Hulu’s The Act
Season 1, Episode 1: “La Maison du Bon Reve”
Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
Written by Nick Antosca & Michelle Dean
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Teeth” – click here
We start with a 911 call on June 14th, 2015, from a concerned neighbour stating nobody at the house next door is answering, even though their car’s in the driveway. The house belongs to Dee Dee Blanchard (Patricia Arquette), who lives there with her ill daughter Gypsy Rose (Joey King). The neighbour’s worried because she saw some “scary posts” on their Facebook pages saying “that bitch is dead” and other horrific things, prompting the police to come. The neighbour, Mel (Chloë Sevigny), climbs through a window before any police arrive, finding only a quiet, tomb-like atmosphere.
We learn Dee Dee and Gypsy were left “homeless after Katrina,” which eventually led them to getting a house from Habitat for Humanity. Mom’s overbearing, all but coaching her daughter what to say and how to say it when they’re together on the news. Her daughter isn’t well physically, yet so strong in personality and spirit. Gypsy seems eager to please her mother. We also quickly see how difficult it is for her daily, going through the motions of her vague illness, being fed through a tube directly into her abdomen, and wearing a sleep apnea machine to bed each night. We see the vast array of medications she takes when Dee Dee stands in front of the medicine cabinet at night— taking a few pills for herself, too— and there’s something not quite right about mom, whose writing on a prescription bottle (SLEEPY BABY) suggests potentially sinister things so casually.
Soundtrack note: “Prove Your Love” by Fleetwood Mac plays as the title card appears
“Look at those stars,
not the ghosts.”
One day at their house, the Blanchards gets a visit from a young woman named Lacey (AnnaSophia Robb). Lacey saw them on TV. She does volunteering at the hospital and offers Gypsy a makeover. Dee Dee reluctantly allows it. While the girls are alone, Gypsy briefly mentions family history, or at least what her mother’s told her is their family history, like the fact her father “made fun” of how she walked, in a time before she was wheelchair bound. And, of course, mom’s always close, listening nearby. Later, Dee Dee makes sure to wipe off all the makeup, unwilling to see her girl grow up.
Soon they start to meet people in the neighbourhood. Dee Dee meets Mel and Shelly (Denitra Isler). All she ever talks about is her ill child, drawing every little bit of sympathy possible. Mel’s totally different, like a wolf raising her pups. There’s also a compelling contrast between these two mothers, nearly at two polar opposites of the spectrum. Dee Dee makes a big scene when Lacey offers Gypsy a sip of Coke, saying “she‘s allergic” and could “go into shock.” At home, mom frightens her daughter into following dietary requirements and pulls a narcissistic guilt trip.
At the mall, Mel witnesses Dee Dee and Gypsy stealing from a jewellery stand. She’s gotten a glimpse behind the veil of the Blanchard family. Back home, Dee Dee tries to talk to Mel, though it doesn’t go well. Meanwhile, Gypsy takes the time alone to get on the laptop by herself. She BREAKS MY HEART by typing the words ‘best friend’ and ‘boyfriend kiss’ into a search engine so she can feel some semblance of a normal life. She deletes the history before mom gets home.
Sadder still is when Gypsy suggests pizza for supper because it always cheers her mother up, meaning blended pizza with formula so she can be fed through her tube. A brutally emotional metaphor for their entire relationship: Gypsy’s experience of pizza is no different or more enjoyable than anything else through that tube, and she chooses something solely because it’s what her mother will like, illustrating how desperately she wants to make her mother happy.
The neighbourhood treats the Blanchards like royalty. Everyone gets together to have a big cookout, raising money for an eye operation Gypsy needs. In the midst of it all the sick young girl sits looking longingly at everyone enjoying food, games, and physical contact with other people. When she’s alone for a minute she decides to eat icing off a cupcake. Simultaneously, Mel confronts Dee Dee about the mall, which the mother lies about and blames on her child’s illness. Mom freaks out when she sees her girl’s having a cupcake, immediately stabbing her with an EpiPen. This leaves everyone in shock, wondering how much one mother can take.
It conveniently takes the heat off Dee Dee.
After yet another trip to the hospital, Dee Dee finds Mel waiting outside to return her wallet that she left at the party. This gives Dee Dee more time to lament a “bad reputation,” claiming she was treated wrong in Louisiana due to her past. Her daughter’s the only thing she has in life. Mel also reveals she has her own troubled past, offering a “fresh start” between the two. Is it merely another chance for Dee Dee to try and pull the wool over her eyes?
Back to June 14th, 2015. The neighbourhood is lit up with police car lights. Detectives finally have a warrant to enter the house. They find all of Gypsy’s dolls and stuffed animals in their usual places. Then, in the main bedroom, they discover Dee Dee’s corpse looking like she was stabbed in the back, shocking all the neighbours with such macabre news for their normal neighbourhood.
So, where did Gypsy go?
Well, jumping back again, there’s more evidence to show Dee Dee is a con artist. She has a stash of cheques written out to various other Blanchards— other identities she’s used, and will continue to use. We see her go to sleep that night in bed next to her daughter. Their routine changes this night. Gypsy shuts off her machine and gets out of bed. Because she CAN walk. After a moment it’s like she never stopped walking. She goes downstairs and eats a handful of whipped cream. No shock. She isn’t allergic to the sugar. Even the doctors know it. Now, she knows it for sure.
Back upstairs, mom sees her girl’s been walking around. She isn’t happy, ordering Gypsy back to bed. Such cruel and twisted ‘love’ from a mother. At least the daughter now knows her mother isn’t her protector, rather she’s a sadist.
An intriguing opener to The Act. Even if you know the details of the case, Antosca and Dean present things in such a way that it’s interesting to watch unfold. Certainly doesn’t hurt that Joey King and Patricia Arquette are acting for the goddesses!
“Teeth” is next.