“Gypsy is excited to start over with Nick in Wisconsin, but their new life doesn’t match the happily ever after she imagined and her anxiety worsens as past transgressions begin to catch up with them.” That’s the descriptive text that accompanies this week’s episode of The Act, and it’s… well, that’s definitely one way to describe it. “Their new life doesn’t match the happily ever after she imagined” is a technically accurate summary of the half-day they spent in Big Bend before getting arrested. “Her anxiety worsens as past transgressions begin to catch up with them” captures the letter of Gypsy and Nick hiding in a closet as a heavily armed SWAT team surrounds the house, if not quite the spirit. Let’s just say I admire the blurb’s commitment to understatement and leave it at that, shall we?
Taking its title less from the actual bank robbers, the sexy Beatty/Dunaway movie about them, or the sexy Gainsbourg/Bardot song based on it, and more from Nicholas Godejohn’s hilarious mischaracterization of the moral of that particular story—“We’re gonna get married and be together forever, just like Bonnie and Clyde,” he says of perhaps the most famously massacred couple in American history—this week’s installment of The Act is less unnerving than usual. But it’s no less dark. It’s just that the darkness comes in the form of black humor now—the Coen Brothers sort, where the criminal’s master plan falls apart because the criminal is venal, stupid, or both. The episode goes by quickly, from black-comedy joke to black-comedy joke, but it still feels like watching William H. Macy try to escape from his motel room in his underwear at the end of Fargo for an hour straight.
Completing the Arquette/Sevigny trifecta of cool ’90s crushes, Juliette Lewis makes a surprise guest appearance as Nicholas’s mother, a recovering alcoholic whose initial verdict on Gypsy is “You got yourself a chirpy one, huh, Nick?” Don’t let her gruff exterior—or her gruff interior, for that matter—fool you, though. Once the cops show up, it becomes very clear that she does care about her troubled, mentally disabled son, and not in the all-consuming way Dee Dee “cared” for Gypsy either. Their cupboards may be bare and the whole house may smell like a stale pack of Marlboros, but Nick’s mother wanted him to have as normal a life as possible, and did what she could to help that happen. “I thought when he got the job at the pizza place things were really turning around for him,” she says at the police station after the arrest, a line that’s both nastily funny and quietly crushing.
It’s culture clash as much as anything else that makes Nick and Gypsy’s brief time together so tumultuous. Gypsy can’t believe the castle on a cloud to which she’s been whisked away is so cluttered and disheveled, and that there’s no food in the fridge or medicine in the cabinets, because she’s confused the trappings of parental love for the real thing. Nick isn’t accustomed to lying and stealing all the time the way Gypsy was raised to be, and he’s so unused to taking care of anyone but himself—which, given his limited mental and emotional resources, he can barely do—that he has to make a to-do list to remind himself how to treat Gypsy like a boyfriend treats a girlfriend. The fact that he made that list is, again, both very funny and deeply sad.
And so it goes. Asked by Gypsy to leave a message on the Blanchards’ Facebook that would indicate that Dee Dee is dead—both to give her the courtesy of a burial and in the completely cockamamie hope that they could return to Springfield and reoccupy the house—Nick comes up with “Dee Dee needs help!” as his first draft and “Dee Dee is dead!” as his second. It’s Gypsy, ostensibly the innocent romantic of the pair, whose notes contain the blend of profanity, graphic sexualized violence, and LOLspeak that helped capture the country’s imagination when the story broke big. Yet for all her upbraiding of Nick for his failure to think things through, she’s the one who hits send on those messages without switching the location feature off first, leading directly to their capture.
It’s gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight shit from top to bottom, really. At another point in the evening, Gypsy and Nick need to hide the murder weapon they’d mailed to themselves. (Nick’s mom’s reaction when she hears about this genius move from the cops: “Are you serious?”) The problem is that the family’s fast-food chicken order just arrived and, as Nick puts it, “…but it’s chicken night.”
“The chicken can wait, right?” Gypsy asks.
“…Well, not really, because then it’ll get cold.”
Crime of the century, folks!
This tone continues right on through the couple’s arrest and interrogation, which buffs of the case will tell you plays out more or less verbatim from existing tapes of the events. Interviewed by a detective played by actor and director Adam Arkin, who really nails cop cadence in a non-Hollywood way (“Your mom is dead, okay. Your mom’s passed away, okay. She’s deceased, all right.”), Gypsy denies all involvement despite having pledged to Nick that they’d both just tell the truth since they did nothing wrong. Her main concern is getting out of jail in time to catch The Force Awakens on opening weekend.
Nick’s affect is similarly off. (According to his mother, he has “the mind of a 15 or 16 year old.”) He laughs at inappropriate moments, fumbles his way through awkward questions about his arrest record (“So you weren’t masturbating while watching online porn at a McDonald’s for nine hours?” “Not as such.”), and incriminates himself for murder with more confidence than I can muster to ask people to subscribe to my Patreon.
One of the episode’s most effective mechanisms for drawing out both the pathos and the pathetic of the situation is contrasting Nick and Gypsy’s 18 hours of freedom with the hopes and fears of the Blanchards’ former neighbors and friends. As Gypsy’s friend Lacey and her mother Mel discover the Facebook posts, call the cops, visit the house, wait in the crowd as the investigation plays out, stand vigil by candlelight, and worry about Gypsy—first whether she’s alive and okay, then whether she’ll be able to make it without her mother’s care—our bargain-bin Bonnie and Clyde are dicking around with the world’s worst getaway and coverup. It’s like the “Before” photograph in a “Before and After” piece on people who realize they’ve been grifted.
Because that’s at the heart of it all, right? People who’ve lied and been lied to, in Gypsy’s case all her life, watching those lies catch up with them. The episode ends with montage that uses off-kilter editing to grab our attention. An out-of-nowhere shot of Dee Dee’s face as her corpse lies in the morgue cuts to Gypsy and Nick getting printed and mugshotted. Mel and Lacey watch that perplexing and very memorable press conference in which the local sheriff says, “I wanna say that things are not always as they appear,” like he’s writing descriptive text for a prestige television show and not informing a community about the progress of a murder investigation. Later, they see Gypsy walking—walking—into court for her arraignment. “Son of a bitch,” Mel mutters, just before Gypsy learns she’s facing life in prison or even the death penalty.
Gypsy has spent an episode trying to be a take-charge kind of person, and it’s such an awkward fit for this endemic people-pleaser; actor Joey King makes little effort to smooth out the theatricality of that “just do as I say!” performance, and it’s the first time in the series that what she’s doing feels like a performance at all. But when she hears the word “death,” she breaks down sobbing in the courtroom. Happily ever after is over. All that remains is “The End.”