Feud: Bette and Joan Episode 1 Recap

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‘Feud: Bette and Joan’ promotional image via FX.

Feud: Bette and Joan premiered last night on FX. Read on for a recap of all the glam, camp, and legendary lady-fighting you might have missed.

There was not a singular doubt in my mind that when the time came, I would positively squeal with delight at every glammed-up move the Feud ladies would make. And now that it’s officially premiered, and we’ve all had the great pleasure of experiencing Ryan Murphy’s gaydreams (COPYRIGHT, ME 2017) on our television sets, I can tell you with all honesty that I was very, very correct.

For starters, the opening sequence, which was released a few weeks ago but really only gets better with every viewing, is truly incredible. It’s beautiful, it’s eerie, it’s perfect. And so, naturally, the only thing more captivating than the cartooned madness of the credits was the immediate introduction to Catherine Zeta-Jones as a perfectly coifed Olivia de Havilland. In what will later be revealed to be filming for a documentary, she gives us a quick recap slash foreshadow of what we’re about to be in for. “For half a century, they hated each other and we loved them for it,” she tells us, doing a very good job at not having that accent of hers except only kind of. It’s here she sets us up with the heavy-handed perfectly Ryan Murphy branded tagline thesis that he seamlessly bakes right on into the crust of the FIRST DAMN SCENE: “Feuds are never about hate. Feuds are about pain.”

Cut to the 1961 Golden Globes, where Marilyn Monroe has just won and Jessica Lange’s Joan Crawford sits, bitter and drunk, over the bombshell’s popularity. The next day, in the aftermath of the Globes, reporter Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis) pays an unscheduled visit to Joan’s abode- something Joan is quick to tell her is unacceptable. Though there to get a comment from Joan on Marilyn’s win, Hedda goes right in for the kill and tells Joan she’d heard a rumor that Joan had drunkenly stumbled out of the ceremony. Joan will, at first, only offer the statement that she’s now ready to get back to work, after which Hedda declares that there’s only room for one goddess in the industry, as per the rules of the men in charge, and that goddess is now Marilyn. She finally just straight up tells Joan that she wants a quote about Marilyn or else she’s going to print that Joan exited in an drunken stupor. Joan gives in, but only to say that Marilyn’s vulgarity is ruining the industry because people want stars with good morals. LOL.

It’s clear now that Joan is serious about getting her stardom back not because of great writing or subtle cues but because she literally brings her damn Oscar into her agent Marty’s office and says that she wants another. (Do you think that kind of thing works because if so: HELLO, I WOULD ALSO LIKE ONE!) She tells him that she needs a great script, and so he gives her a pile of them and tells her to find one that excites her. She reads them all while very glamorously languishing on her chaise, and she laments that it seems like all she’s getting are roles for grandmothers. Marty tells her that she needs to find a role for herself because they just aren’t out there, and so begins the journey.

It is at this point we can discuss Jackie Hoffman, who is playing Joan’s housekeeper/kind of assistant named Mamasita, and though she’s only had, like, four lines, she is the best part of any show I’ve ever watched. Mamasita goes to a bookstore and asks the clerk for “anything with ladies on the cover,” which is, personally, how I like to live my life. When she brings the books back to Joan, she discovers that all of them are about mothers or ingenues (and I guess lesbians but Joan rules those out by snapping “Nothing sapphic!” which sucks cuz this feud could’ve come to a head over the making of Carol!!!!!!). Here, Mamasita hands Joan “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?” and the world suddenly makes sense.

Kind of. Joan sends director Bob Aldrich her idea for the story, and his assistant (a woman, duh) convinces him to do it. When he goes over to Joan’s house to discuss it, she promises to get him a perfect co-star if he’ll agree to make it. Joan goes to see Bette Davis in the play The Night of the Iguana that night. When Joan goes to see her backstage, their crazy rift is immediately apparent, especially from Bette, but Joan quickly says that it’s always been her dream to work with her. Bette is v. hostile, and also keeps calling Joan “Lucille,” which is her real name and some kind of bizarre power move that I like but also hate. Bette is extremely resistant, but Joan tells her, “They’re not making women’s pictures anymore. If something’s going to happen. we have to make it happen.” She tells Bette that they need each other because no one could turn it down if the two of them did it. And, like, it’s hard to disagree because we’re now watching a bio-series about the two of them together deciding to initially do something together, soooooo.

