**Spoilers for Hacks Season 2 finale ahead!**
Hacks Season 2 ends in a very different place than Season 1 did. After months of toiling on the road to hone her new act, Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) is triumphant. She takes a chance on producing her own special, shot home at the Palmetto, and then manages to make it a homegrown success. Hacks Season 2 ends with Ava (Hannah Einbinder) and Deborah being closer than ever before — which is a problem for the hilarious diva. In a move that stuns Ava, Deborah fires her to force the younger writer to leave the proverbial nest. Deborah implores Ava to take advantage of the opportunities she has, pushing the twenty-something into the unknown.
It’s may not be obvious where Hacks will go next — as Deborah herself cheekily teases in the fourth wall-breaking final moment — but creators and showrunners Lucia Aniello, Jen Statsky, and Paul W. Downs have a plan. They intend on continuing with the “Deborah and Ava” saga well into the future. Decider chatted with the Emmy-winning team this week about the ending of Hacks Season 2, if Deborah’s cutthroat attitude towards comedy is correct, and how Kayla (Meg Stalter) and Jimmy’s (Paul W. Downs) Season 2 finale twinning moment happened…
DECIDER: Season 1 ended with a cliffhanger focused on Ava’s betrayal. This season ends with a lot of the emotional arcs tied up rather neatly. Did you guys see it as a potential series finale? How many seasons do you guys see going forward? Why did you want to end it without an obvious Season 3 storyline being set up?
Lucia Aniello: The answer of how many seasons… 69! [holds up peace sign] Just kidding. We do have an idea of how many seasons but I don’t know if we know for sure. The truth is, and we’ve said this before and I think we’ve told you this, we know how we want the story to end. Exactly how many seasons that is to tell that story, I think we’re still a little bit open ended on but we do know how we want it to end. So for us, we are just in a chapter of a larger story at this point.
Jen Statsky: And I think for us it doesn’t feel exactly like storylines are closed or wrapped up. It’s more just that the characters are growing and progressing and we always said that we wanted this show to feel as real as possible and grounded. And we wanted to — especially with someone like Deborah as she’s learning these things about herself in her act and her act is evolving and she’s learning to hold herself more accountable — we wanted those learnings to be reflected in her behavior as well.
Speaking of which, there’s definitely a through line this season about whether or not you have to be cutthroat to make it in comedy. Deborah thinks you do. But Ava, her biggest wins seem to come this season from when she’s kinder or more open or owns up to her faults. Is Deborah right? Does Ava need to be a shark? Is that one of the themes you wanted to play with? How do you feel about that thesis?
Aniello: I think that it has been true, especially for women in the arts, that you have to be cutthroat. But I think a little bit less so now as things have evolved and there are more opportunities for women. So that is true, but I think it’s less true as things are evolving in the industry hopefully. I also think in terms of what you’re saying, that Ava’s wins come from her owning up to her faults, becoming more vulnerable, being willing to analyze herself in a way she’s never been able to before. So I think that they both are better people by becoming more introspective, but I’m not sure either of them have reached Nirvana quite yet.
What inspired the decision to bring back Ally Maki’s Taylor from all the way back in the Pilot? She sort of is a facilitator for Ava’s new chapter.
Statsky: I think we wanted to show that it was always intentional that Ava’s a character who would always start off at a place where she honestly had a lot to learn from Deborah and had a lot to learn about herself and the way the industry works. When we meet her at the beginning of this series, she’s a markedly different character than the way we end her in the end of Season 2. She’s someone who kind of bought a lot into her own hype and the Hollywood machine. She very much got seduced by the status of Hollywood and the industry that way.
Bringing back Taylor, in addition to us being giant fans of Ally Maki, was a way for us to show maybe how her perspective on the industry has evolved vis-à-vis her relationship with Deborah. Putting her in a place where she realized, ‘Oh the way that I used to view moving throughout the industry and how I treated people here wasn’t correct.” And kind of just illustrate her growth that way.
Lucia and Paul, you two direct all the episodes this season except for the finale which is helmed by Trent O’Donnell. I’m curious why you chose to take a backseat. You wrote the episode obviously, but neither of you directed it. What was it about Trent’s style that you thought he could really nail this particular final chapter?
Aniello:The reason we didn’t direct it was because it was my due date, it was the middle of that week.
That makes sense!
Aniello: But he’s fantastic and has done a lot of stuff that we are fans of and Jen had worked with him on The Good Place and I think knew that he’d be somebody who could, because you know there’s a specific directorial voice that we have on the show and we knew that he would be able to come in and help us with that vision to keep it cohesive.
Paul W. Downs: I think it’s really challenging to be an episodic director because you come into the party as the guest and you have to hopefully seamlessly match the look and the style and the tone of the show. Not everyone can do that, it’s a really tall order, I think, to come in. especially when it’s a show that’s auteur driven. It’s written, directed, acted by just a small group of people. I think because he’s done so many different shows and because he is a chameleon in that way, we were really confident he could come in and help elevate the style and also keep it in the world of the show we’ve been making for now two years.
Aniello: He also has a very chill, Australian vibe.
Downs: Yes, we also wanted good vibes and he’s a very gentle, sweet good person so that was something, knowing that, it’s so important. Again, as a guest director, to come in and interact with the cast and get along and have everybody, especially at the end of a season of production, make everybody feel good. And he’s somebody who’s so good natured and has such a good vibe and attitude where we were like, that’s a great vibe on set. Let’s have him come in and help with that last piece.
