Sunday’s episode of “Feud” (Mar. 26) saw the rise and fall of Joan (Jessica Lange) and Bette’s (Susan Sarandon) wildest dreams: Despite having to battle critics, their own insecurities, and especially each other at every turn, their movie is a hit — and for the briefest of moments they can exhale, smile, and raise a glass to their triumph.
But the drinks go fast in Hollywood, and soon it’s only the dull reality of the era filling their highballs: regardless of a movie’s success, there’s an age limit for women in Hollywood.
Before the picture’s release in over 400 theaters nationwide, we find both Joan and Bette meeting with their agents to talk about what projects are next: Joan sits at the end of a long table with a gaggle of suits at the other end; Bette across the desk of an “almost 23!” year-old agent’s assistant. Both have the same answer: offers just aren’t coming in. Joan responds with a booming “F*ck You. You’re fired”; Bette responds by taking out the now infamous ad in Variety:
Even after the movie is released and the two women are the talk of the town again (the scene of Joan covertly going to the test screening and seeing the audience respond positively was actually quite heartwarming, knowing how deeply she needed that boost of confidence), neither one of them can get any good projects off the ground. Bette, at least, is enjoying the moment while it lasts — taking guest roles in TV shows and doing the talk show circuit to promote the movie — while all Joan can seem to muster is the energy to fill her glass.
“Joan did what actresses have done since Euripides,” says Joan Blondell (Kathy Bates) in the documentary flash forward. “She started hittin’ the bottle.”
Now consumed by jealousy over Bette’s positive reviews, seeing her everywhere promoting the movie, Joan has taken to not leaving the house, surrounding herself with newspapers and vodka bottles. She refuses to do any promotion for the film and accuses Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) of favoring Bette in his Oscar campaigning.
“I need you to support me just as much as you support her,” she pleads to Jack when he comes to visit her. Jack responds by reminding her that regardless of who gets them, every nomination is another million dollars for the movie, of which she gets a cut.
The final blow comes as nominations are Oscar announced: Joan, having drunk herself to sleep, wakes up to the sound of the phone next to her bed off the hook. Confused, she stumbles down the hall, still hearing the dial tone, and slowly realizes that every phone in the house is off the hook. Mamasita (Jackie Hoffman) finds her in the living room swirling in hungover bewilderment. Chiding Mamasita for not waking her at 5:30 a.m., Joan reminds her that they’re announcing the Oscar nominations today.
“Miss Joan, you should sit down,” Mamasita says gently.
The last thing we hear as the camera pans on an outside shot of Joan’s house and fades to credits is the moanful wail of Joan Crawford, learning that Bette Davis has been nominated for Best Actress and she has not.
But underneath the swirling success and disappointment of our two stars, a new friendship quietly emerged between Mamasita and Pauline (Alison Wright), right-hand woman to Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina). Having waited in the wings, loyally supporting the people who employ them, this episode saw them both tiptoe their way into the spotlight, trying it on for size.
Pauline, having been in the business long enough to know what’s what — and bigger ambitions in life than just “serving pot roasts” to her family — has written herself a script to direct. The problem is, she can’t get anyone to take a chance on her. Enlisting Mamasita’s help to try and get Joan on board, she’s politely turned down by the star, who says in essence that while yes, she is desperate for a role… She’s still not that desperate.
Later, after having her hopes quietly lifted by Aldrich who agrees to read over her script and potentially produce the project, Pauline again is grounded when she sees that he’s not only not read it, but has used it for scratch paper to taking notes from Frank Sinatra on his current film, “4 For Texas.”
Both defeated and deflated, Mamasita takes Pauline to a sugar-filled lunch (she’s got to get it where she can!), and dryly explains that Pauline is on the right track. Taking copied pages from library reference books out of her purse, she shows Pauline her research: In as little as 10 years, women viewers will be in the majority in the U.S. by 2-1, which means movie studios will have no choice but to start making pictures geared towards women. And why shouldn’t women be more involved in making those pictures?
It’s a valid question — and one we’re still looking for an answer to today.
“Feud” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.