The women give their last bows in Feud: Bette and Joan’s heartbreaking and illuminating finale.
The end is here, my fellow Feud-ians, and though it hurts to say goodbye, there is only so much of Jessica Lange growling in a strangely vulnerable dialect and Susan Sarandon pointedly smoking cigarettes to go around. And, unfortunately, we have surely reached our limit.
We start with Pauline entering the documentary zone to talk about the Golden Age of Hollywood, back when she worked for Bob. She admits that after the studio system died down, she had planned to settle for a life of domesticity, but ended up pursuing a career in documentary film. Very happy for her honestly she is our truest hero. She talks to them about how she’d recently encountered Joan at Laguardia, and she was drunk in a wheelchair with both of her ankles broken. She tells us that Joan asked her to come visit her in New York, and sadly says that she’d seemed “tossed away.”
We then see Joan in her New York home, trying her hand at normalcy. She can’t really work an oven, but she sees herself on TV while flipping through the channels and we’re reminded of how magical she once was and immediately it’s all far too sad. She soon receives a puppy in a box and goes about her business, which includes scrubbing her floor with a singular sponge and letting Mamacita back in to start working for her again “on a part time basis.” She seems content, but as always, there’s a heartbreaking twinge of desperation underneath her every move.
Later, Joan is at the dentist, and he immediately asks her when she’s going to reteam up with Bette Davis because this show is nuts. The dentist questions her many, many missing teeth, and Joan casually admits she’d had her back teeth removed in her 20’s so that her cheeks would curve in to give the illusion of cheekbones. Okay. The dentist thinks dentures are the next step, and when she refuses, he tells her she needs to worry about her heath instead of her looks. She tells him, “I’ll stop worrying how I look when they dip me in formaldehyde.”
Joan takes a meeting with an agent, I think, but really he looks like he’s from The Matrix. He gives her the details: she’ll be playing an anthropologist in a movie about the Missing Link. Joan goes overboard immediately and starts talking about the Oscar noms she might receive in playing a scientist, but this movie sounds like total trash in reality. She agrees to do it even though they won’t pay for Mamacita’s travel, which is very rude of them. He then asks her about an offer she’s received to write a women’s self help book, mostly about care and hygiene and beauty and essentially just how she lives. She is down to clown, though..
A bit later, she arrives on the set of the wacky Sasquatch movie. The movie, an independent picture, is already having trouble with professionalism and organization before they’ve started. There’s a guy in a Big Foot mask and, like, a fuzzy vest who will be Joan’s co-star AND her dressing roommate! As you might guess, she is fully not happy, but has to deal because what else is she going to do?
Joan begins the voice recording for what will later become her book. She gives us bizarre but totally on-brand advice — like never to sit on soft chairs because that spreads the hips —while we watch scenes of her shooting this crazy movie with the Missing Link. She’s acting really hard and really well even though it’s a total mess. She struggles with her lines, and the director requests cue card, which flusters her … enough that she whips out her trusty on-set flask. We continue to flash back and forth between the shooting and scenes of her at home, all the while hearing her voiceover. At home, she spits blood into the sink. She doesn’t seem as bothered as she definitely should be.
At a book signing later, that Matrix-looking agent tells Joan she’s lucky this many people even showed up, because her book isn’t selling very well. Some of her fans both get a little too excited to see her, and Joan is slightly humiliated. She walks off in a huff, as is on brand, so really no one should’ve been shocked.
Back at home, Joan looks through the paper and finds unflattering photos of herself. She’s startled by how bad she (thinks she) looks, and Mamacita tells her she was just tired and emotional. Joan cracks, realizing that she’s no longer capable of living under the Hollywood gaze. She calls her agent and tells him she’s done. Pauline, back on the doc, talks about the way Japanese women celebrate their 60th with joy. She asks the producer if his grandmother is still alive; she tells him to give her a call.
