I Am Simply Screaming at This Lesbian Cruise Episode of “Hacks”

Last week when I wrote about the first two episodes of Hacks season two, I let you know that I would be dropping back in with additional recaps if anything excessively gay were to happen and, well, I’m already back folks. Because Hacks just delivered a lesbian! cruise! episode! Yes, Hacks 204 — “The Captain’s Wife” — is set almost entirely aboard a ship full of dykes. But before we dive right on into a Hacks 204 recap, a very quick rundown of episode 203, “Trust The Process,” which introduces a very important new character to the Hacks universe:

Laurie Metcalf wears a green thermal and a camo jacket and says: "Yep, name's Alice. Everybody calls me Weed" in season two of Hacks

Yes, this is Weed, played by Laurie Metcalf. Weed is Deborah’s tour manager. Weed thinks mattresses are a scam and opts to only sleep vertically because she has been on the road so long. In her home, the only piece of furniture is a La-Z-Boy. I LOVE WEED!!!!!!!!!! I especially love Weed, because apparently her nickname has nothing to do with marijuana and was given to her by Pete Wentz? SCREAM.

In “Trust The Process,” Ava is still on her whole cleanse kick, opting to not drink and reduce her screentime. She follows through on buying a phone that doesn’t have internet on it, and baby, I don’t think this is going to fix your many underlying issues, but okay. Marcus is still in crisis mode in the wake of his breakup with Wilson, and I’m worried about him! Deborah’s still suing Ava and having a lot of fun torturing her. But when Ava’s dad’s ashes get thrown away, the two dumpster-dive their way back to a sliiiiiightly repaired relationship.


And now, “The Captain’s Wife.” Perhaps the most deliciously uncomfortable episode of television I’ve seen in a minute — in the best way.

At first Deborah is thrilled that the next leg of tour is on a cruise — and a gay cruise at that! The gays love Deborah Vance, after all!

Deborah says to Ava "cruises are fabulous, especially gay ones" on Hacks

Well, wrong gays.

Deborah assumed they were going on a cruise for gay men. She did not know it would be a lesbian cruise. Who informs her that this is actually a lesbian cruise? MARGARET CHO. Playing Margaret Cho!

Margaret Cho as Margaret Cho saying "audiences, B minus" on Hacks

Margaret Cho as Margaret Cho saying "but the cunnilingus, A+" on Hacks

Deborah Vance saying "I-I thought this was a gay cruise" on Hacks

Margaret Cho saying "It is" on Hacks

Margaret Cho says "Lesbians" on Hacks

Closed captioning indicates that a ship horn blares as the camera does a close-up of Deborah Vance looking stressed on Hacks

The thought never even crossed Deborah’s mind that she could end up on a lesbian cruise, because Deborah probably didn’t even think lesbian cruises exist. She hears “gay,” and gay men are the default. Because let’s be real: Deborah Vance is a specific type of homophobic! Even the way she talks about gay men as her fans is its own form of tokenizing. She sees herself as a gay icon, because sure, she does probably have a lot of gay guy fans. She’s an old-school diva with an over-the-top stage persona. But her gay icon status doesn’t mean she actually cares about queers — she sees these gay men as valuable to her. I mean, she literally calls the cruise a “money gig” before she knows it’s a lesbian cruise.

And what I always love about Hacks is that it doesn’t gloss over or shy away from the ugliest parts of its characters. We lean all the way into Deborah’s casual homophobia and lack of understanding or empathy for lesbians and queer women. As soon as they’re onboard, she says to Ava that lesbians don’t like her and that she isn’t sure why.

“Do you think it’s the hundreds of thousands of jokes you’ve made at their expense over the years?” Ava asks.

Deborah chooses to ignore that and instead says she thinks they feel threatened. Her narcissism truly knows no bounds.

Someone says "nice Chacos" to Ava on Hacks

Ava says "Nice Chacos to you!" on Hacks

Later, Ava and Deborah actually have an interesting conversation about sexuality that highlights some of their generational differences. Deborah has been ignorant about Ava’s bisexuality since pretty much the moment she met her, but she’s coming around on that front. Slowly. But I think that’s very realistic for a woman as stubborn and myopic as Deborah.

