Sunday, April 16, 2017

REVIEW: 'Feud: Bette and Joan' - Joan Halts Production of Sweet Charlotte Due to a Mysterious Illness in 'Abandoned!'

FX's Feud: Bette and Joan - Episode 1.07 "Abandoned!"

With production of Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte underway, the feud is intensified when Joan learns of a new producer on the project. In an unguarded moment, Bette reveals her vulnerabilities to Bob.

Jessica Lange's Joan Crawford has seemingly been getting more screen time and attention as the season has gone. It's certainly not a competition between her and Susan Sarandon's Bette Davis. The show has done a phenomenal job in exploring both sides of this feud and what makes each of the women tick. It understands the reasoning behind the actions. It understandings the meaning of all the catty fights. It's shown just how nuanced and complicated this situation actually is. Both of these women are stubborn and narcissistic. They simply have different views of the world and are a little bit envious of the qualities of each other and the careers they've had. But more importantly, Joan is increasingly seeming like the tragic figure of this story. A character destined to end horribly because all of her efforts to keep from being all alone ultimately backfired on her. She desperately craved her youth and fame but ultimately drowned in it because of this feud. It's a tragic ending for a Hollywood legend.

All of this comes to a boil on the set of Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Joan learns that Bette is actually a producer on the film which means she'll always be offering criticism of her work. Joan believes that she's put in the work to make this a compelling character and a captivating performance. She believes her ideas are just as valid as Bob and Bette's. She feels trapped because she is simply the actress in the film. She may have top billing but she ultimately doesn't have control. That's something she desperately craves. She needs to be the center of attention and spirals when she isn't. She needs people to fan over the star-power of Joan Crawford. That's how she was identified early in her career and she doesn't want to give it up just because she has gotten older. She wants to hold onto these ideals that have always worked for her and benefited her career. But now, she can't even enjoy a weighty character to play because she's constantly worried about what Bob and Bette are doing behind her back.

Of course, a lot of Bette's criticism and suggestions are valid. She comes from the approach of wanting to make the work the best possible version of itself. She doesn't want to do anything that will get in the way of the film's success. And yet, she doesn't do a great job at expressing herself in a way that makes everyone happy. She demands control as well. She loves being the center of attention too. Her fame and career have cost her her family just like it has for Joan. Again, they are very similar people who were constantly pitted against each other because of the institutional system that is Hollywood. Despite all of that, Bette is still craving respect for her opinions and talent because she still holds onto the thing Jack Warner said the first time he saw her. Her self-esteem was crushed at a young age because she wasn't as beautiful as Joan Crawford. She was envious of that and has worked as hard as she could to compensate for that fact. She does so in order to prove her worth. It just ultimately costs her too much. She ends up all alone as well. She's willing to have her underage daughter marry a man simply because it might allow her to produce an elaborate wedding. Her decisions are all made for selfish reasons as well but the show understands the emotion and reasoning behind them too.

It's powerful to watch when Joan and Bette finally clash in an epic way on the set. So much tension has been boiling between them for a long time. Joan's stunt at the Oscars ruined any chance of the two ever being friendly to one another. They are filled with hatred and pain because of the other. They are envious as well. It's so nasty for Joan to say Bette tries to make a point by making herself uglier on every movie she's in. That hits a raw nerve for her because she's jealous of Joan's looks and the doors they opened for her. Similarly, Joan is jealous of the talent that Bette is always being praised for. She craves that admiration as well. Of course, it's also significant that the two never have enough of what defines them as actresses. Joan has the beauty and sex appeal. But it is never enough for her. Bette has the talent and respect. But it is never enough for her. It's a vicious dynamic that comes out in this big fight which forces them on their respective paths for the rest of the episode.

Joan becomes so vindictive throughout this hour. In the beginning, she wanted to do the work to make Sweet Charlotte a success just like Baby Jane was. She was willing to do the work despite the crew having seemingly turned against her. She felt so isolated by Bob and Bette that she was willing to hold production up just so it would ruin both of their careers. She was willing to destroy them by faking an illness. She was stuck in a hospital for a month. She wouldn't complete a full day of filming. She wanted to drive the cost of the production up so much that 20th Century Fox would ultimately just pull the plug on it. She wanted to hurt Bette and Bob in a way that would actually affect them. Bob wants to avoid returning to television while Bette wants to keep her career relevant. They're counting on this film to do that. Joan knows that and that's why she is able to manipulate the situation like this. Everyone is aware that she's faking the illness. She gets sued for failing to comply with her contract. And yet, that doesn't seem to deter her at all.

That's what makes it so devastating when Joan learns that she has been replaced by Olivia de Havilland in the film. She felt so confident that all of this would ultimately work out for her just like the Oscars stunt did. Instead, it has taken everything away from her. It's the death of her career. She will go down as this destructive personality who tried to destroy the careers of others. The system is large enough that one woman's downfall couldn't destroy all of it. Production is able to move forward with Olivia. Bette and Bob are incredibly happy about it. Meanwhile, Joan is beside herself in the hospital room. And now, she doesn't even have Mamacita to help her through this process. This season has shown just how afraid she is to be alone and forgotten in this world. That ultimately came true because of her own actions. She brought this upon herself because she was too proud to just cave in and finish production of this movie. All of her destructive qualities have finally come back to hurt her. It's a chilling final image to see her all alone in the hospital room unable to rely on anyone for support.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Abandoned!" was written by Jaffe Cohen & Michael Zam and directed by Helen Hunt.
  • The documentary interviews are once again very brief in this episode. Olivia doesn't really care about the role she played in the end of Joan's career while Joan Blondell tries to use a metaphor to better articulate what Crawford was going through in this moment in time.
  • It's nice to see that Bette and Victor are still friends. And yet, they show different appreciations for the films of Joan's career. He still has a ton of respect and admiration for them while she is letting her personal feelings towards Joan cloud her judgment.
  • It's absolutely hilarious that Joan goes to get the wheelchair before answering the door of her house. It shows just how far she is willing to go to maintain this ruse. Of course, it ultimately doesn't mean or change anything. She's still being sued by the studio for failing to show up for work.
  • Hedda isn't actually seen in this episode but her article about the difficult production of Sweet Charlotte is very important. It doesn't have flattering things to say about either Joan or Bette. Joan tries telling the fantasy of her side of the story while Bette has very little concern for it.
  • Bette is passing on her views of the world to her daughter. She believes the first wedding is always the most memorable. She believes that because she's been married so many times and doesn't think things will last between B.D. and Jeremy. And yet, it's important to note that the two of them are still together to this day.
  • This feels like the last we'll see of Jackie Hoffman and Alison Wright as Mamacita and Pauline this season. Both have some terrific final moments as well. Pauline chastises Joan for her behavior and decides to get out of town before she becomes just as narcissistic. Meanwhile, Mamacita sticks to her promise to leave should Joan ever throw something at her again - which she ultimately does out of anger.