The FEUD finale is whatever. It’s not quite as much of a trainwreck as the rest of the show but there’s still no conflict (a feat unto itself), no narrative, and no character development. Seeing as how “You Mean All This Time We Could Have Been Friends?” is the finale, it should also have some kind of resolution and yet there is none. That said, for resolution you’d need to have a plot first.
I honestly can’t tell if this show makes sense at all if you don’t already know too much about these women. The small bit about Christina Crawford only makes sense if you know about Mommie Dearest. Granted, I think that’s what Joan Crawford is best known for these days, but if you’re someone watching this for unknown and/or Ryan Murphy reasons that’s going to seem bizarrely out of place. This show exists in a space that I can’t figure out. It’s obviously not for classic movie people because most of it is blatant and easily discredited lies yet I can’t figure out who else would have an interest in watching this. Perhaps the television equivalent of ambulance chasers? People just looking for some cheap thrills? This show should be so much better than it is.
The whole documentary pseudo-frame remained as lazy and pointless throughout this episode as it was throughout the rest of the show. I say “pseudo-frame” because half the time they forgot that they were using it as a device. The times when they did remember, they used it to narrate emotional beats that should have been within the narrative itself and not explained to us by third parties. I feel like the original idea there must have been that they would build up to Bette Davis’ refusal to be in the Joan Crawford documentary by the end out of respect. Since they never mentioned that Bette was supposed to give an interview until this final episode that didn’t work so well. Additionally, the chopped up chronology of this episode did it no favors. Various bits—especially the Bette Davis bits—seemed like rambling parentheticals to the main plotline. It’s one thing to favor style over substance. Plenty of shows can get away with that if the stylistics are intentional, consistent, and serve a purpose in the way the story is being told. With Feud, the only thing consistent about the style is the inconsistency. Everything about this series is haphazard and slipshod. It feels like it’s aiming for profundity, achieving vapidity, and desperately twinkling its spirit fingers hoping you don’t notice.
On the one hand, Joan’s dream sequence where she hashes out her grievances with Hedda Hopper, Jack Warner, and Bette Davis was welcome if simply because it offered the opportunity for resolution. On the other, it was lazy as hell. There are no real stakes because it’s clearly just a dream sequence and therefore it’s perfectly fine for them all to apologize to each other for being nasty. It’s a swipe at resolution but just as false as the rest of the series. The ambience, lighting, etc. of the scene were all pretty and it was about as close as this show ever came to emotional authenticity, but the whole thing is hollow. Neither do I buy that all of these old Hollywood people would sit backstage at the Oscars and lament that none of them are appreciated enough. It’s true that many stars from the early days weren’t appreciated in the ’70s and ’80s, however the lot of them griping about the world not giving them their due made me roll my eyes. That should be sad. It’s heartbreaking the way the world cast off so many of them. Instead it plays as petty and entitled. I mean, for god’s sake, Sunset Boulevard has more pathos about faded stars than this series does and that’s literally about captivity and murder.
I did not appreciate the historical fact cards at the end. This show spent its entire run making things up wholesale and presenting them as gospel truth. That would have been fine if the made up things were compelling but they were all strange, boring, or pathetic. Then to just cram those apologist “information” cards onto the end felt offensive to me. For one thing, the Crawford card was full of victim-blaming and gaslighting of Christina Crawford as if she hasn’t had enough of that in her life. Joan Crawford can be compelling, complex, and (yes!) even likable while still acknowledging that she abused her children and did terrible things. In addition, it had to tack on that weird defense of her acting skills. Granted, I am always one for villains but I’d have felt far more interest in Joan Crawford if they’d let her inhabit the full range of her behavior rather than having her moan about how the world was out to get her and just didn’t understand. Complex Crawford would have been far more compelling than victim-of-life Crawford. I am not one to feel sympathy for people who are alone because they have driven literally everyone away from them.
I also feel like this show has a bizarre vendetta against Bette Davis. In what these days I suppose one would call the classic Hollywood fandom, the Davis v. Crawford thing is one of those ancient divides that you use to gauge someone’s personality. Sort of like Marvel v. DC or Star Wars v. Star Trek. It’s an essentially meaningless but highly fraught self-classification system. Crawford people feel like she doesn’t get her due as a serious actress while Davis people feel like Crawford was a melodramatic psycho. I myself am a long-standing Davis person (though I fully appreciate them both) so the fact that this show spent most of its time puffing up Joan Crawford as a fated martyr while slagging off Bette Davis as some sort of low-grade villainess rubs me the wrong way.
There was nothing here that threw me into a rage, but there was nothing interesting either. Since I don’t need to punch things or go on a raving rampage after watching this, it fairs better than most of the other episodes in this series. That said, nothing in this series actually warranted spending the time it took to watch it. That’s unfortunate. The concept, the topic, the setting—this whole endeavor should have been television gold. How they managed to strip every ounce of conflict out of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis—two of the biggest divas of all time—is utterly beyond me, but they did.
Season 1, Episode 8 (S01E08)
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