While viewers have seen the writing on the wall for the first few episodes, it takes until episode 4 of The Act before Dee Dee (Patricia Arquette) starts to see just how loose her grip on her daughter truly is. Of course, she still has some resources and in "Stay Inside" she has them firing on all cylinders trying to keep Gypsy (Joey King) under her thumb.
When the episode begins, Gypsy (who is now 21, born in 1991, but believes she is 18, born in 1995) is experiencing what the kiddos call thirst for the first time, at least as far as we've seen. The object of her affection? The brawny guy next door, who's mowing the lawn and sweating, which is getting Gypsy hot and bothered as well. In episode 3, we saw Gypsy get her first kiss, so it's only natural that she's started to lust as the 21-year-old woman she is, even if she's trapped in perma-childhood thanks to her mother. But Dee Dee doesn't see it that way, and when she notices she decides to intervene… by making Gypsy take a bath. Subtle.
As Dee Dee bathes her like a baby and tries to get her to sing "I’ll Be There," Gypsy is livid. And immediately after treating her like a literal child, Dee Dee is angry right back because Gypsy has started her period early. The offense was apparently that Gypsy didn't immediately alert her mother to this fact. Also, it's not exactly as if Dee Dee has made Gypsy very self sufficient after all these years.
And Dee Dee is about to start leaning on Gypsy even more, because at the doctor, it turns out she's legitimately dealing with health problems. She’s diabetic and is trying to tell Gypsy that she’s fine, but the doctor is adamant: Dee Dee is not fine. In fact, if she doesn’t treat herself properly, she could die. Which means, as Dee Dee says with a slow drawl, that she now needs Gypsy every. single. day.
It's the sort of news that makes for a terrible birthday present, the sort that finds Gypsy pouting in a Rapunzel princess hat on her actual birthday while Dee Dee clings to her narrative for dear life: The cake is still sugar free (not a real allergy of Gypsy's as we know) and Dee Dee is maintaining that Gypsy’s paperwork had a typo and that she was born in 1995 (nope). In this version of events, Gypsy is only just turning 18, but since she knows that’s not true, she talks around her mother’s lie, suggesting that 18 still somehow feels very adult. (Again, because she's actually 21.) Gypsy's sole birthday present, on the other hand, does not feel adult: Dee Dee gives her two guinea pigs, which she loves, but still aren't the same as real friends and perhaps even a boyfriend.
“You’re not like other 18-year-olds, you’ll always be my little baby,” assures Dee Dee, in an echo of the thoughts she's attempted time and again to plant in Gypsy's mind and the minds of friends and neighbors.
Just about the time that Dee Dee lays down for a nap, Lacey (AnnaSophia Robb)comes by to see Gypsy. Lacey’s got boy drama — she met a new guy online and she’s pretty smitten. Gypsy is immediately drawn in by the concept of being able to meet a guy online and stops her in her tracks: She wants to see the dating website. In minutes, the lawnmower guy appears on the app — Lacey is mortified that he’s into anime, but Gypsy is getting lots of ideas.
About this time, Dee Dee gets a call from Gypsy’s dad, who wants to say hello to his daughter on her birthday. Dee Dee lies and says that Gypsy doesn’t know it’s her birthday and that she only has a few ears left to live. She’s saved by the bell and hangs up quickly when Gypsy’s doctor calls with a question about her upcoming procedure with bad news for Dee Dee: Even if everyone takes the lie that Gypsy was born in 1995 as truth, that still makes Gypsy 18, which means only she can consent to all medical procedures. Dee Dee is immediately on the war path once again.
First step: Pulling Gypsy inside and away from Lacey by scaring her about the fate of her guinea pigs, telling her a violent potential end for the creatures (she literally mentions their heads rolling on the porch). Once inside, Dee Dee is furious that Gypsy was outside. She says it's because kidnappers could grab her off the porch, but she seems a bit more worried about the part where Gypsy spoke to Lacey about dating. But Lacey honestly didn’t change much about Gypsy’s growing desire to find her way to a boy — she just gave her a potential pathway, of many possible pathways.
