The Act: Episodes 1 and 2

Just today as of the writing of this post, a new series premiered on Hulu that I’ve been looking forward to for a while. The Act is a dramatizes the murder of Clauddine “Dee Dee” Blanchard at the hands of her daughter Gypsy Rose. Before I begin, I want to address something that I need to get out of the way. I am aware that the word gypsy is a derogatory term for the Roma people. It isn’t a word that I want to make a part of my vocabulary. However, since that is Gypsy Rose Blanchard’s name, I will be using that word in this context.

For those unfamiliar with the events on which the series is based, here’s a summary. Dee Dee Blanchard claimed that her daughter Gypsy Rose had several chronic illnesses. Her story is a textbook example of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. She claimed that Gypsy had leukemia, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and more. Dee Dee forced Gypsy to use a wheelchair that she didn’t need. Gypsy ate through a tube, giving Dee Dee control of everything that went into her daughter’s body. Despite what Dee Dee Blanchard wanted others to think, her daughter was healthy. The only problems she had were effects of the unnecessary medication that she had to take.

The Act isn’t the first time that the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard has been the focus of a piece of media. A documentary that I would recommend is Mommy Dead and Dearest on HBO. It includes interviews with the people involved, as well as a concise summary of the events of that day in 2015.

The pilot episode is called La Maison Du Bon Rêve. It introduces the main characters. This series wastes no time in showing the audience how the story is going to end. Lacey and Mel, two of the Blanchards’ neighbors, call the police after they haven’t seen or heard from them. They saw a disturbing message on the family’s Facebook account. The Facebook post that alerted others to the murder is still online today, by the way. Police later find Dee Dee Blanchard face down in her bed with stab wounds in her back

My initial thought about The Act is its use of subtext. The story jumps back to when the Blanchards arrived in Springfield, Missouri. They received a house from Habitat for Humanity that the neighbors built for them for free. During an interview for the local news, the reporter wanted to ask Gypsy how she felt about the new house. Dee Dee interrupts Gypsy, not allowing her to answer for herself. This shows how controlling Dee Dee is and it sets up a foundation for how Dee Dee treats Gypsy.

The first episode focuses on Gypsy’s supposed allergy to sugar. When Gypsy is helping Lacey and her boyfriend wash Mel’s car, Lacey offers Gypsy a coke. Right before Gypsy drinks it, Dee Dee grabs it from her hands. Dee Dee claims that she’ll go into anaphylactic shock if she consumes any sugar. Later after they throw a party and invites the neighbors, Gypsy sneaks a cupcake from the table. Dee Dee shoots an epi-pen into her leg and rushes her to the emergency room. She overhears a nurse’s doubts about the legitimacy of her allergy and begins to doubt it herself.

After her trip to the emergency room, Gypsy decides to test her allergy. She readies her epi-pen in case she has a reaction after all, then eats some whipped cream. Nothing happens. This arc as a whole is a great example of both how well edited The Act is and how powerful editing can be. Spraying a little bit of whipped cream onto your finger and eating it is such an innocuous act. Yet that whole scene looks like a scene from a horror film. First Gypsy stands up, stretches, then walks down to the kitchen. For someone that doesn’t know Gypsy Rose’s story (and didn’t watch the trailer) I would imagine that it would be a surprise.

The second episode is called Teeth. After realizing that it’s safe for her to have sugar, Gypsy decides to go all out. The episode starts with Gypsy doing all thei things her mother forbid her from doing. She watches makeup tutorials and eats frosting straight from the can. But her nightly sugar binges are not without consequences. As Gypsy takes a bite of some candy, she gasps in pain as she realizes that she’s experiencing severe tooth decay. Luckily Dee Dee doesn’t consider that she’s been eating sugar. Rather, she realizes that she can turn the situation into one that benefits her. She takes Gypsy to the children’s hospital to look at possible acid reflux.

Gypsy sees a gastroenterologist, Dr. Lakshmi Chandra, at her doctor’s recommendation. She soon suspects that Dee Dee might be exhibiting signs of Munchausen by Proxy. She tries to verify Gypsy’s medical records, but the web of doctors and lost records is too thick. Still, Dr. Chandra finds enough evidence to call Child Services for an investigation. To make Gypsy seem to have a mental disability, Dee Dee sedates her when the agent visits their house.

My favorite scene from the second episode is when Dr. Chandra bets Gyspy a can of coke that she’s not actually allergic to sugar. At this point I have to wonder if Coca-Cola was a major sponsor of this program. I wish that the product placement wasn’t so ham-fisted. Regardless, Dr. Chandra asks Gypsy to try to drink the soda to see if she would have a reaction. Gypsy refuses, but for a reason that outlines her entire relationship with her mother. Remember that at this point she knows that it’s safe to have as much sugar as she wants. She still keeps up the act though, because her mother needs her. She knows that she’s not sick, or at least not as sick as Dee Dee says that she is.

I’ve been interested in this murder since I first saw Mommy Dead and Dearest a while ago. I’ve been anticipating The Act since I saw the trailer, and it was worth the wait.

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