Feud: Bette and Joan recap: 'Mommie Dearest'
“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
If you’re taking shots every time Joan and Bette fall out, grab the Stoli because when Bette finds out Joan’s run to Hedda again, telling her that Bette says she’s happy to take a Best Supporting Actress nod and let Joan own the main category, the détente is over, for the 479th time. Bob intervenes to helpfully point out that the movie needs to actually get finished before the Oscar wrangling starts — which earns a hearty “f— off” from both his leading ladies. Good talk!
Shooting a physical scene where Baby Jane’s supposed to drag her unconscious sister out of bed, Joan enacts her revenge, coughing or laughing to wreck take after take — while also secretly wearing a weight belt, just for kicks, and Bette returns the favor in kind. (Three guesses how that infamous Jane-beats-Blanche scene goes: If you picked Method, you win a not-Pepsi.)
While B.D. is busy stinking up the screen in her supporting role, Victor and Bette are bonding: She even indulges him with the “what a dump” line. While they talk moms and queens and acting chops, Bette confesses that she’s doing Baby Jane in part to pay for her youngest daughter Margot’s care in a mental facility.
Joan’s own daughters have apparently ditched her for summer camp, where hopefully they don’t have to dress like matching cans of Mountain Dew, but she’s wilting like a week-old rose because all she hears is the sound of silence: no husband, no kids, only Mamacita. She’s also not above going back to Hedda with more I’m-rubber-you’re-glue lies about Bette’s drunken state in the beach death scene (it’s Joan who shows up wobbly and has to repair to her dressing room for “support,” a.k.a. boob inserts.)
So Hedda — who is wearing two giant hydrangea balls on her head, which is a nice swap for the endangered birds — decides to drop in on Bette at home for a little equalizing. And after a few minutes of trading breezy Drag Race-level shade, Bette lets her know she won’t go for it: “You have been circling this project like a vulture from the start. It’s women like you who’ve nurtured venom and resentment for years…. Truth teller.” Hedda slaps back with (not untrue) s— talk about B.D.’s performance, but B.D. unfortunately overhears the unkindest part of her mother’s reply and misses the tiger-mom roar that came right before.
Across town, Victor gets busted in a gay raid, which is not great for business, but Bette bails him out by telling the starstruck LAPD that he was just doing “research for a picture,” and it is truly fabu. Jack Warner drops by to watch the dailies with Bob and catches that Joan appears to be Benjamin Button-ing in her death scene (“Every time you cut back to her, it looks like she’s getting better. It’s like f—ing Camille in reverse!”), and tells him to fix it. He also reminds him that it’s not Casablanca, which is real boost for Bob.
While Bette comforts a devastated B.D. on her less than stellar acting debut (“If Joan couldn’t ruin the picture, nobody could”), Joan, clearly empty-nesting, goes to the orphanage to get another kiddie fix, because she seems to think children are like toilet paper: You go get more when you run out. But the administrator tells her straight up that she’s too old to adopt, and he might as well have just stamped Menopause Crisis on her forehead. Bette also reaches out to Margot at the institution without much response, so now both moms are sad.
Finally, they reshoot the death scene indoors, in a sort of adult-size sandbox, and it’s actually pretty affecting (for a “B picture”). It’s also a wrap, after one cool staredown outside the dressing room. Until next week, kiddos.
Best Lines (very Bette-heavy this week, because she was just really on a roll)
“He is all yours. Well, half yours.” —Bob’s assistant to Bette, when she requests an audience
“She’s adopted! She could be talented.” —Bette, on Joan’s daughter’s acting prospects
“Christ, I didn’t even get a tingle until I was 25, and then I waited another two years before I did the deed, and that was on my goddamn honeymoon.” —Bette, talking virginity with Joan
I’m sure his Falstaff is the talk of Tijuana.” —Bette, on Victor Buono’s Shakespeare-in-San-Diego past
“And it was Gloria Swanson who was robbed in 1950, not you, bitch!” —Joan, throwing the final gauntlet at Bette in their Oscars argument
“The truth is, I only really knew I’d made it once the female impersonators started doing me in their acts.” —Bette, on her special bond with homosexuals
“Yes, women outlive men, children leave. Best get used to it.” —Mamacita, offering tender comfort to Joan
“I want the dirt.” —Hedda, to Joan
“You’ll have to settle for sand.” —Joan
“I’m not falling on those. I don’t do stunts.” —Bette, on Joan’s enhanced bosom in the beach scene
You have… loads of potential.” —Victor, to the young man he’s servicing in a movie theater