Feud: Bette and Joan S01E08 “You Mean All This Time We Could Have Been Friends?”
Director: Gwyneth Horder-Payton
Starring: Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Alfred Molina
Writer: Gina Welch
A review by Michael Walls-Kelly
She did it the hard way.
That’s what Bette Davis’s epitaph reads. It’s true of both Bette (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) when it comes to their lives and careers. Both women struggled due to their profession, the time period and, partially, due to their personalities. But without Bette and Joan being Bette and Joan they wouldn’t be remembered they way they are. There would never be a show like Feud about them.
What You Mean All This Time We Could Have Been Friends? is really about is legacy. Bette and Joan are faced with the fruits of their labour and what will become of them when they pass, both professionally and personally. Joan’s final acting job is in a bad b-movie called Trog. Watching her use an old caravan as a dressing room and be forced to rely on cue cards is heartbreaking, it’s not at all a surprise that she’d retire from acting. She retires from a public life altogether when she feels humiliated at a book signing and horrified by a photo of herself in the newspaper. Joan has moved into a small New York apartment and remains there with only the company of Mamacita (Jackie Hoffman) — who comes back to work part-time — and her new dog, the wonderfully named Princess Lotus Blossom.
Professionally, Bette goes the opposite route. Instead of pulling back from the public life she continues working, filming several television pilots that aren’t picked up, going on the Dean Martin Roast and continuing to confide in Victor Buono (Dominic Burgess). Buono is the one who informs Bette that Joan has cancer and never leaves her apartment. He tells her that she should call Joan, basically repeating a line from earlier in the series by telling her that Joan is maybe the only other woman in the world who knows what Bette’s going through. Bette calls Joan but can’t bring herself to say anything, and it’s the last contact the two women have.
Bette and Joan both worry about their private legacies and how their families will fare once they’re gone. In a scene that made the room a little dusty, Joan is visited by one of her daughters and they discuss another of her daughters, Christina, and that her memoir Mommie Dearest is coming out soon. Joan brushes that aside mostly and focuses on her grandchildren and how they feel about their mother being adopted and whether they consider Joan to be their real grandmother. Her daughter consoles her and it’s a truly touching scene. Meanwhile Bette has lunch with B.D. (Kiernan Shipka) and B.D. tells her she won’t be able to see her grandchildren again unsupervised because she struck one of them. Bette visits her institutionalized daughter and confides in her about her own mother, how she secretly seemed to resent of even despise her, and how Bette never even knew. Bette and Joan would both leave complicated legacies when it came to their children. The veracity of certain claims are up in the air, but it’s undeniable that these women needed to focus on themselves to sustain the careers that they did and their relationships with their children in some ways suffered for it.
In the heartbreaking centrepiece of You Mean All This Time We Could Have Been Friends?, Joan is stirred one night when she hears voices in her living room. Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) and Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis) are laughing and chatting and playing cards. She joins them and they reminisce, Bette eventually showing up as well. Of course, it’s all a dream, but it’s a final chance to get Joan’s point-of-view on her life and legacy and career. She was never able to get to know the real Lucille LeSueur because she was so busy being Joan Crawford. I enjoyed that even in Joan’s nicest fantasies she couldn’t get Hedda or Jack to apologize for the pain they caused her. That would have been too ridiculous, even for a late-night dinner party with two dead people and an enemy that’s on the other side of the country.
The saddest part of the vision is when she reconciles with said enemy. In her heart of hearts she wanted to be friends with Bette. She gets so excited at the end of their conversation, wanting to drink champagne and chat and gossip like old buds, but the dream ends and Mamacita finds her alone on a rainy night and brings her back to bed. She would die a week later.
At the next Academy Awards Bette, Victor, Olivia de Havilland (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Joan Blondell (Kathy Bates) are all watching the In Memoriam part of the show from the green room. When Joan’s picture flies by they all raise a toast to one of the best. Like Bette says, two seconds in an In Memoriam reel is what they’ll all end up getting. The truth is actually closer to what Hedda says earlier. They’ll always be legends, frozen in time in their films.
We leave the show on a bittersweet note, the hope-filled first day of filming on Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? It’s a contrived little flashback that nevertheless feels good because we get to see Bette and Joan happy. And even though we know how it will end, even though the entire show is possible because the exact opposite will happen, we’re heartened a little by the hope in these words:
“Here’s what I really hope from this picture, when all is said and done. I hope I’ve made a new friend.”
Watch it. Overall, Feud was a sad, funny and wonderful look at two iconic screen legends. There was a lot of insider Hollywood stuff that I found fascinating and horrifying, especially when we learned about “the buckle” this episode, which is when women would remove some of their back molars to give themselves a better cheek angle. I ate all that stuff up. I expected that, and I expected Lange and Sarandon to throw tantrums and chew the scenery, and we got that too. I didn’t expect to be as moved as I was. I didn’t really expect to tear up when Joan is consoled by her daughter or when Bette tells off the director of the wraparound documentary, refusing to malign Joan any further. Feud had an unexpected heart and it’s to Ryan Murphy and his crew’s credit that the disparate tones and expectations came together so well.
The second season has been announced as Feud: Charles and Diana. I’m not as big on the Royals as I am Old Hollywood, but this season has earned an excess of goodwill so I’ll definitely be tuning in for episode one.