You introduced a character played by Susie Essman who is an older female director. She feels very much like a symbol of sexism and ageism that women have had to face for a while. Was she inspired by anyone specific that you’ve met? Any stories you heard? How did you decide Susie would be perfect for that role?
Aniello: I don’t know if there’s anything specifically. I think we heard, especially Season 1, we had a consultant named Janice Hirsch who would often talk about getting meetings and sometimes feeling like it was a bit of a tokenistic situation. So that was, I think, one person. She’s a writer not a director, but somebody I feel like had a lot to say in that regard.
Statsky: And kind of just hearing unfortunately so many stories of like, specifically when it comes to female directors, over the years, women as directors barely being given a chance or if they are given a chance, one misstep puts them in movie jail forever. Whereas other people don’t have to face that uphill battle. It was not based on any one person in particular, but kind of wanting to speak to that phenomenon and portray that kind of woman in the industry.
Aniello: How we knew Susie was the right person…We’ve all worked with her on Broad City, she played Ilana’s mom, Bobbi Wexler. She’s so, so funny and everybody knows that from that show or Curb or whatever, but she’s also just a legitimately fantastic actor. We just knew that she’d be able to operate on different gears and this character is very funny but it’s also, you know in that moment where she’s freaking out in the tech booth, you’re like, “oh shit, this woman is really bringing the drama and bringing the stakes.” It felt like she was really, really exceptional and also an incredible presence and every single person on the set — cast and crew —fell in love.
Deborah hits the road this season on the amazing tour bus. There are only enough bunks for a few people. How did you decide who goes with her and who stays in Las Vegas? Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) stayed back for most of it. Damien (Mark Indelicato) was on the bus. How did you decide who would be in her crew?
Aniello: It was really character based. We felt like it would be interesting to see what happens to Marcus if he doesn’t really have Deborah to buoy him and to kind of be somebody he clams on to. If she’s gone, what does that mean for him? He already had a kind of hole in his personal life and now he has an even bigger hole without Deborah being there, so we kind of gave him an opportunity to look inward and see very little.
Downs: Also in the sense that the CEO would not be in a bunk. He’s a CEO, he’s not gonna be in a bunk! But in the end, he kind of wants to be there. He wants to be with the gang.
Aniello: As for Damien, we felt that it was true that she would have an assistant on the road with her.
Statsky: He has to hold the coconut water at all times.
Aniello: It also gave us an opportunity to have more Mark Indelicato which we were really excited about. We just tried to be honest to who would actually be on such a bus. A manager, and we spent a lot of time talking to people about tour managers that they’ve experienced or whatever so we’re just trying to keep it real, Meghan.
Paul, I want to ask about the whole Jimmy/Kayla storyline this season. Just the power dynamic between them is hilarious to watch and it ends with them sort of becoming partners. What inspired that storyline? How did you decide that would be the most fun thing to do with those two characters?
Downs: I think in a similar way that Deborah Vance and Ava are kind of outcasts of the industry, we wanted to show Jimmy as someone who is well-meaning and well-intentioned and a good guy. Which exists in the industry, but not everywhere. In the same way that they don’t really fit, as he says, the “culture” of Latitude, Jimmy and Kayla don’t kind of fit, either. The show’s about a lot of people who don’t really fit and are finding their place. It’s really nice that this odd couple, in a very similar way to Deborah and Ava, make each other better and find each other on the outskirts of what is really like a bro-y, macho, anti-recycling management firm. We wanted to deepen the relationship and also the characters in general and make them more three dimensional this season across the ensemble. Obviously, Jimmy and Kayla are near and dear to my heart. And it’s very nice that people have responded so well to that comedy duo dynamic.
I have to ask again about Kayla and Jimmy: the matching suits at the end crack me up for some reason. Just the way they are so in sync but not at all. Was that in the script? Tell me about the suits.
Downs: No, that is a Kathleen Felix-Hager, our brilliant costume designer, that’s her choice. That’s her world.
Aniello: We did talk about it a lot.
Statsky: We did put it in the script that Kayla was more business, like with slick-backed hair.
Aniello: That costume and make up was specific.
Statsky: But the suits, that was Kathleen Felix-Hager.
Downs: Cousins of each other, that was—
Aniello: Kissing cousins.
Downs: Yeah, “kissing cousins.” That was Kathleen Felix-Hager. In fact, we wrote more specifically about Kayla’s look than Jimmy’s because Jimmy is always in a suit. But that she happened to make them complementary, which was, I think, appropriate.
Before I go, what has been your favorite part of the Season 2 journey? Has it been easier making the show? Has it been harder? Has there been a line you’ve been happy to sneak in? A guest star you nabbed?
Aniello: All together, I think it was about the same level of hardness.
Downs: I think the most satisfying part of Season 2 to me is, we had people really connect with the show and you really want to deliver for those people especially. Obviously, we want to make the show as good as we can make it, but the most gratifying thing has been the feedback that Season 2 is even better than Season 1 from the people who were its earliest adopters and champions of the show. So that to me, I’m like, “Phew!” We honored the people that connect with it and gave them something to enjoy in what is a crazy fucking world.
Statsky: Everything Paul and Lucia said, I think there’s also something so nice about, you make Season 1 in a bubble and you don’t know how it’ll be received. Then like Paul said, we’re so lucky to have fans of the show receive Season 2 well again. And also getting a chance to put people in the show that we’ve been such massive fans of forever. So like Laurie Metcalf or Harriet Harris. You know what I mean? Susie Essman. Getting to bring these new characters into the world being played by people we everyday couldn’t believe they were on set with us, that was another huge privilege of making Season 2.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.