Hell hath no fury like a fading movie star who’s been snubbed by the Oscars, and in “And the Winner Is… (The Oscars of 1963)” we see Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) on the warpath to redemption. Not satisfied to simply sit back and promote her co-star Bette (Susan Sarandon) for the good of the picture, Joan is out for blood… And any bit of the spotlight she can wrangle.
We have seen a couple of different Joans throughout this series so far, but this may be the one we like best. When Joan is left idle, she tends to crumble under the weight of her own demons — like she’d rather just melt into her own cocktail glass rather than suffer the indignities of the living. But when she has a mission (usually in righteous pursuit of either self-preservation or revenge) the world had better step aside. This is when she comes alive, and demonstrates a power and cunning that is unparalleled.
With the help of her sidekick Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis), Joan sets an ingenious plan into motion: To be more present at the Oscar ceremony than even the gold statues themselves. Her multi-pronged approach includes presenting the award for Best Director, charming her way into accepting the award on behalf of two of the other nominees (Geraldine Page, who she actually convinces not to show up; and Anne Bancroft, busy with a play in New York), and hosting her own cocktail reception IN THE GREEN ROOM BACKSTAGE at the actual ceremony.
Dressed head-to-toe in silver to contrast the evenings main color of gold (Edith Head’s idea) Joan’s point is clear: Screw you, Hollywood –she ain’t goin’ anywhere.
And whether intentional or just a happy outcome, the greatest effect of all of this in on poor Bette Davis, who was just trying to hold onto her own bit of the limelight, and her sanity. Watching Joan swirl around the auditorium like a glittering orb (or an actual nominee) while she was trying to not focus on how much she wanted (or needed) this win is like watching a dog growling at a cat who’s stolen its bed: Snarl all it wants, that cat isn’t moving — so the dog might as well curl up somewhere else.
The climax of the episode comes, of course, just as the award for Best Actress is called. Waiting in the wings are our two ladies, each poised to leap out on stage as soon as they hear the right name… And in that crushing moment Anne Bancroft is called as the winner, time stops for Bette, for just a moment. Suddenly, taking that next breath becomes a forced function as she tries to make sense of the physical space around her. And when she finally does, at the center of her focus is a sparkling Joan, gliding by to take the podium.
But herein lies the real-world rub: Come actual awards season back in our reality, who are we going to root for for Best Actress — because we know they’re both going to get noms, right? Sarandon and Lange have given such layers to each of these women that it’s hard to tell who’s done it better. Joan Crawford may be the flashier role, and Lange has done so much with it — but Sarandon as Bette has consistently delivered a nuanced, quietly beautiful performance as the brassy but tender Davis.
Maybe Anne Bancroft said it best, chatting with Joan in her Broadway dressing room: “[She] may have had the flashier role, but you made that movie work.” In this case, the bravura performance from Lange alone might not ring quite so true.
We know that there’s still more to this story, and three episodes remain in the anthology’s season. But in the context of the story to date — the struggle to find the movie and get it going, the struggles on set, the fear of a bomb, and redemption of a hit — this episode feels in many ways like a finale.
Whatever will our stars do next?
“Feud” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.