Hulu’s The Act
Season 1, Episode 3: “Two Wolverines”
Directed by Adam Arkin
Written by Robin Veith
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Teeth” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Stay Inside” – click here
In 2011, Dee Dee Blanchard (Patricia Arquette) collects all sorts of money from a GoFundMe page and the countless letters that pour in for her daughter Gypsy Rose (Joey King). Meanwhile, at night, Gypsy’s spending time online watching videos about kissing and getting into the world of cosplay. One potent image is of her legs— she lays on her stomach while browsing the internet, her legs behind her knocking together absentmindedly. It’s an involuntary action that happens without us ever actually thinking about it. Seeing Gypsy do it is symbolic. She spends her days locked up in a wheelchair by her mother, frozen figuratively. At night, she’s free.
Gypsy is looking forward to Fantasticon, where she’ll be able to slip out of her skin in a costume and makeup. There’s a telling moment when they check in and Dee Dee says her daughter’s birthday is “1995” but Gypsy was under the impression it was “1993” and this gives the young girl pause. Gypsy’s soon swept away into the sci-fi wondery of the convention. She and mom run into Shelley and her boyfriend. They also meet a man named Russ (Dean Norris), dressed like Wolverine. He’s struck by Dee Dee, having noticed her from afar.
At the same time, Gypsy’s left alone, and takes the time to look around. She fixes her dress to make it look more womanly. When she talks to people, she’s constantly treated like a little girl. Although she does meet another guy dressed as Wolverine— Scott— who actually talks to her like a grown person. They chat about Logan and Jean Grey. They’re ushered to the front of a line— where they’re waiting to see the DeLorean from Back to the Future— because Gypsy’s in a wheelchair. Scott picks her up to put her in one of the seats and it’s like she’s being carried over the threshold.
“You are my angel and you protect me and I protect you”
In 2015, everybody’s wondering how something so brutal could’ve happened to Dee Dee. Shelley mentions Dee Dee calling in the middle of the night about “some guy” and Mel (Chloë Sevigny) grills her on it, wanting to know if there’s more to this man than just half-recalled memories. Either way, the murder and potential kidnapping has left the neighbourhood in shambles.
Back to 2011. Dee Dee interrupts Gypsy while she’s having fun with Scott, cutting their time short. Gypsy makes a curious mention of him using his claws on her mom. Russ shows up again trying to get Dee Dee’s attention. He tells her about losing his boy, who was also in a wheelchair before he died. Mom’s only refusing all the attention because it’ll be too much for her and Gypsy’s secret life to bear.
At home, Gypsy decides she’ll open her own Facebook account, after her talk with Scott, only to be confused about her birth date again. She goes through her mother’s things, finally discovering her real birthday is in 1991: she’s 20 years old. Gypsy’s not only been prevented from living life, she doesn’t even know herself at all on a personal level. Right away, she goes to mom’s nest egg fund to steal cash. Later at a gas station, Gypsy secretly purchases a cellphone and uses it to start texting Scott.
Sometimes I feel like it’s my job just to make people happy
An interesting juxtaposition in this sequence shows Gypsy talking to Scott, each pretending to live different lives than they actually do— she calls the hospital staff her ‘friends’ and he makes up a vivid life as a surgeon when he’s really an orderly— then there’s Dee Dee, who continues to get phone calls from Russ. What’s compelling is how Dee Dee’s able to live her life, yet she’s effectively chosen to give up so much all due to a desperate need for attention, whereas Gypsy’s been subjugated to an object in her mother’s needy arsenal and can’t live the life she wants, forced to resort to making up a fantasy life for herself.
But how long is fantasy good enough? Gypsy’s already subtly suggesting to Scott she wants to be taken away from home. He sends her a package. She sneaks into the bathroom, opening the envelope to see her Wolverine’s sent her the red Ariel wig from the convention. Simultaneously, Russ— a self-proclaimed “simple guy“— is trying to ingratiate himself to Dee Dee, offering himself up to do “man work” around her place. He seems like a genuine person. Shame to see him wasting that goodness on a woman like Mama Blanchard. Soon as he mentions wanting to help with Gypsy he’s hung up on. Dee Dee doesn’t want anybody close enough to unravel her lies.
One day, Gypsy talks with Lacey (AnnaSophia-Robb) and tells her about meeting “Prince Charming.” She’s giddy with the first sense of love she’s felt outside of what she’s felt for her mother. She lets Lacey know she has a secret FB account under Emma Rose. Of course everything she says seems, to Lacey, like fantasy. Nobody could’ve known how fast the fantasy was becoming real. One night, Scott says he was in the ER, which prompts Gypsy to throw on her Ariel wig and head to the hospital— on her own two feet. He’s shocked by seeing her walk and looking like a woman rather than a child. At home, mom’s waking up to the realisation her daughter’s gone. This is the night Dee Dee called Shelley in the middle of the night.
Gypsy goes back to Scott’s place. There’s something equally sad and sweet about her, how deeply she wants human connection. They kiss but get interrupted by Dee Dee at the door. Gypsy goes home reluctantly.
The saddest moment? Dee Dee forces Gypsy back into the chair. They both know the charade isn’t real, however, appearances must be kept up. For Gypsy, returning to that house is prison. Being back in the chair after getting free of it for a short while is like climbing a vast mountain. Her struggle is the same as that of Prometheus, having to find the strength to continually push that rock up a hill when she knows it’s futile.
Soundtrack note: The final song is “Bad Things” by Cults. Fitting lyrics, too.
“You don’t need to tell them the whole truth when you’re in pain”
It’s a good thing for Father Gore that Hulu hasn’t released every episode at once because this is TEAR JERKING SHIT! Truly, the performances are fantastic, and the writing is so tight. There’s a profound sense of emotion here which never exploits the true crime story of the Blanchards. Instead, it’s a sympathetic look at a tragic and inhumane situation. Not all true crime is as courteous to its real life subjects. The Act looks at the disturbing details while keeping a human focus at its core.
“The Tower” is next time.