Feud: Bette and Joan — “The Other Woman”

feud: bette and joan promo art

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were the O.G. Original silver screen divas and their legendary beef is chronicled in the juicy miniseries Feud. TVRD’s Special Contributor, film director Scott Coblio, shares his take. — Elaine F. 

The second installment of FX’s Feud continues the writer’s (seeming) purpose to clarify that the famous feud with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford was at least in part, the result of the actresses having been pitted against one another, not just on the Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? set, but through the decades, by various parties, and for various seedy purposes. This may come as a disappointment to some and a relief to others, depending on whether one prefers Bette and Joan as complex women or straight-up Disney witches. The show aims for the former but sprinkles just enough of the latter throughout to satisfy both demands.

In this episode, we see the continuation of Baby Jane shooting, learn more about Bette’s relationship with her teenage daughter B.D. (whom she totes to and from work like a purse), and the growing animosity that would one day produce a nasty tell-all book (in the Mommie Dearest mold) called My Mother’s Keeper. Whether it was accurate or not, the book, clearly surprised Davis and broke her heart). The filmmakers deserve credit for their avoidance of polarizing characters into victims and villains. No one in Feud is totally innocent. B.D. may be unnecessarily cruel when she says to her mom, “you see me being young and having fun, and you can’t take it because your turn is up!” But then, Bette has just been seen dragging her daughter offset in a huff, threatening to send her away “for the WHOLE summer!”, seemingly for no other reason than because she was attracting the attention of the male film crew.

The scruples of both actresses come under more scrutiny in this episode as they are seen using sex as a weapon to control their director Robert Aldrich (played with expert restraint by Alfred Molina). Aldrich, for his part, has no scruples either, as his wife makes clear when she lets him know that his casual extramarital affairs aren’t the well-kept secret he imagined. In fact, the subject of sex-as-currency comes up a lot in Feud and seems to be more a comment on the times and the industry than the characters themselves. The apparent maxim is: “This is the game—if you want to win, play by the rules or go home.”

One of the best parts of Feud is the accuracy with which the producers have managed to recreate well-known scenes from Baby Jane. I imagine that eventual split-screen comparisons will soon find their way to YouTube at some point after all the episodes have aired (I hear production on Jane wraps up next episode, so only one more installment before the reenactments are no more). It will be interesting to see how they will stretch the plot for five more episodes after production of Baby Jane wraps.

Production values continue to amaze as before. Costumes, sets, art direction, hair, etc. really are top notch, and I’m sure we’ll see a lot of Emmy/Golden Globe nominations for this show. Acting-wise, Stanley Tucci as studio mogul Jack Warner and Judy Davis as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper are all but stealing the show out from under Lange and Sarandon. Between the leads, I think Lange as Crawford is giving a more layered performance. But it’s fun to watch Sarandon chew the scenery as Bette, with her flashing eyes, furious cigarette-puffing, and “pelvis first” method of getting from place to place.

All in all, I still love it. If Episode 2 was not ultimately as fun as last week’s, it’s more because the emerging message, as it comes into deeper focus, is a rather sad one. That if not for all the outside meddling (and to paraphrase a line from Baby Jane), “all that time they could have been friends…”

Feud airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on FX

Scott Coblio - Special Contributor
Scott Coblio, a native New Yorker, migrated to Hollywood in 1997, and has regretted it ever since. A singer for six years in the regional NY pop band Koo-Koo Boy, he is also the writer/director of the 2007 feature film Murderess, an all-puppet retelling of the legendary Winnie Ruth Judd murder case of 1931 (which just had its 10th annual screening in Phoenix, AZ). Coblio has shown his photographic work at numerous galleries as well as supplying interviews and reviews for various magazines and papers for over 2 decades. When he’s not editing porn or doing fluff-and-folds, he’s pitching coffee table book ideas to publishers and trying in vain to live in the past. He is a reluctant Virgo.

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