“La Maison Du Bon Rêve” — the title of the premiere episode of Hulu’s The Act — literally translates to “the house of the good dream.” And sure, that’s exactly what the now infamous pink house where Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blanchard (played by Patricia Arquette and Joey King) lived was supposed to be. But as those who’ve followed the true story of Gypsy Rose know, the inviting home was anything but a good dream.
Hulu’s dramatization of the story of Dee Dee, who suffered from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy that caused her to exaggerate and fabricate her daughter Gypsy’s medical problems, starts at the end, on June 15, 2015 at 5:06 p.m. As the camera pans through the pink house’s main hallway, audio from neighbor girl Lacey’s (AnnaSophia Robb) 9-1-1 call serves as a score. She’s worried about Gypsy and Dee Dee, who seem to missing after a disturbing Facebook post on their page included the phrases “That bitch is dead,” “I slashed her like a pig,” and a claim that the author had also raped Dee Dee’s daughter. Lacey’s mother May (Chloë Sevigny) finally breaks in through the window and calls for Dee Dee as sirens approach. But she doesn’t get an answer, and for now, neither do we.
Cut to seven years earlier, when Gypsy & Dee Dee first moved into their Habitat for Humanity-built home with smiles on their faces and a big on-camera interview with the local news.
“It’s almost like we’re in a Disney movie,” coos Dee Dee to a news crew. She clutches Gypsy’s hand as the girl giggles like someone many years her junior and professes her love of Disney princesses. Though Dee Dee veers off track from the interviewer’s simple question about being given a house, she also utters the description of Gypsy that just might predestine her fate: “That girl is stronger than she looks.”
It would be nice if they could hear from Gypsy, the reporter says, hoping to encourage Dee Dee to stop speaking for her daughter. Dee Dee leans in and whispers the reporter’s question to Gypsy, as if speaking directly to someone other than her mother isn’t an option.
“Um, my mom already is my best friend,” says the girl. “But the funny thing is, a few years ago, she had gave me this little glass house. And she said, ‘One day, this will be yours.’ And now it finally is.”
When the cameras stop, the titular act begins to show its cracks. “Was I good?” Gypsy meekly asks. “You were perfect,” Dee Dee assures her.
The Blanchard home is filled with images of Gypsy and Dee Dee smiling with rosy cheeks, along with an oil painting of a girl with long brown hair, presumably Gypsy. We go through their routine, starting with Dee Dee shaving Gypsy’s head as the girl sits in the kitchen sink and wonders what her hair would look like “if we let it grow in.” Dee Dee distracts her with a Disney reference (of which there are plenty in this disturbing story based on real events), asking, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” Gypsy looks into the pink handheld mirror and manages to eke out, “Um, you are.” She giggles before her smile fades. She says she’s just upset because she’s worried they won’t stay in town for long — they’ve moved plenty of times before. Dee Dee says they’re staying put, as she grinds unidentified pills into a paste and sets Gypsy back in her wheelchair. “This house doesn’t belong to the government,” she specifies. “We’re gonna live in this house together for the rest of our lives. There are no hurricanes in Missouri.”
With that, Dee Dee injects unidentified yellow goo into a tube connected to Gypsy’s stomach. Apparently Gypsy eats most meals this way — even pizza, which Dee Dee blends with Pediasure at one point in the episode before slowly injecting it into Gypsy’s food tube while whistling “Three Blind Mice.”
Their bedtime routine is detailed, starting with Dee Dee rubbing lotion on Gypsy’s hands and reciting a familiar refrain about the sky and the stars. “The stars are angels and the angels protect us,” chirps Gypsy. “And you are my angel and you protect me and I protect you,” promises Dee Dee, before she slips Gypsy’s sleep apnea mask over her head and puts her daughter to bed.
It all seems a bit intense, perhaps excessive, but at this point, Dee Dee seems like an eccentric mother caring for a deeply needy child. But there are signs that’s not quite the case. What disease requires a mother to shave her daughter’s head daily? And inject her meals via a tube? And what is Gypsy’s sleep mask actually for? And why the hell does her mother have a double door closet jam-packed full of more medications than one human could ever actually use?
Before we can fathom an answer, Dee Dee pops two Xanax from the personal pharmacy before moving onto a bottle labeled “sleepy baby,” from which she also takes two pills.
Outside of those pink walls, we meet the Blanchards' neighbors from the flash forward scene earlier. Lacey roams as free as can be; her mother believes in teaching her kids self sufficiency early on (maybe a little too much self sufficiency as we see when Lacey ribs her mother for being hungover before she leaves to greet the new neighbors). The duo provide a purposefully stark contrast to their neighbors across the way.
Sans May, Lacey knocks at Gypsy and Dee Dee’s door — a development that makes Gypsy downright giddy. It’s clear she hasn’t had very much interaction with other teens and that she craves it. Decked in her fuzzy pink bathrobe and matching hat, Gypsy begs her mother to let Lacey stay when the neighbor girl offers to give Gypsy a makeover as part of her charity work. Dee Dee appears threatened by the suggestion, and later forces Gypsy to remove the makeup because she's "not like other girls," but in the moment she reluctantly allows it.
