'Feud' Showrunner Explains the Finale's Hopeful Ending

Feud-Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon - Split-H 2017
Courtesy of FX Network

[This story contains spoilers from the season finale of FX's Feud: Bette and Joan.]

All this time they could have been friends.

That was the question FX anthology Feud: Bette and Joan left viewers with when it wrapped its look at the infamous feud between Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) during Sunday’s finale.

With production on Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte wrapped, the series flashed forward between 1969 and 1978 to showcase Crawford's slow decline as she hit the lowest of lows for her work on the B flick Trog. Meanwhile, Davis took any and every opportunity thrown her way. On a personal note, the Ryan Murphy series followed the actresses as their respective health declined, ultimately ending with Crawford’s death.

Although Crawford and Davis never reunited professionally (or personally) after the fallout from Charlotte, Feud's story ended on a more positive note thanks in part to a dream sequence party scene featuring some of the other key players in their famed feud: Jack Crawford (Stanley Tucci) and Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis). It also showcased the final few filmed segments of the fictional documentary within the story itself, as the producers attempted to flag Davis down to add her comments to the story.

In the end, Davis never agreed to sit down for the interview despite constantly bad mouthing Crawford to the press over the years (including the infamous line about it being “good” that Crawford was dead). This marked a shift in the narrative that finally allowed Davis to move on from her lifelong rival.

To break down the finale's uplifting ending, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with showrunner Tim Minear.  

Given that Joan and Bette never reunited as friends in real life, why was it important to the narrative to add that dream sequence?

There were reports that when Joan was in her last days she was hallucinating and having conversations with people who were no longer alive. There were witnesses to that. So there's some predicate for that kind of mania in the end stages of her disease. It was Ryan's idea to have this fantasy scene. Our fantasy was that there would be the perfect kind of [reunion]. They meet again before they get onto the boats and sail off at the end of Lord of the Rings, right? I think it was a poetic way of telling Joan's story but then giving the audience and us, as part of the audience, the opportunity to see the thing that we wished would have happened. And that's really what that impromptu late, late-night party at Joan's house fantasy scene is about.

How did crafting the final shot of them, on the first day of filming Baby Jane come about?

That last shot is really a bookend of the whole series. We were trying to figure out what the great last image would be. We thought, “Well, we have a great first image so maybe that should also be the last image.” That moment, right when all the possibility was pregnant and it could have gone any way. And we'd already seen them sitting in those chairs. There’s an iconic photograph of the real Bette and Joan sitting in those chairs as well where they look like they’re laughing. We wondered what they were talking about. So returning to that moment, having been through the story and seeing them at, weirdly, a much more innocent moment, it felt like the right way to end it. And it also imbued that moment with all kinds of poignancy.

Do you think Bette and Joan were really on each other's minds their whole lives?

I absolutely do. They had always been pitted against each other, even when they were at different studios, and then certainly when they were at Warner Bros. There was always a rivalry between them, and the only time they actually made a movie together was Baby Jane. That was a watershed moment for both of them and it made real, it made flesh and blood, a kind of legendary rivalry that had been more theoretical than anything else. When you read interviews with them both, it's hard to find an interview with Joan or an interview with Bette where the other one isn't mentioned. In the scene when Bette is being roasted in this episode, half the jokes were about Joan Crawford. They were inextricably tied to each other after Baby Jane, for sure.

Was Bette playing with the press with her "Joan's dead, good" quote?

At that point that was Bette's brand. That's a famous quote, but Susan Sarandon's line reading of that is some of the most brilliant screen acting I've ever seen. It's so simple and any other actor would have just landed that as the insult, the great act-out remark that it is. But she imbued it with a kind of regret and almost guilt. You saw a three-dimensional representation of her complicated feelings for Joan Crawford. It was a glib line played without any glibness. It was amazing.

You mentioned omitting a real-life moment where Bette jumped on a table during a press tour with Joan because it was too unbelievable. Were there any other audacious scenes left on the cutting-room floor?

There were more complications to Joan shutting down production on Sweet Charlotte than we actually showed. One of the things was Bob and Bette hired a private investigator to tail Joan Crawford when she was playing sick. We wrote but didn't shoot it; it was one of my favorite things but it just didn't fit. So it's like that thing where you send out your investigator when somebody is saying they have whiplash from a car accident, and then you catch them playing tennis. It's sort of that scenario. And this guy, his report of following her is so hilarious because you learn nothing. Basically, he followed her into Beverly Hills. She turned a corner and completely lost him. But it's really funny.

You've said the real tragic character in this is Joan. Do you still feel that way?

Absolutely. In a way, I don't feel like Bette is a tragic character. She was starchy and she survived. She had a double mastectomy. She had a stroke. Her daughter wrote a book while she was still alive and she was just defiant right up until the end. Whereas Joan lost everything. Also, Joan had a Dickensian childhood where she was, as a 12-year-old, living in a convent school but she was Cinderella before the ball. She was cleaning up after the other girls, she was making the beds, she was feeding the other girls. They were paying their tuition. She was paying for her room and board by doing this menial labor, cleaning toilets. And, of course, she was sexually abused by her stepfather and still was taking responsibility for that. In a way, Joan is the more tragic character.

Did you think about carrying this story out until Bette's death rather than Joan’s?

It didn't really make sense to go beyond the point that we went because the show was about Bette and Joan. It wasn't about Joan and it wasn't about Bette. At times it's from Joan's point of view or it's from Bette's point of view. But once one of those two women ceases to exist, that story is told. You know, there's a fantastic story to be told about Bette Davis and her decline, but this story ended. You know, it's sort of like this – whoever ended up dying first, that's where the story would have ended. I would say that just because it's Joan's death, Bette is the survivor in the story. So the weight and the gravity of everything that came before ends up resting on Bette Davis' unpadded shoulders.

Feud has been renewed for a second season, which will revolve around Charles and Diana.

What did you think of the first season? Sound off in the comments below.

Twitter: @amber_dowling, @hijean