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Monday
Apr242017

Feud 1.08: You Mean All This Time We Could Have Been Friends? - Season Finale

In the season one finale, Joan goes to the dentist, Bette gets roasted, and the show answers the question “If you could have any four people over for dinner, dead or alive…?”

by Jorge Molina

Last night, after seven weeks of behind-the-scenes introspections, gargantuan character work, and many, many hats, Feud reached its conclusion. And if it accomplished anything, it was making clear that, underneath the two legends the world knows as Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, there were two broken women with an eternal strive for outside validation, left empty once the cameras stopped rolling.

The finale presents the last years in the careers of Joan (Jessica Lange) and Bette (Susan Sarandon). But mostly Joan. Because she seemed to have been the most natural recipient of all the themes Ryan Murphy and company wanted to make evident: ageism, mysogny, merciless sacrifice for Hollywood, estrangement, ingratitude, and, mostly, pain...

The first half of the episode shows how Joan slowly became a recluse after being fired from Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte. She drifted away from a business that was only giving her laughable B-movie roles (we get a whole TROG! sequence) and that was literally making her insides rot (brush your teeth, kids!). Not even a lifestyle book deal could help her. After the unrelenting passage of time becomes too much to bear, Joan decides to stop taking roles altogether, and her entire world becomes her Manhattan apartment, her new dog, and Mamacita (Jackie Hoffman) three times a week.

Jessica Lange delivers her strongest performance in the series during this episode, acting mostly opposite herself and an empty room; projecting immense and soul-crushing loneliness, nostalgia, and longing for brighter times. Reese and Nicole better watch out -- Jessica is after that Emmy.

The finale also tries to deal with Bette's late-career moves, in which she took Joan's opposite strategy. She would take any and every role and opportunity she could, from failed pilots to being roasted. This contrast makes for an interesting statement on aging in Hollywood: no matter what you do, if you leave or you stay, the business will pay no attention to you anymore. We also see B.D.'s estrangement from Bette (in a last appearance from a fabulously styled Kiernan Shipka), and her difficulty finding other meaningful relationships. But Joan casts such a huge emotional shadow in comparison, that Bette's segment seems tame.

Feud has always played with history, but never more than in this episode. From the moment where Pauline (Alison Wright) mentions a fictionalized airport encounter with Joan (it has to be fictional since Pauline is one of the few made-up characters in the show), it's evident the show isn't scared to play around with facts to make a thematic point.

In what may be the scene with most historical and character liberties of the entire series, Joan imagines a dinner party between her, Bette Davis, Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis) and Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci). Together, they all air out their every grievance, intention, and regret. Even though the scene is an audience gift and a great display for every performer's talent, it was also the clearest example of how Feud nailed its themes on the head over and over by having the characters verbally speak them directly. As exquisitely staged as it was, it was not necessary. All that was discussed (how badly Joan was treated by the others, her mutual understandings with Bette, the joy of being in power) was either a reiteration of arlier episodes, or could have been easily shown through action. But we know that subtlety is not the show's forte.

However, that scene made me realize something else about the show.

At that point, Feud wasn't playing with reality anymore. It was conjuring up a completely made-up conversation, and having the characters confess feelings and thoughts we can never know for sure they actually had. It was using these vessels (Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford and Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis) and putting words in their mouths, not as fleshed-out characters, but as movie star icons, to make a point about Hollywood, and women, and fame, and power. Which is either a genius meta-commentary, or a complete destruction of everything the show tried to demystify. Maybe both. I can't make up my mind.

Joan dies a week after this encounter. She gets her two seconds on screen during the In Memoriam at the following year's Oscars, and a pitiful toast by Bette, Olivia DeHavilland (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Joan Blondell (Kathy Bates) and Victor Buono (Dominic Burgess), in another greatly assembled, but barely nuanced four-way scene. 

The first season of Feud ends with a flasback to the first day of shooting Baby Jane; Bette and Joan laugh over an anecdote before heading to the first read-through.

"If there's anything I hope to get out of this, is a new friend" Joan says to Bette, to reinforce yet again how similar they really are. Although Joan probably never said that in real life.

Feud may have started out as a fun show about the behind-the-scenes of a fascinating episode in Hollywood history, and its two iconic leads, with a few things to say about the business along the way. But, for better or for worse, the show did its best to use these two women and their enviroment and circumstances to tackle bigger issues. It didn't always do it smoothly, and it rarely reached a compromise between historical accuracy and narrative drive.

Feud was a story of ambition, and loneliness, and the way we treat women, and how we love to elevate icons only to see them fall, and misogyny, and beauty regimes, and floral hats. It was the story of two broken women who happened to be Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. 

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Reader Comments (27)

Not sure if it relates here, but wasn't it their choice to stay in show business? Not sure if it's exclusively sexism, because most actors wane over 40 unless they have an ongoing audience. It's not a charity system. Lange and Sarandon also had difficulty being big movie stars after the 90's. But so did Richard Gere and Kevin Costner. This show never made sense to me.

April 24, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBey

@Bey

Hollywood is a boy's club hence the return of Mel Gibson and Casey Affleck winning despite the controversy surrounding his unethical behavior in his professional life.

April 24, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

@Bey. You made a good point.

