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Series / The Act

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The Act is a Hulu original true-crime limited series.

The limited series (only 8 episodes) is based on a 2016 Buzzfeed article that detailed a shocking 2015 crime. Joey King, Patricia Arquette, AnnaSophia Robb and Chloë Sevigny star.

As an infant, Gypsy Rose Blanchard was diagnosed with a laundry list of life-threatening illnesses that left her unable to walk, confined to a wheelchair, and unable to develop mentally past the age of a fifth grader. Her tireless single mother Dee Dee struggled to care for her in the face of an abusive husband who abandoned the family, mounting medical debt, and the loss of their home—and all Gypsy's medical records—in a hurricane. Fortunately for Dee Dee and Gypsy, the community stepped in. Now they have a beautiful little pink house in the middle of a quiet neighborhood full of friendly people who are charmed by Gypsy's childlike sweetness and in awe of Dee Dee's devotion to her daughter.

Except it's all a lie.

Gypsy knows she isn't really sick. She knows she can walk. And she knows that her mother will never, ever let her free.

And on a summer night, in a little pink house filled with secrets, something terrible is about to happen.

Tropes include:

  • Abusive Parent:
    • Dee Dee, among other things, drugs Gypsy, ties her to a bed, and forces her to undergo unnecessary medical procedures.
    • Dee Dee's own mother is emotionally abusive towards her.
  • Ambiguous Situation: It is left unclear just how much brainwashed Gypsy is by her mother to believe she is truly sick and how much was a deliberate manipulation from Dee Dee and how much was the work of a seriously unwell woman.
  • Artistic License – Prison:
    • The prison scene before the trial. There is absolutely no way that Nick would have been able to talk to Gypsy that long at the fence. At least three guards would have tackled him before he could get out two words, especially when the other inmates are up against the wall.
    • Likewise, Gypsy would not be allowed to get out of step to talk to someone when her group is returning to the unit. Nobody even tells her to get back into step.
  • Asshole Victim: Gypsy's plan to murder her mother and run away does not come unprovoked as Dee Dee has proven to be a very selfish, manipulative and abusive mother who is seriously messed up. In fact, in real life, many people felt sorry for Gypsy after learning of the abuse she endured since childhood and felt she didn't deserve prison time for, basically, being an abuse victim who finally snapped against their long-term abuser.
  • Audience Surrogate: Mel and Lacey, a single mother and teenage daughter, live next door to Dee Dee and Gypsy and act as an audience surrogate and a counterpoint example of a healthy mother-daughter relationship. Gypsy is shocked when the mother and daughter get into an argument in front of her, as Gypsy herself would never dream of talking back to Dee Dee.
  • Baldness Means Sickness: As part of the Münchausen's by Proxy situation, Dee Dee shaves Gypsy's head to make her look sicker.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Freedom from her mother, running her own life, having a boyfriend... none of these turns out to be as wonderful as Gypsy hoped.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Dee Dee seems to honestly believe Gypsy really is sick and in need of constant care, however much evidence is presented that she is actually fine and many of her conditions are not present or just outright impossible for her to have.
  • Blatant Lies: One of the only times Dee Dee gets called out for lying is when a medical professional in the ER tells her it is not possible for Gypsy to have an allergy to sugar, particularly because the formula that Dee Dee feeds Gypsy daily in her feeding tube is loaded with sugar.
  • Body Horror:
    • Gypsy's teeth rot and fall out, and later she is forced to go under anesthesia to have her remaining teeth pulled.
    • Gypsy's unnecessary feeding tube is also an example.
  • Comically Missing the Point: In an incredibly dark way. Nick tells Gypsy (while they are in prison) that he found out Bonnie and Clyde died together. He's so proud of himself for finding this out that he doesn't consider this isn't the right time to bring this up to Gypsy (who is terrified of facing the death penalty).
  • Con Man: Dee Dee gets donations, free vacations and a free house from people under the impression that Gypsy is disabled and sick.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Lacey has a bit of it, especially with her mother during a hangover and the woman excusing her exhaustion due to working a lot the night before.
  • Disappeared Dad: Gypsy's father appears in the final episode to visit Gypsy in prison. He explains that Dee Dee lied to him and Gypsy and kept him away from Gypsy, but that he still made monthly child support payments to her.
  • Downer Ending:
