Warning: This article contains spoilers from Feud: Capote Vs. the Swans episode 2, “Ice Water In Their Veins.”
Aside from the likes of Babe Paley (Naomi Watts), CZ Guest (Chloë Sevigny), and Slim Keith (Diane Lane), there’s another of Truman Capote’s so-called “Swans” who has emerged on Feud: Capote Vs. the Swans. This one, though, is a black swan.
After starring in season 1’s Bette and Joan as Joan Crawford, Ryan Murphy must Jessica Lange returned for season 2 to play Lillie Mae Faulk, Capote’s mother, who appears in the form of a specter, like the In Cold Blood author’s personal Angel of Death.
“Ryan and I both knew we needed a black swan, and we both saw it in the same way,” Capote Vs. the Swans showrunner and writer Jon Robin Baitz tells EW. “There’s a saturated sense of Tennessee Williams’ South, his childhood, that permeates Truman’s own upbringing. When you think about that mother, I think she’s, in a sense, the Rosebud here. If Truman has motives, they’re subconscious ones, but they involve vindicating games.”
That’s how Baitz saw Lange’s Lillie Mae, as a classic Tennessee Williams ghost, like Willy Loman’s brother in Death of a Salesman. She emerges in the second episode, “Ice Water In Their Veins,” when Capote (played by Tom Hollander) is looking for his next drink. After the publication of excerpts from his novel Answered Prayers, in which he wrote about the secrets of his high-society friends in a thinly veiled story, his circle shunned him in retaliation. Without anywhere in New York to go for Thanksgiving, he finds himself at the California home of Joanne Carson (Molly Ringwald), his last friend.
Deep into late-stage alcoholism, he enters a hallucinatory state in which his mother, with whom he had a toxic relationship, appears before him. “So, son, you got fat, didn’t you?” she tells him. “And you were so… you were so, so beautiful. Too beautiful. A normal boy would’ve outgrown the beauty and hardened. But you… you got soft.”
The part became an homage to the 1979 film All That Jazz, in which Lange played an Angel of Death named Angelique. “I thought about All That Jazz consciously to find a certain kind of style for certain scenes in the show, particularly the black-and-white performative ones and that last number where Jessica’s the Angel of Death, as it were,” Baitz says. “Because I loved the film unconditionally , and I only have a few of those, it was stuck in my subconscious. And, in a way, [Lange’s Lillie Mae] calls back to that performance.”
Baitz knows he’s about to speak in clichés, but acknowledges how the Angel of Death is an important character for him as a writer. “I find that so much of life is taken for granted and an Angel of Death will remind us just how precious every moment is,” he says.
He sees the classic literary figure in a similar manner to the way many of us often speak to loved ones long after their deaths. “I still talk to my mom. I try and keep the conversation going, which is either crazy or incredibly sane,” Baitz continues. “The pivotal relationship between a mother and son, in this case, is so fraught and a fragile child like Truman, who has in some ways a very unnatural relationship to his mother, is filled with a lack of resolution. In someone who’s disinhibited and inebriated, it’s easier to conjure those things up.”
The first two episodes of Feud: Capote Vs. the Swans will be available to stream on Hulu Thursday. Episode 3 will air on FX next Wednesday before also dropping on the streaming platform the following day.
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