Hulu’s The Act
Season 1, Episode 4: “Stay Inside”
Directed by Christina Choe
Written by Michelle Dean
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Two Wolverines” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Plan B” – click here
In 2013, Gypsy Blanchard (Joey King) continues to feel a awakening within herself. She’s older than she’s made to pretend, and this means she has the burgeoning sexual drive of a young woman. Who knows what her mother Dee Dee (Patricia Arquette) did to her development by keeping her as “a baby.”
We see Dee Dee bathing her daughter. Then when Gypsy gets out, she’s having her period. Mom gets upset because it’ll stain the bathmat. Her daughter says sorry, but smiles— then someone’s abusing another person then nothing is too petty, so having her mother clean up menstrual blood is definitely a small victory for Gypsy right now.
At the hospital, Dee Dee’s told she has “type 2 diabetes” and it’s gotten bad, meaning insulin. Suddenly mom needs her daughter. Another method to cling onto Gypsy. Like an extra bond of neediness. Dee Dee keeps trying to cage her daughter. She lies that the birth date Gypsy found was “a typo” and she really was born in ’95. Mom throws an 18th birthday party, just the two of them alone. She gives her a pair of pet guinea pigs as a present. More to help subjugate her daughter.
Lacey (AnnaSophia Robb) comes home from college to visit her mother Mel (Chloë Sevigny). She goes over to visit Gypsy briefly. She mentions meeting her new boyfriend online through a Christian dating site. This intrigues Gypsy, who’s curious about online dating. For those who know the real story, this sets the stage for everything to come.
Later, Dee Dee gets a call from her ex-husband, who’s been kept in the dark about everything in his child’s life, particularly his daughter’s supposed health issues. And there are other medical things coming up. Y’know, like the fact Gypsy is officially eighteen. Eighteen-year-old women can give “informed consent” for anything invasive.
This gets Dee Dee nervous. She starts trying to scare her daughter about what’s beyond their doorstep, such as creepy men who steal young girls. She scolds her daughter for taking the guinea pigs outside. Not only is the Munchausen’s awful, Dee Dee’s emotional abuse is so brutal. Gypsy has to swing on the pendulum between her mom being caring and sweet to her being exploitative and downright nasty.
Dee Dee goes to see a lawyer about obtaining guardianship over her grown daughter. While they talk, notice her hand on Gypsy: it’s always there, guiding silently. In the documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest, one of the people interviewed mentions how in all the photos/videos it’s the same. Dee Dee’s always reminding Gypsy physically of her absolute control, making sure she says the right thing to perpetuate the act. Right now, the situation isn’t going the way mama hopes. The lawyer determines Gypsy is competent on her own. Mom, again, turns exploitative, acting like they need this for a variety of different reasons and suggesting they’ll wind up homeless if not.
In the eyes of the law, she’s her own person.
While shopping Dee Dee needs a rest. Her ankles are swelling from the diabetes and she’s light headed. Gypsy goes off to help mom with shopping by herself. She goes to a store where they sell laptops. She’s stolen enough stashed cash to get herself one, hoping to explore the online digital landscape further. She sneaks out to the van, hiding her purchase before she goes back to her mother. What a sly girl! Already mom has someone calling for her over the P.A. She’s in bad shape, too. They go home and Gypsy has to inject her mother with insulin. This gives Dee Dee more chance to question her girl: “Do you love me?” The bond strengthens, despite the young woman yearning to break free.
At night, Gypsy takes out her new laptop and signs up for a Christian dating site. She poses with a wig, likening herself to “Rapunzel“— in real life, Gypsy loved the character because it was, in a sense, a metaphor of her own existence being trapped in a tower, unable to escape from a life to which she was confined, and the fairy tale was a way for her to mentally escape.
“I guess that I’m a lot of different people, too.”
Dee Dee asks Gypsy to watch Twilight and covers her daughter’s eyes when an intimate scene is on. That night, Gypsy has a bunch of messages on her dating profile, including one from the lawnmower guy Matt showing off his erect penis, which startles her.
Then a guy named Nick Godejohn (Calum Worthy) pops up looking to chat. He tells her she looks “like a princess.” Quite different from the random dick pic. After a while they talk on webcam. She mentions being in a wheelchair and all her “challenges.” He likes her for who she is, not her health or her physicality. He says he’s got “multiple personalities.” One of them is named Victor, a vampire.
One night, Dee Dee’s terribly weak. She has Gypsy check her blood sugar. She says her daughter needs to know that “lying and cheating is wrong.” She talks about having gone to jail years ago, then says there’s a way for them to stay safe, presenting the power of attorney papers. Dee Dee makes her lies into Gypsy’s lies by proxy, and she presents this as a threat to her daughter, that she’ll be made responsible for her mother’s crimes.
Gypsy weeps over the webcam to Nick about her predicament. She admits not needing the wheelchair. She feels trapped by her existence. That’s when Nick introduces her to a strange bit of erotica. He claims it’s BDSM, though there’s a bit of bestiality mixed into the image he sends. Is Nick another person who’ll exploit this young lady?
Next morning, Dee Dee finds Gypsy passed out on the floor of her room, laptop still out. Oh, my. Mom immediately smashes the computer to pieces with a hammer. Gypsy rebels, saying she’ll buy another one. Dee Dee goes nuts. She throws her daughter down and ties her arms. Gypsy spits in her face and mom falls to pieces on the bed. The daughter’s desperate to escape. Somehow she can’t bring herself to go. She’s trapped in so many ways, and one of those is psychologically. Not so easy to leave. This sends her deeper into her long distance relationship with Nick. She nurtures his “dark side” and they engage in text message BDSM. She masturbates imagining him actually there next to her.
The seeds are planted for murder when Nick says he’ll keep her safe— from anyone.
“I am your angel. And I protect you, and you protect me…”
A perfect episode with so much emotion and also devastating psychological torture at once. The Act has done well adapting this slice of disturbing true crime. Best of all are the performances. Father Gore’s not walked away from any of these episodes with a dry eye thanks to Joey King.
“Plan B” is next time. Anybody who knows the real case will know the episode’s title signifies something about what’ll be happening.