As a San Diegan, I vividly recall the media circus surrounding Betty Broderick’s murder trial. USA Network’s chosen to focus on Betty’s side of the messy divorce that led to a double homicide in season two of Dirty John, Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story. Premiering on June 2, 2020 with back-to-back episodes, Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story explores the Brodericks’ marriage, its ultimate failure, and Betty’s emotional and mental breakdown after being tossed aside for a younger, more attractive woman by her uber-successful lawyer husband.
Episode one begins in 1986 in La Jolla, California. For those who aren’t familiar with the area, La Jolla’s one of the wealthiest communities in Southern California. It’s a ritzy city and thanks to Dan Broderick’s legal career, the separated couple own three homes there as the series begins. One of the homes – the one they bought together and where they raised their children – is on the market.
That home is a major point of contention between Betty (Amanda Peet) and Dan (Christian Slater). He wants to unload it while Betty’s dragging her feet, refusing to sell at what Dan believes is a reasonable price because she thinks it’s priced too low. Her Beverly Hills lawyer, Bob Munro (Andy Buckley), represents her in the deal and suggests this isn’t the hill she wants to die on. She should accept half the asking plus $20,000 to repair the house she’s living in.
Obviously, it’s not the actual dollar amount Betty’s stuck on; it’s the fact they’re selling the family home which makes the whole separation feel more real.
Once they arrive at Dan’s attorney’s office, Betty decides she’s not going to get out of the car. Bob can discuss the deal on her behalf and bring down any paperwork she needs to sign.
Dan’s attorney believes Betty’s being ridiculous and wonders how (and why) Bob’s putting up with her. Bob assures him Betty’s on the lower end of the scale of what he’s seen representing women.
Once Bob returns to the car with the paperwork, Betty tries to put the sale off by declaring she’s going to think about it before signing. She’s decided this is a battle she’s choosing to fight.
During the car ride home, she gets emotional as she tells Bob the Coral Reef house was their first home and the only place where she felt safe. She’s not about to give it up for less than she thinks it’s worth.
Betty explains the house she’s living in now is one Dan told her to buy with the intent of moving the family there. That’s no longer the plan as he has his own expensive house.
Bob suggests she concentrate on channeling her anger elsewhere and think about moving forward from the separation stage to getting through the divorce.
Betty’s parents are visiting from out of town when she returns home. Her dad runs down a list of all the things wrong with the place and she reminds him they bought it for the location and view, knowing it needed work. Her mom complains about the lack of quality furniture and Betty’s forced to explain she has to submit a list to Dan of items she wants in the divorce.
Her young sons are playing nearby but her two teenage daughters are with Dan. Betty’s parents aren’t happy about that, adding another item to Betty’s list to stress about. (Her parents don’t appear to be in the least bit supportive.)
Bob calls with the bad news that Dan sold the house without her permission. He accomplished it behind her back and through legal channels she didn’t realize existed. She believes Dan can get by with anything because of his status in the San Diego legal community. (This won’t be the last time she’s made to feel that way.)
Betty slams down the phone, tells her parents and boys she’ll be right back, and drives over to Dan’s gorgeous home. She bangs on the door and her daughters remind her she’s not allowed to be there due to a court order. Dan drives up at just that moment and demands she leave. He also reminds her she’s in violation of multiple court orders just by showing up at his place.
Betty’s next stop is at the Coral Reef house. (A brief flashback shows how excited the young couple was to move into the place.) She storms into the nearly empty house, finds a gas can, and is ready to light the place on fire when she looks into the dining room. She has a touching memory of the family gathered around the table and doesn’t set the place on fire. Instead, she races off to Dan’s once more and this time she rams her car into his front door. It does damage to the house and the vehicle, and Dan angrily rips her from the car and slams her to the ground.
The police arrive and Dan has Betty taken away for a mental health evaluation. She’s placed under a 72 hold at a psychiatric facility. Her daughters watch as she’s strapped into a straight-jacket and put in the back seat of a squad car.
At the facility, she attempts to convince the doctor she’s not crazy. Betty asserts no one will believe her because Dan’s too powerful. As a malpractice attorney, he sues doctors for a living. All it takes is one call and the doctor will side with Dan.
Betty can’t win.
After a weekend locked up, she returns home to find her parents have left. They took off right after Dan came and picked up the boys. During a phone call, her father blames everything that’s happening on her and claims she’s shamed the family.
Later, Betty’s at the grocery store when she runs into two of her society friends. She doesn’t mince words and tells them Dan committed her to a psych ward. She also explains he sold Coral Reef without her permission after he had a judge declare her “an obstruction.”
She admits she was so upset she crashed her car into Dan’s new house. The ladies are sympathetic as she downplays the damage she caused and says Dan can get by with everything because she’s “a woman being divorced in America.” She doesn’t have any rights.
Bob Munro rings up his client and wants to talk about the bill he received from Dan because she caused structural damage to his house. She suggests Dan pay for the damage. Bob drops the bombshell that Dan is also refusing to pay his $10,000 retainer; Dan wants her to fork over her own money.
Betty doesn’t have any income except what she receives from Dan. It’s blatantly obvious he’s trying to teach her a lesson.
After she hangs up, Betty heads outside to greet her kids who are returning from a weekend with their dad. Dan’s friendly enough as he stands in the driveway, sympathetic her parents just left without waiting for her to return. He apologizes for that turn of events and appears genuine when he wonders what they’re going to do next.
Dan suggests they wipe the slate clean. He offers her a vacation with the kids in Keystone and she accepts. “We need to break this pattern we’ve gotten into, for both our sakes,” says Dan. “We also have to try to remember that actions have consequences.”
