The best scene in tonight's episode of Feud (which was directed by Helen Hunt—yes, that Helen Hunt) is when a soused Joan finally confronts Bette after being left passed out in her trailer in the middle of the woods in Baton Rouge. Bette asks Joan what it was like to be the most beautiful girl in the world, and Joan tells her it was wonderful, but not enough. Joan asks her what it was like to be the most talented girl in the world, and Bette gives her the same answer: It was great, but I wanted more.
As Feud limps toward its finale next week, I was really hoping that there would be some sort of revelation between the two. Would it be too much to ask that their relationship be an arc, rather than a flat line? The whole season we’ve seen how similar these women are, how they are two sides of the same coin. This episode certainly drove that point home, with a nice symmetry of Bette wishing she were as pretty as Joan and Joan wishing she were as talented as Bette. When they finally confronted each other, I was hoping that, like on every prestige television drama, they’d have some sort of epiphany and realize something that has been essentially missing in their hearts all along.
But that's the problem with making drama out of real life. There aren’t those neat little moments like you have in The Sopranos or Mad Men. Bette and Joan will just go on hating each other, completely unaware how alike they are, or having those clean arcs that we’ve come to expect from this era of TV on FX, HBO, and AMC. But real life is incredibly hard and not nearly as satisfying as art.
Once again, this week Joan was making it very hard for herself by refusing to let Bette win. On the set of Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte, things are the opposite from what they were on Baby Jane. On that first hit, not only did Joan find the project, she was the director’s pet and ingratiated herself with the rest of the cast, become, effectively, the center of production. Now Bette has wrangled herself a producer title (if not necessarily the responsibilities), is shacking up with the director Bob Aldrich now that he’s left his wife, and is getting wasted with the cast and crew every night in her suite. It’s Bette’s show now, and Joan doesn’t like it one bit.
Joan has also decided to forego drinking for the production, and it’s a shock that she’s not shakier than a Mexican jumping bean in an earthquake after giving up the sauce. Even Mamacita keeps getting her to have a drink to calm her down. Sadly, Bette keeps critiquing Joan’s performances and trying to cut her scenes, undermining Joan's good behavior. When that great confrontation finally comes, Joan scowls at Bette, “The entire production is an elaborate opportunity for you to humiliate me.”
When Bette and Bob continue to trim back Joan’s role, she strikes back the only way she knows how, by feigning illness to hold the picture hostage. It's an old trick that Bette recognizes, having employed it as well, back in the day. When these women aren’t given the power, they’ll take it whatever way they can. Ultimately, though, Joan’s plan backfires. Bob becomes exasperated with her, and the studio has to get involved.
Bette truly does relish her role in casting “Lucille” out of the picture for good, and when she arrives at the meeting between Joan and the studio, spouting her truth and venom, no one really wanted her there. But thank god she was, calling Joan’s bluff when no one else would. The studio is pushed to sue Joan, who tries to use publicity to get them to bend her will, but all that the studio cares about is making money. When it comes down to being nice to Joan Crawford or recouping their losses, they naturally throw her out on her fanny.
Joan decides if she’s going down, she’s taking everyone else with her. But she doesn’t realize that the institutions she’s bucking up against are more resilient than she is. She’s cast out of the picture, replaced by Olivia de Havilland, and even loses Mamacita for throwing one object too many at her head. She’s left collapsed in the hallway, utterly alone, crying for everything she’s lost.
Sadly, it seems like Bette is going to end up with the same fate. Susan Sarandon got a bit more screen time this week, but only thanks to the lame subplot about her daughter BD’s getting married to a man 13 years her senior when she was only 16. There are many salient facts that seem left out of the show (though Bette’s joke about her “elderly playmate” is a great barb). Jeremy Hyman is the nephew of the man who owned Seven Arts, which produced Baby Jane. The two of them met when he was BD’s blind date for the premiere of the film at the Cannes Film Festival. Considering so much of their union is tied into the movie that has been the center of the series, it seems like we would have seen more of that.
Anyway, Bette telling BD that her marriage surely wouldn’t last probably did something to cement their bond, because the Hymans remained married for the better part of 50 years. Still, the inclusion of the wedding made sense for the episode, which was about Bette trying to seize control over everything and utterly failing. However, in the end, she was successful in getting the film back on track, even if her personal life continues to be a shambles. That seems exactly like something that would happen on a conventional prestige TV drama. It’s great when real life can be just like TV, ain’t it?
Bette and Bob are keeping her up at night cavorting: -1
Witnesses Bette making fun of her: -1
Knows exactly what her eyebrows should look like: +2
Didn’t know the reason she got top billing is because Bette is a producer: -2
Tries to give up drinking: +5
Gets tanked in her trailer and wakes up stranded in the middle of the night: -5
Fakes illness to try to get her way: +3
Bette calls her bluff: -1
She can’t manage to seduce her doctor: -3 (I mean, seriously. She tried to seduce the doctor: -2)
_The studio sues her: -_5
Joan loses her role to Olivia de Havilland: -10
Mamacita walks out thanks to an errant vase thrown in anger: -3
Tally this week: -26
Score from last week: +45
Feud total: +19
Has an associate producer credit on the new movie: +5
Bob is actually listening to her notes on the movie: +5
The cast partying in her room each night: +2
Never thought she was a pretty as Joan: -2
Victor doesn’t like that she’s so mean to his idol: -1
Bob yells at her for being a bad producer: -4
Convinces Bob to replace Joan with her friend Olivia: +5
General BD’s wedding annoyance deduction: -5
Tally this week: +5
Score from last week: +49
Feud total: +54
Watch W's videos of women who inspire us: