Things get even harder to watch in episode 3 of Hulu's The Act, as Gypsy Rose Blanchard steps out in cosplay and into the real world. And the thing about the real world, is that there are men out there. Men that Gypsy (Joey King), who is actually age 19 (and not 15 or 14, as her mother professes on two different occasions this episode), is very eager to meet. Though she's been cooped up at home in a wheelchair, we've watched as her teenage desires have crept past the child-like dressing her mother has kept her in. Now, as we've moved from 2009 to 2011 and during the duo's visit to a comic book convention, that truth finds even more of a foothold in Gypsy's reality. Dee Dee (Patricia Arquette) is distracted momentarily by a potential romance, but that doesn't keep her off Gypsy's trail for long.
We open, once more, with Gypsy’s internet escapades in middle of the night. This time, she's moved on from makeup tutorials to a video about how to kiss that advises “you don’t want to hear any smacking." From there, Gypsy appears to be setting a plan in place — the series often uses her internet searches as a window into her thought process. From her joint Facebook page with her mother, she finds her way to the promo video for Fan Opticon, a local comic book convention. From there, she moves onto a Google search for "cosplay for women," all of which involve tight, revealing costumes modeled after sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book characters. They're a far cry from the bulky princess dresses Dee Dee has Gypsy wear to these things, but Gypsy is delighted when she later puts on her Belle costume and finds it's a bit tighter in all the right places and that her body is starting to look more like a woman's.
All it takes is that visual and Gypsy's suddenly superior knowledge of makeup (okay, and the fact that Gypsy wants AnnaSophia Robb's Lacey to do her makeup this year) for Dee Dee to lie through her teeth that she must have shrunk the Belle dress and that Gypsy should swap for a less form-fitting gown. After a momentary hiccup, Dee Dee manages to keep the lie about Gypsy’s age alive.
At the convention, the girl at the ticket booth does Dee Dee a solid in that department, as Dee Dee purchases tickets for herself and Gypsy, who is now dressed as Cinderella (image of the real Gypsy Rose in Cinderella cosplay on the left). When the clerk asks how old Gypsy is, Dee Dee readily declares that she is “15 born in 1995.” While the cut-off for kids is 12, the women selling tickets clearly feels sympathy for the girl in a wheelchair and gives Dee Dee a child’s ticket anyway because Gypsy “looks 12 so we can keep this our little secret.” And there it is: a two-prong explanation for why Dee Dee was able to keep this age ruse going for so long.
But, the jig is about to be up.
“Mom, I thought you said I was born in 1993,” coos Gypsy with her trademark innocent lilt. “Since that car accident my head is no good with numbers,” offers Dee Dee, with her own trademark — a lie wrapped in a sympathetic excuse that few people are likely to poke at. Besides, she offers, she checked Gypsy’s birthdate at the doctor and confirmed that her papers say 1995. Spoiler: They absolutely did not.
But we're moving on for now, and Gypsy and Dee Dee float around the convention floor, both soaking in all the smiles as kindnesses paid their way by strangers. They run into their neighbor Shelley, and get to talking about Dee Dee’s pageant past. Shelley is straight up shook that Dee Dee ever used to do something so performative (um, same) and insists that she show off her yodeling talent right then and there. This apparently attracts the first of the two titular Wolverines, Russ (Dean Norris, aka Hank from Breaking Bad), who convinces her to let Shelley take Gypsy so they can chat.
Russ wants to know about Dee Dee, but all she can do is talk about Gypsy, but despite the red flags very clearly lining out what we all know (that her world revolves around Gypsy in a wildly unhealthy way), Russ says she seems like she’s “got layers" to her. Dee Dee is panicked, but seems to be entertaining the idea of male attention, however temporarily.
While that dilemma is taking hold, Shelley abandons her post almost immediately because her son has made a kid cry. Gypsy is finally genuinely alone and takes the moment as an excuse to explore and meet a Wolverine of her own. When she spots him, she stops to adjust her dress, pull the shoulders down to appear a little sexier and, in her mind, older and introduces herself to the fellow cosplayer who introduces himself thusly: “Some call me Logan, but you can call me Scott.” (Logan, for the uninitiated, is the first name of the X-Men character Wolverine, who Scott is dressed as.) Though Gypsy is trying to assert herself as a woman, the salesgirl next to Scott continually makes her feel like a child. The red heels Gypsy wants only come in her size in mary janes in the kids section and when the sales girl finally gives up on making a sale, she offers Gypsy the symbol of her mother's medical imprisonment: a stuffed animal.
