The ending of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, which we got to see filmed twice in this episode, is sort of fitting for the overarching theme we’ve seen so far in this first season of Feud. In the scene, Joan Crawford’s Blanche tells Bette Davis’s Jane that she was the cause of the car accident that crippled her. For years, she let Jane think she was the one driving the car, but she wasn’t. Blanche tried to destroy Jane and instead ended up destroying both of their lives. After Blanche’s confession, Jane turns to her and says, “We could have been friends this whole time?”
The parallel between the movie and these two actresses's lives is almost too on-the-nose. Like famous sisters Blanche and Jane, Joan and Bette were more alike than they were different. We even had a ham-fisted scene of the two of them sharing drinks and stories about their terrible mothers and strict, boarding-school upbringings. (Oh, and there was also that awful tale of Joan losing her virginity to her stepfather at 12 years old and getting blamed by her mother for her own abuse.) But when they tried to destroy each other, they tanked both of their second shots at success. This episode saw Bette once again calling for a truce, and Joan considering it, before Hedda convinced her to rat out her costar’s awful body odor, sacking the entire enterprise. But what if they had been friends all along? What if they really could have formed a mutually beneficial alliance? Maybe then we’d be remembering their work instead of their feud.
That fighting, though, was the most enjoyable part of the whole episode. I really would have preferred a whole hour of Bette saying she “barely touched her” after kicking Joan in the head, and Joan dissolving into fits of laughter every time Bette had to haul her across the room. There were also the most famous bits of their feud together: Joan wearing that weight belt while Bette dragged her, and Bette installing a Coke machine on set to compete with Joan’s Pepsi machine.
My favorite part of the whole tête–à–tête, though, was their dispute about the Oscars, which seemed to reignite their hatred. Over relatively civil drinks, Bette told Joan that she didn’t care about awards and that she would do anything to support the picture. Joan twisted that around as, duh, Bette would run in the Best Supporting Actress category at the Oscars while Joan would campaign for Best Actress. As Bob said, the picture isn’t even finished yet, so maybe it’s a little bit premature to count those unhatched chickens.
This causes Bette to launch into a diatribe about how she was robbed in 1950 for her role in All About Eve because her co-star Anne Baxter insisted on running in the same category. They split the vote and Judy Holliday won. (Judy Holliday! Can you believe it!) In the heat of the moment, Joan shouts, “And it was Gloria Swanson who was robbed in 1950, you b---ch.” I hate to agree with either of these two, but Joan is probably right. (And imagine a year when both All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard were both competing for trophies!) What I love the most about the line is how Jessica Lange throws all the emphasis on the “you” with a sort of unhinged rage, as if Bette makes her lose all vocal control.
While this feud is the main focus of the series, the major theme of the episode, which was came across about as subtly as Baby Jane’s makeup, was the clash between mothers and daughters. Joan’s monstrous ways of raising her children are legendary, thanks to Mommie Dearest. Forcing her twins to wear those hideous bows and matching outfits like they were hollow chocolate Easter bunnies was just awful. But still, Joan's greatest fear is coming home to the quiet of her own home after a long day of work. If she didn’t do it for her children, who did she do it for? Not Mamacita, who only reluctantly shares a ham sandwich in her tiny bed while the two watch old westerns on a little TV set.
What is less legendary is the awful relationship between BD and Bette. Just like Christina Crawford, BD wrote her own tell-all biography, My Mother’s Keeper, but, unlike Christina, BD published it while her mother was still alive. She made some of the same allegations that Christina Crawford made—about her mother being an overbearing alcoholic who ruined her life—but many of Bette’s contemporaries disputed it. When Bette died, she wrote in her will that she intentionally left out giving any money to BD and her daughter Margo, who we see living in a home for children with Down syndrome in Maine.
To try to get some control over BD, who is smoking and generally misbehaving in her teenage years, Bette decides to allow her to be in the film, as a way of showing her just how hard her mother works. The problem is that, unlike mom, BD is not a natural actress. She even overhears Bette disparaging her acting abilities and her role in the picture. But to Bette, who we see embracing her fat, gay romantic interest because she loves talent, that BD can’t hold her own on the screen is the ultimate insult to her parenting. She may love her daughter, but she doesn’t really seem to like her.
One of the best scenes of the night was when Bette and Victor, the aforementioned “fat homosexual,” are discussing Bette and how the “queens” love her. Though the scene conveniently leaves out the fact that drag queens love Joan Crawford just as much, Bette says that her legacy isn’t going to be her adoration, it’s her children. However, she lets her own fleeting need for adoration thwart the love that she has for her offspring, essentially ruining her own legacy. Eventually she tries to encourage her daughter, damning her with the faint praise that she “didn’t look into the lens even once.” But it’s the real zinger that sets this show up perfectly: “If Crawford couldn’t ruin the picture, no one can.”
Then Bette tries to find some comfort in calling Margo, who gets distracted and wonders away from the phone, leaving Bette hanging on the line. Similarly, Joan, afraid of that empty nest, tries to go and adopt more children, but is told that she’s too old. She has to deal with the inevitability that her quest for fame has left her all alone in her later years. But at least they have their hatred for each other. Yes, Bette and Joan are still eternal foes—even as the episode ends and they’re alone, with no one better to understand them than each other.
The Scorecard, Episode 3:
Puts those ghastly matching outfits on her daughters: -1
Decides to send Christina flowers even though we have no idea what her reviews are yet: +1
Gets soft on Bette after their discussion about rough upbringings: +3
Lets Hedda convince her to attack Bette anyway: -5
Twists Bette’s words into relegating her into the Supporting Actress category: +10
“It was Gloria Swanson who was robbed”: +5
Bette installs a Coke machine: -3
Manages to destroy Bette’s scene even while she’s supposed to be unconscious: +8
The legendary weight belt: +5
Gets kicked in the head: -5
It ends up being the best reaction for the film: 0 (but an A for no-effort)
Mamacita will bring her “water” so she can make it through a scene: +1
Manages to “lose five years” every time she goes to her trailer to pull her face back: +6
It ruins the ending and it needs to be re-shot: -8
Is too old to adopt: -2
Tally this week: +15
Score from last week: +28
Feud total: +35
BD is what they would have called a “fast girl”: -3
Decides she and Bob shouldn’t sleep together again: +3
He agrees “too quickly” that she is right: -2
Invites Joan out for drinks and almost reinstates a truce: +4
Hedda ruins her plans: -2
Joan twists her words and tries to relegate her to Best Supporting Actress: -10
Joan gets the final word in, though: -5
Installs a Coke machine on set: +3
Has to haul Joan over and over again until her back gives out: -10
Kicks Joan in the head: +5
Finally gets Joan to give the reaction the director needs: +3
“But if I was the director I would tell her to do it again until she’s convincing”: +5
Refuses to run lines with BD because she is an awful actress: -7
“I’m not falling on those. I don’t do stunts”: +5
Uses her considerable capital with the police to get her new gay friend out of jail: +2
Her daughter doesn’t even want to talk to her on the phone: -4
Tally this week: -12
Score from last week: +28
Feud Total: +16
Winner This Week: Daughters who write tell-alls
See Hugh Grant audition for Joan Crawford's role in "Mommie Dearest":