Joan sends the book over to Bette and she starts to read it, but quickly calls Bob and asks if he’d had sex with Joan (as though THAT’s the only reason he’d agree to make it). He tells Bette that he needs Joan to get the movie made but needs Bette to make it great. He promises that it’ll be the best horror film ever made and it’ll be Bette’s best role. It’s also revealed here that Bob is only making the picture because he hasn’t been offered anything else. EVEN MEN ARE HAVING A HARD TIME!!!! Jk this isn’t about men back to the divas.

As Bob tries to pitch the film to studio heads, the culture of the industry becomes very clear and made me wanna barf because of how resonant it still is today. One white man pitches that younger women should be starring in it, another white man wants to make the role of the “Sexy Neighbor Girl” way more prominent, and a last white man, Jack Warner (played by king Stanley Tucci), immediately responds by asking Bob if he’d want to have sex with the women. Sexism is FUN!!!!! Now, Bob is starting to pitch it more earnestly, and seems to a little tiny bit be realizing how messed up the studio system is in regard to women, especially the older ones. Let’s note here that he only realizes it when it comes to directly effect him and his career, but WHATEVER. Jack is reluctant to do anything, citing the last time he’d worked with these ladies as pretty much disastrous. He goes on a small tirade about how he created them and they turned on him. But Bob ignores his annoying self-aggrandizement and pre-empts Jack by telling him that he’s going to agree to make it because his movies have been bombing. Bob tells him that with his stars and the benefit of the novelty of a genre (horror), it’ll be a hit. Jack does nothing though and so Bob tells him that he’ll pay Jack first so obviously he then agrees right away. BOOOOO!

Soon after, Bette and Joan are at a small press event where they’ll be photographed together signing contracts. As they go to do so, Joan notices on Bette’s contract that she’s getting paid a higher rate, and so Joan storms out. She shouts at Bob that it was her idea in the first place, and she also can’t help but slip in a rant about how all the men in her life have lied to and cheated her so I guess she’s a queen. She claims to be afraid, and worries that she can’t trust him….so she asks for $1,500 a week and then sashays away SO I KNOW SHE’S A QUEEN.

We’re back to the doc-style interviews now, and Kathy Bates as Joan Blondell recounts that the only women who were getting hired in the 50’s had “big chests and small brains.” She also discusses the women’s personal lives: Joan’s ex (now dead) was the CEO of Pepsi, so Joan could keep working without worrying about the money. Bette, on the other hand, wanted to keep working but instead decided to try her hand at being a wife and mother. In this role, as Blondell puts it, she was “miscast.”

Back in the “present” day, Bette’s husband comes over and they discuss their marriage. Bette claims that during that time, he had wanted her to greet him with a martini and starch his shirts, but says that the truth is, she’s the one who needed a wife. And I know she’s nutso, but I volunteer as tribute. He responds by giving her divorce papers but he stays over for the night anyway so that’s pretty exciting and unhealthy. Here, Joan Blondell states that Bette had always picked the professional over the private.

Meanwhile, Joan Crawford is at home complaining to her newest beau about Bette, and he casually asks why they can’t just get along, which is RUDE because then HOW WOULD WE HAVE THIS SHOW?!? Joan says she’s tried, but Bette’s resisted her advances. Joan also reveals that Bette had tried to break up one of her marriages, but that is an as-yet unsubstantiated assertion. The man (should I learn his name? Unclear.) just keeps on thinkin’ they should be friends and Joan tells him that it’s not about friendship, it’s about respect. She laments that respect is something she’s never gotten and tells him that she’s never been taken seriously. She recounts that after she got her Oscar, only men gave her attention and respect, but she never even wanted respect from men in the first place. It was the women who never gave her either, and that’s what she’s always longed for. She admits that she admires Bette’s talent and growls in that Jessica Lange-y way of hers, “I will have her respect- even if I have to kill both of us to get it.”