April 24, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterK

The Annie Sullivan curse:

Anne Bancroft played Annie Sullivan opposite Patty Duke as Helen Keller in 1962. They both won Oscars. Thus, Bette's turn as Baby Jane was beat out by Bancroft's Annie Sullivan.

In one of those stunts that film fans love, Patty Duke jumped into Annie Sullivan's shoes for a TV remake of The Miracle Worker in 1980. This time, Helen Keller was played by Melissa Gilbert.

Come time for the Emmys, Patty Duke's Annie Sullivan won the Best Actress award. And who was one of the actresses she beat out? Well... Bette Davis! Bette was nominated for White Mama. At least she had won the Emmy the previous year, for Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter, playing Gena Rowlands' mother.

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

The story about Crawford drunk at the airport is true. The video is on youtube. Search "Joan Crawford drunk airport".

I thought this episode solidified "Feud" as a masterpiece.

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMar-Alexis

Good, but far from a masterpiece.

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterK

I really enjoyed Feud and I especially loved Jessica Lange's performance.

This is the best acting I've seen from Lange. I'd give her every trophy out there. Seriously, seriously, impressed here.

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Jessica Lange was so wonderful in this episode. Her conversation with her daughter about whether the grandchildren think of her as a "real" grandmother was so crushing but so real. How many adoptive grandparents have felt that way?

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Did anyone notice the artist drawing Bette's portrait was based on Don Bachardy, partner of Christopher Isherwood? That was a nice touch. I have seen the portrait (not the one shown in the episode), I have it in a book about the artist and it's heartbreaking and wonderful, as this series has been.

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSeisgrados

Bey-I don't think it was quite the same. At the time that Crawford/Davis were getting passed over for everything, some of their former leading men like Hank Fonda and John Wayne were regularly getting work in major pictures. Also, it's worth noting that most of the major marquee male leads of that era (Gable, Laughton, Bogart, Cooper) died relatively young, while the female stars (with the exception of Kate Hepburn, cited on the show) just got forgotten.

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

@ John T, I'v been thinking about Katharine Hepburn a lot while watching Feud, and of course, most especially during those final episodes where ageism, illness, and sexism had gotten total control over the two leads.

Katharine was more than any other actress her own beast. She knew procreation or adopting does not make you a better person (I'm especially impressed by this realization of hers). I'm pretty sure she laughed about how those who decided to have children (Bette and Joan, and many others) saw these same children tell them to their faces they were shitty parents (and they obviously were shitty parents).

Katharine Hepburn has the smartest career of them all. No questions asked.

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

I thought it was a really affecting final episode.

Anyone thought it was weird they couldn't find a way to bring Molina back somehow? They literally brought back everyone else for the finale.

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

I'm not convinced they could have been friends. The show could have done a better job of addressing the role that their class differences played into their rivalry. Bette was a snob, and Joan carried the resentment of being born into poverty with her.

Interesting that Pauline's end story seems to have been influenced by Barbara Koppel, whose first job in film was on the Winter Soldier documentary, filming Vietnam war crimes testimony from American soldiers (including John Kerry).

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

What an ending! Brilliant. The dream concept worked so well, I still feel like I was hit by a ton of bricks. I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a series so much. And what a joy to see Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon each week. Jessica's performance will stay with me--she made this role her own and beyond. Fourth Emmy is in the bag. Brava.

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Jessica was devastating in this last episode. It's gonna be neck and neck between Jessica and Nicole.

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSoSue

The real Joan would never have talked to fans in the manner that she did while signing books.

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterldiggitydawg

I thought the series was solid but not a masterpiece. Jessica Lange's performance was huge and I predict she'll win the Emmy.

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

Ugh, does Jessica Lange need a third Emmy for a Ryan Murphy production? She has three Emmys already (two for AHS) plus a Tony (for yet another Ryan Murphy production). Team Nicole or Team Reese all the way.

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJono

The small, personal moments felt the truest and most moving: Joan's lonely way of life in NYC, set to Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, or her regrets as a mother, expressed to daughter Kathy.

The waking dream scene felt right to me, because I believe Joan always wanted to win Bette over as a colleague and friend, and this expressed the "What if?" in a lovely way.

What's sad is Murphy can't resist putting tacky gossip like Joan drunk and dressing in a van in Trog (which the producer denied) or the Bette scene, with the "Joan Crawford dead...good" quote, which sounds like it came from Charles Pierce's nightclub act.

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterrick gould

Watch young queens turn on Jessica Lange as she beats Nicole and Reese at the Emmys.

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Wouldn't it be ironic if/when Jessica Lange is nominated for her Joan Crawford and Susan Sarandon is not as Bette Davis? Talk about karmic retribution.

April 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Mareko, I didn't realize that before--that's insane LOL

April 26, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Mareko: There's a very strong possibility that Sarandon won't make to a nomination and Lange will.

April 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

a smashing ending to the show. flawed series for sure, but far more ambitious than expected, and the focus was always on crawford and davis as human beings. brava to lange and sarandon!

April 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEricB

Are y'all ready for 'Feud: Charles and Diana'?

April 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

This episode made me miss a series that I didn't think I loved.

April 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

I was ambivalent for most of the series, but they sure did knock it out of the park in the last episode. This will definitely be the ep that Lange submits for the Emmys.

May 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKirby

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