The next day, Dee Dee is dealing with the more legal of the two threats and trying to get Gypsy’s rights and guardianship signed over to herself so she can continue to control her life. The lawyer asks a few questions of Gypsy to establish whether or not this measure is necessary, and Dee Dee is severely disappointed when Gypsy seems to have detailed knowledge of her own medical history. Gypsy does her best to play both sides and punctuates each answer by saying she’d also call her mother in any emergency, but the court doesn’t care because it’s clear that Gypsy can think for herself.
Dee Dee is distraught because she says that this new development, of Gypsy being able to make her own decisions, could lose them some of their funding and they’d be homeless. It's not entirely clear what she means by that, but she's been shown gathering child support, cash from supporters, and presumably other forms of financial aid that will disappear from Dee Dee's life if Gypsy is an adult on her own. Also she laments that no one cares about her… because her daughter is legal 18 and can’t be a puppet anymore. That said, Dee Dee is really suffering true medical consequences of her diabetes and Gypsy puts her in a massage chair so she can continue her slow march toward freedom. She tells a saleswoman that she wants to buy her mother a computer for her birthday, and gets a bottom-of-the-line laptop, rushes to the car to hide it under her seat before Dee Dee can notice, and scurries back before Dee Dee is any the wiser.
Gypsy later makes her mental escape to her secret Facebook on her new computer, where the sight of Lacey and her new boyfriend cooing over each other on the social platform reminds her to look up the online dating site they used so she can meet her own guy. She dons one of her cosplay wigs, a long black one with a purple bow that she says is “like Rapunzel” and posts her profile.
The next day, Dee Dee focuses her efforts on the wrong person, chastising Lacey for talking to Gypsy about sex, because according to Dee Dee, Gypsy doesn’t even know what sex is. "Her whole world is unicorns and rainbows" she yells, certain that she's losing her grip on the girl, before passing out on the street to the horror of both Lacey and Gypsy.
Back in the house, Dee Dee is ill and leaning on her daughter. She’ll do anything to get Gypsy to stay at her side, even letting her watch Twilight, a movie that seems to be off limits normally (probably because it stirred too many feelings in Gypsy). When one of the scenes gets sexual, Dee Dee covers Gypsy’s eyes, but not well enough and Gypsy quietly delights at the visions of pleasure that she spies through her mom’s fingers.
That night, she gets closer to her own when she finally gets a match: Nicholas Godejohn (Calum Worthy), the boyfriend she famously went (almost) all the way to the end of this story with. They begin chatting about princesses and Nick starts paying her compliments, namely that she is prettier than Rapunzel. No one has ever told her she’s pretty, especially not a man, so Gypsy is immediately hooked.
Meanwhile, Dee Dee is working overtime to get around this guardianship issue with Gypsy. She wants to get Gypsy’s power of attorney signed over, but the lawyer says she needs Gypsy’s consent. It’s not exactly what Dee Dee wants, because it means she’s only in charge in the event that Gypsy is incapacitated, but she has the lawyer, who is very skeptical, draft if up anyway.
But Dee Dee can’t totally control her daughter, who has progressed to video chatting with Nick. He asks to to see her body, but she lies and says she is in a wheelchair, despite the fact that her wheelchair is just for show. She does come clean about her hair though, and the fact that she doesn’t have real hair because she has health challenges. This encourages Nick to confess that he has his own challenges, and he says that he has multiple personalities. “Don’t worry, because there is a good one: Me, Nick. But the other one is dark. Actually, he’s a vampire. His name is Victor,” he says. Gypsy is hesitant but so determined not to lose him that she agrees she feels like she is “different people too."
The next morning, Dee Dee comforts Lacey’s mother, whose daughter has run away — something Dee Dee assumes (as most viewers probably know, incorrectly) will never happen to her. Dee Dee, thinking she has all the answers spouts a few attempts at wisdom, including: “Sometimes we have to make 'em hate us … sometimes the only way out of the fire is through it" and "That’s what being a mom is — never being sure you’re doing the right thing, but doing it anyway." To someone who doesn't know the situation, these quotes seem like great advice. But to us, they ring pretty hollow.
Then, Dee Dee makes her move to ensure that her daughter never leaves her: The power of attorney papers finally arrive and Dee Dee puts on the performance of a lifetime to convince Gypsy to sign. Dee Dee feigns illness, and Gypsy rushes to take care of her and test her blood sugar. It’s 76, but Gypsy doesn’t know what that means. Dee Dee says it’s low, but in actuality it's not a great cause for concern, so it’s a little nod to us that Dee Dee's definitely putting this whole act on.
