‘Feud: Bette and Joan’ episode 4 recap: Alison Wright and Alfred Molina shine in ‘More, or Less’

Gender politics take center stage in “More, or Less,” the fourth episode of Ryan Murphy‘s anthology series “Feud: Bette and Joan,” and it becomes clear that although “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” is a hit, there are still significant obstacles for those associated with the picture. Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) struggle to maintain career momentum in the wake of their film’s opening, but they aren’t the only ones with troubles. Director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina) faces pressure from studio head Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) to recreate the success of the film, but Aldrich wants to flex his directorial muscles on a completely different sort of project. Meanwhile, Aldrich’s assistant Pauline (Alison Wright) has ambitions of her own and takes significant steps to turn them into a reality. The episode, written by Gina Welch and Tim Minear and directed by Liza Johnson, examines the unique struggles faced by women in Hollywood, even in the midst of great success. Below are the top 5 moments from “Feud: Bette and Joan” season 1, episode 4:

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Stormy Weather — “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane” is just about to open, and both Davis and Crawford visit their respective agents to plan for the future. But the future is looking a bit grim. Davis’s agent passes her off to a 22-year-old upstart who warns her that advanced word on the film is poor and that Davis has thrown away her career on a B-movie. Crawford is told that there are no offers for her and she is livid, letting forth a torrent of F-bombs eerily reminiscent of the boardroom scene in the camp classic ‘Mommie Dearest,’ and she fires them all. Davis, however, takes a more pragmatic approach: she places an ad in the classifieds seeking employment in Hollywood.

It’s a Hit — Expectations are low for the film’s opening — even the projector operator makes a crack about it to Aldrich — but Crawford still attends a sneak preview of the film. To everybody’s surprise, the reaction is rapturous. Crawford is on cloud nine, signing autographs and receiving standing ovations in the middle of restaurants. Davis makes appearances on television, including “The Andy Williams Show” where she sings a pop song based on the film. The film does boffo business at the box-office, and everyone is ecstatic about its success — everyone except Crawford, who becomes increasingly insecure about Davis’s notices and the prospect of Davis receiving an Oscar nomination.

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A Woman’s Place — One of the episode’s strongest themes is the limitations faced by women in Hollywood, as evidenced by the lack of offers for Crawford and Davis. They still find themselves relegated to the minor leagues, like Davis’s guest appearance on “Perry Mason.” But Pauline takes a page from Crawford’s book and tries to create an opportunity for herself. She has written a screenplay for herself to direct, and she wants Crawford to star in it. She appeals to Mamacita (Jackie Hoffman), who wholeheartedly agrees to show the script to Crawford. But later she is summoned by Crawford only to get back her unread script; Crawford explains that she’s turning Pauline down not because she’s a woman, but because she’s a nobody. It’s a cruel and brutal dismissal that is enhanced by Lange’s icy delivery and Wright’s devastatingly subdued heartbreak. Pauline later has lunch with Mamacita, who tells the aspiring writer not to give up hope and shows her census projections showing that women will soon outnumber men in the population, meaning that Hollywood will eventually have to start telling women’s stories from a woman’s perspective. Wright is superb in this episode, as is Hoffman, whose stern but progressive Mamacita is one of the series’s most interesting and scene-stealing highlights.

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

Aldrich Can’t Catch a Break — Aldrich has a hit on his hands and wants to strike while the iron is hot. But Warner gives him nothing but “Baby Jane” knockoffs to direct, referring to Aldrich as a “journeyman” director and not a member of the A-list. Aldrich leaves, but Warner claims that Aldrich will be back, and that Warner might even take his calls because, as Warner callously remarks, he has a soft spot for losers. Aldrich then finds himself directing a Rat Pack western starring Frank Sinatra, whose abusive behavior and refusal to collaborate leaves Aldrich feeling harried and frustrated. Aldrich finds himself back in Warner’s office, and the studio boss is initially apologetic for his previous remarks, a sentiment that is quickly forgotten as Warner essentially bullies Aldrich into making another picture with Davis. Warner gets in a final dig when he wishes Aldrich luck with the upcoming Oscar nominations, warning Aldrich not to get his hopes up since Aldrich is “just not the type that [his] peer group acknowledges” and that he doesn’t have the potential for greatness. Aldrich has reached his breaking point and lashes out at Pauline, claiming that she is living in fantasy land if she thinks that Hollywood is ready for a female director. This episode is truly a great showcase for Molina, who grabs our sympathy as he takes one devastating blow after another, and we see a man who longs to be taken seriously and yet somehow knows that it will never happen for him.

Crawford’s Worst Nightmare — In the episode’s closing moments, a drunken Crawford awakens to all of her phones having been left off their hooks. When Mamacita enters the room, Crawford wonders why she was allowed to sleep in, as she was hoping to be awake for the announcement of the Oscar nominations. Mamacita asks Crawford to sit down, and the camera cuts to the home’s exterior and all we hear is Crawford’s anguished scream as she realizes that not only has her rival received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, but that she herself has been snubbed. What does this mean for next week’s highly anticipated Oscars-centric episode?

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