Now that Gypsy (Joey King) has begun to doubt her mother, episode 2 of Hulu’s The Act finds the young girl longing for more and more freedom. Her first step? Waking in the middle of the night to eat sugar in the form of icing straight out of the can and a 2-liter bottle of Coke. While she drinks straight from the bottle, she’s watching a marathon of YouTube makeup tutorials and visions of perfect brows and sparkling eyelids flash over her screen.
Her moment of bliss, in the dark of her bubblegum pink house, is brought to a halt when her icing spoon hits a tooth and causes her excruciating pain. With that, Gypsy takes two steps back into her mother’s web of lies.
Dee Dee (Patricia Arquette) isn’t wrong when she later tells Gypsy’s usual doctor that her daughter’s teeth are “like swiss cheese.” She is, however, wrong when she says that Gypsy has been complaining that she has a sore throat and a stomach ache: Dee Dee told Gypsy after discovering her dental issues that Gypsy must have a sore throat and stomach ache and Gypsy didn’t refute her. As the doctor attempts to follow Dee Dee’s reasoning that her daughter’s teeth must be a symptom of some underlying condition, Dee Dee also slyly uses her three-inch binder of Gypsy’s medical history to swipe the doc’s prescription pad — more fully explaining her mega pharmacy closet at home.
Mom and daughter see a new physician this time, Dr. Lakshmi Chandra (Poorna Jagannathan), who makes the mistake of not playing along with Dee Dee’s game, as many other doctors seems to have done before. She immediately questions Gypsy’s sugar allergy and suggests that it’s time to remove her feeding tube, finally. Dee Dee shuts the feeding tube removal down and raises even more suspicion in Dr. Chandra, who immediately begins a fact-finding mission after Dee Dee leaves, in hopes of confirming what she believes are fabricated problems in Gypsy’s medical history.
Meanwhile, Gypsy can’t help but compare herself to other young women. After Dr. Chandra suggests that her feeding tube might someday be removed, Gypsy stares at an ad of a woman with a flat stomach in a bikini and sadly taps the opening of her feeding tube. She asks her mother if she’s sure Dr. Chandra was wrong; Dee Dee immediately shuts it down as nonsense.
Dee Dee is much more concerned with the next big event on their agenda: Gypsy’s ceremony for being Child of The Year. Dee Dee says she worked tirelessly — every morning for weeks — to build up Gypsy’s application, and now, all her work is paying off. Gypsy, you know the one being honored, seems mildly excited, but her smile nothing compared to her mother’s. Still, she seems to be on the same page with Dee Dee despite the sugar lie.
It helps that Dee Dee seems like she might be starting to understand her daughter’s needs a bit better, at first. At one point, Gypsy stares out the window as her neighbor Lacey’s friends arrive in a hand-me-down car, wearing ripped jean shorts and tossing their long hair as they run inside to meet Lacey. Surprisingly, Dee Dee smiles at Gypsy’s longing and immediately serves up some cupcakes as an excuse to bring Gypsy over for a playdate with her new teenage friend. Once Gypsy arrives, Lacey (AnnaSophia Robb) waves for her to come on into her bedroom and shows understanding at every turn while her friends are, well, typical teenagers and struggle with that concept. They give Lacey a stick-and-poke tattoo of a dolphin while Gypsy looks on in utter delight — happy to be present for something so adult for once. One girl offers a joint, which she almost considers smoking until the girl points out that Gypsy’s teeth are messed up. Gypsy is embarrassed but seems more concerned that the sugar she’s been sneaking is the cause of her bad teeth and worries that if her mother finds out, she’ll be crushed.
As Gypsy worries, so does Dr. Chandra, but her sleuthing isn’t turning up much. As a last resort, Chandra leans on her instincts and calls Child Protective Services. When the caseworker arrives at the Blanchard home, Dee Dee immediately cracks open two “sleep baby” pills (Ativan) and leaves Gypsy in the bathroom with the door shut. She puts on the kind, caring mother show, but the case worker isn’t buying it. She asks to speak to Gypsy alone. Dee Dee insists on standing within ear range, but allows it. As Gypsy answers questions about her relationship with her mom — in her drugged haze she does nothing but say kind things about her — Dee Dee realizes that her stolen prescription pad is next to Gypsy on the coffee table. She manages to swoop in and scoop it up before the case worker notices, but it seems clear the woman is incredibly suspicious of Dee Dee regardless.
