Game of Crones and other war stories

April 12, 2017


Lawrance Bernabo
Zenith News

Cloquet native Jessica Lange has the harder role in Feud (FX), which tells of the fabled confrontation between Lange’s Joan Crawford and Susan Sarandon’s Bette Davis on the set of the cult-classic horror film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

In this epic “Game of Crones” (come on, people, you saw that one coming), Crawford is at a massive disadvantage. She cared more about who came out on top, so Davis did not even have to try to push her buttons to send Crawford off the deep end.

Sarandon plays her cards closer to her chest. The withering look she gives the Pepsi-Cola machine outside their dressing rooms (Crawford’s husband owned the company) is one she never gives her nemesis.

Second, Davis was willing to go all-in on the role of Baby Jane Hudson, coming up with the grotesque pancake makeup that shattered her image. Davis over-acted the hell out of the role, knowing it made perfect sense for the character, and probably knowing she would be rewarded with the Oscar nomination that her co-star—just as excellent in an understated way that was at odds with Crawford’s instincts as an actress—would not.

Third, Mommy Dearest has already trashed Crawford’s reputation, especially among those who never saw Mildred Pierce or any of her early films.

Lange and Sarandon are not the only Oscar winners running around on Feud. Catherine Zeta-Jones as Olivia de Havilland and Kathy Bates as Joan Blondel give interviews to documentarians, providing the story behind the story behind the film. Alfred Molina and Stanley Tucci are also around, so this show has a deep bench.

You can get this sort of talent for the small screen, because this is a limited series (not like you could do another season about how Crawford and Davis ended up not making Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte together). With Lange, Bates and Sarah Paulson in there, it is easy to see Feud as a real-life season of American Horror Story.

Six (History) turns the fabled SEAL Team Six into a military soap opera. Walton Coggins (Justified) starts off in the pilot as troop leader, Richard “Rip” Taggart, but leaves the force because of a questionable decision in Afghanistan. Two years later, he is captured by Boko Haram and his former brothers-in-arms have to rescue him. Only they take eight episodes to do it.

Granted, a television series was never going to be as bare-bones as what we saw in the movie Captain Phillips. But Six is too far in the other extreme, focusing more on the interpersonal difficulties of the troops than on getting the job done. I need something more akin to what we saw in Zero Dark Thirty.

By contrast, The Blacklist Redemption (NBC) is the new Alias, only this time the lead character with mommy and daddy issues is male. If you are too young to recognize Alias, then think of Mission Impossible-lite (the Tom Cruise movies, not the old TV series, although that is clearly a genetic ancestor as well).

Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold) leaves wife Elizabeth and baby Agnes to find...well, redemption...working with his mother, Susan Scott “Scottie” Hargrave (Famke Janssen), president of the private military company Halcyon Aegis, and a brilliant computer hacker (Adrian Martinez, a.k.a. the “Discount Double Check” guy in those State Farm commercials). Terry O’Quinn has a recurring role as Howard Hargrave, founder of Halcyon Aegis, and Tom’s supposedly dead father. O’Quinn had a recurring role on Alias as well, so there is that connection.

For those keeping track of the official Blacklist at home, Tom is #7 (still the highest number revealed to date), Susan is #18, and mercenary Matias Solomon (Edi Gathegi) is #32. Since Tom’s real name is Christopher Hargrave, it turns out Scottie is his mother, only she thinks he is dead, and her husband (whom she also thinks is dead) wants Tom to keep an eye on mom (whom everyone knows is alive), because he (Tom) suspects her (Scottie) of still being evil, bad, wicked, and nasty inside. In other words, Alias without Jennifer Garner in wigs and bikinis.

With the emphasis on impossible missions, The Blacklist: Redemption is more like Taken (NBC) than like The Blacklist (NBC), which makes sense because you cannot duplicate the original, whose success is due to James Spader as the delightful rogue Raymond Reddington. As for Taken, the idea is that we see Bryan Mills develop his skills, except he pretty much has all his skills in place from the opening scene. I was hoping for more of a focus on how they put together the band of brothers we saw in the film, with Sam and the others.

Bryan Mills could take out both Tom Keen and “Rip” Taggert—but could he take out Baby Jane Hudson? I think I know the answer you would get in Cloquet.

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