The first episode of Feud: Bette and Joan
did a lot of heavy lifting. There was maybe too much exposition at points and things began to seriously lag, but that pilot was all about table setting. For those familiar and unfamiliar alike, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and their famous movie What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
were introduced. Now in this episode, titled "The Other Woman," Feud
dives headfirst into the namesake of the series, in all its nasty and campy glory.
Bette and Joan are just starting to get along on the set of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? over their mutual hatred of getting old and younger co-stars. Since this is Feud: Bette and Joan and not BFF: Bette and Joan, the harmony doesn't last. Rather than the rivalry being sparked from the underlying tension of them just being two very different women in a very competitive field, Feud tells us a different story. Bette and Joan hated each other because they were manipulated to hate each other.
Jack Warner, who remains equally repulsive and charismatic because he is played by Stanley Tucci, has a way to make What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? better. Jack convinces director Bob Aldrich that he needs to make Bette and Joan loathe each other. Jack wants Bob to leak rumors of Bette and Joan insulting each other behind each other's backs to the press -- rumors that will undoubtedly get back to both actresses.
Bob's wife, Harriet (Molly Price), the real hero of this show, tries to convince Bob not to do this because it is morally reprehensible. Bob, being weak-willed in every arena, caves. He has been unable to control Joan or Bette at this point, and we know he is a horndog, completely at the mercy of his own lusts, so naturally he is going to bend to overbearing Jack. With one rumor of Joan's bra being padded, the divas are off to the petty races. It gets ridiculous, it gets petty and it gets fantastic. Joan and Bette start trading insults in the tabloids about one another on their own accord.
The Claws Come Out On and Off Screen
This passive-aggressive sparring is what Feud is being sold on, and it works. Thanks to Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange's performances, it is even elevated to something above a standard soap opera. Feud doesn't add much deeper meaning to the conflict -- for now -- than the ageism of Hollywood. But Sarandon and Lange are doing an excellent job playing the two women and their reactions to the feud. This is especially true of Sarandon with Bette, who seems to be drawn into the muck almost against her will.
The one thing that can be said negatively about Bette and Joan's war of the (paparazzi) words is what Feud suggests it meant for the movie. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is one of the all-time cult horror classics. From top to bottom, it is a near-perfect movie. According to Feud, though, it is only because Crawford and Davis hated each other that their performances sparkled, not that they were incredible actresses. Granted, this is a point of view floated by the awful Jack, but no one really makes an effort to refute him.
Director Phone Tag
After the initial rumor mill stops spinning, Bob believes he can just get back to making a movie. Jack, being the ultimate slimeball, urges him to keep going. Jack tells Bob he must make each actress believe that he likes the other one more. Since he is a whore, this is much more up Bob's alley. Bob starts flirting with Bette, and there are actually some sparks of sexual attraction.
Joan quickly catches wind and, in the middle of the night, calls Bob at his home. Joan tells him tearfully that she just broke up with her boyfriend, Peter, over her commitment to the movie. When Bob agrees to come over to her house, Joan reveals (to the audience) that this was all just a play. There was no break-up, and she is not even remotely tearful. This is taking the act of pettiness to an art form, though that is to be expected of an Oscar-winning actress.
Once Bob is in her house, Joan tries to seduce him. Bob, shockingly, rebuffs her advances just as Peter arrives back home. Bob leaves the house disgusted, and Joan tells Peter that she's decided to "recast" him as her boyfriend. Joan's venom is just as fierce and high as her eyebrows.
The very next night, Bette pulls off the exact same trick. After having a huge fight with her daughter, B.D. (side note: I'm so not comfortable that Sally Draper from Mad Men is now getting sexy roles), Bette starts lamenting her own morality. Bette calls Bob over in the middle of the night for comfort. In an effortless display, Bette gets what Joan wanted and sleeps with Bob.
Bob comes home early the next morning to his bed with his wife. The camera is focused entirely on Harriet's face as she comes to the horrifying and heartbreaking realization that her husband has once again cheated on her with another woman. Yet, now it isn't a starlet but a woman their very own age. As I said, Harriet is the real hero this story needs. (Plus: Molly Price will never get an Emmy nomination for this role, but her silent reaction to Bob's affair is just as magnetic as the flashier stuff being done by Sarandon and Lange in this episode.)
How did you feel about the second episode of Feud? Have you picked a side yet? Is one woman winning the battle right now? Does this show enhance or detract from the movie it is supposedly about? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.