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Feud - Mommie Dearest - Review: "The Greatest Role"

Titled, "Mommie Dearest", this week's Feud opened fittingly with Davis' daughter, B. D. Merrill (Kiernan Shipka) smoking on a cigarette, in a shot displaying a similarity between mother and daughter. The entire episode focused primarily on the maternal (and lack of) sides to both Davis and Crawford, in a rare glimpse into what was below their tough, movie-star exteriors.

The starlets children were immediately shown as the product of their mothers. B.D is confident (even willing to stand up to her mother), sexually-aware and dons very flattering dresses. She's even criticised for "corrupting" her peers. Crawford's two youngest daughters however know not how to smoke, are dressed in more conservative outfits and clearly follow mother's orders. Davis even refers to them as "well-trained Pomeranians". These two mothers evidently take different approaches to mothering, yet ironically they would be both later be publicly criticised by their daughters in books.

Speaking of books, Crawford's estranged eldest daughter, Christina, author of the infamous Mommie Dearest autobiography (read:class-less critique of Crawford), was finally referred to tonight. Feud did so in a particularly interesting fashion. The harsh side of 'Mommie Dearest' which is most well known, animosity and a lack of maternal love, was first displayed, as Crawford refused to send Christina congratulatory flowers for a play debut. Within moments though, the show managed also delved below the surface. Once the youngest Crawford children visited the restroom, Crawford's guard came down. Looking somewhat remorseful she chose to write a card, signing it 'Mommie Dearest'. Whether this actually happened, I don't know, but in terms of narrative it works quite well. My only concern would be that the two sides of Crawford's parenting (the stern front, and the softer interior) were perhaps both shown too quickly. The softer Crawford would have been more shocking and enjoyable had the show set up her typically harsh mothering style first (though I suppose most viewers are aware of the accusations her daughter made anyway). Feud even implied the possibility of exploring Christina's 'autobiography' claims, with Lange's Crawford admitting she was perhaps a little too strict with her eldest children.

Aside from the maternal drama, episode three also brought two particularly enjoyable (and reportedly true) examples of the feud in action, Firstly, we finally got to see the infamous kick scene. I've often suspected that Davis did give Crawford quite a booting, though what's more telling is Aldrich's lack of sympathy, only caring about whether the camera got the shot or not. What a gentlemanly way to treat one of your two leading ladies! Secondly, if the subtle shot of Davis having a Coca Cola cup in her trailer didn't get you excited for a drinks machine rivalry, I don't know what would. The characters did not even have to mention the arrival of the coke machine, Crawford's face said it all!

The thing I love about this show, and often Ryan Murphy's shows in general, is that these depictions are multi-dimensional. They're treated as humans; beautiful, talented, but flawed, and imperfect. Feud keeps pulling back the layers and showing us various facets to the two leading ladies. Over drinks, the women shared their sexual histories - illustrating that they've changed over their lives. They aren't static character-templates. Crawford, though prim and proper, lost her virginity aged 11. Davis, though perhaps more liberal and sexually-free, waited until her late 20s. Both women struggle with the demands of motherhood, often acting cruelly towards their children, yet both inevitably do care. What was so particularly beautiful about the scene where the pair discussed their first sexual encounters was that for perhaps the first time, each saw a different layer to one another. They saw behind the tough exterior that both had displayed towards the other. "You were just a child", Davis signs, after hearing Crawford explain it was her step-father who had been her first sexual partner. She seems truly pained and sad for Crawford.Even though the drama and the fights are what make the duo so interesting together, and that's why their feud has had so much longevity in public memory, it's perhaps the mutual respect and understanding that is so poignant and important. They may strongly dislike each other, but as shown in the first episode, these two women do respect, admire and see something of themselves in the other.

What 'Mommie Dearest' did best was to continue Feud's record of exploring these women (rather than criticising them). It showed viewers that, they may not be the best of parents, but in their own (potentially) fucked up way, they tried. They do care, and they have a maternal desire but that doesn't mean it comes naturally or easily. Davis' heartbreaking phone call to her mentally ill daughter. Crawford's pain over ending up alone and too old to adopt. Davis' complicated relationship with B.D.  Ultimately, the two women have much more in common than they do differences, and perhaps that's the key to every successful feud. Feud this week showed us that even though Hollywood wanted to define (these) women as only fit to be play mothers, it was arguably the toughest (and greatest) role they played in their real lives.

Excited for more Feud drama next week? Share your thoughts of Sunday's episode and your hopes for next week's in the comments section below.

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