Feud may be another scene-chewing addition to the Ryan Murphyverse on FX, but it finally went beyond camp, glitz, and glamour with last night’s “Mommie Dearest.” Instead of focusing on Joan Crawford and Bette Davis’s on-set machinations and rivalry, the series gave viewers a look at who these actresses are as women, not movie stars.
The results were devastating on both sides.
After a hard day of filming, Joan (Jessica Lange) and Bette (Susan Sarandon) head to a smoky bar to talk about motherhood. The conversation soon turns to their own mothers, which is when Joan tells her co-star she was sexually assaulted as a child.
Joan explains she was shipped off to a convent at 12 after she was raped by her mother’s second husband, Henry Cassin, at 11. Chillingly, the actress never calls the crime statutory rape and claims she “led” the much older man into a consensual affair.
“In the desert that was my childhood I was grateful for any kind of genuine affection, to feel cherished,” Joan says between calm cigarette puffs. “[Henry] was a lovely man. Meant the world to me … He was kind and gentle and he loved me.”
Although the movie star’s fictional allegations were never confirmed in real life, the speculation has been around for years. If the actual Joan was attacked as a child, it does explain many of her decisions on Feud. The screen siren is continuously manipulated by awful, powerful men like studio chief Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) and director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina), but ignores their inappropriate conduct.
In the same way Joan’s childhood trauma still haunts her, Bette’s past continues to influence her life. The actress cannot seem to connect with the women around her, whether it’s her daughter B.D. (Kiernan Shipka), journalist Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis), or Joan.
That’s because her beloved mom was her “only true female friend,” following an adolescence spent at a “tough” boarding school. Bette ended up at the Puritanical school simply because the Davis patriarch abandoned his family and her mother needed to focus on working.
By finally giving us a deeper look into Bette and Joan we can understand — and care about — their Feud so much more.