And while Dee Dee feels hurt, lamenting to May (Chloë Sevigny) that it’s so cruel for someone to hurt her this way (it’s a test, and May passes), things are about to get even more terrible for Gypsy, as her dentist appointment is finally approved and she goes to the DDS to get her rotting teeth removed, like Dr. Chandra recommended. The only problem was that no one told Gypsy, and she finds out, as the anesthesia starts to work, that she will be losing all of her teeth. Her helpless whimper is downright brutal to hear as this girl, who already feels unpretty and unlike other girls her age, is being forced to lose yet another thing that helps her feel normal.
When Gypsy wakes, she’s bruised and in pain. The scene in which she walks to the bathroom and works up the courage to look at her mouth is almost unbearable to watch. King’s performance is downright devastating as Gypsy’s worst fears are realized: every last one of her teeth are gone. Not only is she not like the girls in Lacey’s room — now she’s even further from resembling anyone she’s ever met in the real world. Every tear she cries feels like biting grind of the dentist’s drill, especially as she’s given a sponge-bath by Dee Dee, the architect of this nightmare.
But Dee Dee is focused on the Child of The Year ceremony, nearly unsympathetic to the fact that a lack of teeth is making Gypsy want nothing to do with a public appearance during which she’ll be asked to speak and weather a spotlight in her face. After her mother attempts to rouse her spirits by singing their song, “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5, Gypsy is unmoved and angrily jots her only thought down on her whiteboard: “TEETH?” Dee Dee blithely brushes it off as if Gypsy’s asked to go to the mall for a new toy, rather than asking for her own teeth back, before turning to anger. “We are going to this event. Are we clear?” she screams, banging on the dining room table just as the phone begins to ring.
It’s Dr. Chandra, and she’s figured out a way to lure Dee Dee back in for another visit. She just wants to help make Dee Dee’s life easier, she says, and when that doesn’t hook her, Chandra offers her rolodex of specialists as an incentive. Dee Dee bites and agrees to set a time.
Back in 2009, it’s time for Gypsy’s big moment (or should I say Dee Dee’s big moment). She pouts in the mirror as her mother forces lip gloss on her and coos at her. In anger, she bares her lack of teeth of Dee Dee, almost screaming “You did this to me” with her eyes. As they move to waiting in the wings, Dee Dee whips out a pair of dentures — mere moments before they’re to go on stage. Gypsy assumes that Dee Dee has been hiding these from her; Dee Dee promises she hasn’t, but that doesn’t seem to change Gypsy’s mind. It’s not until they’re out on stage and Dee Dee uses her acceptance speech to praise Gypsy and say she was meant to be her mother (she does this after using the old “people say” trick to pay herself a string of compliments for taking care of Gypsy), that Gypsy appears to change her tune. She seems to find love in her heart for her mother once more and breaks into a creaky rendition of “I’ll Be There.”
Later, when Dee Dee takes Gypsy in so the doctor can help change her feeding tube, Dr. Chandra’s assistant pulls Dee Dee out of the appointment to sign some paperwork. Chandra and Gypsy are finally alone and the doctor begs Gypsy to try a sip of Coke to prove that she’s not actually allergic to sugar, suggesting that there are many things she could change about Gypsy’s current existence and dependence on her mother. She struggles with the choice, eventually deciding against even trying (she already knows the truth, after all). “My mom needs me,” she chimes.
In a flash forward, we’re once again reminded of Dee Dee’s fate and yet another clue points to Gypsy: The detectives shine flashlights over Gypsy’s stuffed animal collection, something she adds to each time she visits a doctor. In the 2015 version of the Blanchard house, the stuffed animals are stacked to the ceiling. At the same time, Lacey realizes she might know something that can help, even if it might betray her friend: Gypsy had a secret Facebook that she used to meet men. Clearly, Gypsy’s trend of independence is set to continue.
When they return home from Dr. Chandra’s, Gypsy goes to her room — the one she doesn’t sleep in because she is forced to share a bed with her mother — to drop off her latest stuffed animal (a unicorn). In the living room, Dee Dee is playing “I’ll Be There” and beckons to her. Gypsy looks at the stuffed animal and grimaces before slamming the door of her room — the beginning of the end.
The Most Heartbreaking Details:
The extended visuals of Gypsy's bruised mouth, after her extraction, compounded with King's performance are almost too devastating to bear.
The moment in which Gypsy tells the Child Protective Services woman, "Mostly we like the same things" when she asks if Dee Dee ever makes her do something she doesn't want to do is subtle, but heavy. Gypsy's willingness to lie for her mother, even knowing what she knows about her, is crushing.
When Gypsy decides not to test her sugar allergy — the gateway to her medical freedom — she also submits herself to more procedures involving the food tube, which we see in great visual detail. It's an extremely painful process for Gypsy, and yet she hung onto it for her mother.