Ava asks Deborah if she has ever considered being with a woman or even considered why she likes men, and Deborah dismisses the questions. She says she thought people were “born this way.” “Isn’t that what your generation is all about?” she asks. Ava says there’s more room for nuance. “Like, not every queer person feels like they arrive into existence with an attraction to like a specific kind of person, and that’s okay, too. Your sexuality isn’t a choice, but whether or not you examine it, I think, is.”

The whole conversation — which starts black-and-white and then deepens into this more nuanced place — happens as Deborah’s painting Ava’s nails on a bed. It’s intimate, and they’re actually connecting with each other even if they don’t see eye-to-eye. Deborah is willing to listen.

And it’s not just Deborah whose flaws are on display on the cruise. Ava’s also narrow-minded in her own ways. She literally admits to The L Word being a blueprint for what she finds attractive. Early on in the cruise, a woman approaches her and flirts, but Ava dismisses her entirely and instead sets her sights on a poly couple who are apparently very well known on the lesbian cruise circuit. She could have simply rejected this other woman hitting on her in a chill way instead of essentially just ignoring her and being like WHO ARE THEY? But Ava isn’t really known for her kindness or chill.

An Asian woman with a buzzcut sits next to a white woman with long brown hair in Hacks

Deborah says "and have you examined why you feel attracted to these gals?" on Hacks

Ava says "Because they're extremely hot" on Hacks

There are a zillion red flags about this couple, who are absolutely a living dyke version of the Hey my girlfriend saw you from across the bar and we really dig your vibe. Can we buy you a drink? meme. Deborah agrees to be her wingwoman (and tbh is very good at it!!!! for someone who knows so little about lesbians, she sure was quick to accentuate Ava’s hands, which she is usually just making fun of, which is my favorite runner on this show btw). And almost immediately, one half of this couple says some biphobic, essentialist bullshit: “To be honest, we think it’s binary and you’re just born gay or straight.” I find it 0% surprising that there would be biphobic people on this lesbian cruise unfortunately!!!!!

Suddenly, Ava decides there’s no nuance. She wants to hook up with this couple so bad that she abandons all her personal values and beliefs and transforms into a blatant hypocrite right in front of Deborah’s rolling eyes. Ava is bisexual! And she does not think things are binary! But she’s willing to go along with this just to get in their pants, because she is a horny narcissist.

Speaking of horny narcissists, what makes Deborah finally possibly come around to lesbians? When one gives her attention.

Deborah says "would you like to buy me a drink?" on Hacks

A woman with long brown hair says "Absolutely" on Hacks

Unfortunately, this does NOT lead to Deborah Vance’s first queer hookup!!!!!!!!! But let’s be real, the place where Hacks goes is — while wildly uncomfortable — much more believable and M E S S Y place.

Deborah Vance bombs. All season, she has been consistently failing, and I want to write a separate piece entirely about the way failure is presented in this season. But for now, let’s talk about the specific way Deborah bombs aboard the lesbian cruise.

She still thinks she can make fun of lesbians, especially now that she feels like she has bonded with a few. Now that she has suddenly decided lesbians do like her and sees the value for herself in the same way she sees gay men as her doting fans, she thinks she can get away with this shit no problem. But it doesn’t work. In fact, in the process of bombing she manages to offend the captain, the captain’s wife, and pretty much everyone on the ship. That woman Marla who hit on her the night before? Yeah, she wasn’t actually into her. She was using her to try to get a refund for her wife for the defective leggings she bought from Deborah’s QVC line. Deborah finds herself powerless and hated, on stage in front of a bunch of people she sees only in terms of stereotypes and assumptions. She no doubt thinks herself the victim here, because that’s a recurring pattern for Deborah.

The whole thing is sooooo uncomfortable to watch, and in fact my friends who suffer from the worst second-hand embarrassment (including Christina Tucker) admitted they could barely watch the scene play out. I, famously, love cringe content. I love how far into discomfort Hacks is willing to push things. I love that Deborah is never once let off the hook. Her shitty jokes in this set are inexcusable. They aren’t rooted in generational difference or slight misunderstanding. They’re rooted in her ongoing vanity and ignorance. She only likes queer women if they can do something for her.

