Amanda Peet, with the voluminous shoulder pads of Amanda Peet, as Betty Broderick in the new season of Dirty John.
Photo: Isabella Vosmikova / USA Network
Being a woman who bases her identity solely on her roles as wife and mother can be dangerous. Television has issued this warning several times this year at Hulu’s. Small fires everywhere, in FX on Hulu’s Ms. America, and now even more obviously Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story, on the USA network.
The first season of Dirty John, which aired on Bravo in 2018 and 2019 before appearing on Netflix, told the story based on a true story of serial artist John Meehan and his toxic relationship with interior designer Debra Newell. In the second season of the anthology series, the creator of the series Alexandra Cunningham focuses on the well-known case of Betty and Dan Broderick, a couple who seemed to “have it all”, until their tumultuous divorce led to murders of Dan and his second wife Linda by Betty in 1989.
Unlike the more recent Meehan case, the Broderick case was covered by the media for several decades: in the news, in books, and even in a CBS TV movie in 1992 that starred Meredith Baxter as Betty. Broderick. The events of this broken marriage have been well documented and a complicated vision of Betty – a despised and uncontrollable wife or spouse led to the brink by an emotionally violent husband? – made its way into the public consciousness over three decades ago. For these reasons, The story of Betty Broderick may not be as suspenseful as the first Dirty John. From the first of the eight episodes, we know that the story will end in a double murder; those who know the Brodericks may also be fairly knowledgeable about their history as college lovers who met at Notre Dame, had four children together, built a good life in La Jolla, California, and then turned against each other.
But what this scripted true crime story may be surprising, he makes up for in its nuance, especially in the second half of the season, as well as in its flawless performance of Amanda Peet in the role of Betty. Peet channels so much energy into the role of this courageous, broken and naive woman, it’s amazing that she still has the ability to leave the set every day after filming ends. Her Betty is exhausting and, as her ordeal continues, exhausted. After being arrested for killing her ex-husband and new wife, the first thing she does upon arriving in her cell is to lie on the thin prison mattress and exhale, as if she had finally found peace for the first time in years.
The story of Betty Broderick skips chronologically, following testimony presented in the two Broderick murder trials (spoiler: one ended in trial), Betty’s first life as a child of cold parents and, later, Dan’s loving wife (Christian Slater), whom she supports at medical school and law school when he decides to seek a second degree at Harvard. By the time Dan became a lawyer, the couple had four children and an idyllic life that began to be disrupted when Dan hired a new assistant, Linda Kolkena (Rachel Keller from Legion), with whom Betty is afraid of having an affair, which Dan denies.
This temporal approach, as well as the fragmented images and fuzzy memories that sometimes seep into the scenes, put the audience in Betty’s headspace, where her determination to revive the past often prevents her from grasping more firmly the circumstances of his present. There are also times when the show is deliberately vague as to whether something we see has really happened as it is described, or if we see events from Betty’s point of view. If Betty Broderick was a gas-lit woman – and the series makes a pretty strong argument that she was – then part of The story of Betty BroderickThe goal, it seems, is to make us feel like we’re also in the spotlight. Which: Mission accomplished.
When the series first featured Betty in the 1980s, she seemed erratic, depressed, and often disjointed, especially after she and Dan were separated and took care of their children. But it is also instantly obvious that Dan is manipulative and often cruel, to a degree that becomes more apparent as the scope of the narrative expands and Betty emerges as a more empathetic figure. To the credit of Cunningham and the rest of the creative team, neither she nor Dan are described as monsters or victims. That said, it is clear that the system, both judicial and societal, benefits Dan and is rigged against Betty, a woman who, like many of her generation, was encouraged to dedicate her life to her husband and children , then finds himself without anything when all this is largely taken from him.
Since playing in Heather, a film released the same year that Dan Broderick was killed, Slater has often played characters that draw a very thin line between attractive and despicable. As Dan, he crosses this line, which makes it understandable that Betty can be tormented and disgusted by him in turn. Together, he and Peet, who constantly wears shoulder pads that are inflated enough to carry her to the moon, are Kodak’s ready image of the perfect 80s couple, from the outside anyway.
There are a few notes here and there in this second season of Dirty John. Linda, the new model Ms. Dan Broderick, is much thinner than the other characters, appearing as another stereotypical and unlovable woman, although this may be due to the fact that the series chooses to address the perception that Betty has of ‘she. While some of the songs that appear on the soundtrack are wonderfully deep cuts from the 80s – see: “When you were mine” by Cyndi Lauper and “Take me to heart” by Quarterflash – others are used from a way that is ridiculous for the nose. Betty expresses her rage towards Dan and Linda in a scene to the sound of Laura Branigan’s “Self-Control”. In another, Linda begins to take interest in Dan while Howard Jones sings “I like getting to know you well”, as if Jones had to explain what we are observing with a sound. This kind of story can very easily tip over into the territory of lifelong movies, and there are times when The story of Betty Broderick is dangerously close to doing so.
The series is saved by effectively capturing how it feels helpless, abandoned and misunderstood, and how these feelings can naturally metastasize into blind rage. “Humans are like any animal,” a reporter for Betty’s first trial told a reporter. “You push them hard enough, they will bite. ” The story of Betty Broderick explains what drove Betty to bare her teeth. It can also make you think about what it would take to do the same.