Feud: Bette and Joan S01E05 “And the Winner Is… (The Oscars of 1963)”
Director: Ryan Murphy
Starring: Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Alfred Molina
Writer: Ryan Murphy
A review by Michael Walls-Kelly
And the Winner Is… (The Oscars of 1963) is not only the most exciting hour Feud has put forth, it’s also easily my favourite so far. What it doesn’t have in thematic depth it more than makes up for with an urgent, propulsive plot, fun performances, a subject matter that speaks directly to me, and a bittersweet denouement that leaves most of the characters unhappy or unfulfilled while leaving me completely satisfied.
It’s Oscar season on Feud. Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) has earned a best actress nomination and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange), much to her obvious chagrin, has not. The cold open of the episode gives us a quick rundown of the competition, black and white newsreel style. Bette is up against Anne Bancroft (Serinda Swan), Geraldine Page (Sarah Paulson), Lee Remick (Taylor Coffman) and Katherine Hepburn (hilariously represented by a few ‘Keep Out’ signs on her front gate).
Of course, that’s the competition Bette knew she was up against. Her real competition was Joan and Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis) working from behind the scenes.
It’s perversely exciting to watch their back alley machinations to bring down Bette Davis, the presumed front-runner. Even though Bette doesn’t deserve her co-star going behind her back to ruin her chances (also, I might add, taking money out of her own pocket by dampening the buzz on Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) there’s just something inherently fun about watching Joan and Hedda down some shots and work their contacts to run down Bette’s chances while promoting Anne Bancroft and Geraldine Page.
Prior to last episode’s hilarious horror movie finale, I already knew that Bette was nominated for Baby Jane and Joan wasn’t. Luckily, for the suspense and turns of the episode, I had no idea the outcome of the Best Actress race at the 35th Academy Awards. Which is why I audibly gasped when Joan wasn’t happy just making sure Bette lost. She wanted to win it still.
Two of the best scenes of the episode — and the series so far — involve Joan making sure she can accept in lieu of two of the nominees. First she speaks with Geraldine Page over the phone. The scene itself is very well-written, there’s a surface obviousness to what Joan is getting at when she tries to convince Geraldine to skip the ceremony and have her accept instead. There’s also a lot going on under the surface, played wonderfully by Lange and Paulson. Paulson also gets the line of the episode, giving me chills when she tells her boyfriend she wants Joan to accept for her because “Hollywood should be forced to look at what they’ve done to [Joan]”.
Next Joan visits Anne Bancroft, watching the play she’s in and visiting afterwards. She starts trying to convince Anne to have her accept the Oscar on her behalf, should she win, but Anne is more than willing. It’s an oddly affecting scene. As much as Joan seems in the wrong in this episode, there’s a sweetness to seeing the next generation of actresses, so touched and influenced by Joan’s work, be completely honoured to make Joan happy by having her accept.
The showstopper of And the Winner Is… (The Oscars of 1963) is during the ceremony itself. Joan has donned her silver war paint, she’s set up a base camp in the green room and she’s ready to present the Oscar for Best Director. When she does we’re given an impressive one-take follow shot as she walks David Lean, the director of Lawrence of Arabia, off the stage, around the back and to the press room before making her way to the other side of the stage where Bette is waiting for her category to be called. It’s a fun shot, reminiscent of Martin Scorsese, which makes Joan’s behind the scenes machinations seem even more like a crime. She’s pulling an Ocean’s 11 for one temporary statue.
The category being announced is a truly visceral experience. The words “And the winner is… Anne Bancroft” ring out and we’re shown a wonderful series of images. Bette being physically pained by the news, Joan being pleased as “accepting for Anne Bancroft is Joan Crawford” echoes through the air. She stomps out her cigarette and marches on stage. She’s won.
But the final image of the episode is Joan placing her unearned trophy temporarily beside her previous one. She hangs her head. This isn’t true happiness. She didn’t feel good, not really, and she just wanted Bette to feel bad. Earlier she could barely last a minute talking to the Best Supporting Actress winner, Patty Duke (Paris Verra), without insulting her. She’s been so warped by the Hollywood process that she can only see other actresses as competition. She’s hurt Bette, she’s hurt herself, and even the statue standing next to her own is a temporary shadow.
There were no winners here.
Of course my verdict is to Keep Watching! I’ve greatly enjoyed the season as a whole but And the Winner is… made my opinion skyrocket. It stands alongside the best individual episodes from The People v. O.J. Simpsons: American Crime Story such as “The Race Card” and “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”. This episode even fixed my usual complaint, that the 1978 interview segments are unnecessary and clumsily written. Catherine Zeta Jones as Olivia de Havilland is a fantastic addition to the cast when you actually let her act instead of just delivering blatant explanations of the themes. After the previous episode acting as a sort of reset, this episode came out swinging, delivering a fun, entertaining hour that blasted by and got me extremely excited to see what the final three episodes will have in store for us.