Meanwhile, Scott is talking to her like he's genuinely interested in her as a person, rather than a girl in a wheelchair who needs the charity of bystanders. It's no wonder that she suddenly warms to the idea of a red wig once he rattles of the list of characters she could cosplay, including Wolverine's ill-fated love, Jean Grey, who Scott notes is stuck with her romantic partner Cyclops out of "obligation." (Sounds a little like Gypsy's situation, except instead of a romantic partner named Cyclops, Gypsy has Dee Dee.)
Gypsy doesn't have enough money for the red wig (because she doesn't have any money, because her mother treats her like a small child), but the wig has served its purpose and she begins flirting with Scott, who then takes her around the convention floor. He finally asks how old she is and she replies that she’s 18 (she's actually 19, but at this point, Gypsy thinks she's 15 so she is essentially lying to this guy). Her reply seems to put Scott at ease though, and he begins to lean into the fliration a little more, doing his best Logan impression with a monologue about love for Jean Grey. Gypsy is absolutely smitten, and when they are invited to the front of the line to take photos in the DeLorean from Back To The Future, a dreamy ballad swells. Dee Dee was distracted for one moment, and now, as Wolverine picks Gypsy up from her wheelchair, spins her in slow motion, and places her in the fabled '80s sports car, she seems to have gotten everything she's ever wanted. They continue, uninterrupted, right until they pose for a photo together, smiling through Doc Brown's catchphrase from the movie, "Great Scott!" (Gypsy, who has never seen Back To The Future, doesn't get the reference, but is glad to have literally any connection to this man).
After the photo, we momentarily hop into 2015, as the Blanchards’ neighbors discuss who could possibly have murdered Dee Dee and taken Gypsy. Shelley recalls one time when Dee Dee was freaked out about some guy and needed to find his name and address. Shelley doesn’t remember and says it’s probably not important, but we know the guy in question ("it was four years ago," she specifies) is probably Scott, who's just unwittingly become the first suspect for the murder mystery that's been driving the series. (He wasn't the murderer, but the show does a good job of throwing viewers off the scent a bit if they don't know the full Gypsy Rose story.)
Back in 2011, Dee Dee flips out when she finds Gypsy with Scott instead of Shelley. Scott, unaware of the shitstorm he's just stepped into, had invited Gypsy to a party but Dee Dee insists she and her daughter leave immediately. Just then, Dee Dee’s Wolverine appears to ask Dee Dee out and to implore her to stay longer so he can buy her pizza, but Dee Dee says she has to leave and uses Gypsy's supposed illnesses as an excuse. While she's distracted though, Scott and Gypsy make plans to connect on Facebook. He's a little perturbed that she's allegedly 18 and that she shares her Facebook page with her mother, but Gypsy is persistent and gets his full name so she can find him and continue this streak of relative freedom.
Lucky for Gypsy, it seems that Russ, aka Wolverine #1, has sufficiently distracted Dee Dee long after the convention too. She is visibly smitten with the attention, rambling on at home about how ardently Russ was after her. Gypsy uses the occasion to ask Dee Dee about how she fell in love with Gypsy’s father and Dee Dee stumbles through her explanation of love (it "makes you dumb" she snipes), careful not to sully the concept of mother's love she's bestowed upon Gypsy. Dee Dee admits that she still loves Gypsy’s father but that the breakup wasn’t Dee Dee’s decision. “What you need to understand is that you can’t rely on any man or anyone for that matter, other than your own mama," says Dee Dee, certain that she's shut this romantic curiosity down.
And, um, she would be extremely wrong about that.
