Feud, episodes 7 and 8, review: a devastating finale filled with hurt feelings and bruised egos
There’s a line in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? – the 1962 film that united the famously clashing Joan Crawford and Bette Davis – that reverberates through Feud’s eight episodes. “You mean all this time,” Jane says to her sister Blanche as she lays dying, “we could have been friends?” Feud’s central, heart-wrenching thesis is that Crawford and Davis could have been too – if only old Hollywood hadn’t so badly damaged them.
Feud’s final two instalments, which moved beyond Baby Jane and its bittersweet success, were perhaps its most devastating. In episode seven, the pair (played by the incomparable Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon respectively) attempted to work together on another picture, Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte. But lightning doesn’t strike twice, and the collaboration fell apart in an explosion of hurt feelings and bruised egos.
Retreating to her trailer in a rage over cut lines, Crawford recalled her early days performing at night clubs to earn a living. “I’d come home after a gig with scotch on my dress,” she said, vibrating with disconsolate rage, “and I’ll always have that stain on me, and I’ll always have to prove them wrong.” Davis’s catty one-liners – once flung out as part of a mutual sparring – now just stung, and the episode gracefully navigated this change of tone.
The final episode covered decades of ground in a single hour, to varying success. Crawford, five years after the Sweet Charlotte debacle, ate TV dinners, her teeth badly infected, her movie offers practically non-existent. She accepted a role in a low-budget film called Trog, which was universally panned, and wrote a lifestyle book nobody bought. Davis, meanwhile, made eight failed TV pilots and fell out with her daughter after hitting her own grandson. It was a bleak state of affairs.
Which is perhaps why the show felt the need to inject some illusory catharsis. In a scene played out in the unravelling mind of a dying Joan Crawford, the pair finally offered each other a heartfelt apology. In real life, they did nothing of the sort, and it seems a shame Feud didn’t have the nerve to end things as they actually happened. Still, it was powerful stuff. “The expression is not unite and conquer,” laughed Stanley Tucci’s ruthless film executive Jack Warner, also a spectre of Crawford’s imagination. “No but why?” she shot back, “Why did I need to be conquered?”
In a recent interview, Jessica Chastain described the media’s attempts to create a rift between her and Jennifer Lawrence. “She came up to me and said, ‘I hear we’re in a feud’,” Chastain recalled, “and I had this moment where I was like, ‘Oh I get it. This is what the media does. You try to divide and conquer women.’ At that moment I was like, ‘Well, I’m not going to be a part of that.’” What a pity it is, Feud muses – to shattering effect – that two of 20th-century Hollywood’s brightest stars were never able to say the same.