Last night’s Feud: Bette and Joan, “And the Winner is … ,” may have focused on the infamous 1963 Oscars, but they should really be thinking about the Emmy Awards. This was Ryan Murphy and company at their most refined, and the result was a gut punch of an episode that brought out the best in everyone involved.
Even if you already know the story of what went down on that fateful night, Feud crafted a stirring journey culminating in the Hollywood atomic bomb that created a point of no return between Davis and Crawford. It’s the kind of plot development so wildly insane that, had it not been well-documented history, I might’ve blamed Murphy for being typically over-indulgent. Instead, it’s the perfect subject for him to really sink his teeth into.
As Joan’s guttural scream indicated last week, Bette Davis received her Best Actress nomination, and Joan was shutout of the Oscar noms. That doesn’t mean she’s skipping the ceremony. Not by a longshot.
First, she marches down to the Academy to, ahem, “offer” (read: demand they use) her services as a presenter, but only for Best Picture or Best Director. She also issues her list of requirements, including hair, makeup, a driver and a chauffeur. You know, just the basics. They don’t usually provide all that for presenters, but Joan is truly done taking no for an answer now.
Beyoncé says “the best revenge is your paper,” but Joan and Hedda have something more dubious in mind. They conspire to call Academy members to sway the vote away from Bette.
But denying Davis the prize both women so desperately wanted isn’t nearly enough, they want to humiliate her.
That’s where things get truly wild. Hedda suggests Joan convinces the other nominated actresses to allow her to accept the award on their behalf. That way, not only will Davis be devastated, she’ll get to watch Joan rub salt all in the wounds.
It’s desperate and despicable, but, at the same time, the show doesn’t portray Crawford strictly as a diabolical villainess. Otherwise, why would the other nominees go along with it? It’s Joan’s broken spirit that’s driven her to this savagery, and their collusion is less about spiting Davis than it is standing strong against Hollywood’s treatment of Joan.
Joan phones Geraldine Page (nominated for her role in Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth) at home. It’s not like she was expecting a call from Joan effin’ Crawford, so she’s obviously taken aback. Joan expertly starts by building up all the preparations that go into getting Oscars-ready: the jewels, the dress, etc. Then she starts to lay the salespitch on thick: When she couldn’t receive her award, they delivered to her personally and it was much more “intimate.”
Geraldine is no fool. Joan’s aching can be felt across the country through the phone line, and Gerry agrees to let Joan accept if she wins. Sarah Paulson, making almost too short of an appearance, sells the scene expertly, as usual. She masterfully takes Page from shock to shook to sold in her conversation with Joan.
Crawford takes a much more hands-on approach to recruiting Anne Bancroft into the scheme. Joan pops over to New York where Bancroft is performing and surprises the star backstage. Anne doesn’t need to be a Miracle Worker to uncover what Joan’s up to, and she outright offers Crawford the chance to accept her award if she wins. Again, it feels so much less about Bette, and more about a younger generation wanting to support and encourage women in a way that just wasn’t possible with older actress pitted against one another by the studios, press and public. But, sometimes the most dastardly deeds begin with the noblest of intentions.
We spend much more time trailing Joan’s preparations for the big night, but Davis isn’t exactly sitting on her hands. She rings Olivia de Havilland (Catherine Zeta-Jones, finally playing a more relevant part in Feud than those silly documentary interviews peppered in) and invites her to the ceremony. Olivia is no stranger to a good feud. The papers savored every cold shoulder and bitchy comment between her and her younger sister Joan Fontaine. Arriving with a woman of Olivia’s stature illustrates Bette isn’t the bitch she’s made out to be, and she’s going to need all the support she can get.
Davis is already nervous about the night. She could potentially make history as the first woman to win three Academy Awards, but, more importantly, a win would signal that she’s still a force to reckoned with in Hollywood. She looks over her two previous statues and explains to Olivia that one has its gold rubbed off from too much cuddling. For all Bette’s grandstanding about how its about the work, not the accolades, it’s obvious this recognition is still important to her.
On the big day, Joan hires a glam squad that would make Erika Jayne jealous. They deck her out in all silver — silver gown, silver jewels and a fabulous silver-dusted coif. Even if she wasn’t presenting, hell, even if she didn’t take the stage, she’d steal the show. As she gets ready to depart, her friend (and gay director) George Cukor attempts to talk Joan out of her plan. He knows the immediate gratification of sticking it to Davis won’t be worth the backlash, but Joan has hit rock bottom and there’s no turning back.
She arrives at the ceremony in a whirlwind. Her people commandeer the green room and set up a full cocktail party. It’s impossible to avoid. When Bette discovers them, just as Joan had hoped, they share an epic staredown before Joan is beckoned to the stage to present the award for Best Director. We follow her as she escorts the winner backstage via a gorgeous single-take tour from one side of the stage to the other where Bette is waiting for her category to be called.
Joan positions herself behind her, ready to pounce. She puffs on a cigarette as Davis stares dead ahead. The winner is announced, and it’s … Anne Bancroft!
Bette already has the wind knocked out of her, but then Joan comes from behind to snag the trophy, and you can almost see Bette’s face crumble. It’s impossible not to feel the second-hand heartache when Susan Sarandon doubles over.
Crawford, meanwhile, is drinking it all in. She accepts the statue, sure, but she also poses with all the winners and luxuriates in the moment like she’s a real winner. She even takes the trophy home, places on the bedside beside her own and, for a moment, she’s got two Oscars — just like Bette.
As she sits on her bed, she hangs her head, because even in victory, she knows she’s still defeated.
“Define snub.” — Bette Davis responding to reporters’ questions about Joan not getting an Oscars nod
“You can watch from the comfort of your New York one-bedroom.” — Joan to Geraldine Page
“She needs it .. and, besides, Hollywood should be forced to look at what they’ve done to her.” — Geraldine Page on Joan Crawford accepting her award
“I just had to pop back and tell you what an astonishing performance you gave tonight, and to a half empty house, that really is dedication.” — Joan to Anne Bancroft
“Do not speak, just work.” — Mamacita to Joan’s glam squad
“These are not both for me. This one is mine, and this one is to throw in Crawford’s face the next time I see her.” — Bette Davis double-fisting after her Oscars loss
Round 5 goes to: Joan Crawford. It’s too early to tell who wins the war, but this battle was surely a squashmatch. There’s no denying her quest to destroy Davis was wildly successful, but at what cost?
What did you think of last night’s Feud?