Hacks doesn’t turn this episode into some sort of redemption arc for Deborah and suddenly make her into an ally. It leans into her wickedness. And that makes for a more compelling story, really. Deborah’s the same Deborah she has always been, thinking it’s okay to make lesbian jokes and repeat stereotypes about a community she in no way belongs to. Yes, I am a dyke who loves the character of Deborah Vance, but I love that Hacks makes me feel squicky about that. I should NOT be so obsessed with this egotistical, nightmare straight white woman who quite literally takes up way too much space on this lesbian cruise (the night before her showcase, she pries a microphone away from a pianist/singer performing onboard in a move I’m sure she thinks is charming but actually is pretty rude?!). Hacks brilliantly complicates the concept of a straight famous person with gay icon status and highlights the ways certain straight women treat gay men and gay women completely differently. Deborah isn’t funny in this performance. The humor hinges on the discomfort of it all. There are real consequences for Deborah’s behavior. She doesn’t get to make lesbians the butt of her jokes and get away with it, even though she has for a very long time.

Ava makes out with two women at once in Hacks 204, "The Captain's Wife"

And so, the community has a quorum and throws her out. Ava is busy living her The L Word fantasies, which are loudly interrupted by Deborah screaming at her that they have to get off the ship and on a dinghy back to land because they’ve been voted off the lesbian island. Sorry, Ava!!!! But also, no I’m not sorry at all because this couple sucks????

As for other gay ongoings in the episode, Marcus’s meltdown era intensifies when he starts hanging out with his gay partyboi pals alllll night long at the club on work nights. It’s fun to see Marcus in a completely new context, doing party drugs and wearing Club Gay looks. His friends call him Gru…as in Despicable Me, which is an incredibly accurate own that goes completely over his head. He’s doing everything he can to avoid his heartbreak over the breakup with Wilson, who he runs into at the club in a scene almost as painfully embarrassing to watch as Deborah’s bombing. He even gets a new puppy, A TINY FRENCHIE NAMED JOE. But his reckless new lifestyle doesn’t exactly align with his new dog dad responsibilities, and he has a harsh awakening by episode’s end.

Listen, spontaneously buying a dog? Going straight to work from the club? This is all very accurate Post-Breakup Gay Crisis representation.


Housekeeping

  • I am going to start greeting every dyke I encounter with “nice Chacos.” Speaking of which, I want to buy a new pair of Chacos for summer. Listen, some stereotypes are simply Correct.
  • I never knew how badly I needed to see Laurie Metcalf as a thermal-wearing, no-nonsense tour manager slash conspiracy theorist, but basically every time Weed is on screen, I am hollering.
  • One of my friends actually physically fast-forwarded through Deborah bombing and asked me to recap it for her because she was that uncomfortable. That’s the sign of impeccably good cinema if you ask me!!!! Love to watch a scene through a wince!!!!
  • Hi gay! Did you read this LA Times profile of Meg Stalter? It’s very important!!!!

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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 Miami. 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 458 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. Wherein I learn that Chacos is not a euphemism and would be the equivalent of Tevas, for the middle aged among us. But like Birkenstocks are still super lez, right? Of all the things I thought I wouldn’t be ‘with’, I didn’t think it would be lesbian summer footwear!

    • ooh, this is topic deserves more air time – sensible shoes and the philogynists who wear them; an oral history :)

      birkenstock style / offroad editon… as i recall, teva’s started it, chacos came on their heel with a better footbed, keens followed w/ more attoetitude, then some weird re-toe-culated thing happened with vibram… but as an old, i do not know what the kids are doing these days if they want al fresco toes and adventure at the same time.

  2. Cringe content yikes.

    I couldn’t even get through an episode of Mary Tyler Moore without leaving the room and reluctantly listening to my friends holler at me what was going on. So you can imagine my reaction to Hacks…

    I am so grateful for your service.

  3. As a bisexual, biphobia is clearly a deal breaker for me but I can believe that Ava would ignore it just to sleep with a hot couple. Girl, they totally suck. Do better. Also, anyone who says they believe in the binary of just gay and straight is admitting they only believe there are two genders. RUN!!!!

    I really enjoyed the scene of Ava and Deborah bonding. I have had to ask myself quite a few times why I am also attracted to men. Examining your own orientation and gender is a choice and one I think everyone should do.

    Anyone else LOVE Deborah’s outfit when she boarded the lesbian ship? “I guess I am a high femme!”

  4. metcalf isn’t gay and she’s playing the butch character too broadly, i don’t buy it.
    it’s a bummer at best and probably should be offensive but mneh life’s too short and my expectations are pretty low.

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