We said that last week’s Feud: Bette & Joan episode about the Academy Awards may have been the best yet for the FX anthology series. Now, we may be finding ourselves having to change our tune yet again in the wake of the latest bit of magic thrown on the screen tonight.
“Hagsploitation” is a ridiculous title, but it may be the ideal way to describe the desecration of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s careers that goes on within this episode. They are used and thrown around for cheap bucks, and they find themselves in a position yet again where their conflict is the driving force of a movie studio.
It is ultimately rather hard to fault either party for the decision that they made to work together once more, largely due to the fact that their careers were sputtering. Joan was forced to wander the country waving an ax in order to promote “Straight-Jacket,” while Bette was relegated to (god forbid) television. The prospect of working with Robert Aldrich once more and getting a great deal of money in return was too good to pass up.
This movie project eventually becomes “Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” but we don’t want to dive too far into the specifics about what’s coming so much as living in the now. Bette and Joan offer up a truce entering the picture, knowing that they are pawns and that the studio would love nothing more to exploit them. These two stayed civil for about thirty seconds, and then their egos got in the way much to the surprise of no one. They started the fight, and then Joan, upon arriving to the location in Baton Rouge, started to get the sense that something was off. She didn’t have a car waiting for her, nor did she have a hotel room. Nonetheless, we’ll give Joan credit for not losing her cool given that the old Joan would have.
As we saw in the episode, though, this was a woman more grounded because of her declining finances and the eventual death of her brother. Her Pepsi plays were more desperate, and she realized that she had no other option but to work with Davis once more if she wanted to pertain an essence of relevance. Jessica Lange has never been better on television — sure, she was great on American Horror Story, but Feud brings her to another level with some of the best material she’s ever had, whether it be in television or cinema. Susan Sarandon is also fantastic, but our perception of the series is more of Joan’s story.
If we have one prevailing critique of the series, it is that the writers feel like the story of Robert is far more important than we do. We know he was an important figure, but his is not the story that is unique or fascinating. This is a story of a decline, and of fear of a life without fame. He was never the start that could experience that.
In the end, Feud: Bette & Joan remains fine art despite this slight criticism. With “Hagsploitation,” we’ve never felt more sorry for Joan Crawford, or more compelled to look at her career outside of the show. Ryan Murphy is making us care deeply about a subject that didn’t have our interest at all beforehand. All of the credit has to go to him. Grade: A.
Feel free to sound off with your thoughts on this review in the comments!
Meanwhile, head over here for some further news, including a preview for what lies ahead on Feud: Bette 7 Joan episode 7.