‘Feud: Bette and Joan’ episode 6 recap: The divas are back in ‘Hagsploitation’

After the opulence of last week’s installment, the sixth episode of Ryan Murphy‘s anthology series “Feud: Bette and Joan” takes a quieter, yet equally emotional tone as our titular divas move on to the next phase of their rivalry. In “Hagsploitation,” directed by Tim Minear and written by Minear and Gina Welch, Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) is in dire need of a hit. Director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina) presents her with the opportunity: a psychological thriller that would re-team Crawford with her nemesis, Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon). Below are the Top 5 moments from “Feud: Bette and Joan” Season 1, Episode 6.

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Bring Joan the Axe — The episode opens with a near shot-for-shot recreation of Crawford’s 1964 horror film trailer, “Straight-Jacket.” We cut to a crowded theater where the film’s director William Castle (played by director John Waters) welcomes the audience with a warning that a mad woman is loose in the theater. Cue Joan, scrambling down the aisle swinging a fake axe as the audience pelts her with popcorn. Joan tries to sell the gimmick, but it’s clear from her face that she’s embarrassed, a feeling that only intensifies when Castle produces miniature axes as souvenirs for the audience. Joan returns home stinking drunk, and despite Mamacita’s (Jackie Hoffman) attempts to console her, Joan’s bitterness takes over as she unleashes her fury by insulting Mamacita and throwing a flower vase at her head. It is a side of Joan we haven’t yet seen — untethered and uncontrollable, pure rage. But Mamacita isn’t having it, warning Joan that the next time she throws anything at her, Mamacita will leave. Lange plays the melodrama of the scene just perfectly, but it is Hoffman’s Mamacita who is in control, delivering her threat with an icy directness that shows us that dealing with Crawford is becoming more than Mamacita can handle.

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Hedda’s New Scoop — Joan receives another visit from Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis) and her hats (special kudos to costume designer Lou Eyrich for Hopper’s killer wardrobe). Hedda is weak, revealing that she had suffered a heart attack the week prior and that another could strike at any minute. She reflects on her career wondering if she is satisfied with what she calls “reams of gossip.” But when she looks back, it is the destruction of careers — referring to her targets as “the reds, the queers, the whores, the cheaters and dope-heads; the ones who cursed me, sued me, offed themselves” — that gave her the most pleasure. And just when Crawford seems at her most empathetic, Hedda plays her hand: there are rumors of a stag picture from Crawford’s past, and Hedda wants the story as “the perfect final scoop” for her readers. Joan denies that such a tape exists, but Hedda warns that it would be better for Crawford if she cooperated. Though this is Davis’s only scene in the episode, what a scene it is. For the briefest moment, Hedda appears vulnerable, but soon we see the venomous self-confidence of a woman who knows how much power she has. When Hopper turns that power on Crawford, Davis is so mesmerizing that we can’t take our eyes off of her.

Aldrich Gets a Win… — Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) is desperate for a new horror hit, so he summons Robert Aldrich to his office in the hopes of recreating the sensation of “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” Aldrich pitches Warner a script for a gothic horror film, initially titled “What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?” (the film that would ultimately become “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte”) featuring two older women in a southern plantation setting, a tale of gaslighting, dismemberment, and a hatchet murder. Warner loves it, and bullies Aldrich into hiring Crawford and Davis for the lead roles. Aldrich goes to work on the actresses, and after agreeing to both actresses demands — top billing and a hefty advance for Crawford and a producer role for Davis — the film is a go. But Aldrich has one more card to play. Over drinks and a cigar with Warner, Aldrich reveals that he signed a contract to produce and direct “Charlotte” for Warner’s rival, 20th Century Fox head Daryl Zanuck, who has agreed to give Aldrich the control and respect that he never received from Warner. Molina is electric in this scene as we finally see Aldrich reclaim his self-confidence and put Warner on the defensive.

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…And a Loss — Aldrich’s marriage, however, is in a much more tenuous state. Harriet (Molly Price) is tired of Aldrich moping around the house and tells him that he needs to take control of what he wants. The night before he is scheduled to begin shooting “Charlotte,” he takes Harriet to dinner and asks her to come with him. But Harriet is distant, and says she just wants to go home. When Aldrich asks why Harriet doesn’t want to be a part of his film, she responds, “Because I don’t want to be a part of your life.” She asks for a divorce, claiming that the only one who wants a divorce more than she does is Aldrich. She’s tired of being neglected and is determined to get her own life — apart from Aldrich. Harriet’s sporadic appearances throughout the season have been brief, but memorable thanks to the wonderful work of Price, whose subtle looks and straight-forward manner give us a complicated look at the toll that Hollywood takes not just on the star players, but on their families as well.

“She is enjoying this” — Crawford and Davis are back together, but things fall apart during the first run-through after Joan sneaks a photographer into the table read. Soon the gloves come off as Crawford insults Davis’s looks and Davis belittles Crawford’s last picture. Davis storms out of the rehearsal, screaming that they need to change the film’s name. Later Joan flies to Baton Rogue to begin filming, but there is no one to drive her from the airport. She arrives at the hotel only to find that there is no room for her. Davis arrives with a knowing grin and arranges for Crawford’s room. Later, Joan calls Aldrich’s suite to suggest some script changes and is taken aback to hear Davis laughing in the background. Is Joan overreacting, or is this just the beginning of Bette’s plan for revenge?

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