‘The Act’ exposes the alarming effects of mental illness

The new Hulu drama is harrowing


By Joanna Buoniconti, Collegian Contributor

The new hit Hulu series, “The Act,” follows the gripping story of the real-life toxic relationship of Gypsy Rose and her mother Claudenia “Dee Dee” Blanchard. The show is a seasonal anthology and is classified as a true crime, American drama. It is based upon the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard, who was diagnosed with Munchausen syndrome by proxy and accused of abusing her daughter by fabricating that she suffered from severe diseases and illnesses.

To anyone that knew her, Dee Dee was a model parent selflessly caring for her gravely-ill child. But there was a lot more to this seemingly-perfect picture than what met the eye. During the seven years before her murder, the false personas that defined this mother-daughter relationship began to crumble when they were living in Springfield, Missouri.

Mental illness is a topic that very recently has become addressed within all walks of society, but there still remains a stigma that the victims of mental illness are the only victims. In cases such as Gypsy Rose’s, viewers of the show can witness firsthand that children of parents with mental disorders can take the brunt of their parent’s psychological, and sometimes physical, abuse.

Munchausen syndrome by proxy, the disorder that affected Dee Dee, is a disease that is rarely talked about. It is a very rare disease, wherein a caregiver makes up or causes an injury to a person under their care. The illness affects approximately only one percent of the population; although, in America, it is relatively unknown how many people suffer from this disorder.

The disorder is primarily found within mother-daughter relationships, as exemplified by the Gypsy Rose case. Patricia Arquette plays 48-year-old Dee Dee, a woman who was remembered for her generosity and giving nature. Behind closed doors, however, Dee Dee was the exact opposite.

A new episode of the show is released at midnight every Tuesday night, and there are eight episodes that have aired to date. The episodes document the progression of Dee Dee and Gypsy’s relationship after their arrival in Springfield, and clearly illustrate each of them unraveling in their respective roles while trying to still keep up with this performance.

The show begins with flashbacks that portray a very weak Gypsy who mimics the behavior of the child, which contrast with the opening scene of present day in the aftermath of the murder in which Gypsy played a key role.

At the beginning, her mother makes her shave her head to make her look like she has cancer and forces her to use a wheelchair despite being able to walk. Additionally, she coerces her daughter to eat and take pills via a feeding tube. Gypsy’s first act of defiance against her mother’s orders comes after befriending a girl her age that lives next door, where she attempts to eat the icing off of a cupcake. Predictably, Dee Dee catches Gypsy in the act and rushes her to the emergency room. While in the ER, Gypsy overhears a physician’s assistant explaining to her mother that Gypsy has no such allergy to sugar. Before this, Dee Dee had been carrying Gypsy around, giving the false notion that she can’t walk. In one of the show’s pivotal moments, Gypsy waits for the mother to fall asleep and disconnects herself from her breathing equipment. She walks into the kitchen and hesitantly eats a spoonful of whipped cream, waiting for an anaphylactic reaction to strike, only to be perfectly fine.

Until that point, Gypsy believed everything her mother projected upon her. In a matter of a few seconds, Gypsy begins to question everything she has ever known. As the season progresses, the anger and mistrust between Gypsy and Dee Dee becomes palpable. Desperate for attention, Gypsy begins to seek the attention of men. On a Christian dating website, Gypsy meets Nick Godejohn, and they begin a tumultuous, three-year long relationship. Godejohn has multiple personalities and is unstable, and Gypsy, cripplingly naive, clings to him incessantly because he gave her attention that she craved. She refers to him as her “prince charming,” and after Dee Dee interferes with their planned meeting, Gypsy and Godejohn created a plan to murder her.

The real Gypsy Rose Blanchard is currently serving a 10-year sentence for her mother’s murder. Even though her mother has been dead for almost four years, the abuse Dee Dee inflicted upon her she recounts in interviews is still very raw.

Joanna Buoniconti can be reached at [email protected]