In an annoying repeat from the previous episode of Feud: Bette and Joan, Joan and Bette start “Mommie Dearest” by getting along quite well with one another, only to have things come crashing down. In the episode, as the name implies, they bond about being single mothers in Hollywood. Once the two have an argument about who will be a supporting actress and a leading one at the Oscars, all hell breaks loose once again. (FYI: Joan wants to be lead and Bette to be supporting.)
The episode devolves into some pretty petty catfights. Feud: Bette and Joan is at its best here when it is focusing on the very different ways the two women approach motherhood and not on their petty rivalry.
Getting Back to Feuding Basics
The bickering between Joan and Bette isn’t unenjoyable. In fact, it is quite a lot more fun than the previous installment, as Bette and Joan are hurling insults at one another directly during filming. It’s not just in the press. The fighting is highly unprofessional and doesn’t paint either of the ladies in the best light, but it is fantastically campy.
Undoubtedly, the highlight is when Bette “accidentally” kicks Joan right in the head while filming a scene and claims she barely grazed her. The fighting just feels like a rerun of the conflict from the previous episode, even though no one was getting a possible concussion. To the credit of “Mommie Dearest,” the fighting, while not entirely dissimilar from the previous paparazzi sniping, comes from a different place than the two women just not getting along.
The Woes of Being a Single Parent
“Mommie Dearest” establishes a real professional and personal jealously among Joan and Bette. It comes more from Joan’s side than Bette’s, but Bette is somewhat envious of Joan’s glamour and incredibly obedient children. When Bette’s daughter, B.D., is given a very small part in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Joan sees the way Bette interacts with her daughter. It’s a much more open, honest and loving relationship. Even the more difficult moments between Bette and B.D. make Joan wish she could be a kinder mother to her own daughters. Joan approaches her children like she does her furniture — she makes them look perfect at all times.
Feud makes it clear that Bette is not the best mother. Being a working mother, Bette often ignores B.D., and it doesn’t help that B.D. is a genuinely awful actress in her small role. Bette doesn’t have much of a connection with her daughter, even if she does love her. Things get even more tragic when it is revealed that Bette has another daughter, Margot, who is severely mentally challenged. Bette sent Margot to a special school across the country because she couldn’t spend enough time caring for her.
Feud makes an interesting point about both ladies. Neither Joan’s smothering, overprotective ways nor Bette’s drive to work and provide is the ideal mothering strategy. They are two extremes, much like the women themselves. This is Feud at its best, where both ladies are uniquely flawed but also human.
Two Sides of the Same Sad Coin
Joan and Bette’s approach to mothering eventually bleeds over to the making of the movie. Joan is so obsessed with appearances that her daughters don’t just have to look creepy stylized; Joan must look perfect on camera. When they shoot her character’s death scene, Joan keeps trying to make herself look better and better. She doesn’t look like she is dying; she looks like she is getting younger. It upsets everyone, and Joan knows she looks ridiculous but can’t stop herself.
To add insult to injury, Bette, who in the final moments of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? dances like a child, does end up looking younger during filming. It’s not because she is cosmetically doing anything to herself like Joan is; her acting is just that good. Joan knows that Bette is a better actress than her, and it hurts. When you add it to Joan’s regret over her parenting, the episode shows her at her most sympathetic. Though the episode is getting its name from the campy cult classic movie Mommie Dearest, where Joan is an absolute monster, it’s the furthest thing from your mind while watching. Joan Crawford is a very sad woman, and it is equally sad to watch her.
Bette isn’t handling things much better. Though she is doing a wonderful job in the movie, personally she is unfulfilled. B.D. has no career in acting. She won’t be following in her mother’s footsteps, which makes them drift further apart. It appears that the time apart from Margot has made her forget Bette almost entirely too. As Bette’s professional star is rising, once again her personal life seems to be in state of shambles.
Luckily, Feud doesn’t go for direct and cheesy symmetry, where Joan is happy personally and a mess professional. If anything, Joan’s life is worse. Inspired by Bette and the aging of her twin daughters, she applies to adopt another child but is rejected for being too old. There is an element of tragedy, though, as Joan and Bette are so sad that they can bond together, but their pride will not let them get over their initial differences.
What did you make of the episode? Do you feel bad for one star more than another? Who is worst off? Did this episode make you switch teams in the feud? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.