Feud: Bette and Joan Has A Mother/Daughter Day

As filming wraps on Baby Jane, Bette's and Joan's parenting goes under the microscope.

And just like that, we're through the filming of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane! Ryan Murphy sure does not like to wait to get where he's going. In an episode that actually does a fairly strong job with the theme of motherhood/parenthood as it relates to Bette and Joan, we also go full steam ahead through some of the shoot's most arduous moments (Baby Jane dragging Blanche across the bedroom; the big finale scene at the beach) and get a wrap on the picture. What we're going to spend the other five episodes on remains to be seen, though we certainly have enough side avenues to explore this week.

As for the episode title, "Mommie Dearest," this is indeed the episode for all your bad-mom camp fascinations. But rather than just line up the wire hangers and let Joan have at it, we get a much more rounded, satisfying look at Joan and Bette as mothers (and daughters). Yes, Joan is incredibly strict with her twin girls; yes, she is withholding of praise for Christina's acting career. But this is no Faye Dunaway gorgon -- that's been done. We see Joan eventually sign a card for Christina. And we see her, at episode's end, go to an orphanage looking to adopt again. Salve those emotional wounds with some new children, Joan! It's all quite sad.

More fascinating still is the way that theme of motherhood filters through the episode. The centerpiece scene is a heart-to-heart between rivals Bette and Joan in which Joan admits to having lost her virginity to her stepfather at age 11. Bette's reaction is a mixture of shock, revulsion, and pity, and it looks like she might finally understand Joan a bit more.

We also see Bette deal with her own parenting issues. After getting screeched at by B.D. last week, Bette now has to deal with Aldrich's suggestion that they cast Bette's daughter in a small role. The push-pull inside Bette is fascinating -- she wants good things for her daughter, but she also doesn't want her own reputation dragged down by B.D.'s glaring lack of talent. She's annoyed by B.D. and won't rehearse with her the night before a big scene, but she also wants to protect her.

Bette also plays mother to co-star Victor Buono, who helpfully reminds the audience that the gay community was already well into Bette Davis hero worship by the early '60s. Watching Bette come around on Victor, from her initial scoffing at his size and meager theater credits ("I'm sure his Falstaff is the talk of Tijuana") to her eventually bailing him out of jail after he gets busted for blowing a guy at a porn theater, it's a sweet, compact little journey.

It's an overstuffed episode that takes more than a few shortcuts, but it's a satisfying hour that delivers just enough camp -- Bette Davis's collection of backhanded compliments to her daughter's woeful acting; Joan dealing with her bow-headed twin girls -- and just enough pathos to satisfy like a cool, spiteful Coca-Cola on a hot day at the beach.

Feud-ish Element Present?
Joan Crawford is easily and often threatened Literally any compliment handed to Davis throughout the course of filming Baby Jane is greeted like a half-dozen sharp knives to Crawford's chest. So she plants a story via Hedda Hopper that Bette will push for a supporting Oscar while Joan will go lead; she sandbags it (literally) during a scene where Bette has to drag her across the room; and she dolls herself up ridiculously for her death scene on the beach.
Bette Davis don't give a fu Clearly, Sarandon's underplaying of Bette's larger-than-life persona is an acting choice, and one that pays off in the small moments (her talk with Joan about their mothers; the complex swirl of emotions over B.D.'s acting dreams; her rapport with Victor Buono) as much as it disappoints in the bigger ones. Still, any time Bette bites off a word mid-syllable or calls Joan "Lucille" (or, this week, "Crawfish"), it's a winner. And the casual disdain she shows Hedda Hopper would freeze molten lava.
There's feminism to be had! I mean, life is feminist, but nothing nearly as overt as last week.
Jack Warner is a vulgar SOB Warner's only present for one scene this week, but he does manage to announce his plans to go to New York to see "My Fair fucking Lady."
Hedda Hopper loves trouble Hedda's still on a mission to nab an Oscar for Joan, and to do it, she wants to plant a story about Bette having terrible body odor. You know, say what you will, but this year's Oscars would absolutely have been improved if Isabelle Huppert and Emma Stone has gotten into it in the press over B.O. It should also be noted that, in one scene...



...Hedda appears to be wearing two pom-poms made of hydrangeas as a hat.

Bob Aldrich is no match for these women He can't seem to keep Joan from returning to her faraway trailer in between takes during the beach scene, though he probably does deserve credit for maturely ending his little fling with Bette with a minimum of drama.
Someone says "Daddy" or drinks PepsiCola Bette purchases a cooler of Coca-Cola and parks it right next to Joan's Pepsi machine in a delightfully petty sight gag that keeps paying off. On a less frivolous note, we get our weekly "Daddy" requirement in the midst of Joan's admission of her stepfather's sexual abuse, so feel free to take that vinegar shower whenever.
It's a wonderful night for Oscar Watching Joan and Bette jockey for lead/supporting designations in the gossip columns is intoxicating, but the real joy is had in Bette and Joan's screaming match over the 1950 Best Actress Oscar, which Bette famously lost to Judy Holliday after seemingly splitting the All About Eve vote with co-star Anne Baxter. Bette and Joan in this case are simply surrogates for every Old Hollywood-obsessed cinema queen for the last 65 years yelling that Bette Davis deserved a third Oscar. As nakedly fan-servicey as the moment is, (a) it's not like we were doing The Iceman Cometh up to this point anyway, and (b) I'm not sure I'd trade Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford howling "It was Gloria Swanson who was robbed in 1950, not you, BITCH!" for anything in the world.
Gay dog whistles get whistled, gaily Hoo boy! Well, first of all, I'll refer you to our little Oscar debate above. But truly this episode was a rainbow-colored flag of delights for Feud's target audience, from Joan signing "Mommie Dearest" on her card to Christina to Hedda dropping a reference to The Women and calling Joan "Miss Crystal Allen herself."
Kathy Bates and Catherine Zeta-Jones are used to their fullest potential Both actresses are completely absent from the episode. You'd think Joan Blondell would have had something to say about that whole Bette/Judy/Gloria debate.
8 / 10
Final Score
"All the queens love me."
"She should be billed as B.D. Merrill."
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