Victor Buono is next on the doc. They ask him about Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, and he wonders whether they’ve interviewed Bette yet. They tell him that she’s rescheduled. Victor discloses that Bette became desperate, taking any job and believing that every job would be her last. We see Bette lamenting to Victor that none of her pilots have gotten picked up, and compares her career to Katharine Hepburn’s. She’s livid that Katharine gets to do plays and has the opportunity to turn roles down that Bette doesn’t because she has to support her children.
Years later, Bette sits in a restaurant looking very glam but also like a crazy goth Diane Keaton, and her daughter B.D. joins her. Their rift is still apparent, but Bette largely casually ignores it, as always. B.D. tells her that her grandchildren will no longer be staying with her, as one of them had become traumatized the night before when Bette hit him for throwing a tantrum. B.D. also accuses Bette of being an alcoholic, and promptly leaves her alone at the table.
Bette visits a doctor, looking for a cure for her cough, but also refusing to stop chain smoking. She admits she’s stopped drinking a couple weeks before, cold turkey. She won’t go to rehab per her doctor’s request because she’s very busy with a roast she has to attend. At the roast, there are a ton of Joan Crawford jokes, mostly about her looks. Victor tells the doc crew that Bette felt bad about never standing up for Joan.
He then tells us that, in 1976, when Bette worked with Faye Dunaway, Bette suddenly learned the true meaning of hate. (Feud season 2?!?!) We flash back to Bette on set, monologuing to the director about how much of a mess the production (read: Faye) was. Later that night, Bette admits to Victor that she’s grown soft on Joan, but if anyone knew, it’d cut her talk show appearances in half. Victor tells her that Joan has cancer, and Bette says that that wouldn’t kill Joan. Victor convinces Bette to call her, reminding her of their similarities and highlighting the hardships that Bette’s endured that only Joan can commiserate with. Bette later does call Joan, but can’t bring herself to say anything once she answers.
A year later, in 1977, Joan’s daughter pays her a visit, and brings her grandchildren along. Joan has suddenly seemingly become very soft and fragile, though it’s now clear that maybe she’s been like this the whole time and we just didn’t notice because she’s been trying so hard to be strong and beautiful and it’s heartbreaking and I’m dead inside. Oh, you’re still here?! Anyway, Joan’s daughter asks why she stopped seeing her doctor, and Joan tells her that she doesn’t believe in what Western medicine wants to do to stop her cancer. She has stopped receiving treatment.
Joan then brings up Christina, the Mommie Dearest one, and asks about the book. She has been told it’s hurtful and awful and alleges vile things about her eldest daughter’s upbringing. Joan tries to explain that it was just that she was in the early days of her career, and didn’t have the resources or time to dote on her. But then, she asks Cathy about the grandchildren, wondering if, since she’s adopted, they view her as a real grandmother. Cathy assures her that they know she’d picked them out of all the children in the world, and tells her that she’s been the best mother.
Joan wakes up in the middle of the night to laughter and music and merriment coming from her living room. She goes out to find Hedda and Jack Warner playing cards and drinking at her table. Joan, though kinda messy in real life, makes her way over to the table and is suddenly transformed into her past, beautiful, glamorous self. It’s clear now that this is some sort of dream or vision, but seeing Joan in all her glory was enough to make one single tear spring to my eyeball. Joan, though giddily, talks to them about how they’d always made everything so hard for her.
Bette then appears, and encourages her to be honest. Joan tells them all that she felt she’d always had to be “on,” and she was always vulnerable, which they took advantage of. She admits she’d created the “Joan Crawford” persona for others, and that when she’s all alone, she doesn’t know who she is. Bette tells Jack and Hedda to apologize to Joan. They continue to joke around, and the old Hollywood jabbing and show biz culture feels so inclusive and not at all as ugly as it had seemed and actually quite lovely. Jack tells Joan that all the suffering will be worth it because the audience only remember the good stuff. Hedda reminds her and Bette that they’re legends, and they’ll always be remembered as gilded and wonderful.
