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Gypsy - Season 1 - Review (Minor Spoilers) - Back to The Gypsy, That I Was

Who am I and whom could I be? is often center stage for a great psychological thriller or psychological drama and is a natural question that most likley creator and executive producer Lisa Rubin and director Sam Taylor-Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey) would make one ask even just looking at the series title, Gypsy.

Gypsy in itself is kind of a loaded word. It's history comes from a group of traveling people from Northern Regions of the Indian subcontinent often associated with things like fortune-telling and magic spells, called Romani, whom came to live across Europe and the Americas. Some view the words Gypsy or Gypsies as a pejorative term due to certain historical connotations, such as demoting groups to uneducated criminals and salacious con-artists, not unlike how some view carnival people,  but at the same time many a novel, film (image above, Stardust), or even folk musicians with songs (Fleetwood Mac) in more recant pop-culture have also come to romanticize the lifestyle of a mystical caravan of ethnic nomads with an openness to magical experiences and/or with esoteric spiritual freedoms that may allow for one to find their true identity and purpose and break with societal conformity. 

It's for this reason the word seems rather apt for the story of therapist--a person of certain esoteric knowledge and with a capacity to artfully influence the lives of others, only to want to break the mold of her perfect-looking, but seemingly restraining life to go on an identity-bending journey.

Viewers are introduced to Jean Holloway (Naomi Watts), as we follow her through her day consisting of three patients, each whom come to represent some facet of Jean's own life, --but none more obvious than Sam (Karl Glusman), the young man struggling to find himself after breaking up with a young woman named Sydney (Sophie Cookson), whom he compares his addiction to her like a person whom can't help starring straight into the sun.

Curious, but really also a person whom seems frustrated with the stability of her life and itching for it to fall apart, Jean finds herself at the coffee shop where Sydney works and begins to engage with her under a false name, eventually getting invited to a small club where Sydney's band, Vagabond Hotel,  will perform. And it's this involvement and a sidestep into the lives of those that are in her patients lives, including the young drug-addict Allison and the over controlling mother Claire and her daughter Rebecca, ultimately giving way to new perspective, that begins to make Gypsy a smart way to begin to unravel what identity really is--and why is it, that some of us need mass amounts of vicarious thrills to feel alive--and is something like this, ever ethical or vindicated?

In Jean's case we see the how contentious the ethics of her choices really are, as she's a mother of a young girl named Dolly (Maren Heary) whom has some tomboy tendencies and can be a bit hyper-active, but is often being scrutinized for both gender identity and sexual orientation concerns in relation to her behavior according to her teachers and other mothers, while Jean's also married to Micheal (Billy Crudup) whose a workaholic and constantly has his young and beautiful tag-along assistant, Alexis (Melani Liburd) be the go between when Jean calls to express her concerns. There's also Jean's co-worker Larin (Poorna Jaggernathan) posing a close friend who tries to come off as free and happily-divorced --and then there's Jean's mother (Blythe Danner)--that Jean tries to deny her very existence...

The first few episodes are in some ways predictable in terms of how some plots unfold, but it's the slow cathartics and psychological process in it's unraveling, including wonderful dialogue, montages, and intriguing character-layering that shows a craftsmanship in Gypsy's philosophical pursuits that make things still very engaging.

Early on it's stated by Jean that identity isn't singular, a truth the series heavily encapsulates, but there's a wonderful irony about that in relation to the wealthy suburban culture Jean has been living in, as episode three captures a revelation when Jean has dinner with her husband, as she plays a game of speculation of what he might do, should he ever find Jean adulterous. She backs him into a corner and asks him if he would fight for her and he responds saying that he would. But later in the episode at Dolly's birthday party, Jean discover's one of the mothers degrading Dolly and ultimately Jean's parenting choices. Jean confronts her in front of everyone. When the party is over, she finds Michael condemning her for making a scene in front of everyone, instead of being proud that she protected their daughter. He would not fight for her. In addition Dolly also got upset during her party, as she was confused about the clown's tricks essentially being allowed to depict a "lie", when Dolly was taught that everyone should always be honest--connecting to a later scene after the party when she asks Jean if she had a good time at the party, because she thought Jean looked sad and then went onto mention that her birthday wish was for the clown to make her mom happy. This all points to lie of a lifestyle Jean has been living trying to paint a singular identity and an identity where one's happiness must always be present to be socially acceptable and that's clearly fake and impossible for someone, especially someone like Jean, whom might be described as a charmless empath with pathological lying tendencies, to permanently live up to.

It's in that dichotomy between taking responsibility for oneself vs a right to be whom one is in relation to the identities of not just the self, but those in the lives around oneself, that becomes the foreground argument of season one, as identity often relies on the social interactions, dynamics, and beliefs we have about others that tends to get pushed back onto the self for continuous ongoing reassessment, while a consensus of behavior sets the standards for which any identity is often forced to conform to.

However, as the series goes on it becomes rather complex to even to begin to explain what exactly Gypsy is, as a story that operates on a series of cat and mouse teases, multiple unreliable narrators with undiscovered histories, where everyone's a victim and victimizer simultaneously,-- and where characters hover between calm or playful certainty to hyperbolic and convoluted anxiety to hazy tunnel-visioned psychedelic euphoria. In some ways Gypsy is a glass menagerie (yes, this is a reference to the play by Tennessee Williams) of pyschosymmetry metamorphosing through a prism, as it explores both an intentional and unintentional quantum entanglement full of sexual fantasies realized, transference, vicarious thrills, and finding joy in social dysfunction, while also exploring gender identity and sexual orientation, differences between being seen as child and as seen an adult, exploitation through the use of modern technology, all done with Hitchockian-like elements and a 'Fifty Shades' sensibility and with familiar sprinkles of something like Gone Girl and Girl Interrupted.

The performances are all wonderful with Naomi Watts being particularly solid as she shifts through moods, possibly being psychosomatic. Billy Crudip also give memorable performances, as his character, Michael, turns out to be not what one might expect and in which we often don't see such a character in his specific position portrayed on film. Sophie Cookson's Sydney is continuously enigmatic and addicting. And other characters like Sam tend to show different sides, where characters like Rebecca, Tom, and Allison prove not to be what Jean believes them to be, all prove this is a great cast, with good writing, and directing, generating a lot of suspense and introspection.

Where Gypsy's first season might come up short, would be those viewers expecting faster pacing and big plot twists, which often feels like it ought of had, where it mostly did not. It's unclear if the first season is ultimately a season that spends a great deal of time setting up to be a great psychological thriller down the road, or if it will remain more on the psychosexual drama-side by being more of character study with a lot of philosophical musings on the dysfunctions and appropriation of the human condition in relation to the concept of fluid identities in a fluid story-axle reality, but might be worth the watch if you're someone whom just enjoys thinking and exploring intense darker human interactions, but if not, you could easily feel frustrated and betrayed when Jean gives her final smirk at the end of episode ten!

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