Dee Dee scares Gypsy into thinking that everything they've ever stolen from the mall and every lie they've told their neighbors (at Dee Dee's instruction) will somehow fall on Gypsy now that she's 18. To sell it even more, Dee Dee regales Gypsy with a story about being stabbed when Dee Dee was in jail (it's not clear if this is true). After terrifying her daughter, Dee Dee says she figured out a way to keep them both safe, by Gypsy signing the power of attorney papers (a.k.a. signing her rights away). Of course, that’s not exactly how that works, but Dee Dee coos that Gypsy is a good girl and the guilt trip wins out: Gypsy signs.
But as she signs calmly in the moment, her voice-over of the her later conversation with Nick later finds her weeping that she is trapped and she’ll never get away. She confesses that she doesn’t really need a wheelchair and that her mother makes her stay in it. She’s pretty sure that her mother made up the idea that she will get sicker if she doesn’t use her wheelchair and that they lied to a lot of people. Nick says he can make her feel better by letting him teach her about something that he thinks she’ll really like. I'm not sure what the right response to Gypsy's confession is, but what comes next doesn't quite seem right. He shows her an image of a bound Disney princess in a sexual pose, which her first introduction to sex and BDSM in one swoop. Gypsy seems hesitant once again, but this still seems to feel more like freedom than living with her mother does, so she listens to Nick.
The only problem? Gypsy falls asleep with her computer, which leads Dee Dee to find her with it the next morning. She is furious that Gypsy has a link to the outside world, and especially to men, and immediately smashes it with a hammer, waking Gypsy in the process and screaming at her.
But Gypsy has had it and screams back that she’s just going to get another computer. At first, it seems like a typical teen response to a restrictive parent, but in response, Dee Dee tackles Gypsy and pins her down to restrain her. Gypsy is screaming and crying and trying to get away, but can’t, so she spits in Dee Dee’s face. That stops Dee Dee in her tracks as she falls on her bed and begins weeping uncontrollably.
Gypsy attempts to storm out, but she’s suddenly paralyzed. She stares out the front door before looking back at in her weeping mother’s direction. She slowly turns as if she’s going to walk right out the front door, but instead closes it and returns to take care of her mother.
“I am your angel. I protect you and you protect me, remember?” she whispers.
There’s clearly so much affection between them, for all the lies and manipulations Dee Dee has exacted. It’s a strange, nuanced balance that a lot of the stories about these two real life people seems to be missing.
Still, Gypsy is getting more and more desperate. She later gets on her secret phone and tells Nick that her mother tied her up and trapped her. They begin their sexual relationship over the phone, as he gives her instructions and we see Gypsy’s mental visions of herself being bound, calling him "Sir," and working to make sure his” dark side" isn't disappointed. Gypsy pleasures herself along with Nick’s words, and she seems to have formed a bond to him after that. The episode ends with him texting “I’ll find a way to protect you. I promise.” “From anyone?” She types back before the screen goes black.
And in case you forgot, this series opened with the mystery of who murdered Dee Dee and where Gypsy went after she was killed.
A Few More Heartbreaking Details:
There's a brief moment on her birthday, when Dee Dee runs out to get Gypsy's birthday present and Gypsy watches a girl ride a bike longingly. For a moment, it seems as though she thinks her mother's comment that she's been lonely might actually lead to Dee Dee taking her outside to play.
When Dee Dee argues with the lawyer that Gypsy's got the mind of a 7-year-old, Gypsy’s face stays calms as her anger comes out in smaller ways: she rips an eye off her stuffed animal.
When Dee Dee first commands Gypsy to inject her with her new medication, Gypsy is uncomfortable and doesn’t want to, but Dee Dee makes a Hunger Games connection that's hard for Gypsy to deny: She says Katniss volunteered as tribute for her sister in the Hunger Games "because she loves her sister — do you love me?" It's just another example of the ways she emotionally manipulates Gypsy.
We see Lacey, who is also a teen who is sick of her mother’s treatment, pack up her stuff, throw it in her car, and leave — it's hard to watch because it's something Gypsy doesn’t have the freedom to do.