Leah Greenblatt
March 05, 2017 AT 11:12 PM EST

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 an A-

Gird your loins, lovers, for the WWE of midcentury divas, the stone-cold Olympics of bitchery; there will be blood. (Mostly metaphorical, at least in episode 1.)

Fade in, after Hitchock-mod animated credits, on Catherine Zeta-Jones as actress Olivia de Havilland circa 1978 — resplendent in petunia-pink lipstick, yards of black chiffon, and an ozone-depleting blond bouffant: “There was never a rivalry like theirs. For nearly half a century they hated each other, and we loved them for it.” She is speaking (meowing) of course, of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis: towering icons of the silver screen, Hollywood contemporaries who came together only once on film, infamously, in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. “What happened afterward,” de Havilland confides, “Well, that was a story, and a feud, of Biblical proportions… But feuds are never about hate. Feuds are about pain.”

And suddenly here we are at the 1961 Golden Globes, with Marilyn Monroe rushing to the stage in red sequins and Crawford (Jessica Lange) sneering spectacularly in white mink (“I’ve got great tits too, but I don’t throw them in everyone’s face”). That’s not hate, though, you see — it’s pain! Pain, as Marilyn flutters onstage and Joan’s sneer turns to choked-back tears. But emotions, and Eastern European facials, wait for no woman; early the next morning, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis, dodo-feathered and honey-badger mean) comes calling chez Joan, looking to corner her on the previous night’s sloppy end; did Joan not stumble out of the show, booze-soaked and inconsolable? Hedda’s not buying that her cup runneth over strictly with Pepsi-Cola, and she’s happy to threaten and cajole her way into getting a nasty quote, if that’s what it takes. Joan obliges. (Try harder, Joan.)

RELATED: Ryan Murphy Created Feud As a Response to Modern Issues Facing Women in Hollywood

So what does a fiftysomething girl have to do, anyway, to get a decent part? She can start by plonking her Oscar statuette on her agent’s desk and demanding better scripts. He tells Joan it’s Elvis’ mother or nothing; if she wants a great role, she’ll have to dig it out herself, even if all she sees out there for women are three options: “Ingenues, mothers, or gorgons.”

Hold the phone, though: what’s that in the pile of paperbacks loyal housemaid Mamacita (Jackie Hoffman) drags home for inspiration? Two clues: There’s a Baby in the title, and a Jane. No gorgons. And director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina) sees potential too, or at least his Girl Friday does, when Joan messengers it over special delivery. He’s game, and Joan has a few casting ideas. Enter Bette (Susan Sarandon), finally, in denim dungarees, vamping her way through a supporting role on Broadway in Night of the Iguana, but clearly hungry for a bigger fix.

NEXT: An offer Bette can’t refuse

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