Feud: Bette and Joan: “Abandoned!” Season 1 Episode 7 Review

Photo Credit: http://tomandlorenzo.com/2017/04/feud-bette-joan-abandoned/

The penultimate episode of Bette and Joan is a mesmerizing exploration on power, loneliness, and how the grass on the other side is never really as green as you think it is.

“Abandoned!” was directed by Oscar-winner Helen Hunt, which is interesting in and of itself considering the episode’s plot. The penultimate entry in the saga of Bette and Joan concerns itself with the struggle for control that Bette and Joan had over the production of Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte. For Bette, in particular, this project is of great importance to her as it’s her first as a producer. Robert says that it’s just a vanity title in order to get her to sign on, but Bette takes her work very seriously. She’s at the taping of every scene, she gives input on the script, and she’s the one who gets Robert to call cut. This sort of creative control is all Bette has ever wanted, and I wonder how her work on Charlotte would’ve differed had we had more women like her, and like Hunt, working behind the camera. Perhaps she would’ve spent more time on making a tight production, and less time trying to drive Joan crazy.

Yes, much of Bette’s script changes are to her co-star’s dismay. She cuts her monologues, and literally cuts her off sometimes in the middle of a take. It’s obvious that the “truce” she proposed back in LA was all for show. Bette is not over what happened on Oscar night, and she’s out for blood. Of course, Joan Crawford is not someone who takes being bullied lightly. The latter half of this week’s episode sees her feigning ill in order to stop production, convinced that she’ll be able to tank the picture without it’s lead star.

That’s the theme that’s been running through Bette and Joan since it premiered. Joan is the star, Bette is the talent. What’s so disheartening about this dichotomy is that it seems like it is entirely in both Bette and Joan’s heads. Joan is talented. We see that as she’s able to complete her first scene in one take. Yet, she’ll always feel inferior to Bette because she got her start in the theater while Joan got hers in nightclubs. Despite winning an Oscar, she’s still walking around with a chip on her shoulder, trying to prove she’s more than just a showgirl.

Bette, meanwhile, is a movie star. She’s beautiful and has a commanding screen presence. Yet, she can never escape what she overheard Jack Warner say during her first screen test: “Who would fuck that?” Bette has always been about her work, but she’s not immune to stinging words. In a town where opportunities for leading ladies of a certain age were scant, this is a weight she carried with her as well.

All of this comes to a head in the episode’s—and possible the season’s—most important scene, when Joan confronts Bette about her mistreatment on set. Hunt directs the moment perfectly, saying a lot with startling moment of silence after Joan delivers a serious blow with an insult about Bette trying to make herself look uglier. “I’m a character actress,” she weakly replies back.

The key exchange, of course, arrives when both women are able to admit something to each other. What each of them possesses—alluring beauty and fame for Joan, raw talent and industry respect for Bette—is never going to be enough. Jack isn’t physically in this episode, but his domineering presence is still deeply felt. These women could so easily have formed an unstoppable partnership, but the vicious studio system they worked for would much rather seem them fighting for what they both already had.

One of the smartest things about Bette and Joan is it’s firm decision not to come down too hard on either side of its titular feud. Both of these women certainly made some ruthless decisions, but the only real villain in this story is Jack, who pulled all the strings from behind closed doors. “Abandoned!” pivots from Bette harassing Joan on set to Joan halting production by faking sick. Her plan works for a while, until she’s sued by 20th Century Fox and they bring in Olivia de Havilland to replace her.

Mamacita’s final line as she walks away from a screaming Joan—she makes the mistake of throwing another vase at her head—is “You have done this to yourself.” She isn’t wrong. It was clear from the start that Joan’s plan was going to backfire. Still, even though it was foolish, her efforts to gain some sort of power are not unfounded.

The most depressing part of Bette and Joan’s feud, aside from its needlessness, is its result. These two screen legends fought tooth and nail to lengthen their careers and to keep the spotlight on themselves for as long as possible. Seeing Joan crying in the hospital hallway, and Bette rooted to a spot in her living room after her daughter BD announces she eloped at City Hall and storms out, one thing is abundantly clear. Their rivalry became all-consuming, and it left them both alone. If only they could’ve been there for each other. Grade: A-

 

Some Other Notes:

  • Both Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange have been outstanding during the entire run of this show so far, but this was most certainly Lange’s episode. Her many moments of fear and despair throughout are poignant and unflinching.
  • I love that Mamacita covered their hotel beds with plastic. I will miss her a lot.
  • Olivia de Havilland’s line “I’ve only just aired out my Swiss chalet for the season,” so bougie and decadent and I loved it.
  • Most of the reporting on Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s feud ends after Joan was replaced on Charlotte, so I’m very curious as to what next week’s finale will be about.

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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