    • And how. Dee Dee is dead, but Gypsy and Nick's lives are ruined as they're sentenced to prison for her planned murder, and countless benefactors and friends of Gypsy feel betrayed from her and mother’s years of lies that they all detached all association from her.
    • In Universe: Gypsy sees her fantasized fairytale escape fall apart after arriving at the Godejohns'. Her Prince Charming is actually a clueless dolt with no future, they're living in filth and squalor, and Nick's parents are clearly not pleased that she intends to live with them. Gypsy also realizes Nick isn't seeing this arrangement as an unpleasant step towards the endgame: for him, this was the endgame.
    • The real-life events are much closer to a happier version as Gypsy went to prison for eight years and Nick was sentenced to life without parole but she was still relieved to be away from her mother, even stating she felt more free in prison than with Dee Dee, and even got married while incarcerated before being paroled and released at the end of 2023, reunited with her birth father and stepsister and was welcomed into her husband's family and has stated that she is happy and excited about her future. There's also the fact that her story has garnered her a lot of sympathy from those who believe she was unfairly sentenced for her acts and see her as a victim of abuse who was forced to fight back for her own safety, particularly among other survivors of similar abuse.
  • Epic Fail: Nick's first meeting with Dee Dee was a spectacular disaster.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Nick’s face has this when Gypsy is going to abandon him by dividing the trial case in court. He looked so hurt and betrayed.
  • Fake Charity: Dee Dee doesn't set up a fake charity exactly, but encourages donations for her daughter's claimed medical needs.
  • Faking Another Person's Illness: Dee Dee in a nutshell, for attention and money.
  • Fan Convention: Gypsy, dressed up like Cinderella, and Dee Dee, dressed up as a doting mother, attend one. Gypsy also makes her first attempt to leave Dee Dee after befriending another convention-goer.
  • Gaslighting: Some of Dee Dee's most blatant gaslighting to Gypsy is convincing her that she was born in a different year and claims she's younger than she actually is.
  • Grass is Greener:
    • Lacey's life seems this way to Gypsy, and for good reason. Not only is Lacey is healthy, able-bodied, and beautiful... she has a social life including a boyfriend and a circle of friends. These are all things typical for a teenage girl, but so unattainable for Gypsy.
    • Lacey's spat with her mother over her latest boyfriend illustrates that these things bring their own problems, which Gypsy doesn't seem to note.
  • Historical Beauty Upgrade:
    • Patricia Arquette is naturally attractive, but not even the necessary Beauty Inversion and added body weight could do anything to make her look like Dee Dee's Apron Matron.
    • Joey King is also far more beautiful than Gypsy, with striking blue eyes (Gypsy has dark brown eyes), and her body is clearly healthy and well-nourished (as opposed to Gypsy's emaciated appearance when living with her mother).
    • Despite having to cut and dye his hair in an unflattering way to look like his character Nick, you still get Calum Worthy.
  • Ignored Expert: Dr. Chandra suspects that Dee Dee and/or Gypsy is lying, but despite her attempts to help Gypsy, nothing comes of it.
  • Induced Hypochondria: Dee Dee does a combination of this as well as drugging Gypsy to actually induce symptoms in order to convince doctors that Gypsy is actually sick. Even Gypsy herself believes this to a degree, to the point that when she overreacts to feeling ill in prison, the doctor firmly tells Gypsy that she’s one of the healthiest people she has ever treated and that she doesn't need anything more than an aspirin.
  • Inspirationally Disabled: How Dee Dee presents Gypsy.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Dee Dee's mother may have belittled Dee Dee and she was mentally abusive towards her, but Dee Dee was worrying too much about the baby (who, as the doctor said, was perfectly fine, they just needed to find a system) and Gypsy was happier, healthier and better off with her grandma than with Dee Dee.
    • Mel is not the most pleasant woman but she has a lot of reason to be suspicious of the Blanchard family (especially when she spots Dee Dee shoplifting a necklace for Gypsy at the mall).
  • Karmic Death: Dee Dee heavily disapproves of Gypsy's relationship with Nick and chains Gypsy up to her bed as punishment. This became the final straw that causes Gypsy to ask Nick to kill her mother in her sleep.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Dee Dee. A prime example is when she gets Gypsy to sign the power of attorney papers by telling Gypsy that, now the girl is 18, Gypsy is old enough to be blamed for crimes instead of her mother - then gets her to believe that this applies to crimes committed by Dee Dee during Gypsy's childhood such as stealing, fraud, and so on.
