Feud: Bette and Joan S01E04 “More, or Less”
Director: Liza Johnson
Starring: Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Alfred Molina
Writer: Gina Welch, Tim Minear
A review by Michael Walls-Kelly
Episode four of Feud, titled More, or Less, is about how people deal with success, and how success deals with people. There are some initial doubts about how Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Is going to be received, by they mostly save that for the cold open* since we all know it ended up a huge hit. The focus of the episode is how that success affects Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange), Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Bob Aldrich (Alfred Molina) specifically. The episode specifically deals with the differences between success for men and women, and how success in and of itself isn’t enough for some.
*Speaking of the cold open, it’s another fantastic little vignette where Joan and Bette deal with their useless management. Bette has been shuffled down to an inexperienced agent due to concerns about Baby Jane and Joan is told by her representation that they’re waiting to field offers that come in. Both women deal with it in style and in-character. Bette writes a dramatic ad in the paper seeking employment and Joan turns the word “fuck” into a meal when she tells her representation exactly what they can do with themselves.
When the film finally opens to great reviews and a fantastic audience reception, our leads all treat it in different ways. Bette takes full advantage of the renewed interest, promoting the film in a nationwide tour, going on talk shows, being eager to parlay the success into a follow-up film. Bob wants to move on to bigger things than b-pictures, and that’s all Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) wants to offer him, Baby Jane ripoffs. And Joan just can’t deal with the success because it isn’t the right kind. The film is doing well for the studio and Bette is getting critical praise but Joan herself isn’t feeling fulfilled. She still knows her time as an actress is winding down and the only thing temporarily helping her is booze.
I haven’t mentioned Bob’s assistant, Pauline, much in these reviews. She’s played wonderfully by Alison Wright (Martha from The Americans) and this episode really puts a spotlight on her. After helping usher Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and seeing that a film starring two women can be a success, she decides to try to break out big. She writes a script in the hopes that Joan Crawford will star in it and she can direct it.
Unfortunately there’s a lot working against her. Joan won’t give her a chance, sadly. As she puts it, “my last chance is not going to be your first”. When she comes to Bob with her script he’s receptive and positive at first, but he ultimately doesn’t take her seriously and he’s too wrapped up in his own issues — dealing with a truly great addition to the “asshole men” of this series, Frank Sinatra (Toby Huss) — on set.
Luckily we get a very heartening scene near the end of the episode. Mamacita (Jackie Hoffman), who Pauline spoke with earlier to help her get Joan for her picture, sits her down and talks about the future with her. She mentions the changing demographics in the country, the growing population of women, and the fact that the studios will have to make movies for and by women in order to get their money. Mamacita tells her to stick it out, that her day is coming. It’s a lovely scene which is a little bittersweet knowing the current landscape of cinema.
The episode ends with a fantastic scene that takes advantage of the Ryan Murphy school of horror parody. Joan wakes up in the morning to her bedroom phone off the hook. She wanders through the empty house to the sound of a dial tone, finding the living room phone off the hook as well. When Mamacita comes in she breaks the news to Joan about the Oscar nominations.
We’re left with a wide-view of the house as we hear Joan plaintively yelling “Nooooo!”
Keep Watching. We’re halfway through the season and I’m excited to see what’s next. More, or Less was a slightly slower episode, easing us out of the production aspect of the series and into whatever will come next. I’m excited about the next episode which will almost certainly take us through the politics of the Oscar season and show us how Bette deals with her nomination and Joan deals with being left out. I’m also excited to see if we get any further development for Pauline who may have stealthily become my favourite character. It would also be funny to see more scenes of Frank Sinatra threatening to have Bob killed.