The underlying reason for Joan and Bette’s feud, other than their obvious dislike for each other, has always sort of existed in the background of Feud. It’s been sort of explained in those awful documentary sections that Joan and Bette’s rivalry was based on jealously, but it wasn’t exactly clear who was jealous of what and why … until now.
In this episode, titled “Abandoned!” Bette and Joan’s cold war with each other finally explodes and all secrets are revealed. Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon has never been on screen together more, the tension has never been more palpable and Feud: Bette and Joan has never been better.
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Feuds are About Pain
“Abdandoned!” begins with much of the same from Feud: Bette and Joan. Joan is simmering in hatred as Bette charms the entire cast, crew and director Bob Aldrich. Joan is doing an amazing job on the picture, and everyone agrees that she could very well win an Oscar for the role. Joan is too consumed by her hatred of Bette and the fear that Bette is trying to undermine her to care about her performance. This alarm grows even stronger when Joan discovers that Bette is a producer on the movie. Even though Bob Aldrich assures Joan that it is a vanity title, it confirms Joan’s worst fears that people respect Bette more than her.
Feud does (thankfully) offer ample exploration of Bette’s side of the story. It is revealed in a sex scene between Bette and Bob (something no one needed to see) that Bette has always envied Joan’s beauty. Bette didn’t care about her acclaim as an actress that she wanted Joan’s popularity and desirability. Moaning about being “ugly” is rather ridiculous coming out of Susan Sarandon’s mouth, but Bette Davis was not a conventionally attractive actress. This jealously is very likely true to life. Joan Crawford was the sexy movie star and Bette Davis was the “weird” character actress. Joan and Bette’s rivalry being reduced to such simple terms could be dehumanizing, but it is not. As silly as it might be, this is all very relatable and kind of heartbreaking. Bette and Joan are movie stars, but they’re just as fragile as anyone else.
Everything comes to a head in one gloriously meaty scene. Joan gets drunk after feeling dismissed by Bette. Joan wakes up alone on set and, feeling abandoned, rushes to confront Bette. The amount of tension and bitterness of the entire season comes crashing down in one explosive argument.
Joan accuses Bette of not being a better actress, just a louder one. Bette tells Joan that she is just a glamorous phony. It goes back and forth with each actress (Lange/Crawford and Sarandon/Davis) giving it their all. It’s not campy as other arguments have been; rather, it is raw and emotional. Towards the end, in an honest and vulnerable moment, Bette asks Joan what it was like to be the most beautiful girl in the world. Joan responds that it was wonderful, but it was never enough. Joan fires back by asking Bette what it was like to be the best actress in the world, and Bette repeats Joan’s earlier response: it was wonderful, but it was never enough.
A Crowning Achievement in Jealously
Bette and Joan never being fulfilled in life could have been another beautiful way for the two to come together, but it doesn’t happen. The actresses don’t grow closer after their blowout; the rivalry just gets worse. When Bette and Bob (harmlessly) cut a monologue from Joan’s character in the script, Joan suddenly comes down with an “illness.” Joan checks herself into a hospital and refuses to come to work on the movie because she is too sick. Bette and the rest try to coax Joan back to work. It works on a few occasions too, but the second Joan feels a slight from Bette, she immediately checks herself back into the hospital due to her “mystery” illness.
The fake sickness routine is Joan’s magnum opus of pettiness. It is a credit to Jessica Lange, and Feud as a whole, that Joan isn’t completely despicable in these moments — and she is not. Joan is awful, as this sickness ruins far more than Bette’s time and money, but there is a real sense that Joan feels justified in it. It’s terrible, but it’s also terribly sad, which describes most things about Joan Crawford for this series.
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Losing It All Everywhere
Getting nowhere with Joan, Bette tries to exert some control in her personal life. She allows her daughter, B.D., to get married to a much older man named Jeremy (she’s 16, he’s 29), but Bette wants full control of the wedding. Bette believes that she is just indulging a fantasy of B.D.’s and eventually her daughter will come back to her. B.D.’s relationship with Jeremy is real, though, as the two are still married to this day. Bette tries to dissuade her daughter from being with Jeremy. Bette tells her that it won’t work, but B.D. is insulted and horrified. In trying to bring her daughter closer to her, Bette just loses her.
No one ends up losing more than Joan. Joan fakes her illness for so long that the studio sues her for violating her contract. Joan is fine with losing tons of money to the lawsuit as long as she can ruin the movie and Bette’s next step in her career. Bette is one step ahead of Joan. Bette convinces her friend, Olivia de Havilland, to take over Joan’s role. When Joan finds out in the hospital, she freaks out and throws a vase at poor Mamacita’s head. This is the last straw for Mamacita, and she walks out of Joan’s life. Joan loses everything — her movie, her money and Mamacita — and it has all been of her own doing.
What did you think of the episode? How do you feel about Bette and Joan’s jealously for one another? Did it feel real or too simple? Which actress do you feel worse for now? Can you still sympathize with Joan? Did you ever sympathize with her? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
Feud: Bette and Joan airs Sundays at 10/9c on FX. Want more news? Like BuddyTV’s Facebook page.
(Image courtesy of FX)