Feud Season 1 Episode 3 Recap: "Mommie Dearest"

Photo: Courtesy of FX.
On this week’s Feud, the battle isn’t just between Bette and Joan. It’s between mothers and daughters more generally—with a special emphasis on daughters who have become mothers, but are still very much in need of parenting themselves.
B.D. persuades the Crawford twins to try smoking, to Joan’s great horror. She forbids her daughters from fraternizing with the enemy (or at least, the offspring thereof) and, as punishment, decorates their scalps with large hairbows befitting toddlers who’ve been cursed to grow three times their normal size. Joan’s eldest daughter Christina, an actress herself, has a part in a play that’s about to open, but Joan resists sending flowers until she sees what the reviews have to say—because her own terrible mother would have never. (Nope, no inter-generational trauma here!) But she does give in to sending Christina a card, signed “Mommie Dearest.” Yes, Ryan Murphy, we see what you did there.
Bette jokingly suggests to Bob that they cast her own daughter in the now-vacant role of the neighbor girl. But the director is genuinely intrigued by the idea. Besides, maybe it’ll help B.D. understand her mother better.
Bette invites Joan to drinks, asking for parenting advice—after all, she really seems to have a handle on those “two well-trained Pomeranians” of hers. Joan became a strict disciplinarian because her own mother (who, again, was terrible) didn’t care if she “lived or died.” Then she reveals a truly dark piece of her personal history, made all the more startling by the nonchalance with which she delivers it: She lost her virginity at 11, to her mother’s second husband. Bette shares that she was close with her mother, her “only true female friend,” who died last year.
It was a surprisingly peaceful summit, but Joan can’t resist feeding an offhand comment her rival made — Bette said she doesn’t care about awards, which of course she does — to Hedda Hopper, who spins this straw into a gossip gold. Her column reports that Joan is to campaign for Best Actress and Bette for lowly Best Supporting Actress.
Once Davis catches wind of this story, the fragile understanding between the actresses is again shattered. While shooting a scene where Jane has to drag a passed-out Blanche out of her bedroom, Joan — secretly wearing a 30-pound weight belt — repeatedly ruins the take by laughing and coughing. Bette needles the Pepsi CEO’s widow by conspicuously drinking a Coke (more like Petty Davis, am I right?) right off-camera as she delivers a monologue. She also takes particular relish in kicking a dummy version of Blanche, and then in kicking the real Joan in her real head when she’s supposed to be merely pretending.
B.D. and Bette run lines, and it becomes painfully clear that, in this family, talent skips a generation. Watching her child’s stiff performance in the dailies, Bette requests that she be billed as B.D. Merill, not Davis. Meanwhile, ironically, the actress begins to mentor another—much more promising—younger performer. Dominic Burgess is pitch-perfect as the openly gay actor Victor Buono, who appears in Baby Jane as Edwin Flagg, Jane’s piano accompanist. When Davis tells him he’s “good,” Buono gushes to Bob, “It’s like mommy just gave me a new pony!”
Victor comes over to Bette’s house to run lines and generally luxuriate in her regal presence.
“You know, I think it’s so admirable the way you’ve embraced my tribe,” he says. Bette replies, “The truth is I only really knew I’d made it once the female impersonators started doing me in their acts.” (And so they are even now, in this millennium! Let’s take a moment to give thanks to Our Lord and Savior RuPaul for Chad Michaels’ Bette Davis.) B.D. requests to rehearse with her mom, but she brushes her off. By episode’s end, mother figure Bette will even bail Victor out of jail—he’s arrested when cops raid the gay bar where he’s blowing a dumb aspiring actor who mistakes him for Charles Laughton (close enough!).
Joan’s twins are away at camp for two weeks, and she hates coming home to “awful silence.” A lonely Crawford finds her way to Mamacita’s bedroom, where the two women share a sandwich and watch a cowboy show on TV. Later, she’ll stop by the orphanage to adopt yet another child, as you do, but her application is turned down because she’s “simply too old.”
When it’s finally time to film Blanche’s big “dying confession” (guess what? Jane didn’t paralyze Blanche—she paralyzed herself trying to run down Jane in her car!), Joan shows up drunk to their location shoot on the beach. She retreats multiple times to her dressing room to pad her bra and, with Mamacita’s assistance, tape back the skin on her neck. Jack Warner thinks this footage is “terrible,” specifically because Joan looks younger and younger in every shot in the very sequence where she’s meant to be expiring. He demands that Aldrich reshoot the ending to Baby Jane on the soundstage, on his own dime.
It’s in this scene that Jane utters the movie’s most famous line, which also aptly summarizes this season of Feud: “Then you mean, all this time, we could have been friends?”
Hedda Hopper drops by announced at Bette’s house to scold her for her nastiness to Crawford.
That’s not American Teen Princess Academy Award winner behavior! She wants Bette’s side of the story, but Bette won’t bite, castigating Hedda — who today is wearing only one necklace, but two giant flower blobs attached to her head — for all her “venom and resentment.”
B.D., who is by this point well aware that her mom thinks her performance is stinky, stinky trash, tearfully apologizes for not being better. Bette reassures her that she looked beautiful, she spoke clearly, she hit her marks, and she didn’t look into the camera — and more importantly, if Crawford couldn’t ruin the picture, then no one could.
Bette calls up Margot, her youngest adopted child (named after her All About Eve character, naturally), who is developmentally disabled and attends a special school in Maine. Emotion catching her throat, Davis promises to visit soon and that they’ll go swimming. But her daughter has already wandered away from the phone.
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