FEUD finally hits the right level of vindictive manipulation in “Abandoned!” allowing both Crawford and Davis to own their personal problems while underscoring the true basis of their hatred. The episode emphasizes the issues of the characters themselves, rather than trying to make a misguided point about misogyny, and the story stands up better with that more personal conflict at the core.
For the first time in this series, Joan and Bette got to not only air their grievances with each other but they got to do it to each other which was lovely. Their confrontation was slightly hackneyed, but it was so much better than anything else this show has let them do. Crawford throwing a tantrum in her trailer about how no one ever takes her seriously just played as petulant and obnoxious. On the flip side, Davis lamenting to Aldritch that she had to fight her way through on talent because everyone thought she was ugly was heartbreaking. Perhaps I’m just personally less inclined to feel sorry for Joan frickin’ Crawford but I think they just are still not writing her with hard enough edges. Give me a vicious character with rock-solid motivation and I don’t even love to hate them—I just out and out love them. Joan is way too soft and fragile in this series so when she starts freaking out it feels less like something leaking through cracks in her facade and more like she’s just whining about everything.
That both Bette and Joan got to express to each other what they resented in the other is something that this series needed—particularly because up to this point the show has presented their feud as rooted exclusively in how men view them. They didn’t have any feelings of their own, only the opinions of others. It could have been more nuanced but I’m loathe to complain about the scene because I’m so grateful that it exists at all. I felt like this episode also did a decent job of portraying how Crawford and Davis feel persecuted by each other even though they’re absolutely not. Bette being rude at her own party about Joan and Joan left out in the middle of nowhere in her trailer were both strange moments, tonally, but they worked because they demonstrated the level of cruelty they believe the other is capable of.
The part of this episode that I was terrified they were going to muck up completely was Joan’s behavior regarding Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte. The way Feud has treated her to this point I was convinced that they were going to make it seem like Crawford was actually persecuted to the point of actual illness. Instead, they demonstrated well not only that she was faking being sick to hold up production but that her strategy backfired on her. She manipulated her way right out of a role. Watching her orchestrate her own downfall was delightful, especially after putting up with her hamming around for the entire series while lamenting her lot in life. Crawford getting recast was like a spoiled child getting their comeuppance, and I already knew it was coming. The photo shoot on the Coca-Cola chest was a doubly satisfying nail in that coffin. To be honest, I can’t gauge the overall tone of this show at all, though. It spent so long focusing on Joan and her machinations that it positioned her as a hero to Bette Davis’ villain. The problem with that is that Davis is written better, is more compelling, and Sarandon is playing her more effectively yet they’ve given her less screentime. There shouldn’t even be heroes and villains in this—they should all just be crazy catty divas. That makes Joan’s fall from grace play a bit strangely considering the previous episodes, though it’s no less satisfying.
The most satisfying thing of all was Mamacita walking out on Joan. Mamacita is far and away the best part of this show. It’s almost unfathomable how she put up with Crawford’s nonsense for so many years. Seriously, I’d much rather watch a show following her than whatever this mess is. Mamacita puts up with a lot, but she gave Joan an ultimatum and she followed through on it. That’s more than anyone else has done so far. That one single moment where she walks away is what made this entire episode worthwhile.
I’m convinced now more than ever that the 1970s “interviews” with Joan Blondell and Olivia De Havilland are creatively bankrupt laziness at its height. They aren’t even used as a part of the structure in this particular episode, they’re just crammed into moments when the show wants to mansplain feelings to the audience. They add absolutely nothing narratively to any episode that they’re in and are exclusively a way to give us infodumps about the setting or people’s internal feelings without doing the hard work of actually writing those things. The interview snippets are boring and annoying and I roll my eyes every single time they cut to one. Are they trying to be post-modern and cute? If they are, the scattershot messy way that they keep cramming those segments into the story gives the impression not of intentionality but of desperate flailing.
This is utterly random but important to me: congrats to the man playing Joseph Cotten for being the only one to really embody the person they’re playing at all. Joseph Cotten is one of my beloved yet largely obscure old Hollywood figures so that is an extremely dangerous person to just chuck into the background. This guy still feels like a knock-off but way less than the others—likely because he is only in this to fulfill his role in the film they’re making. There’s very little opportunity to screw him up. If you’re into super-weird love stories and want a little Joseph Cotten go forth and find yourself Portrait of Jennie which is my favorite of his. If you’d rather the more traditional idea of a “classic” then give The Third Man a whirl.
Astonishingly, “Abandoned!” wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t what it could have or should have been, but it was servicable for once and provided a few moments of emotional satisfaction predicated on character integrity rather than on patriarchal harpy antics. It only just occurred to me that asking for consistent tone, intention, or narrative integrity in anything with Ryan Murphy’s name on it is asking the impossible. Yet what others are willing to call avant garde or “daring” I’m just gonna call what it is: lazy and random. This was no exception, but it was at least watchable.
Season 1, Episode 7 (S01E07)
Feud airs Sunday at 10PM on FX
Dana is a digitization archivist by day and a masked pop culture avenger by night. She spreads the gospel of science fiction and fantasy wherever she goes.
Dana Leigh Brand | Contributor