Bette Davis and Joan Crawford died as they lived—by sacrificing everything so that they could continue to work and be famous. Feud also died as it lived—a little too long-winded and heavy-handed in its attempts to draw parallels between the two divas who absolutely hated each other. But Feud was also full of spectacular moments, and this finale was not without its share. When Joan is staring out the window of her sad New York apartment to the strains of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," or when Bette finally has a showdown with her daughter BD in an antiquated Hollywood restaurant, we get the exquisitely styled dramatic tour de force that we came for.
However, there were a few moments that seemed either inauthentic or whose natural splendor was just a little too over-gilded. The most obvious was the excellent montage of Joan’s final role in the insufferable B-movie Trog, in all its ignominy, interspersed with her dictation for her lifestyle book. She says, “I have a tremendous respect for fabrics,” as we see her changing in the back of a ratty van. It’s a sequence that would give you chills if it weren’t scored by The Doors’ far too literal song “The End.” Yes, we know that it’s the end, we don’t need to be explicitly told like we’re sixth graders reading Where the Red Fern Grows for the first time. After the song is over, we see Joan wandering around the soundstage alone and nearly delirious, it’s actually much more effective at conveying the same message, especially once she passes out inside a fake cave wearing her nightgown and the Trog mask.
The bravura hallucination in the middle of the episode went from fantastic to overbearing as soon as Bette Davis walked into Joan Crawford’s dream. I loved the imaginary meeting in Joan’s mind, where Hedda Hopper and Jack Warner apologized to her for how hard they were on her, but the four of them commiserated on the high price that they all paid for fame, one that Joan never really minded even as a dentist had to completely reconstruct her jaw thanks to “The Buckle” that she got to make herself look thin.
But then Bette shows up and they literally say to each other, “I’m sorry I wasn’t more generous with you,” and “I wish I had been a friend to you.” It’s another example of the show's explicitness taking away from the artfulness of the piece as a whole. But at least Joan was so lucky that she got all of those apologies and could die in peace. Might we all be so lucky that all the wrongs done us were accounted for before we pass, if only in our own minds. Bette never gets the same satisfaction. Instead, she gets the old trope of calling Joan to try to lend her support but not being able to get the words out.
The oddest thing about the finale was that it wanted to have its cake and eat it, too. When Bette refuses to be part of the 1978 documentary about their feud that served as a framing device for the series, she says, “You’ll want me to say funny, b----y one liners about Crawford, and I won’t do it. She was a professional.” But at the same time the show has also relished all those b----y moments over the course of eight hours, and goes out of its way to include Bette’s famous quote: “My mother said never to speak bad about the dead, only good. Joan Crawford is dead. Good.” This show wants to preach about how it’s more than just the camp, while reveling in it at the same time.
At least it had a good explanation for why that camp is so important. At her book signing, Joan can’t handle meeting her fans, which had always been something she enjoyed so much in the past. Still, when a young gay man approaches her and asks her to sign a picture from Baby Jane, she scoffs at him and thinks that it’s a joke to him. He tells her just the opposite: he loves her and the movie because they’ve been beaten up and cast aside but they keep coming back. They’re survivors, just like he had to be. While that's true, declaring it so succinctly takes some of the power out of the camp icons that we have and boils it down to something simple and didactic, rather than complex and sublime, like it should be.
But there were moments stem to stern that made the finale worth watching, like when Bette said she couldn’t go to rehab because she has to be on the Dean Martin roast. “High class problems” have existed for decades, I guess. Still, it felt like the show tried to squeeze so much of a long Wikipedia page into the final hour. We had to hit Mommie Dearest, Bette’s relationships with both of her daughters, Joan’s weird dental issues, Bette’s hatred of Faye Dunaway, Bette’s mother being mean to her behind her back, Joan’s declining health and reconciliation with Mamacita, and Pauline telling us about running into Joan at the airport and imploring us all to call our grandmothers, in a bald, emotionally manipulative plea that is utterly cliché.
Yes, Joan and Bette both died presumptively hating each other, despite Feud’s efforts to re-litigate their relationship. Yes, Bette gave some kind statements about Joan after her death, mostly in support after Mommie Dearest was published, but that doesn’t mean that they ever wanted to or thought they should be friends. It was refreshing that small moment of uplift at the very beginning, where we can see them laughing and enjoying each other’s company before the grinding wheels of capitalism and the patriarchy could make them despise each other. It might have been a bit of fantasy, but it’s better than playing us out on a note of defeat, death, and unending wrath.
Eating from a TV tray alone in her said apartment: -2
Gets a dog to keep her company: +2
Takes a role in Trog against her agent’s advice: -3
All the indignities of her finale role combined: -10
Gets a book deal to tell people how to put plastic slip covers on their couches: +5
Hates her fans now: -2
Her teeth are rotting so that she could look skinny in her youth: -3
Christina is going to publish Mommie Dearest: -10
_Two of her daughters still love he_r: +5
She lets her grandkids slide on the floors: +2
There is a sad picture of her published in the paper: -4
Everyone apologizes for tormenting her during her career: +6
It’s all in her mind: -2
Tally from this week: -16
Tally from last week: +19
Feud final total: +3
Has made eight TV pilots and none of them get picked up: -10
Hates that Katherine Hepburn has a better career than her: -2
_Has lost her high standards: -_8
_BD won’t let her see her grandkids anymore: -_10
_Has to quit smoking and booze and can’t seem to do it: -_5
_Has a renewed vigor of hatred for Faye Dunaway: +_2
_But Faye Dunaway keeps her waiting on set for hours and she has no power: -_8
_“Joan Crawford is dead. Good.”: +_5
_Her mother hated her and thought she was selfish: -_8
_Finally learns to say some nice things about Crawford: +_2
Tally from this week: -42
Tally from last week: +54
Feud final total: +12
Ultimate Winner: Bette Davis
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