t want to wear a boot, that it’ll make her look old, frail. Ava gently suggests it’d be okay if Deborah needs to slow down, needs more assistance to live her life. “I still feel like I can do everything. I don’t feel my age. And then I look in the mirror, and I don’t recognize myself,” Deborah says. The world, and her industry especially, are ageist and ableist, and she has clearly internalized so much of that. It’d be easy to dismiss her as being stubborn and replicating the exact same problems she’s suffering from, but she’s right in a way: People will treat her differently if they are too aware of her age. Also Deborah’s frustrations about how she feels young despite constant reminders her body is getting older are poignant. So is her opening up to Ava to share these vulnerabilities. Again, she’s treating her like a partner.

After making the terrible decision to climb up a tree (“You’ve never given me nimble,” Jean Smart intones magnificently), Ava ends up hurt, too, stung by a bee to top it off. This leads to a discussion between Ava and Deborah about the climate crisis. Deborah is giving full on climate change denial, reciting some of the silliest talking points deniers like to trot out. Ava agrees with Deborah that the average person can’t do as much to combat climate change as corporations, but then they points out Deborah is not an average person. She’s a person with a private jet. She keeps her lawns in the literal desert watered regularly. All of her QVC products are plastic and fast fashion. Something I love about Hacks — and something that has been especially clear this season — is how realistic it is about Deborah’s most unsavory flaws and even conservatism. A lot of shows with ultra wealthy characters like Deborah will sometimes downplay their politics or their alliances with evil people and bad men. A lot of viewers were upset when certain Succession characters were revealed to be Republicans, which is absurd, but which also reflects a failure of the show itself to show these characters for who they really are and to portray honest, realistic versions of ultra powerful, ultra rich characters.

Deborah is a tax-evading rich person who doesn’t give a shit about the environment and also often aligns with problematic celebrities or public figures (as Ava pointed out, her house has photos of her shaking hands with war criminals). She likely considers herself a feminist, but it’s of the second wave variety of course. Hacks strikes the right balance of not softening Deborah but still humanizing and complicating her. We don’t get that interlude on her fears and anxieties about aging as a means of distracting us from her climate change denial that follows. Actually a lesser shower probably would have inverted the order there, using her feelings about aging to somehow smooth over the other unpleasant things about her. We do return to the age conversation after the climate change stuff, but none of these things cancel each other out. These conversations are more connected, even, than Deborah realizes. She wants so desperately to not be seen as old, but meanwhile her thoughts on climate change make her out of touch and dismissive of young people.

The episode distills the appeal of the Deborah/Ava dynamic into its most basic parts. These two are constantly pushing each other out of their comfort zones. Sometimes it’s productive, and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s downright nasty, and sometimes it’s surprisingly tender. Ava can have empathy for Deborah about aging but also hold her feet to the fucking flames about her carbon footprint. Deborah displays some growth at episode’s end, making some promises to the young teen boys who rescue the two about reducing that carbon footprint, but Hacks doesn’t pretend like this is some major transformation. Deborah is going to keep being Deborah. But even the smallest shifts are meaningful — and make it clear just how much Ava means to her. She does listen to her, sometimes.

Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart’s Emmy reels should just be them shouting “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME I DON’T EVEN KNOW YOU” over and over.


Next, in “Power Play,” Deborah and Ava ready themselves to attend a golf tournament for the network’s various affiliate owners — mostly old rich white men, whose interests and bios Deborah studies up on so she can cozy up to them about the network’s late night decision. Deborah is set to emcee the tournament, but she also wants to get in the game and play golf, charm them. (“By the way, I need ten tasteful hole jokes,” she instructs Ava).

Just like the series doesn’t pull any punches about Deborah’s shortcomings, it’s also realistic about the brand of sometimes hypocritical and often self-righteous white liberal queer woman in her twenties Ava is. At DJ’s gender reveal party, Ava remarks to Marcus that this exact type of event is disgusting, and when he says he’s surprised she was invited, Ava admits she actually asked to come before excitedly lifting her camera to film the reveal. She is, often, a lot of talk. But it’s one thing to state your values and another to live them. This adds some texture to her dynamic with Deborah, because it means Deborah is correct when she laments Ava for being a sanctimonious asshole. She’s not wrong!

Later, at the golf tournament, Deborah becomes giddy that Bob Lipka (Tony Goldwyn), the CEO of the conglomerate who owns the network, is present, and Ava dismisses him. “Whatever, billionaires shouldn’t exist,” she says and, in the next breath, “I used to have a pin on my jean jacket that said that.” Deborah defends him in that way wealthy people like to defend people even more wealthy than them, and Ava says billionaires have no regard for the working class. But then Deborah gets to school her: Ava wants to keep their breakfast going and order another coffee, but Deborah asks for the check and tells Ava it’s clear she has never worked in the service industry from her willingness to hog a table when the server could easily turn it.

Eager to prove she can be “of the people,” Ava agrees to caddy for Deborah while she golfs with old flame Marty and Bob Lipka, who she immediately starts flirting with by letting him correct her golf, immediately frustrating Marty. Ava’s playacting at being a caddy only further highlights her flaws though. She thinks she can understand being working class by doing it…for a couple days — and doing it poorly at that. The only thing more cringe than being out of touch with service workers is trying on service work like it’s a fun little costume.

Ava and Deborah in their golf gear in Hacks.

On the green, Ava encounters Christina Hendricks’ character, whose name I have not been able to figure out, so if you do, please drop it in the comments! We’ll just call her Golf Goddess for now. Golf Goddess is immediately commanding with Ava, telling her to get on her knees to fix a divot in the green. It’s very charged, very hot — if you ignore the clear real world power dynamics of Ava being a caddy (even if she isn’t really a caddy) and Golf Goddess being a golfer. Ava’s facial expression makes it clear though that she’s fine taking orders from her.

At the bar, Marty witnesses Ava spiraling about capitalism and art and how to live an ethical life. It’s moments like these that help develop Ava as not just some cringe white queer whose behaviors don’t always reflect her values but rather just a real person struggling to figure out how to, well, be a person. Ava’s contradictions and hypocrisies are realistic and convincing, often easy to laugh at but also often relatable. There’s no point in her acting like she doesn’t work for a massive media conglomerate, which means she benefits from the very system she wants to critique. But that doesn’t mean she should stop critiquing that system either, and it certainly doesn’t mean she should stop pushing Deborah to be better, too. We all make sacrifices when it comes to work, money, careers in this fucked up system.

Ava tells Marty Deborah isn’t getting the hosting job, news that breaks earlier in the episode when Deborah sees Jack Danby taking a successful meeting with Bob, which also makes her switch golf gears into destroying every hole instead of taking Bob’s corrections. “I’ve known her a long time and over these past couple years, she’s really changed, and I’m pretty sure that’s right about the time you showed up, kid,” Marty says. How dare this show make me emotional!!!!!!

Then both our girls end up taking big swings in their sex lives. Deborah sleeps with Bob, despite him being married. She regrets it and is frustrated with herself for fucking through her sad emotions about not getting the gig. “Trying to be a good person is hell, but at least you’re trying,” Ava says when Deborah spirals about being “the other woman,” given her history of her ex-husband cheating on her with her sister.

Before this, Ava ends up in Golf Goddess’ room, where Golf Goddess keeps up the same vibe she had on the green, telling Ava she stinks, calling her “caddy girl.” Ava interrupts to explain she isn’t actually a caddy, and Golf Goddess recoils, cuts the hookup short. Ava asks if she was only into her because she’s a caddy, and Golf Goddess says yes without hesitation. “Okay, is this, like, some weird power thing where you only wanted to fuck me because I’m your working class subordinate? Kind of problematic,” Ava says. But that’s exactly what this woman was into. And also? She’s a gay Republican who funds fracking. Now, much like I wasn’t convinced that Kat on The Bold Type would continue to knowingly date a gay Republican, I’m not entirely convinced that Ava wouldn’t hook up with a gay Republican she’s attracted to, but I’ll allow.

She indeed gets the hell out, the argument between her and Golf Goddess hilarious, Christina Hendricks nailing it. Playacting as the working class isn’t so easy and feel good, is it Ava? In fact, she’s lucky to have the privilege to even leave in the first place. Perhaps an actual caddy for the luxury club would have felt pressured to stay and perform the power dynamic Golf Goddess desired in fear of it impacting their employment. Golf caddying for Deborah might be mostly fun, but Ava isn’t actually immersing herself in any kind of real world service worker experience here (in golf specifically by the way, it’s extremely common and even normalized for caddies to be verbally abused and mistreated). The whole situation with Golf Goddess reveals to Ava just what a sham her little experiment was. Maybe instead of trying to be a good person by pretending to be a caddy, she could have, you know, just treated the other actual caddies with respect and been all around more self-aware.

Together, these episodes work well to mine Deborah and Ava’s biggest flaws for humor while still portraying them in complex, layered ways that never obfuscate those flaws. Deborah’s a rich bitch with ultimately bad politics. Ava’s a phony bitch with supposedly good politics that nonetheless she’s more apt to wear on a pin than live out in her day-to-day life. But they’re also not the sorts of one-note horrible people these types of characters on television can sometimes embody. They’re unlikeable in the best way, flawed but fledgling toward growth.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 844 articles for us.

7 Comments

  1. How DARE this show give MARTY of all people the funniest line of the episode! The first time he said “on stolen land” I didn’t hear it and had to rewind and I’m so glad I did! Ava’s face as he says it is priceless.

    Also, just putting it out there, I would still fuck Christina Hendricks even if she were a Republican who funded fracking. Sorry not sorry.

  2. Ava’s face changing halfway through the sentence without changing her commitment to, “I would happily let a socialist pee on me!” is one of the funniest acting choices I’ve seen in ages. Could tell she regretted the sentence, but wasn’t gonna pull out of the nosedive

  3. I know this is completely not the point of this very thoughtful and thorough write up of these two great episodes, but I can’t get over how hot Ava is in her caddy outfit! something about it really works for me! (and not in a creepy Golf Goddess way, lol)

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