  • Mistaken for Pedophile: Invoked by Dee Dee when she accuses Nick of being a pedophile after he awkwardly attempts to flirt with Gypsy at the movie theater. Of course, it's another ruse by Dee Dee because Gypsy is well over eighteen.
  • Münchausen's by Proxy: The entire show is based on a real, modern-day case of Munchausen's By Proxy that made headlines for how far things ended up going.
  • My Beloved Smother: Dee Dee to the point of being abusive. She keeps answering for Gypsy when Gypsy herself is the one asked a question, and when Gypsy does have to answer herself, Dee Dee often painfully squeezes Gypsy's arm to warn her to keep her answer inline, to start with. The real Gypsy even said she preferred prison as she still had more freedom than when she was with Dee Dee.
  • The New '10s: The decade where most of the series events take place (like Dee Dee's murder).
  • Obfuscating Disability: Dee Dee lies to Gypsy and everyone else about the state of her health. Gypsy is aware that she can walk without a wheelchair but uses one in public to please Dee Dee.
  • Oh, Crap!: Several.
    • Dee Dee, when she sees Mel just watched her shoplift.
    • Gypsy and Nick, when the police lights start illuminating the house.
    • Gypsy, when she sees that she may face the death penalty, a possibility she did not see coming.
    • Nick may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but when he sees that Gypsy's lawyer is dividing the case, he knows Gypsy is abandoning him... and his goose is cooked.
  • Parent-Induced Extended Childhood: Dee Dee not only keeps her daughter Gypsy Rose sick for the sake of Fake Charity, but also tries to prevent her from growing up as literally as possible via real world methods. It's left ambiguous if this is to make it easier to scam money and other material benefits from well-meaning observers, or to make her easier to abuse, to give her a child to indefinitely care for or some combination of the three. Either way, Dee Dee starves Gypsy Rose, keeps her medicated, subjects her to unnecessary medical treatments, gaslights her into believing that she's much younger than she actually is, and forces her to make use of Age-Inappropriate Dress — such as Disney Princess costumes.
  • Pink Is Feminine: Gypsy, Dee Dee and their house in Missouri. Dee Dee and Gypsy's image was that of a wholesome single mother and her innocent child who adores Disney Princesses and appeals to the Glurge Addict tastes of their neighbors.
  • Princesses Prefer Pink: Gypsy is often attired like a Disney Princess, and often in pink.
  • Slain in Their Sleep: Dee Dee meets her end this way.
  • Stepford Suburbia: Played with. The Missouri neighborhood has houses of a similar model, Colour-Coded for Your Convenience (like Lacey's and Mel's house in blue while the Blanchards have pink), but it's only the Blanchards that keep up the Stepford Smiler appearance while the other residents are more authentic (especially Mel's Brutal Honesty) and cuss more than the squeaky-clean looking Blanchards.
  • Sympathetic Murder Backstory: The overall theme of the series is whether Gypsy bringing about Dee Dee's murder is justified based on the years of abuse she endured.
  • Their First Time: Gypsy and Nick's first time occurs, horrifyingly, on the floor of a movie theater bathroom. As an added factor, it's Gypsy's first time ever being intimate with a man.
  • Tough Love: How Dee Dee's mother justifies herself: she could have told the police that her daughter wasn't there when they came to get Dee Dee for forging a check of her own late grandfather, but Dee Dee needed to learn a lesson.
  • Turn of the Millennium: The series starts after Dee Dee and Gypsy move to Missouri after their house was constructed in 2008. There are references to Enchanted, Lacey visits the Blanchards in a spaghetti strap ice blue minidress straight out of Delia's Catalog, mentions of Hurricane Katrina, Megan Fox is mentioned, and Lacey watches Desperate Housewives.
  • True Blue Femininity: Lacey. She appears in blue jewelry and a blue dress, her house is blue, and so is the family car.
  • Vanilla Edition: Universal Home Entertainment has come out with a release of this limited series on Blu-Ray, and it's very basic—just the 8 episodes, and nothing more.
  • Wham Shot: Near the end of the first episode as Gypsy, having spent the entire episode in a wheelchair as a sick girl, removes her oxygen mask then rises to her feet and calmly walks into the kitchen.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist:
    • Gypsy has unrealistic expectations of romance, based on years of watching Disney Princess movies, and the real world in general. It's only to be expected given how much Dee Dee is sheltering her.
    • Nick as well, at least to an extent. He believes that he and Gypsy belong together and it will all work out somehow. But unlike Gypsy, he can't shake this off when things aren't going according to plan.