The filming of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is over but the feud between Bette and Joan is just beginning. Bette and Joan don’t share the screen much in “More, or Less.” In fact, they don’t share it all outside of one drunken phone conversation. The episode might be all the better for the lack of Bette and Joan’s interaction. Even though the two ladies enjoy one of the biggest successes of their career with the release of Baby Jane, they handle it in almost entirely opposing ways. That contrast is made that much starker due to the lack of time that they spent together.
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Joan Reaches for the Bottle, Bette for the Stars
“More, or Less” opens with the fake tension of everyone being worried that Baby Jane will flop but thankfully that is resolved very quickly. As soon as the movie opens, it proves to be a big success. In an eerie and depressing parallel of present day though, no one is overly impressed with a female led movie being a smash hit. It doesn’t change Bette or Joan’s career trajectory and everyone sees it as a fluke. A lot might have changed since 1962, but a lot more has stayed the same.
Since What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? doesn’t change Bette and Joan’s lives much (beside making them lots and lots of money) the story is how they handle the success. In the case of Joan, it doesn’t go well. People much prefer Bette’s loud performance in Baby Jane as the title character than that of Joan’s more quieter performance of Blanche. While Bette embraces her newfound popularity, Joan withdraws and turns more and more to the bottle. It’s a good thing “More, or Less” is following “Mommie Dearest” where Joan was so sympathetic and tragic because she is an unholy drunken petty terror here. It’s always been easy to feel bad for Mamacita on Feud, because it must be hard being the Alfred to Joan’s Batman but Mamacita is more sympathetic than ever in “More, or Less.” Mamacita’s face reaches new levels of self-loathing as she watches her employer self-destruct.
Bette might be embracing her popularity but her career isn’t any better than Joan’s. While Bette is much more willing to “play the game” than Joan, she is getting no new job offers. Bette is trying to turn Baby Jane into the next stage of her career but it is just turning out to be a bit of an epilogue and she must “sink” to doing television. (The meta irony of Susan Sarandon being an older star, who was once head-lining her own films, now starring on TV shouldn’t be lost on anyone.)
The most interesting story to come out of the success of Baby Jane though is how it affects Bob Aldrich’s assistant, Pauline. Pauline has been present since the first episode of Feud: Bette and Joan but was she only of note because Pauline is the same actress who is (poor) Martha from The Americans. This episode makes a quite compelling case that Pauline should have been the star of this series all along. Pauline, who was instrumental in Baby Jane getting made, wants to write and direct her own movie now.
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Pauline goes directly to Joan, seeing if the actress would like to star in the movie but Joan shoots her down because a woman director will never work. Joan Crawford also doesn’t work for nobodies and Pauline, is very much a nobody. (As mentioned, Joan is the WORST in this episode.) Pauline then tries to go to Bob and while he initially supports her, he shuts her down once he becomes consumed with his own work. This whole Pauline venture might not have much to do with anything, other than its another woman failing in Hollywood for no other reason than she is a woman, but it is fascinating. Even though Pauline’s dreams of directing are dashed the show needs much more of her character moving forward.
Academy Award Worthy Disappointments
Pauline’s proper introduction is promising but her boss overshadows her in “More, or Less.” Feud spends an enormous and unnecessary amount of time though focusing on how Bob Aldrich feels he will be remembered after What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? becomes a success. It’s all very annoying. Aldrich, unlike his assistant, should disappear from the show now that the movie is over. Aldrich was only a pawn in the battles between Bette and Joan but “More, or Less” puts him on equal footing with the stars.
Unlike the women, Aldrich gets opportunities to advance his career but can’t make any of them work. This is probably the point of the story, as the one person who gets the success can’t handle it. It doesn’t make for Bob Aldrich’s failures any more interesting to watch however. The conclusion of this story is clear from the moment it begins. Bob, unlike Bette or Joan, is not very talented and he is equally unremarkable to watch.
Thankfully, Feud does appear to get back on track in the final moments by focusing back on the leading ladies. Joan’s worst fears come true when the Academy Award nominations are announced. Joan is devastated to hear that Bette was nominated for an Oscar but she was snubbed.
What did you make of the surprisingly Bob Aldrich heavy episode of Feud: Bette and Joan? Who handled the disappointment the best? Did you find Joan terrifying or still tragic in this episode?
Feud: Bette and Joan airs Sundays at 10/9c on FX. Want more news? Like BuddyTV’s Facebook page.
(Image courtesy of FX)