'Life with the Blanchards'
How many ways can a story be told?
I’m a true crime junkie, and am particularly fond of long-form, true crime reporting. I first became aware of the story of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blanchard about a year ago, after hearing journalist Michelle Dean discuss her 8,600-word article for Buzzfeed News, “Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter To Be Sick, Gypsy Wanted Her Mom Murdered,” on the Longform Podcast.
The story had recently been the subject of an HBO Documentary, “Mommy Dead and Dearest.” It was featured on the Investigation Discovery series “James Patterson’s Murder is Forever.” A fictionalized version of the Blanchard story was recently turned into a Lifetime movie, called “Love You to Death."
And now, Hulu is in the process of rolling out a dramatic, true-crime original series, “The Act,” the first season of which dives into the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard. So far, three of the series’ eight episodes have been released — with new episodes hitting the streaming site each Wednesday.
For those unfamiliar, late in the evening of June 14, 2015, sheriff's deputies in Greene County, Missouri, found the body of Dee Dee Blanchard face-down in the bedroom of her house just outside Springfield, lying on her bed in a pool of blood from numerous stab wounds inflicted several days earlier. There was no sign of her daughter Gypsy Rose, who, according to Blanchard, suffered from leukemia, asthma, muscular dystrophy, and several other chronic conditions. Dee Dee had long claimed that Gypsy had the "mental capacity of a 7-year-old due to brain damage" she had suffered as a result of her premature birth.
Not to spoil the ending, but it was Dee Dee who was sick — not Gypsy Rose. Dee Dee, it appears, suffered from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a mental disorder in which a parent or other caretaker exaggerates, fabricates, or induces illness in a person under their care to obtain sympathy or attention, according to Wikipedia.
She had convinced Gypsy either that she was, in fact, sick — or to go along with the ploy. Gypsy ended up conspiring with her boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn, to murder Dee Dee, possibly in search of her freedom. Ultimately, Gypsy pled guilty to second-degree murder and is serving a ten-year prison sentence. Godejohn was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
The Hulu series has, so far, received somewhat mixed reviews. Vox describes the series as “hard to watch” — but adds “That’s the point.” The New Yorker calls it “a juicy true-crime drama that deconstructs soapy tropes.” Others have called the show “distressing.”
The Vox reviewer noted that the story may not be capable of carrying an eight-episode season, adding that it begins to feel thin in episodes four and five. Having not seen them, I’ll reserve judgment on that.
There is no question that the series is distressing — as it covers a complicated crime, a sympathetic perpetrator, and a profoundly complex victim. These are some of the reasons that the story has been continually revisited, time and time again.
Whether or not you are familiar with the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard, “The Act” is worth your time, in my opinion. At times, it can be uncomfortable to watch. But that is part of its lasting impact.
— Originally Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News, 03/28/19