Relaxed and less anxious after returning from a short vacation with the kids, Betty has lunch with the ladies and fills them in on her divorce. She explains she’s had to go all the way to Los Angeles to get someone who would represent because of Dan’s influence. Plus, now Dan’s refusing to pay for her attorney.
However, when the ladies point out Dan put her in a mental hospital, Betty actually sticks up for him. He won’t admit it but she’s sure he’s aware he overreacted. Betty’s convinced she and Dan will get back together, but the ladies warn her to protect herself. They also suggest she get a job and reinvent herself, just to show him what he’s missing out on.
They want their old happy friend back – the one they love.
Betty receives a letter from Dan informing her that during their hearing on the 16th he’ll request a bifurcated divorce. He also wants to be the one who evaluates their assets and will assume their debts. In exchange, she agrees to withdraw any claim to his law practice. In addition, he wants primary custody of the children. He won’t pay child support but will pay spousal support.
Betty immediately calls her attorney who explains what this all means. He also reminds her she’s not returning his phone calls and he’s quite sure she doesn’t want him to represent her. He hasn’t been paid and is no longer willing to be her lawyer. Bob tells her that not playing the game isn’t winning – it’s losing.
There is a bright note in Betty’s otherwise depressing life. After a terrific interview, Betty accepts a full-time job at an art gallery.
Dan and Betty meet for lunch and he wants to know why Bob isn’t her lawyer. He’s upset she doesn’t have a lawyer and claims he really shouldn’t even talk to her until she’s represented again. He attempts to leave but Betty briefly halts his exit when she apologizes and promises to find someone. He asks about her new job but then he doesn’t appear overly interested in her answer, leaving without ordering lunch.
Betty attempts to find a new attorney in San Diego but no one will return her call. She sounds desperate as she leaves voice mails, pleading that she needs an attorney by the 16th.
Dan drops off the kids (minus one who’s at a friend’s house) and she learns from her sons they won’t be playing soccer this season. Instead, they’ll be spending two afternoons each week with Dr. Sadler. It turns out they need someone to talk to when they’re upset or scared. When Betty asks what scares them, it’s obvious they’re frightened of their mom. (Thanks to Dan’s input on the subject.)
Betty calls Dan and rants on his answering machine. She starts off sounding normal, but she becomes more enraged, screaming that he’s got the kids telling a psychologist she’s crazy. She reminds him he’s the one who walked out on his family and had a meltdown. She continues with her message, claiming she loves his answering machine because it allows her to speak the truth.
After calling him a sonofabitch, she slams the phone down. Only then does she notice her children are standing in the doorway. They heard everything.
Next, Betty pours out her story to an unseen listener. She explains how she no longer had any reason to get out of bed and that she was lost.
Betty lunches with Marie (Emily Bergl), a close friend who shares divorce horror stories. When Betty says she doesn’t know the date of her hearing, Marie’s confused and concerned. Betty should know the date by now.
Betty explains Dan postponed this one himself. Marie suggests she really needs to check this out and should actually show up at the hearing on the 16th just in case it wasn’t postponed. She also suggests Betty talk to the judge and explain the trouble she’s having obtaining an attorney. However, Betty seems to believe she and Dan will get back together and this will soon be all behind them.
And speaking of that hearing, Betty’s friend nailed it. It wasn’t postponed and Dan and his attorney are there joking around with the judge who is obviously a friend. Dan acts like he expects Betty to show up and when she doesn’t the judge sides with Dan on everything he’s requested. He grants Dan a divorce, custody of the four children, and Dan can decide the value of their assets.
Once more we see Betty pouring her heart out to an unseen listener. She equates divorce to war and confesses she never hated Dan. She hated what he did to her but didn’t actually hate him. She continues to be convinced that one day “he’ll see reality for what it is.” She adds, “I can’t make him do that…I can’t make him wake up.”
At that point it’s revealed she’s speaking to a police detective and she’s already killed Dan Broderick. She agrees that she did already give them a statement admitting her guilt, despite what she just said. She then confesses, “I’m amazed it only took one bullet to kill Dan Broderick.”
Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story Review:
Episode one does a terrific job of setting up the relationship between Dan and Betty, focusing on the critical last days of their marriage. Subsequent episodes will fill in the blanks and provide a much more in-depth dive into Betty’s psychological breakdown as Dan exploits the law to rob her of her children, her reputation, and all semblance of the life she embraced during their lengthy marriage.
The title gives away who’s side viewers will be on throughout the season. Dan doesn’t come across well and although Betty is no saint – and displays zero impulse control – she’s the one you’ll be pulling for even while fully aware of the story’s real-life tragic outcome. Meanwhile, Betty’s other murder victim, Linda Kolkena Broderick (a criminally underutilized Rachel Keller), comes across as a one-dimensional other women/scheming trophy wife in this drama.
Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story is a compelling glimpse at the life of a woman scorned, a woman thrown away after her beauty and youth faded. Amanda Peet delivers a riveting performance as she captures the downward spiral of a wife and mother who’s had the rug very publicly ripped out from under her feet.
- Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story Episode 2 “The Turtle and the Alligator” Recap
- Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story Episode 3 “Marriage Encounter” Recap
- Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story Episode 4 “More To It Than Fun” Recap
- Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story Episode 5 “Scream Therapy” Recap
- Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story Episode 6 “The Twelfth of Never” Recap
- Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story Episode 7 “The Shillelagh” Recap
- Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story Episode 8 “Perception is Reality” Recap