Hulu’s The Act
Season 1, Episode 6: “A Whole New World”
Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
Written by Heather Marion
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Plan B” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Bonnie & Clyde” – click here
On that quiet street in 2015, Dee Dee Blanchard (Patricia Arquette) is stabbed to death in her home, where she and her daughter Gypsy Rose (Joey King) are living what everyone assumed is, for them, a normal life.
1991, in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana. Dee Dee was giving birth. The baby was having trouble for a moment, then everything went fine. It took a second, but then she wailed, alive and healthy. Grandma Emma Pitre (Margo Martindale) was there to see her granddaughter. Easy to see early on Dee Dee had issues with her own mother centring on power and control.
Skip back/ahead to 2015. Nick Godejohn (Calum Worthy) and Gypsy Rose are taking their things in a cab and fleeing the scene of her mother’s murder. There’s no remorse whatsoever on the young man’s face, despite what’s just occurred inside that house. He’s almost elated instead. The two lovers head off together to the motel where Victor/Nick are staying.
Soundtrack note: The song while they leave is “Bonnie and Clyde” by Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg. TUNE! The next episode is actually titled the same as this song.
At the motel, Gypsy and Nick hang out in bed. He eats the brownies they took from the house with them. She records them on her camera as they get intimate together. Not that sexy when he’s got a mouthful of brownie. Afterwards they lie in bed like a normal couple, except they’re anything but, and it’s not long before Gypsy’s finding their real life conversations aren’t as thrilling as the ones they had online.
1991. Dee Dee was constantly chastised by Emma about her abilities as a new mom. The full scope of her psychological state gets clearer with every moment we see between these two. They saw a doctor for a checkup. Gypsy had “failure to thrive,” which is basically a “creepy name” meaning she was smaller than normal for a couple months old. Grandma kept on trying to control things with a stranglehold. The doc gave Dee Dee more encouragement than her mother.
Another aspect of Gypsy being out in the real world is, for better or worse, she has to realise people aren’t going to wait on her hand and foot like her mother. She’s not spoiled— she was stuck sick in a wheelchair for the majority of her life when she was perfectly healthy. It remains an adjustment, to understand life operates entirely different than it did inside the bubble her psychotic mother created. She’s discovering Nick can’t take care of her, either. I’s dawning on Gypsy she’s made a mistake hitching her star to him.
In 1993, police arrested Dee Dee for “felony cheque fraud.” It was out of her grandpa’s chequebook and he wanted to press charges. Things got worse when she had to go to jail. Her mother all but refused to raise money for her bond. This gave grandma time all alone with Gypsy, controlling things how she wanted to all along. There’s a sinister quality to it, even if Emma never hurt Gypsy the way Dee Dee would eventually.
After four months, Dee Dee was released, excited to go home and see her daughter. Gypsy didn’t immediately remember her mother. And Emma wanted praise for looking after her. She was a subtly nasty piece of work, using every last moment she could find to jab Dee Dee with a psychological barb. This is also where Dee Dee, at her earliest, started to exert her own hideous corporeal control over little Gypsy Rose, in an effort to exact revenge on Emma, or somehow retroactively taking back the power of which she was robbed. The worst was still a long way off, though.
At the motel, Nick is thrilled with a violent movie while Gypsy isn’t impressed. Neither does she like the sex later. Their situation’s rapidly devolving as she sees what she’s done to get away from her mother was not only morally upsetting, running away with Nick was mostly a dumb decision, because the guy’s utterly useless, dull, and a true sociopath. Yes, what Gypsy did, allowing the murder of her mother, was wrong, but she’s not a psycho. He most certainly is, and not an intelligent one.
Jump back to 1997.
Emma’s health was on the decline. She needed her daughter a lot. This was Dee Dee’s way of reclaiming power over her mother. Easy to understand these were cycles being perpetuated throughout a family history. This doesn’t excuse Dee Dee’s actions in the least. However, it does offer insight into how desperately flawed the woman was, and what led her to the psychological headspace in which she existed as a cruel, unforgiving mother. Dee Dee was already being deemed “a saint” for taking care of a child ad a sick mother at once. The Munchausen’s was being fed.
After Emma died, her last words to her daughter being horrible, Dee Dee wanted to start a new life. One day, Gypsy sneaked outside and played on the trampoline with her cousins. She fell off and hit the ground hard. A pretence for the Munchausen’s to unfold. When Gypsy got out of the hospital it was the first time she was sat in her wheelchair.
In 2015, Gypsy’s having PTSD-like flashbacks of the murder. She’s starting to get sick of Nick’s inability to do anything for himself, let alone the both of them. She rightfully freaks out. He’s upset and wants to comfort her. “I will never ever leave you alone,” he says. He pledges his love. Then they head off further on their fugitive road trip.
“Sometimes the only way out
As usual, The Act serves up another fantastic chapter. It’s getting closer to the end and it’s been interesting to watch how the writers adapt the true crime story to screen, given where everything started in Episode 1 and how non-linear the timeline’s played out.
“Bonnie & Clyde” is next time.