Immediately, it becomes clear that what Dee Dee is afraid of is exactly what’s happening. As Lacey does Gypsy’s makeup, the wheelchair-bound girl becomes very interested in Lacey's necklace — a blue beaded string with a white leaf pendant — and the boyfriend that gave it to Lacey. After meeting her new pal, the socially starved Gypsy turns to Google, looking up the terms “best friends” and “boyfriend kiss.” It’s the first of many heartbreaking indicators of just how sheltered Gypsy’s life has been.
When Dee Dee finally meets Lacey’s mom, things seem to be looking up. Everyone’s getting along and Gypsy is smiling and chatting with Lacey's friends. Until, that is, Lacey offers Gypsy a Coke and Dee Dee comes careening across the yard to rip it from her hands. Gypsy is allergic to sugar, she yells, and, as she reminds Gypsy quite forcefully later that night, sugar will cause about a million physical ailments to befall her before her throat finally closes up. Gypsy seems to be scared enough to forget sugar for that moment, but it doesn’t last.
Later, when Dee Dee has a party to welcome herself to the neighborhood (and solicit donations for Gypsy’s eye surgery), she encourages Gypsy to play with the “other little girls” and hands her a balloon as if that’s enough to wipe the frown off the young girl’s face. Instead, Gypsy looks longingly at Lacey and her teenage friends and we’re to understand that Gypsy is tired of being considered a child. She longs to be with people her own age. She’s crushed when they call her over, only to leave for the movies a few minutes later, leaving her behind because Lacey says Dee Dee would never allow it. Frustrated with her mother’s control over her life, Gypsy dares to defy her and eat a cupcake.
Meanwhile, Dee Dee is having trouble making friends. May caught Dee Dee stealing at the mall earlier that day (she was pilfering the same necklace Lacey’s boyfriend gave her after Gypsy begged her for it at the mall) and May seems sure that Dee Dee can’t be trusted. They argue at the party until Dee Dee catches Gypsy eating the cupcake, rushes across the party and jams an EpiPen into her daughter’s leg. Gypsy is devastated, but Dee Dee is determined, and off to the hospital they go. At the Emergency Room, the doctor is arguing with Dee Dee but we can’t quite hear what’s being said — whatever it is affects Gypsy deeply.
When the two are released from the hospital, May is standing outside with Dee Dee’s forgotten wallet and driver’s license, ready to make peace with her after seeing what she goes through in order to take care of Gypsy.
But as Dee Dee makes one friend, she’s about to lose another: The happiness and trust seems to be suddenly, and mysteriously gone from Gypsy’s eyes.
Momentarily, we flash back to 2015 as police discover Dee Dee’s severely stabbed corpse. May and Lacey wait outside to hear that Dee Dee is dead and immediately, Lacey is concerned about what happened to Gypsy.
The cut back to seven years prior seems to imply an answer: The veil has been lifted. As Dee Dee works through their usual nighttime routine, Gypsy goes through the motions but she’s suddenly distant. Once her mother falls asleep, she waits approximately 40 mins before taking off her sleep mask, stretching her legs, and walking (no wheelchair needed) to the kitchen to attempt her sugar experiment once more. As she prepares a spritz of canned whipped cream and a back-up EpiPen, her mind flashes back to Dee Dee’s argument with the ER doctor. In it, he’s insisting there’s nothing wrong with her daughter and that Gypsy can’t be allergic to sugar because the Pediasure Dee Dee feeds her is full of it.
Armed with this stranger’s testimony, Gypsy bravely tests the whipped cream and after a few seconds, she realizes that she’s fine. At the hospital, it was a stranger’s word against her dear mother’s — now, Gypsy knows the truth.
As she returns to bed, Dee Dee is sitting up, scowling sternly and demanding she get back in bed. Gypsy says she only got up because she was thirsty, but Dee Dee doesn’t seem interested in why Gypsy left her side, just that for one fleeting moment, the girl wasn’t with her.
As Gypsy lays back down and repositions her mask, it’s clear that her whole world has just shifted. If her mother was willing to lie to her about a sugar allergy, what else could she have lied about?
Suddenly, Gypsy is no longer a young child with more health problems than anyone deserves to weather. She’s a prisoner and her mother is her captor.
The Unhappiest Princess References On Earth:
“It’s almost like we’re in a Disney movie,” sort of like Enchanted, remarks Dee Dee before the episode reveals that Gypsy’s life is absolutely nothing like the movies she so idolizes.
Gypsy tells Lacey she goes to conventions and wears makeup sometimes. She hopes to dress as Ariel one time soon — something Lacey assumes is about Gypsy's non-functioning legs, rather than her mother’s control.
Gypsy is drawing Prince Charming when Lacey comes to her rescue, however temporary that respite from her usual routine ends up being.
When Dee Dee is talking to May across the street, it’s a princess movie (non-Disney this time) that makes Gypsy swoon and sneak a few minutes on the computer to Google “boyfriend kiss.”
The “Mirror, mirror on the wall” scene is heartbreaking, not just because Gypsy tells her mother that she’s the fair one — signaling that Gypsy doesn’t see herself as pretty — but in the way it foreshadows the toxic relationship between a mother figure and her young charge, a la the Evil Queen and Snow White.