It’s starting to look like this season shouldn’t be called Feud: Bette and Joan but instead Feud: Joan and Sometimes Bette But Only for a Minute. Almost the entire episode was focused on Joan, with Bette making only few cameos. Maybe Susan Sarandon didn’t make herself as available for filming or something. Or maybe it’s just that Bette is winning and we love schadenfreude.
That’s what this episode would lead us to believe, anyway. Titled “Hagsploitation,” it was mostly concerned about what it is for us to watch losers get degraded. As Jack Warner so succinctly explains, the genre launched by Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was about taking screen sirens of old and humiliating them for being old and not-as-beautiful. He says that people love to tear down their idols, which is true. But this episode also went out of its way to show the savagery of getting older in a youth-obsessed culture.
Everyone was mulling the ends of their careers, including Bob Aldrich, who needs a hagsploitation flick to get him off of the black list after his flop 4 For Texas, and Warner himself, befuddled by a youth movement of the ‘60s that he no longer understands. As always, it is the women who feel the brunt of everything; they’ve been having difficulties with navigating getting old since the start of the show. This is already familiar territory for them, whereas their male counterparts are just starting to feel the sting.
Joan confronts this hurdle in several arenas. Because she needed the money, she had to take a role in Straight-Jacket, a schlocky horror film by cult director William Castle (played by, ta-dah, cult director John Waters, who was always a huge Castle fan). Joan even allows herself to be humiliated on the promotional circuit, where she puts on a spangly dress to swing an axe at an audience that throws popcorn on her. Compare this to the test audience of Baby Jane, who came seeking respectful autographs. She’s gone from a legend to a punchline, and she doesn’t like it.
Meanwhile, Hedda, who had a heart attack and wants one last big scoop before she starts filing her gossip column to the big copy desk in the sky, has found out that there is a possible Joan Crawford “stag film” (the ‘60s equivalent of a sex tape) floating around. She offers Joan the chance to tell her side of the story and bow out with dignity. Please, Joan Crawford has never bowed out of a fight voluntarily! Joan figures the rumor about the movie, called Velvet Lips, came from her older brother Hal, who is running a flophouse and has been blackmailing her for years. Joan seems a little too worried about this movie surfacing for it to not actually exist.
Just as she finally pays off her brother, who is in the hospital, he kicks the bucket, dying in ignominy without the love of his sister or, for that matter, anyone else in his family. Instead of mourning him, she cancels the check she had given him before he was carted off into surgery. This sounds about in line with Joan’s relationship with her real brother, who died of a burst appendix in 1963. Apparently, Joan sent him telegrams when he was in the hospital, but did not appear at his funeral.
Bob seemed to be similarly defeated, going back to Jack Warner with a script for Whatever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?, his follow up hagsploitation picture. Jack insists he take a smaller fee and forces him to work with Joan and Bette once again, something that Bob doesn’t think he can survive. Bob does sign up both actresses—who insist on more creative control and bigger paydays, natch—but decides to pay Warner back for treating him so shabbily after Baby Jane, and when he wouldn’t make Bob's next picture. He takes Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte, as it would be renamed at Bette’s insistence, to 20th Century Fox, then headed by Daryll Zanuck. He then tells Jack Warner to screw off. If only our ladies could have as much agency at the end of their careers.
But, alas they don’t. And, after all, this thing is called Feud; we need a little bit of conflict between the two of them. It happens at the table read for Sweet Charlotte, where Joan arrives with a gift and an apology for stealing Bette’s Oscar. “I know you need to hear it, so here it is,” Joan tells her. “I’m sorry if what happened on Oscar night offended you.” That is what I like to call a Real Housewives apology.
However, Bette uses it as leverage and tells Joan that they need to be a united front. At the table read, when they story doesn’t begin with the women, but rather on two men who aren’t central to the action, Bette objects. Then she calls attention to the fact that the gore is rather unbelievable, and that there aren't scenes with character development or decent monologues. Like Baby Jane, she wants this to be a horror movie with substance, i.e., something that will get her another Oscar nomination.
Initially, Joan has her back, complaining about, well, the punctuation and the syntax, like she’s a glorified copy editor. But all of that changes when Bette decides to get a dig in about Straight-Jacket. The relationship changes from one of unified messaging to, once again, sniping at one another. Peacetime never lasts.
Joan arrives in Baton Rouge for the shoot thinking that it’s a triumph, but it’s just as humiliating as when she was handing out tiny promotional axes for her last film. There is no one to meet her at the airport, and she has to wait an hour for her room to be ready. Joan didn’t agree to this movie for more shabby treatment, she did it so that she recapture would it was to be a star in her waning days, one last time. But here she is, far from home with Bette cozying up to her soon-to-be-divorced director. No one wants to be humiliated at the end, but that’s what seems to keep happening. It doesn't matter where they were before.
The Scorecard, Episode 6:
Has a hit with Straight-Jacket_:_ +3
Everyone laughs at her while she promotes it: -2
Mamacita is so sick of Joan getting blotto and throwing things at her head that she threatens to quit: -4
Hedda is willing to destroy their friendship for a scoop: -2
There is totally a copy of Velvet Lips out there: -3
“Every time I take part of the back end that is where I end up getting it”: +2
Smart enough to show up in full dress and makeup for the table read: +2
Her brother still has enough dirt to hurt her: -4
_No one picks her up at the airport: -_1
Her suite isn’t ready when she arrives: -2
Bette is cozying up to their director and she was not invited: -5
Tally this week: -11
Score from last week: +56
Feud total: +45
Bob wants to make the follow up with her but not with Joan: +4
“I wouldn’t piss on Joan Crawford if she were on fire”: +2
Gets creative control on the movie: +4
Forgives Crawford because she knows the need to be allies: +5
Insists Bob make the changes she talks about: +3
Is surprised by a camera person at the table read: -2
Insults Joan's result schlock movies: +2
Walks out rather than make a second-rate movie: +3
Realizes that she was stupid to ask play the young Charlotte: +4
Tells Bob they can “be alone together” after news of his divorce: +3
She and Bob drinking champagine together infuriates Joan: +5
Tally this week: +33
Score from last week: +16
Feud total: +49
Winner this week: Mamacita