‘Feud: Bette and Joan’ episode 1 recap: Top 5 moments from ‘Pilot’ include the power of Oscar

Ryan Murphy’s new FX anthology series “Feud: Bette and Joan” debuted on Sunday and wasted no time in pitting the two titular divas — Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) — against each other. The series pilot, written and directed by Murphy, gives viewers healthy doses of old Hollywood glamour and sets the stage for a delicious cinematic battle royal. The Hollywood legends can’t seem to catch a break in a film community, so Crawford persuades director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina) to helm a film version of the novel “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” and convinces Davis to play Baby Jane. Before long a film classic is underway and just in case things get too cordial, Hollywood’s most feared gossip maven Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis) is there to stir up trouble. Here are the Top 5 moments from “Feud” Season 1, Episode 1.

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The Power of Oscar — In a moment sure to make every Gold Derby reader chuckle, Crawford shows up at her agent’s office and props her Best Actress Oscar for “Mildred Pierce” on his desk declaring, “I want another one.” This short scene conveys not only Crawford’s frustration, but also her ambition to return to the spotlight. At least this Oscar wasn’t used to bludgeon a Gold Derby writer to death.

“I’ll have her respect!” — In a scene of absolute virtuosity for Lange, Joan speaks of her contempt for Bette, blaming her for one of Joan’s failed marriages and for not giving her the respect that she’s entitled to. In a monologue that’s equal parts venom and self-pity, Joan laments that while she was admired by men, none of the “bitches” in Hollywood, nor Davis, whom she calls “Queen Bitch,” respected Joan as an actress. The scene ends with Joan admitting that though she admires Bette’s talent, she is determined to earn her respect, even if Joan has to kill them both to get it.

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Mamacita Rules the World — Anyone not familiar with the perfection of Broadway veteran Jackie Hoffman better take note. The actress steals every scene she’s in as Joan’s devoted housekeeper Mamacita. From looking for books “with ladies on the cover” to telling the unpaid gardeners that “it is an honor to prune Miss Crawford’s bush and to shut up,” Hoffman’s deadpan is pure comic brilliance. It was particularly hilarious to see Mamacita feeding Joan the names of the various crew members as Joan passed out gifts, eerily reminiscent of the Gary-Selena relationship on HBO’s “Veep.”

“You’re Good” — On the first day of filming, Bette visits Joan in her dressing room. After some false pleasantries and a quick toast, Bette lays it all out for both of them. They don’t like each other, but they need this film to work. Bette asks Joan to do her best work, and then compliments her as an actress, which moves Joan to tears. The moment is comically short-lived, with Bette immediately criticizing Joan’s shoulder pads and makeup. Sarandon’s droll delivery combined with Lange’s icy stare make for melodramatic perfection.

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Baby Jane is Born — Though Sarandon has less screen time in the pilot than Lange, she does make a splash at the end of the episode as Davis creates her iconic “Baby Jane” look. When she arrives on the set in full costume and makeup, the crew and director are impressed enough to break into spontaneous applause. It seems everyone is happy, except a fuming Joan.

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