Hedda and Jack leave, and just Bette and Joan sit alone at the table. They’ve become comrades, it seems, and they discuss television and art. Joan asks Bette why she’s so happy to see her, and Bette tells her, “Nostalgia.” Bette suggests a game called “Regrets”, where they admit to mistakes or talk about what they wish they’d done. Joan tells Bette she’s sorry she wasn’t more generous. Bette tells Joan she wishes she’d been a friend, and Joan’s smile truly broke my little heart.
Joan says she “often fantasizes about staying up late like two girlfriends,” and calls for Mamacita to bring champagne. Joan suggests they start over, and offers that Bette stay over as her guest. Mamacita arrives, and Joan asks her to bring a drink for Bette. We flash back to reality, and there’s nothing except Joan, alone, in a dark room. Mamacita leads her back to bed, telling her that there’s no one else there. Joan thanks her, and they walk back to her room.
Mamacita, on the documentary couch, tells us that Joan died a week later, and they all made her look beautiful, the way she wanted. She admits that she was saddened by how everyone showed up to say goodbye at her funeral but no one was there when she was alive and really needed them.
Bette Davis is chain-smoking again alone in her home and gets a call from a journalist asking for a comment on Joan’s death. Bette tells her that her mother had always said not to say anything bad about the dead, only good. With that in mind, she gives her response: “Joan Crawford is dead. Good.”
Later, Bette shows up at the group home where her disabled daughter, Margot, lives. She talks to her daughter about an artist she once met, Don, who’d drawn her, and we flashback to Bette sitting for a portrait. She invites him over for dinner while he draws, and he tells her he’s gay, clearly rejecting her. However, she pretends, when she’s recounting to Margot, that she couldn’t get involved with him because of her work. Don shows Bette the picture he’d drawn, telling her it sort of scares him. She takes a look at it and says, “Yup. That’s the old bag.”
Back in the present, she tells Margot that she’s sorry she couldn’t visit more, but that she’d write letters. She admits she’d gotten letters from her own mother, wherein it was revealed that she didn’t think of Bette favorably. Bette laments that she’d thought her mother was her best friend but it turned out she was all alone.
Later, at the 1978 Oscars, Bette catches up with Olivia de Havilland, and Joan Blondell grabs them in time for the “In Memoriam” segment. Joan Crawford’s photo flashes on the screen, and Olivia laments that in 50 years of show business, all she got was a few seconds. Bette tells her that’s all any of them will get. They toast to Joan.
The documentary filmmaker approaches Bette at the Oscars, and she immediately tells him off. She refuses to participate, saying she knows he wants her to give “funny, b—-y one-liners,” but she won’t do it because Joan was a professional. Their paths just happened to cross. Later on the documentary set, a young girl muses that she’d like to know what had happened on Bette and Joan’s very first day on set.
We’re back on Baby Jane, and the two women sit together, talking and laughing and smoking. Joan tells Bette that what she’d like out of this picture, when all is said and done, is to have made a new friend. Bette agrees. They retreat to their separate dressing rooms, and the screen goes black.
We then get cuecards that highlight the major players’ key moments, both those in life and their legacies after death. After reading about Bob Aldrich, Hedda Hopper, Jack Warner, and Joan Crawford’s posthumous Mommie Dearest fiasco, we get back to Bette. We end on Bette’s card, which tells us that her epitaph read, “She did it the hard way.”
And, as I did when I watched it, I got goosebumps just from writing about that final moment. The series, though short-lived and well-contained, spanned decades. Its legacy, as the ladies’ have, will surely live on as a reflection, a time capsule, a warning, and a stunningly beautiful, broken portrait. Bette and Joan, though often remembered for their glamour, are now immortalized as they were: vulnerable, lost, manipulated, brassy, staunch, hard-working, badass, sad, lovely human women who did it the hard way.
But they did it, nonetheless.