Joan Crawford: “Bette, here’s what I really hope from this picture when all is said and done. I hope I’ve made a new friend.”
Bette Davis: “Me too.”
This was the exchange between two great Hollywood actresses on the first day of the one film they were only ever going to do together, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?
But this sentiment, expressed on the season finale of Ryan Murphy’s Feud: Bette and Joan, was not to be realized, as shown in the previous seven episodes of the series. This finale brought the story of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s infamous rivalry to a close, but unlike most finales, Feud went out with a whisper, not a bang, as Bette (Susan Sarandon) and Joan’s (Jessica Lange) later years, regrets and struggles were examined, and shined a light on how lonely and isolated Hollywood can make an aging star feel.
I started out watching this series with all the anticipation of a moviegoer seeking a peek into the past about something so iconic as a rivalry untouched by the hush-hush, PR-spun contentions we have in modern day Hollywood. And as much as the series told the story to such dizzying, deliciously-disastrous heights, the final episode cast a much more emotional – and quite depressing – focus on Joan and Bette’s attempts to figure out who they are outside of their careers. And maybe not loving the conclusions they come to find.
All of this helps to make the episode’s most dramatic scene, in which Joan reveals her “true” feelings about herself and Bette Davis, more believable. That one scene in Joan’s addled mind, where she imagines a little party where she and Bette are left alone to have one last chat. Joan wishes she had been more generous to Bette. Bette wishes she had been a friend to Joan. Of course, this is all playing out in Joan’s head, so it’s really Joan wishing Bette had wished she could’ve been a friend, but still (or even more so?), it breaks your heart. They could’ve been friends! Instead, they were tossed into this feud by Hollywood whether they liked it or not (they probably liked it a little bit, right?), and were left to deal with the consequences on their own.
Maybe neither woman really wanted to be friends with the other. Maybe they would’ve hated each other regardless of how the studio heads and PR people and gossip columnists wanted them to feel. Who knows? Any way you cut it, it’s all very, very sad.