Suzanne Tenner/FX
March 19, 2017 at 11:09 PM EDT

Feud: Bette and Joan

TV Show
run date
Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Stanley Tucci, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Ryan Murphy
Current Status
In Season
We gave it a B+

“You don’t inhale, that’s the whole point. Boys love it.” That’s Bette’s wayward daughter B.D., tutoring Joan’s terrified-looking twins in the fine art of Smoking for Seduction in tonight’s opening scene — and then getting immediately busted by an imperious Joan. (Nicotine: the devil’s stick! Wire hangers: also bad! Rare filets: okay.)

And now Joan is at dinner refusing to attend her eldest daughter’s debut in a play, because her own mom never went to her stuff either so why shouldn’t she pay it forward. Don’t worry Joan, it’s not like Christine will write a book about any of this! But while the poor twins run off to the powder room, Joan does scrawl a brief note of encouragement to Christine, signed Mommie Dearest; somewhere, a young Faye Dunaway shivers with anticipation.

Back on the set, director Bob Aldrich is resignedly recasting the role of Neighbor Girl that Joan and Bette found too offensively sexy before; they just need a starlet who’s approximately 40 percent less gorgeous. And Bette is happy to hear that Bob agrees their little horizontal fandango in last week’s episode should not be repeated. Thrilled, in fact! Then, somehow, the topic of nepotism turns to B.D., who might just be perfect for the Neighbor role. More thrills for Bette.

So when Joan comes to speak to her about B.D.’s “corrupting” of the twins, she is very curious to know how she keeps her own girls so in line, “like well-trained Pomeranians.” Well, she’s a strict disciplinarian, you see. But she also finds that giving them a task provides a real sense of accomplishment. Bette seems intrigued, and offers to take “Crawfish” (is this nickname brand new? It seems like it) out for a few cocktails after the day wraps. The plan is partly to soften her up and deliver the B.D. casting news, though it turns out Joan has a bigger surprise: When talk turns to moms and being young, she recalls how she lost her virginity at 11(!), to her mother’s second husband(!!). “We weren’t blood relations,” she assures Bette, “so it wasn’t incest.”

Bette’s face is appropriately thunderstruck. But she also has her own stories of boarding school: “no electricity, naked baths in the snow.” What nightmare Dickens novel were these two raised in? At least Bette loved her own late mother, and still misses her: “I think maybe she was my only true female friend.” And she reiterates again to Joan that they don’t have to be best pals, just allies: “I’m going to support this picture, even if it means supporting you, too.”

Smash-cut to Joan in the next scene, trying desperately to convince Hedda Hopper not to run with their previously agreed strategy, which includes printing something about Bette’s offensive body odor. Though it is pretty much impossible not to be distracted by the vision of Joan doing her daily calisthenics in a black leotard, directly beneath of a portrait of Joan in powder-blue chiffon. Malkovich? Malkovich.

As the camera cuts between Bette in a scene with Victor Buono and at home trying to coach B.D. through her lines, it becomes clear that when it comes to thespians Victor is a diamond in disguise, and B.D. is a brick. (At least she knows it, though.)

NEXT: The détente ends again

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