Bette is on track to win a record-breaking third Best Actress Oscar. Joan and Hedda launch a clandestine campaign against her.
Joan Crawford did such an outlandish, inexplainable thing at the 1963 Academy Awards. She somehow managed to walk away with the trophy for Best Actress despite not being nominated in the category. She did so to take away a historic win for Bette Davis. It was the breaking point in their feud. After this event, there was no going back for them. They weren't exactly friends before the Oscars. The series has done a strong job in depicting how they were constantly pitted against each other because of the studio system. But after what Joan did, there was zero potential of the two of them ever being friends. It is certainly hard to believe that Joan actually did this. It would seem to defy any kind of rational explanation. And yet, "And the Winner is... (The Oscars of 1963)" does a remarkable job in lending sympathy and understanding to the main characters. A near impossible task that the creative team, Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon somehow executes effortlessly. This is the best episode yet of this season.
In the very first episode, Olivia de Havilland noted that feuds were about pain. It's pain that defines someone hating another over a long period of time. This series covers a wide array of emotions - from jealousy and envy to joy and hopefulness. This hour gets into the pain of these events. Joan and Bette were both changed as people because of the Oscars in 1963. They both saw this film as their last chances to have a few more years in their careers in Hollywood. They both desperately wanted to work but didn't have the material to continue to be seen as screen legends instead of relics from the 1930s and 40s. Bette was the favorite to win this award as well. She would make history as the first woman to win three Academy Awards. She saw a win as the only thing that would open new doors for her in Hollywood. Joan wanted the same thing. She wanted to be taken seriously as an actress and not just someone who landed in one Oscar-winning movie early in her career.
For Joan, not getting nominated for her work in Baby Jane is heartbreaking. It's a slap to the face for all that she has tried to do. It's devastating to listen to her tell Hedda how much she lobbies and supports the industry. She works overly hard to be a part of the studio system. She has respect for the system she came up in. She looks down on the ways younger actresses do it now. Things have changed and she hasn't accepted it yet. She still wants to be appreciated. She just doesn't understand how the glitz and glamour of Hollywood loves Bette more than her. She believes she's had bigger successes. But more importantly, she's paid her respects. Meanwhile, Bette just collects her nominations and continues to live far away from her community of peers. Hedda agrees with everything that Joan is saying. She too has sacrificed everything in her life to be seen as the moral compass of Hollywood. She's willing to risk it all just to get the truth printed about who in this industry deserves to be respected.
For Bette, she really wants to make history. She wants this honor. She wants it so it can give her a few more working years. She wants it badly. She's riding high because everyone is looking at her as the frontrunner. It's also marvelous to see her have such a strong friendship with Olivia. So much of this show has been about women fighting with each other over petty things. The series has brought new depth to it. But it's also rewarding to see Bette and Olivia so friendly to each other. It shows that the studio system didn't break women down and make them all compete with each other. That was the case with Bette and Joan. They attacked each other because they had such remarkably different views of the world even though they had similar backstories. With Bette and Olivia, they've supported each other throughout their careers. In this moment, Bette wants someone she respects as an actor by her side as she makes history. They are seen as friends while Joan and Hedda appear as partners in crime.
For the younger actresses, all of this isn't as big a deal as it is for Joan and Bette. The legends are the ones battling it out for the prize. The younger nominees come from a different mentality. They come from the stage. The opportunities they've had are different than the ones Joan and Bette had to work for or create. And yet, it's also fascinating to see Geraldine Page and Anne Bancroft allow Joan to accept the award on their behalf. They are able to tell that it means more to her than it does to them. They are not accustomed to the routine of the Oscars. They don't have the same appreciation for the glitz and glamor of Hollywood. Joan lives off of that. She needs validation in her life to feel important and special. Geraldine and Anne give that to her. It's especially notable when Anne makes a point to say that Joan was terrific in Baby Jane as well. It's that moment where Joan really feels human even though she's plotting against her co-star.
All of this is in complete preparation for the actual awards ceremony. It's the event this hour is building to. All of the talk and setup is nice. But the true moments of reward and devastation happen at the ceremony. It's a marvelous sequence to watch from a technical perspective. There is a one-shot sequence that shows Joan traveling through backstage as she goes from presenting Best Director to waiting on the sidelines to accept the Best Actress trophy. It's wonderful to watch as it shows all the nuances of the backstage area from the green room to dressing room to the press area and even the bathroom. It's all included in this journey. But the moment when the winner is announced is absolutely mesmerizing. It's so perfect to see Joan smoking a cigarette right as she walks past Bette to accept this award. The look of devastation and disappointment on Bette's face is phenomenal. Susan Sarandon sells this moment of despair so well. Bette really wanted this and Joan took it away from her. She needed this moment to work. And now, she fears she will never win again. Similarly, Joan did all of this to return home with her second Oscar. She succeeded in that endeavor. The hour ends with her putting the trophy next to her other one. But at the end of the day, this really isn't her Oscar. Plus, it may permanently damage her reputation in Hollywood. And nor will it cure the profound loneliness she feels in this world.
Some more thoughts:
- "And the Winner is... (The Oscars of 1963)" was written by Ryan Murphy and directed by Ryan Murphy.
- It's a bit disappointing that the show doesn't feature Toby Huss as Frank Sinatra again - especially since he was the host of the 1963 Oscars. He was so good in the role last week.
- The montage of Joan getting dressed for the big night is very impressive as well. She wants to look her best while also sending a message. She's wearing silver on a night full of gold. She's making a statement. By the end of the day, her stunt will define Oscars history forever.
- It's great to see Olivia outside of the interview segments that give each episode a bit of structure. Those moments haven't really been necessary for a long time. It's great to see her as an actual part of this story. Even though she lived in Paris, she was still best friends with Bette and wanted to support her on this big night.
- It wouldn't be a Ryan Murphy project if Sarah Paulson didn't pop up somewhere. She's seemingly in everything he does nowadays. It's not as big a role as on his other series. But her Geraldine Page is still terrific. It's largely just her talking on the phone to Joan. But the subtle differences in the conversation are very impressive. Serinda Swan does a great job as Anne Bancroft as well.
- This will be a phenomenal submission episode when it comes to the Emmys for both Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon. It spends a bit more time on Joan as she plots to take the Oscar away from Bette. But the look on Sarandon's face after the loss is some fantastic work. Ryan Murphy should be considered for writing and directing as well because this hour incorporates so many details that add up to such an appreciation for this ceremony.