That night, Gypsy is once again up and about, Googling fan art of Jean Grey and Wolverine in various amorous poses. From there, her thoughts wander back to her own Wolverine, who's out there, waiting for her to find him on Facebook. She begins to fill in the fields for her very own Facebook page (she uses a fake name — her grandmother's — Emma Rose), she stops short of filling in the birth year. She realizes she’s been given a few different birth years by her mother and goes digging for her own information and finds her insurance card in her mother’s purse, which clearly states that she was born in 1991. Gypsy is betrayed once again. Not only has her mother been telling her the incorrect age, she also very clearly hasn't actually done so because her brain is "bad with numbers." This card is the paperwork that supposedly jogged her memory just days prior, which means Dee Dee is telling bold-faced lies. The sugar allergy is something that Gypsy could write off as a mistake, something she could assume her mother truly thought she needed. But the age thing is a bridge too far, so in response, Gypsy finds her mother’s “nest egg” money in a ziplock bag (money we see comes from well-wishers' letters at the outset of the episode) and takes a handful for herself.
The next day, she takes her money with her when Dee Dee asks her to go inside at the gas station and put money on their pump. Gypsy takes this second moment alone to also grab a prepaid cell phone, which she promptly uses to reach out to Scott while Russ has Dee Dee distracted on the landline.
Scott and Gypsy start texting and getting to know each other. She tells him that sometimes, she thinks “it’s my job to make people happy” and he reads that as kind, rather than the devastating truth it actually is. And though the music happily swells as a giddy Gypsy finally gets the male attention she’s been craving, the cracks are already showing. While Gypsy is concealing the truth of her mother's lies, Scott tells his own untruths — he claims he’s a surgeon, rather than an attendant at an old folks’ home, for starters. After a month of texting, Gypsy gives Scott her address. While Scott doesn’t attempt to storm the Blanchard castle, as he calls it, he does send a gift. Gypsy rushes to intercept the package before her mother can catch her: It’s the red Jean Grey wig she couldn’t afford at the convention.
Meanwhile, Russ and Dee Dee are getting closer, which explains why she hasn't come even close to catching Gypsy's little escapes. He finally asks if he can come over to help Dee Dee with some “man work.” He’s recently divorced and feeling not useful and lonely. He says he’s a simple guy and that he thinks Dee Dee needs a man in her life. This would be the point when most women who've devoted multiple long phone calls to someone might get excited or at least be flattered by the affection she's being shown (however outdated and old fashioned Russ' brand is, it seems to be of Dee Dee's era), but Dee Dee isn't most women. She starts shaking, and she immediately becomes icy and distant. She simply says, “No. Thank you, Russ. Goodbye.” It's over, just like that. Dee Dee is completely unwilling to let anyone infiltrate her home, even if it means sacrificing her own happiness — something she'll later throw in Gypsy's face as supposed loving self-sacrifice.
Outside, Lacey finds Gypsy texting and laughing. Lacey's fighting with her mom, who told her she’d have to go to community college instead of regular college (kind of a nothing issue in the face of Gypsy's reality, but Lacey doesn't necessarily know that). Lacey needs a distraction and demands that Gypsy tell her what's up and that's when the floodgates burst open. Gypsy whispers and giggles before blurting out that she’s finally met her "Prince Charming." Lacey seems skeptical but plays along as Gypsy tells the story of meeting Scott and how he’s going to take her “far away from here, somewhere nice, like Arkansas.” Gypsy has already planned the wedding — a winter wedding with red roses and Lacey as a bridesmaid. She also gives Lacey her private Facebook name and when the neighbor girl swears not to tell anyone about the Facebook name or the guy, Gypsy almost explodes in delight because she's gotten to another teenage girl milestone: She has a secret with a friend who is not her mother.
And this giddiness, combined with the power of knowing her real age, makes Gypsy brave. That night, Gypsy gets a text from Scott, who says he’s had a rough night and is in the emergency room. His phone is dying, so Gypsy gets on the computer to find a taxi service, which she pays for with the money she’s stolen from her mother. With her Jean Grey wig on, Gypsy walks into the hospital to visit Scott and goes completely unnoticed by her doctor of a year, who doesn’t recognize her because she's, well, walking and looks like the teenager she is, and not a young girl in a wheelchair.
Then, Gypsy finds her Prince Charming, who is shocked because he seems to be an older guy enjoyed the idea of talking to a possibly underage girl (um, not great, dude) but didn't actually think anything would come of it in reality. He's been drinking and his shirt is soaked in blood, evidently from his broken nose, which it turns out he got from a bar fight. Without his Wolverine costume, he looks so much more like some sad guy who's way too comfortable flirting with a girl who's given all the signs of being underage than a handsome hero. But that doesn't phase Gypsy, who's beaming from ear to ear and clutching his hand, offering to get him pain medication (the fact that she rattles off the exact names of five possible meds adds to his bewilderment). Scott is also stunned that she’s walking and that she is dressed like an adult, but he lets the situation continue and when she swears she is going to take care of him, he finally gives in and remarks that she looks good with red hair.
