Dirty John: Betty Broderick Season Premiere Recap: The Worst Divorce Case In San Diego

Photo: Courtesy of the USA Network.
Before Betty Broderick made national headlines for shooting her ex-husband and his new, younger wife, the San Diego socialite and her medical malpractice lawyer husband Dan had what the Los Angeles Times referred to as "the worst divorce case in San Diego County."
The Broderick vs. Broderick rivalry — and subsequent double murder — plays out in season 2 of Dirty John, The Betty Broderick Story. While season 1 of Dirty John took place in the heady days of the mid-2010s, the second season of the series is actually a throwback: It's the 1980s, and despite the dark content that is to come, the upbeat music and brightly colored wardrobe that open the season premiere want you to know it.
As the premiere begins we see Betty, played by Amanda Peet, getting ready in her tubular '80s finest. Despite the upbeat music, this is not a fun occasion. It turns out that Betty's divorce lawyer is at the door, and drives her to divorce proceedings where she needs to sign some paperwork to approve her ex selling the house they lived in together. A few things are very clear: Betty's not happy about the divorce, she's not ready to sell the house, and she's talking herself out of the asking price she agreed to.
Her lawyer sagely advises her that there are some situations where she just won't be able to win, and this is one of those situations. She refuses to go inside the nondescript glass-walled office building for the meeting, so he brings the contract to the car — and she refuses to sign it. He told her to pick her battles, so this is one she's picked. Back inside, her ex, Dan Broderick (Christian Slater), ominously tells the lawyer: "You're starting to get it, aren't you? Betty."
The events that play out in the rest of the episode aren't always in chronological order, and they're not necessarily how they happened in real life (a San Diego Reader article chronicling the vicious divorce and the previously mentioned Los Angeles Times piece told from Betty's point of view following her murder conviction lay out the real-life timeline, which contains many elements dramatized in the first hour of the season, just in a slightly different order). But they're true to the spirit of what Broderick herself admitted to: She was mad as hell, and she wasn't going to take it anymore.
Betty's upset that Dan wants to sell the house they raised their four children in. Not only does she not want to get rid of the house, she doesn't want to get rid of the marriage. So when she gets a call that Dan used his knowledge of the law (he has both an M.D. and a J.D.) to get a judge to sign off on Betty's half of the sale without her knowledge or involvement, she's furious.
She leaves her two younger sons with her visiting parents, hops in her car, and drives directly to Dan's new house. He's not home, but her two teenage daughters are. When Dan gets home from running an errand, he reminds her that she's in violation of a court order by being there, so she leaves. But she's so furious that she drives to the house the court had just approved to sell, finds a canister of gasoline, and starts to pour it — before she's reminded of some of the memories the family shared. Instead of burning it down, she hops back in the car (with "LODEMUP" license plate — a real detail), and rams it right into Dan's front door. He wrestles her out of the car and holds her down until the cops come, and he tells them to have her committed for observation rather than arrest her.
In what appears to be an interrogation room, Betty talks to a doctor: She's not the crazy one, he is. She explains his career — he went to medical school but never practiced, instead getting his law degree to sue people for malpractice. He's a powerful man with powerful friends, and if he wants the doctor to certify that she's crazy, he'll get it.
When Betty gets home, Dan has taken the boys and Betty's parents have flown home. They're mad at her for embarrassing and shaming them. Later, at the store, she runs into two gal pals whom she knows are gossiping about her, and tells them just how tough a time she's been having since Dan had her committed to a psych ward, had a judge declare her an obstruction and sold the house, and told them she crashed her car into Dan's house because she was so upset. Then Dan had the cops commit her, even though he's not actually a practicing doctor. How could he do it? "I'm a woman being divorced in America. I have no rights," she tells them.
There's more bad news: Her lawyer's mad about the whole destruction of property thing, and also she needs to pay his retainer. Dan is refusing to pay it as a way for Betty to be "invested" in what's happening — but Betty says the divorce wasn't her idea, and she doesn't pay for things she doesn't want. She later fires him when he tells her it doesn't seem like she wants a lawyer. Of course she doesn't, Betty says — she doesn't want a divorce.
When Dan drops off the kids, he proposes a do-over for their divorce with a clean slate. He suggests she take the kids to Colorado, which she does, and they have a good time. When discussing the matter with her friends, she tells them about how she's hopeful they'll get back together. Her friends realize she's probably deluding herself and try to get her to accept her new reality. There's a whole big world out there and she doesn't have to be unhappy if she doesn't want to be.
But Dan's idea of a clean slate isn't necessarily the same as Betty's, and she soon gets a letter saying Dan wants a "bifurcated divorce" — where the court will grant the couple a divorce immediately, and they'll work out the distribution of their property separately. He wants primary physical custody of the children, so he won't pay child support, but she'll get spousal support.
Betty gets a job at an art gallery, and meets Dan for dinner. He tells her it's irresponsible for him to talk to her, and that she needs a lawyer. She tries to get some mutual friends to convince Dan not to divorce her, but that doesn't really work out in her favor. She gets drinks with a girlfriend, who tells her she needs to loosen up and have some fun (and maybe some sex). She tries, but later gets set off by another discovery and freaks out on Dan's answering machine.
In a courtroom, Dan holds court with the boys' club of judges and lawyers. Betty isn't there, so the judge rules in Dan's favor for a bifurcated divorce: It's final, and Betty didn't even have to be present.
In tears, Betty explains that divorce is the closest people will come to war in their lives. She hates what Dan did, but she doesn't hate him. She can't make him wake up.
A voice cuts in to tell her that she can't — because he's dead. It turns out that Betty's in a police interrogation room, and a cop is wondering if she even remembers giving them a statement. She does, she says. "I think I'm amazed it only took one bullet to kill Dan Broderick."

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