Through his past work on Glee, American Horror Story, and so many other shows, Ryan Murphy showed an incredible ability for premieres. Feud: Bette & Joan episode 1 was further proof of that. This episode was the launching bad for Bette Davis and Joan Crawford working together on the movie What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? — otherwise known as one of the most disastrous experiences possible for the two women.
At first glance, the reaction to this premiere episode was “wow, this happened very quickly,” mostly because by the end of the pilot, the movie was underway. Bette and Joan had signed on for their parts, and prepared to revive their careers with a project like no other. They had moments of tremendous conflict, but also moments of great collaboration. They found ways to coexist, and yet you saw the beginnings of cracks. One of the biggest ones of these came when we saw Joan in particular react to making less money than her costar. She was the one who put the movie together. Therefore, in her mind she should be the one to pull in the most respectable figure. She claimed at first that she wanted parity, but we all know that isn’t true.
Visually, the series is nothing short of a masterpiece. The costumes are top-notch, and through one episode there may not be a better depiction of Old Hollywood and its many charms out there. The same can be said for some of the performances. Jessica Lange is outstanding to the surprise of no one as Joan, and the same goes for Susan Sarandon as Bette. After looking at the title you may assume that this is an equal story, but through one episode it was more the story of Joan. Lange is a longtime Murphy muse, so this shouldn’t come as a shock.
The big takeaway is not so much what happened in the premiere, but more what happened already. This is a show that isn’t interested in a biopic, so it rushed through quickly many of the career highlights — and they are vast. So rarely do you get a project bold enough to feature two people who, in some ways, had already done much of the bulk of their work. This was a chance to get back into prominence, and it made headlines. They just weren’t for the greatest of reasons.
The conflict is brewing, the daggers are being thrown, and the snowball is starting to roll down the hill. This is true-life; we know where it stops, and that it’s not going to be pretty.
Were there weaknesses?
The biggest argument you can make is that the writers could’ve put more of a seminal moment in the pilot to get people talking. This was more of a slow burn, but it was methodical and it got you along the road. We’re invested enough to keep watching; we only hope that everyone else feels the same. This was a top-notch, well-acted, and stunning premiere — it’s fit for Murphy’s catalogue, and it sets the stage for plenty of juicy feuding to come. Grade: A-.
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