Patricia Arquette and Joey King are both so fantastic as mother and daughter in The Act, Hulu’s new true crime anthology series, that it’s easy to overlook how this tragic story has (already in only a few short years) received a few tellings, including an HBO documentary called Mommy Dead and Dearest. HBO’s recent Sharp Objects (an adaptation of a Gillian Flynn novel) further stoked audience fascination with Munchausen by proxy, and Hulu’s first-season take on Gypsy Rose Blanchard’s plight explores the exceptionally twisted mother-daughter relationship at hand. The series succeeds on that level by proving itself to be frequently difficult to witness, yet true crime fans won’t be able to resist this dramatization of a real-life horror story.
I wouldn’t exactly call this series a rewarding watch. It’s a tough one, but it provides an engrossing experience that will make you feel thankful for your own “normal” childhood (assuming that you had one). A spoiler warning about the content isn’t necessary, either, given that the series doesn’t hide how this story will end and shows the crime scene in the show’s opening moments. Indeed, the target audience for this series likely already realizes that Gypsy is serving a 10-year sentence for conspiring in the 2015 murder of her mother, Dee Dee. What’s more interesting than the actual crime, though, is the obsession-fueled nightmare leading to the deadly act. Also haunting: How the story swiftly moves from the bloody introduction into surreal shots of the Blanchards’ Cinderella-esque home, as Dee Dee gleefully basks in a media circus of attention.
Early on in the series, Gypsy is still brainwashed and very much believes that she suffers from leukemia, a severe sugar allergy, and a host of other ailments that (supposedly) make her unable to leave a wheelchair. Quite quickly, however, the series spirals into a portrait of a child abuser who’s struggling to maintain control while the walls close in. Gypsy grows older, and it becomes more difficult for Dee Dee to keep a lid on things while doctors, social workers, and neighbors all grow suspicious. Throughout, Gypsy cannot free herself from chains (both physical and otherwise) even when she’s got a clear path towards escape. It’s portrayed in as gut-wrenching and heart-crushing a manner as possible, and the series digs deep to examine the psyches of both women, neither of whom wins any sort of battle.