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FEUD: Capote vs The Swans

FX/Hulu, January 31, 2024

Feb 01, 2024 Photography by FX Web Exclusive
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The original “real housewives” are unveiled in Ryan Murphy’s FEUD: Capote vs The Swans. The second in Murphy’s FEUD series, this eight-episode installment, six of which are directed by Gus Van Sant, is focused on Truman Capote (Tom Hollander) and his gaggle of high society housewives aka “The Swans.” The series is based on Laurence Leamer’s book, Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era. It has Murphy’s signature soapy and scandalous tone, but not his technicolor aesthetic, in part because its focus decades are the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, the look maintains the grainy-around-the-edges texture of those eras.

FEUD pivots around Capote’s self-serving and manipulative nature, which he revealed in his pioneering true crime book, In Cold Blood, published prior to the series’ timeline. His greatest skills are duping his subjects into trusting him and his knack for storytelling. He uses these two to their fullest with the sophisticated and smartly turned out Swans. This flock is made up of an all-star cast with fun names like “Babe” (Naomi Watts), “Slim” (Diane Lane), “C.Z.” (Chloe Sevigny) and Lee (Calista Flockhart). This bevy is extended to “Bang Bang” (Demi Moore) so named by Capote when he spread his theory that she killed her husband, and Joanne, that is, Mrs. Johnny Carson (Molly Ringwald). The Swan that never was is Capote’s mother, portrayed viciously by venom-spitting Jessica Lange.

The Swans loves Capote’s gossipy stories. They include him in all their social events, private and high profile. He gives The Swans what they don’t get from their philandering husbands: support and attention. All the while he mirrors these cheating partners’ behaviors with his own flagrant affairs. Still, the advice he gives The Swans when they turn to him for help, is actually good. But it’s not wholly out of the goodness of his heart. There is an undercurrent of what moves he should push his Swans toward that would entertain him more, and what would keep him in the inner circle, in his perceived power position.

But then he writes a thinly veiled fiction book based on his access to these women, a sneak peek of which is printed in Esquire. The Swans may love Capote’s stories, but not when his poison pen has them in its sights. He underestimates their ire and is taken unawares when they close ranks. Slim leads the flock in sending Capote to Coventry, so to speak, instructing them to replace him with other gay men of note as their escorts to events and to send his flowers back so he knows they are not accepted. His fall into disfavor amplifies his simmering alcoholism into full-blown messiness.

The ensemble cast works seemingly effortlessly, their love/hate relationships and painful codependency at odds with the power they wield in society. The story has a fluid timeline which goes a long way in keeping viewers engaged in the layered elements and events that lead into each other. The scandals unfold casually as do the unexpected turns in the narrative. With each scandal and each new twist, there is renewed interest is the overall story. More irresistible than the most-watched “unscripted” series revolving around the wealthy and as riveting as an ‘80s mini-series, FEUD’s one-a-week episode drops (although it kicked off with two) cannot come fast enough.

Author rating: 8/10

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