Feud: Bette and Joan: “You Mean All This Time We Could Have Been Friends?” Season 1 Finale Review

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Bette and Joan closes out its story with a devastatingly beautiful finale.

Every episode of the first season of Feud has reinforced the idea that it would’ve been so easy for Bette Davis and Joan Crawford to be friends instead of rivals. Had Jack Warner and the salacious gossip machine of Hollywood not worked so actively to tear them apart, they would have been an unstoppable force as allies.

The finale serves as a poignant footnote to this idea, and boy does it drive the point home. “You Mean All This Time We Could Have Been Friends?” is an achingly honest sendoff for the story, with a message that transcends the glamorous world of old Hollywood. Feud may have started out as a show about Bette and Joan’s fighting, but its whipsmart commentary on agism, misogyny, and personal identity helped it to evolve into so much more.

A large portion of the episode deals with the rest of Joan’s life after being replaced on Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte. It is, in a word, depressing. She moves to New York, lives mostly by herself—the scenes of her getting a puppy and Mamacita returning to work for her offer brief moments of reprieve—and is ignoring her declining health. She also agrees to star in a terrible B-movie called Trog and writes a self-help book, the excerpts of which appear to be fairly sexist by today’s standards.

Once again, Feud triumphs in offering a sympathetic view of Crawford in her final days. Despite all her vindictiveness towards Bette when they filmed Baby Jane and during the 1963 Oscars, seeing her struggle to get through a terrible movie shoot or sit in her apartment all alone is heartbreaking. It’s impossible not to feel for a woman who worked so hard to maintain a certain image and lifestyle being rejected and mocked by the very industry that made her an icon. During her documentary interview, Pauline mentions that she saw Joan at the airport once and said that she looked very “tossed away.” That description certainly stuck with me as the episode went on. Sure, Joan had Mamacita and one of her adopted daughters comes to visit her even as the galleys of Mommie Dearest start to surface. As she becomes more and more reclusive, though, it becomes apparent that she was essentially left to wither away by herself.

Bette is the only other person in the world who knew what Joan was going through, as her attempts to revive her career through TV pilots continually failed. Bette is much more of a spitfire than Joan ever was, which is probably why she was able to stick it out in Hollywood a little while longer. Still, both women had to deal with contentious relationships with their children. B.D. returns to Los Angeles to tell her mother that she’s not allowed to see her grandchildren anymore unsupervised. Kiernan Shipka is excellent in this sequence, and her look pain when Bette mentions that her “swats” at her growing up weren’t traumatizing is wrenching.

With so much in common, you’d think that Bette would be able to reach out to Joan to offer some sort of support. But when Bette picks up the phone to call Joan, she’s at a loss for words, especially after hearing how out-of-it Joan sounds on the other end of the line. Bette’s comments to the AP reporter after her death are striking, to say the least. Thanks to Susan Sarandon’s performance, however, you get the feeling that there’s so much more she wanted to say.

No one will ever really know what these women would’ve said to each other had they had the chance to talk again. So Ryan Murphy and his team decided to come up with a final conversation. I suspect that Joan’s dream sequence will be seen as slightly controversial, given that we’ve been dealing with factual events on the series up until now. Despite the surrealist element, I found the scene to be incredibly mesmerizing. Joan sits with Jack, Hedda, and eventually Bette, and everyone lays their cards on the table—literally and figuratively.

Even though this little dinner party never happened, Murphy’s strong grasp on these characters throughout the season makes you think that it easily could have. It makes perfect sense that Jack and Hedda would hear of how much they tormented Joan, and then would laugh it off and say that they wouldn’t do anything differently if they could do it again. The final moment in the sequence—Bette apologizing for not being more of a friend—is simply moving. The fact that it’s punctuated by Mamacita waking Joan from her fantasy is difficult to watch. Joan admits, during the dinner, that she spent so much time creating the persona of Joan Crawford that she doesn’t even know who she really is. It’s the perfect summation of her character throughout this show, and it couldn’t be made more evident by seeing her snap back to reality, alone in the dark.

The episode ends with the wrapping up of the documentary, and a female assistant commenting that she wishes she could’ve known what happened on Bette and Joan’s first day on set of Baby Jane. It’s a bit of a lazy way to transition into the final shot, but it can be easily forgiven for the greatness of what follows. We see Bette and Joan on set, gabbing away like longtime girlfriends. They’re called on to do the first read-through, and they each go to their trailers to get their scripts. Joan turns to Bette and tells her that what she hopes to get out of this movie is a new friend.

It’s another moment that we can’t be certain of in terms of accuracy, but it’s a beautiful and affecting finish nonetheless. Joan Crawford and Bette Davis had a feud that was larger-than-life, but they could’ve easily had a friendship that was even more epic. Finale Grade: A / Season 1 Grade: A-

 

Some Other Notes:

  • It was unsettling to see Joan get a mere two seconds of screen time during the Oscars “In Memorium” segment after she died, but Bette, Olivia, Victor, and Joan Blondell’s toast to her was very sweet.
  • Between this show and Big Little Lies, the Actress in a Miniseries category at the Emmy’s this year is going to be packed with movie stars. Susan Sarandon was an excellent Bette Davis, but I think Jessica Lange really won me over in her final episodes. Her performance this week was absolutely haunting.
  • Just as with the ending of People Vs. OJ, I very much enjoyed the closing credit cards that showed what happened to everyone afterward. It’s always fun to see the real-life picture of these people next to the actors who portrayed them, especially Jack Warner, who looks like an oil tycoon from an old Western movie. The final picture of Bette and Joan sitting next to each other on set made me tear up.
  • And that’s a wrap on Feud‘s first season! I have to say, out of all the Ryan Murphy shows I’ve seen, this is by far my favorite (not really counting OJ since he wasn’t a part of that as much). This show could’ve easily delved into camp territory—which, I’m sure would’ve been a lot of fun—but I commend it for digging past the salacious headlines and getting into the core of why Bette and Joan were so at odds. Excellent performances all around, and the recreation of 1960s Hollywood was heaven to see each week. Major props to the cinematography, props, and costume departments on this show. They nailed it.
  • Feud‘s second season has already been announced as centering around Princess Diana and Prince Charles, and I will most certainly be tuning in. Any guesses as to what season 3 will be about? Sound off in the comments below! My personal pick is for Britney Spears vs. Christina Aguilera.

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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