‘Feud: Bette and Joan’ episode 2 recap: ‘The Other Woman’ puts Alfred Molina in the middle of catfight

The second installment of Ryan Murphy‘s “Feud: Bette and Joan” reveals that the enmity between Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) was as much a product of outside — and mostly male — interference as any of the actresses’ own actions. In “The Other Woman,” the two leading ladies of “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane” appear to be getting along, even uniting against director Robert Aldrich’s (Alfred Molina) to get a young ingenue fired. But Warner Bros. studio head Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) urges Aldrich to keep the two actresses at each other’s throats, promising a wide release of “Baby Jane” and giving Aldrich his pick of projects if he cooperates. It isn’t long before the catfight between Bette and Joan reaches a fever pitch, thanks to a little help from Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis). Below, see the Top 5 moments from “Feud: Bette and Joan” Season 1, Episode 2.

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Bye Bye, Blondie — The episode’s opening scene highlights Crawford’s insecurity. The young actress playing the neighbor asks Crawford for her autograph, saying that it is for her grandmother who is a huge fan. Crawford signs the autograph while staring daggers at the naive actress. When Aldrich refuses to fire the actress, Crawford appeals to Davis, both by appealing to her desire for the film to be a success and by not-so-subtly suggesting that the actress might upstage Davis. It is a deliciously manipulative scene that temporarily creates a sense of camaraderie between the feuding divas.

Warner Pulls the Strings — One of the themes of the episode is seeing how Crawford and Davis are actually victims of other people’s machinations — most significantly Warner. We see a flashback detailing the extent of Warner’s manipulation of the actresses, planting the seeds of discontent between the two. It’s a strategy that he is not afraid to use again. Seeing the electricity between Davis and Crawford, Warner encourages Aldrich to keep the actresses “at each other’s throats.” Tucci’s Warner is the perfect puppet master: one moment frothing at the expletive-laden mouth, the next moment a smiling devil tempting people with promises of wealth and advancement.

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She Said, She Said — Aldrich soon puts Warner’s plan into action, telling Hopper that Davis has openly mocked Crawford’s breast size. Crawford arrives at the set in a rage, and whatever fragile truce existed between the actresses is now history. Crawford returns the favor, giving a statement to a rival columnist commenting on Davis’s looks and her age. Davis storms into Crawford’s dressing room and essentially threatens to steal the film from Crawford. It’s an electric scene, with Lange wordlessly conveying Crawford’s fear and insecurity while Sarandon showing us Davis’s take-no-prisoners approach to maintaining her superiority.

Bette Has a Moment — One of the episode’s strongest scenes shows us that Davis has a soft side as well. After summoning Aldrich for a weekend rehearsal session, Davis confesses that she has her own insecurities. While she claims that her anger with Crawford is her main worry, it becomes clear that Bette knows her limitations, and is afraid that she will look ridiculous. The scene gives Sarandon a chance to show us another facet of the complicated Davis while revealing Aldrich’s own adeptness at manipulating his leading ladies.

‘Feud: Bette and Joan’ is FX’s most watched new program premiere since ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson’

Aldrich in the Middle — That manipulation may be more than the good director bargained for. After successfully putting the two actresses at odds, Aldrich fields middle-of-the-night phone calls from both Crawford and Davis. Crawford puts on a grand performance, claiming that her boyfriend has left her. Davis is more introspective, reflecting on the fact that despite her success, she doesn’t have a fulfilling love life or a good relationship with her daughter. Both interactions end with the actresses making romantic advances toward their philandering director. But although Aldrich rejects Crawford, he seemingly succumbs to Davis’s charms. The episode is a great showcase for Molina, who reveals Aldrich as a man who longs to be taken seriously, yet feels a sense of remorse for the steps he must take to justify those ends.

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