The Act

On March 20, 2019, Hulu released the first two episodes of its new anthology series, “The Act.” The first season focuses on Gypsy Rose and Dee Dee Blanchard, a mom and daughter who are seemingly down on their luck and dealing with Gypsy’s mountain of illnesses.

In truth, Dee Dee suffers from Munchausen’s by proxy. This condition is when someone, i.e. a parent, believes that their child has a range of different illnesses. They can either make these up by reading or hearing about the illness, or take some small, insignificant “symptom” and believe it’s a sign of a disease.

In Dee Dee and Gypsy’s case, Gypsy really did have cancer when she was little, but that was where the real illnesses stopped.

In March of 2008, Gypsy and Dee Dee moved into a new house built for them by Habitat for Humanity. They were victims of Katrina, and Dee Dee used the hurricane as a ploy to effectively say that all of Gypsy’s medical records were destroyed by the floods.

According to harpersbazzar.com, this was later found to be false, as stated in an article on Buzzfeed.com. Some of Gypsy’s records did survive the floods.

For her entire life, Gypsy had gone along with what her mom made her believe until an incident at a community party. Gypsy, who had never had sugar due to her mom telling her she was allergic, decided to taste a cupcake for the first time. Her mom, discovering this, rushes her to the hospital.

Gypsy overhears the conversation between the doctor and her mom in which the doctor tells Dee Dee that there is no way Gypsy could be allergic to sugar as the food she is given through her feeding tube has sugar in it.

Knowing this, Gypsy begins to sneak out of bed at night to go on sugar binges. It’s on these late night excursions that we learn that Gypsy can not only walk without issue, but she can pretty much dance around as well. This begins Gypsy’s late night “freedom” sessions.

After a trip to a comic convention in 2011, Gypsy meets a man who sweeps her off her feet, figuratively and literally. Obsessed with the idea of freedom, Gypsy decides to run away.

She’s learning not to trust what her mother says and on one of her nightly outings she learns she’s not 15 as her mother stated, but actually 19. On her first and only escape attempt, she leaves her mother a note to this effect, mentioning she now knows her age and runs off to be with her prince charming.

Of course, mom shows up, causes a scene and drags her off back home, but not before making sure the man thinks Gypsy is actually 14. Having been stuck in a wheelchair her whole life and with her head shaved, it’s not hard for people to think Gypsy is much younger than what she really is.

This makes the scenes where she’s discovering who she is and learning about adult matters all that much more unsettling.

In 2012, she met Nicholas Godejohn on a Christian dating website. Godejohn had autism and was from Big Bend, Wisconsin. The two went on to have a relationship for almost two and a half years. Dee Dee learned about the relationship and of course, tried to persuade Gypsy to break it off.

The couple planned to meet with Dee Dee around, hoping that it might convince her to let them continue the relationship. According to testimony from the trial, Dee Dee hated Godejohn, but Gypsy was able to sneak away and lose her virginity to him at the movie theater.

This sparked Dee Dee to punish Gypsy after learning about it. Gypsy then decided that her mom had to die “not because I hated her. It was because I wanted to escape her.”

Joey King portrays Gypsy excellently, bringing her frustration, desire to be a woman and childlike innocence together in a way that meshes so perfectly, you’d almost think she WAS Gypsy. She’s almost unrecognizable as herself in the roll, allowing the viewer to get lost in the immersion of the show.

Patricia Arquette, who plays Dee Dee Blanchard, pulls off a sickly-sweet, “momma-knows-best” attitude that leaves an odd taste in your mouth – not in a bad way, as the acting is phenomenal, so phenomenal in fact that you almost can feel what the real Dee Dee was like, and you begin to understand why Gypsy was so trapped.

To all appearances, Dee Dee is just an unfortunate parent who has to tend to her very ill child, and Patricia plays the part so well it garners sympathy not just from the other characters in the show, but from the viewer as well. Then she turns around and manipulates Gypsy in some way and it leaves you wanting to just yank the poor girl out of there and smack everyone for not seeing what was going on.

Obviously, most people know how this story will end. Gypsy eventually meets up with a man who agrees to help her kill her mom and escape. So why did Gypsy kill her mom? Why didn’t she just try to escape and tell someone? The Act shows a couple of characters – her neighbor at first, and later a doctor at the hospital – slightly catching on to Dee Dee’s act and getting suspicious.

However, in real life it wasn’t really that way. Dee Dee’s act was so good, and she was so believable that she had EVERYONE convinced that Gypsy wasn’t even mentally sound. She convinced authorities, doctors and neighbors that Gypsy might BE 18, but mentally, she was much, much younger.

In an article in Newsweek, Nicholas Godejohn, Gypsy’s boyfriend who helped commit the murder was quoted as saying:

“If she tried to go to the police, due to the way her mom was making her be portrayed to look as, she would have basically looked like a lunatic that no one would believe due to what her mom was putting in everyone else’s head,” Godejohn said.

“She felt that it was a non-escapable path she was on and she needed someone to understand her enough to be willing to basically risk their life for her.”

Gypsy went to jail for ten years for conspiracy to commit murder, and Godejohn is serving life without parole for committing the murder.

The mental and physical abuse of Gypsy, and Godejohn’s diagnosis of autism raise the question of “should these two have been put in jail, or should they have been placed in a mental facility?”

Gypsy will be eligible for parole in 2024 and suffered no ill effects from her mother’s abuse. Her father has started a petition to get her released earlier, but there’s no indication it will have any effect.

Jeri Hensley
Graphic Designer

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