Nearly seven years after Feud: Betty and Joan, Ryan Murphy delivers the second installment of his true-life drama anthology series. FX’s Feud: Capote Vs. the Swans is the long-awaited follow-up to the Emmy-winning first entry, and it was worth the wait. The martinis begin to fly on Wednesday, January 31st, with a double-episode premiere at 10/9c on FX.
Truman Capote (Tom Hollander, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest) sits on top of the world as a celebrated author and host of New York City’s most anticipated gala of the year, the Black and White Ball. His entourage is a who’s who of Manhattan’s most elite women, whom he refers to as “the swans” – Barbara Paley (Naomi Watts, Birdman), Slim Keith (Diane Lane, Secretariat), C.Z. Guest (Chloë Sevigny, The Girl from Plainville), Lee Radziwill (Calista Flockhart, Brothers & Sisters), Ann Woodward (Demi Moore, The Hunchback of Notre Dame), and Joanne Carson (Molly Ringwald, The Secret Life of the American Teenager). But when Capote begins to publish excerpts from an upcoming novel, the swans realize that he’s turning their real-life gossip into his next juicy project. No friendship can possibly survive this much tea being spilled, can it?
Based on the biography Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era by Laurence Leamer, the narrative of this second season is more complex than the first, which primarily followed just two central characters – Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. This eight-episode series tries to simplify things as much as possible, with Truman Capote as the main character and Barbara “Babe” Paley as the central swan. That’s not to say that each other women in Capote’s orbit aren’t fully realized or complex characters, but the Capote/Babe relationship primarily defines the series.
Audiences have come to expect nothing but top-class performances from Ryan Murphy’s anthology series, and Feud: Capote Vs. the Swans is no exception. Tom Hollander is almost unrecognizable in this role compared to his recent appearance in Season 2 of HBO’s White Lotus. Not only do his physical characteristics appear to have been altered, but he captures the essence of Truman Capote’s signature nasal lisp in a way that never feels like a parody.
With a gay lead character in a midcentury setting, Capote Vs. the Swans features multiple instances of the F-slur throughout its eight episodes. While it’s mostly delivered by a cast of LGBTQ+ performers (including Russell Tovey from Looking and Truman Capote himself in self-deprecating moments), it’s often hurled as an insult by swans in moments of anger towards Capote. With most of these roles filled by actresses so fabulous that they stand as contemporary equivalents of gay icons of the era like Judy Garland and Bette Davis, the gay community at large will allow it. And while its presence may be shocking, it serves its purpose by creating uncomfortable tension.
The narrative this season is mostly non-linear, with a double-episode premiere that establishes the dawn of Capote’s decline before bottle episodes that are set before these events. Viewers may also find themselves believing the series has concluded prematurely, as the finale is, again, nearly all in flashback. But there’s also a twinge of fantasy to the series, with characters imagining conversations with characters who are either not on speaking terms or deceased, like Capote’s mother, portrayed by one of Ryan Murphy’s most frequent stock players – Jessica Lange.
Feud: Capote Vs. the Swans is a salacious, gossipy trip through the 60s and 70s, full of incredible performances, opulent set and costume design, and wonderful music (including a score by father/daughter duo Thomas Newman and Julia Newman). It’s bingeable, meamable, and sure to be all the rage on gay Twitter.
I give Feud: Capote Vs. the Swans 4 out of 5 black and white balls.
Feud: Capote Vs. the Swans premieres tonight at 10/9c on FX and starts streaming tomorrow on Hulu.
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