Back at home, Dee Dee wakes up and realized Gypsy is gone. She left a note professing that she ran away to get married and have kids. She signs it, "Love, Gypsy Your 19 Year Old Daughter," and the age part is underlined three times. Dee Dee calls Shelley crying and gets Scott's name so she can go find Gypsy.
Before she finds them, Scott brings Gypsy back to his place, where he’s still confused and apprehensive. “You’re so tiny. Not much taller than you are in the chair," he says, apparently wary of what this all actually means.
And though Scott's roommate comes out of his room and asks, "What the fuck, man?" Gypsy's fantasy world refuses to shatter. She wants to dance, but Scott just wants to sit down. She grabs ice pops to put on his nose and asks to hear what happened. He tells his side of the story, and if it's true, it makes him look somewhat less problematic since Gypsy is young, but she is technically actually old enough to date him. Turns out Scott was trying to defend his friend and the bartender punched him a few times in retaliation. Gypsy calls him her hero and he says he was just doing what was right. That leads Gypsy right into her next question; she asks if Jean (Gypsy) and Logan (Scott) can be together so she can be free from the evil Cyclops (her mother, and proof that Gypsy misunderstood the Jean Grey-Cyclops-Wolverine love triangle). She leans into him and they begin slowly kissing when there’s a booming knock at the door.
Obviously, it's Dee Dee.
At first, Dee Dee tries kindness, appealing to the love she knows her daughter has for her. “I know you’re punishing me and maybe I deserve it," she says before saying she gave up everything for her. That last part is partially true, as she just gave up her budding relationship with Russ to keep her secret abuse of Gypsy going, not because she had to in order to care for Gypsy. When Gypsy hides behind Scott, Dee Dee promises that if she comes home, she won’t stop her from seeing Scott. And in the moment, Dee Dee almost seems reasonable until you remember everything else that has happened on this show. But when her daughter doesn’t budge and Dee Dee threatens to cause a scene, the game finally ends and Gypsy agrees to leave with her, thinking that perhaps her mother meant it when she said she wouldn't keep her from Scott.
But Dee Dee was, of course, lying and immediately tells Scott that whatever Gypsy told him, she’s 14 years old (again, she's 19, but this seems to effectively end Gypsy's relationship with the cosplay guy). As they drive away, Dee Dee aggressively pulls Gypsy’s red wig off and Gypsy looks as though she's just lost everything. And in a way, she has. She's just lost the only taste of freedom she's ever enjoyed.
Dee Dee makes sure she knows it.
When Gypsy attempts to step out of the car on her own back at the pink house, Dee Dee appears silently in front of her door and makes her get back in her wheelchair and pretend for the neighbors, despite the fact that at that hour, everyone is probably busy sleeping. She makes Gypsy roll all the way up the ramp by herself until Gypsy gives up and Dee Dee has to push her the rest of the way. With that, it becomes increasingly clear that with Dee Dee, there is no escape — whether Gypsy fights her or simply refuses to play her game, her mother will be right behind her, directing her every move.
Not Necessarily Necessary Details:
When Gypsy finds her real age, the imagery of the the pink hallways and nightlights — something that should represent safety — actually appear terrifying in the context of their home and Dee Dee's ruse.
When Russ says Dee Dee has “got layers," he doesn't even know the half of it. But the line does appear to be a reference to Shrek (who is an ogre with layers, like an onion, according to Eddie Murphy's Donkey in the 2001 cartoon film). In case you weren't sure, consider that later in the episode, Gypsy is watching another "princess" movie, and this time, it's Shrek, which makes Dee Dee an ogre.
One of the first ways Scott appeals to Gypsy is by asking her, “Do you even wanna be Ariel?” when the sales girl says she could pull off the fin. Gypsy responds with a laugh and shake of her head, saying, “They threatened to nail her fin to the floor.” Technically, she's just flirting, but it's also oddly close to what her mother does to her at home, which sends the moment right back into heartbreak territory.