It defies logic that an episode called “Hagsploitation” in a show explicitly about the birth of said film genre can be both so pathetic and so boring. FEUD still doesn’t seem to understand its own goal, let alone the material it’s using. If you’re going to exploit some hags, just go for it. Don’t make two incredibly strong-willed independent women into sad whiners who mope around lamenting their lot in life. Good lord.
The execution of this show is rife with problems for me. First of all, I know way too much about Hollywood history and all of these people. Artistic license for dramatic purposes is fine. This series, however, is not that. It’s just stupid. Secondly, 20th century American cultural history is my wheelhouse and they are screwing it up left and right just in the little things. Is there no researcher on staff for this show? They’ve got the cars and the clothes right but that’s about it. The rest is just bizarre. I cannot speak to this with 100% authority, but “gaslighting” as a colloquial term would not have been understood at all in the early 1960s, not even in Hollywood. Yes, the term comes from a 1944 film called Gaslight which is excellent and you should all watch it. But as a well-known descriptor of a style of behavior the term wasn’t well-known outside of psychology circles until recently. The inclusion of that one word is probably not the most egregious thing in this episode but it irks me because it’s obviously trying to be cool, hip, and relevant. Gaslighting is a hot topic right now and this definitely feels like spouting off a buzzword to be with the in-crowd. Unfortunately, it just underscores how poorly the show is doing on all fronts while it obviously thinks it’s oh so very relevant.
Whatever pathos Feud is trying to generate for these people is comical in its absurdity. Women flounce in, faint upon each other, and then flounce out again as if that has any meaning. Crawford seems to be friends with Hedda Hopper for some reason. Hopper was a tool that Crawford could manipulate for good press. She wasn’t someone you wanted to be friends with. Feel free to call me on that one if you have sources but I don’t care enough to look it up. Also: women experience heart attacks differently than men and the signs aren’t as well known, hence why women are more likely to die of heart attacks than men are. At this point even the small details of this show are skidding it into an unrecoverable tailspin with me. These are caricatures, not characters and that’s unfortunate.
Robert Aldritch is also back to being a manly man swept up in the fervor of patriarchy. He parades into Jack Warner’s office, thumbs his nose at Warner, and literally shakes his balls around to emphasize how macho and uncontrollable he is. On top of this, there’s a scene of his sexual impotence with his wife because we need to further underscore how emasculated he is by his career. If I rolled my eyes any harder they’d get stuck facing backwards. Of course, then I wouldn’t have to watch this show anymore so that might be a blessing in disguise. I also feel awful for the actress playing his wife. She is literally a professional nag and put-upon woman. In trying to give her sympathy, the show just portrays her as haggard and trampled. She is the prototypical mid-century idea of a neglected wife—a woman who refuses to see her husband’s point-of-view and coldly demands divorce for what she (but not the story) views as his failings. Manly men should be coddled in all things, you see. Women should understand how hard life is for them. I’m gonna say it: I hate this show.
As for what Feud is trying to pass off as a plot, there was plenty of external action in this episode but nothing happens. They stew a bit on the sexually explicit film Crawford made in her youth (shaming her for it, even as they claim not to.) They start production on a completely new film which is the whole point of this episode, yet still it seems like nothing moves forward. There are two kinds of action: external (the workings of the plot) and internal (how the characters grow). The internal action in this entire show is so stagnant that its growing fetid. If you drank from these waters you’d be poisoned.
I know what happened during the production of Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte so I’m honestly dreading the dreary, pathetic, persecuted nonsense that they’re going to drag out about Joan Crawford in the next two episodes. It could all be riveting, suspenseful, and full of drama. But it won’t be. It’ll try to be sad but just be dismissive instead. I don’t even know what tone this series is trying to hit. Is it somehow attempting damage control on Crawford’s long-ruined reputation? Is Bette Davis the de facto villain in this scenario? If they’re trying to present Crawford as a crazy person with a persecution complex (i.e. what she was) they are failing miserably. There are ways to portray brittle, cutting, damaged people in a sympathetic light without taking away the things that make them so complex and interesting. Crawford pitching tantrums and whining does not endear her to an audience and neither does it make her a more fully-realized person. Allowing her to be good and bad, syrupy sweet and hard as nails all at once would do that much more effectively.
Feud bills itself as Davis and Crawford pitted against each other. Really all they are is pitted against a system that’s rigged against them. That would be an interesting story if they experienced that conflict at all. Instead all both characters do is lament the way they’re treated and then roll over to lament some more. The high-camp melodrama, cat fights, and tongue-lashings that the show’s concept suggests are non-existent. This isn’t even fun. It’s boring. I’m bored. Also, slightly offended. Please, make it stop.
Season 1, Episode 6 (S01E06)
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.
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Dana Leigh Brand | Contributor