On the second episode, Bette and Joan fight for the affections of Robert Aldrich, Hedda Hopper has a feud of her own, and Kiernan Shipka goes full Sally Draper. Here's Jorge Molina...
For both of his latest anthologies, Ryan Murphy has tried to focus every episode on a different aspect of the overall theme of the series in question. With People vs. OJ, we got racism and sexism-centric episodes. On Feud it seems we'll be exploring different sides of the destructive Hollywood machinery. This week that's how women in the industry are pitted against each other for monetary and publicity gain.
The second episode also gives us an excuse to call Stanley Tucci "Big Daddy." Not that we needed one...
Baby Jane is on the first days of shooting, and Bette and Joan are getting along wonderfully. But that’s not gonna sell papers, says Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis) to Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina), in yet another feathered hat from her impressive collection. With the threat of becoming a has-been looming over him (a trait shared by everyone on his show, except perhaps Mamacita), Hedda convinces Aldrich to make his leads believe that he likes one more than the other, in the hopes that it will spark some buzz.
And then a battle for the paternal affections of the director begins, which brings out a feisty yet painfully vulnerable side in each of the actresses that shows just how much they are willing to do to cling to their power, and how powerless they really are.
Planted stories about Joan’s fake breasts and Bette’s age, jealousies and eventual firing of a younger attractive co-star, and each of the stars making late-night house calls to Robert’s house. The show really wants us to know that all these women have as a negotiating tool is their gradually wavering bodies.
The thematic thread explodes in the episode’s best scene: a confrontation between Bette and BD Davis (say that three times fast) who wants her daughter out of the picture after she sees her flirting with the crew. BD goes into a rant that could only exist in the Murphy universe, letting her mother know in no uncertain terms that her power is slipping away. While Kiernan Shipka is excellent in her continued reign as Teenage Queen of Period Drama Angst, this scene also brings Sarandon's best: Bette's iron facade is slowly breaking down.
We get other glimpses of the story, like Victor Buono's (Dominic Burgess) overt homosexuality and lack of sex appeal, Hedda Hopper’s own mortal feud with rival columnist Louella Parsons (season 3, please?), Jack Warner’s (Stanley Tucci) financial and visceral investment in the feud, and Robert Aldrich’s marital problems. All of them are teased, but none fully explored.
Kathy Bates and Catherine ZJ appear once more as Joan Blondell and Olivia DeHavilland to give contextual backstory and forced exposition that offers very little other than film trivia, and gives Lange and Sarandon a chance to recreate past Crawford and Davis films. I’m always glad to see them, but their segments continue to be the weakest part of the show.
On its attempts to Say Something about the industry, the show is doing a tricky balance of respect, nostalgia, introspection, and camp. It sometimes accomplishes it; other times, not so much. Feud, as far as the second episode goes at least, gets inside its head so much that it forgets the innate fun of its concept and leaves the cast who are pretty much down for anything, adrift. Let’s hope Feud loosens up in the upcoming episodes.
Because this is a show about Actresses Acting, here are the best moments of just that:
- Hedda Hopper realizing that Joan Crawford is broke. Judy Davis’ astounded face is a GIF for the ages.
- Jessica Lange wearing a floral caftan
- Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men) doing what she knows best: sitting in a car while her screen mother chain-smokes in the driver's seat.
- Alison Wright overhearing a conversation (more of her already, please!)
- Jackie Hoffman standing in a doorway
Your favorite moments from Episode 2?