Feud Bette and Joan

Feud: Bette and Joan S01E07 “Abandoned!”

Director: Helen Hunt
Starring: Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Alfred Molina
Writer: Jaffe Cohen & Michael Zam

A review by Michael Walls-Kelly

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In the penultimate episode of the series, Abandoned!, Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) finally accomplishes what she’s subconsciously been doing for the entire series. She destroys herself.

Continuing where the previous episode left off, Abandoned! shows Joan feeling inadequate and on the defensive from Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) whose role as Associate Producer on Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte gives her a power of Joan that she’s more than willing to exercise. Joan isn’t incorrect in feeling attacked either. Bette’s decisions for the picture may be for the sake of the art, but she’s absolutely taking pleasure in the ones that end up hurting Joan.

Joan’s treatment by Bette and Bob Aldrich (Alfred Molina) on the set — both real and imagined — lead to her stalling the production with a hospital stay due to a “rare form of pneumonia”. She’s putting her foot down. As Bette puts it, she’s protesting. Joan has a showdown with Bob, a tense sit-down with studio lawyers and a final plea from Bob’s assistant, Pauline (Alison Wright), but she decides to stay the course and bring the entire picture down.

But it doesn’t work.

The studio sues her for breach of contract and they recast her role with Olivia de Havilland (Catherine Zeta Jones), essentially ending her career. Joan is wracked with grief and a violent outburst causes Mamacita (Jackie Hoffman), Joan’s last true friend and ally, to leave her. At the end she’s alone, literally cut off from the outside world, a victim to the cruelty of the business and her own insecurities.

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The major ideological differences between our two stars, and the basis for their insecurities, are laid out early on. Joan believes she never had the talent and Bette believes — thanks to that weasel, Jack Warner — that she never had sex appeal. Both of them had to work hard to make up for these perceived deficiencies which were only really true in their own minds, planted there by a system and a society designed to keep women like Bette and Joan in constant competition.

There’s a show-stopper of a scene partway through Abandoned! where a fed-up Joan confronts Bette at her hotel room. Lange and Sarandon have obviously been shoo-ins for Emmy nominations for their work since the first episode, but this argument scene may have clinched the win for Lange. The two stars argue about their rivalry and lay some absolute body-blows on each other. They’re both proud of what makes them “better” than the other, but in a truly heartbreaking moment, they admit to each other that it was never enough being the most beautiful woman or the most talented woman.

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Helen Hunt deserves credit for her direction in the episode, specifically in that confrontation scene, and I hope she does more episodic directing like Jodie Foster has. There’s an insight a woman like Hunt brings to these stories. She’s someone who is a talented television and movie star that disappeared from the public eye due to what I can only imagine is a lack of roles.. Lange and Sarandon (and Zeta Jones and Kathy Bates) know all about this too and their involvement gives a real meaning to the show as a whole.

Abandoned! shows Joan at the lowest point we’ve seen her. She’s in almost the exact opposition position from the first episode. Instead of being proactive and trying to bring Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? to life she’s playing games to try to get her film shut down. It’s a sad way to leave her. And even though Bette ends the episode with some amount of triumph — the picture moving forward, Oscar-winner and friend Olivia de Havilland on board, taking a “fuck you” photo with a Coke machine — I hope we don’t see her go through the same sort of downfall as Joan in the finale.

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Keep watching! There’s only one episode left, so why quit now? Abandoned! is very much the downfall of Joan Crawford and I have no idea what’s in store for the finale, but I’m excited to find out. Whatever happens I’m sure it will be bittersweet and I’m sure Lange and Sarandon will knock it out of the park. Feud: Bette and Joan is very close to cementing itself as my favourite Ryan Murphy Anthology Series season.

Michael Walls-Kelly

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