Naomi Watts, 'Gypsy' And Sexual Darkness Through The Female Lens

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Naomi Watts stars as Jean Holloway in Netflix's original streaming series 'Gypsy.' Netflix

Jean Holloway is suffering an identity crisis and a severe mental breakdown, recklessly throwing away the American dream of a home behind a white picket fence and a life of stability and comfort.

Or maybe she's isn't: Perhaps she's realizing she never fully chased her dreams of freedom and happiness. Maybe she sees her chance—no matter how selfish it may seem at this point in her life—to escape into the unknown.

Or maybe she’s the one in need of diagnosis. Gypsy, Netflix’s original psychosexual drama starring Naomi Watts, explores a Manhattan therapist’s plunge into darkness, as she meddles in her patients’ lives, cheats on her husband with a much younger woman and lives a double life as a journalist named Diane.

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As audiences enter the head space of Watts' complex, multidimensional character, the 10-episode first season serves as an opportunity for viewers to diagnose themselves as well, as Netflix continues to push the boundaries by showcasing alternative identities and Hollywood stories through the female lens.

Lisa Rubin, Gypsy's creator and writer, says that was exactly the point.

"People’s responses to Gypsy say more about them than it does the show," Rubin tells Newsweek. "Viewers are having very real interpretations of Naomi’s character, who shows that women have the same sort of hidden dimensions as men… Women have dark impulses, women have dark thoughts, and with Jean, one moment she’s relatable, the other she’s messy and flawed. But that just means she’s human."

Married couples facing hardship, with one completely logging out from his or her home life and signing in to a new reality, is nothing new in television drama. But Gypsy is one of the first shows to show that conflict from a wife’s perspective. What’s more, Jean is the one destroying her family, as her husband resists his own temptations, from his female secretary to a past love interest whom he apparently never let go of completely.

As Jean's checkered past comes to light and her storyline unfolds, she struggles to maintain her status of all-composed woman: mother, member of the Parent Teacher Association and distinguished therapist. Through Diane, her self-made alias who begins dating a singer fresh out of a codependent relationship with one of her clients, Jean becomes a more authentic version of herself, and her lust for hedonism eventually becomes unignorable.

The battle between the identities blurs the lines between Jean and Diane. One is a woman who has put aside her own wants and needs to appease her mother, cater to her husband and give her child the best life possible. The other is a carefree, impulsive soul who revels in emotions, from another person’s heartbreak to the uncontrollable connections she feels with those around her.

Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 5 Naomi Watts stars as Jean Holloway, a Manhattan therapist who meddles in her clients' lives while facing her own identity crisis, in Netflix's streaming series 'Gypsy.' Netflix

"The way she develops, I always thought the audience would be the therapist diagnosing Jean, turning the tables on her," Rubin says. "We're quick to judge women, sometimes for being unlikable but also in our assuming they’ll always be good and nurturing people—the things we’ve seen repeated to us over and over."

Rubin says the backlash to Watts's character from actual therapists, who decried Jean's meddling in her patients' lives, may reflect the ways in which society excuses male characters who develop while hurting others along the way.

"It's interesting: We don’t seem to even bat an eye when a man has an affair on television; we just understand the justification and go with it," she says. "When showing it through a woman, some people are just definitely not able to go with it.

"I tried not to be judgmental in writing Jean and the world of the show. I think it’s very human that people lie and hide things about themselves. I love Jean. Don’t get me wrong, I think what she’s doing is entirely unethical. But I really, truly feel devoted to telling the stories of these characters as realistically as possible."

As Jean battles her identity issues, her young daughter is facing gender dysphoria, begging to chop off her hair and refusing to remain in what society considers a normal female childhood. A therapist prescribes ADHD medication and warns Jean that the gender identity issues could further progress, or foreshadow, the child's sexuality.

It's an issue that seems to trouble Jean more than it does her husband, who brushes off the doctor’s recommendations and vows to continue loving their daughter regardless of her identity. It doesn’t appear that Jean has any genuine reason to be upset with her child developing into her own person, except for Jean's inability to do just that for herself.

Whether Jean's daughter is a lesbian, transgender or simply a kid exploring her personality is up for interpretation. The character is one of the first children in a mainstream television show whose journey through that complicated development is shown. It’s also brought into the plot’s broader themes, comparing the daughter's journey to acceptance—hanging out with boys instead of girls, cutting off most of her hair, playing male and female characters in a school play—with Jean’s own issues with identity.

Other TV shows have begun bringing alternative identities into the mainstream, with streaming services at the forefront of the trend. Transparent, the Amazon original series starring Jeffrey Tambor, shows a middle-aged father transitioning to womanhood and all the complications it brings to her family. While the impactful show sets a precedent for other series to continue broadening the scope of inclusion, it's still very much shown through the male gaze.

If anyone is the leader in delivering groundbreaking perspectives from women, people of color and those considered "other," it’s Netflix. From Orange Is the New Black, one of the site’s most famous shows, about a women’s prison, to Dear White People, which shows a black female college student’s push for racial equality on campus, the storylines Netflix has greenlit indicate there’s a demand for new points of view on TV.

There's more work to be done, but shows like Gypsy are fundamental in the progression of diversity in film and television, and of presenting the issues humans share with one another, no matter how troubling they may be.