It's hard to remember sometimes, but before two people go at each other's throats in a divorce, there was once a time when they were madly in love. Episode 2 of Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story flashes back to points throughout Betty (Amanda Peet) and Dan's (Christian Slater) history to show the evolution of their relationship, juxtaposed with scenes from Betty's trial for the murder of Dan and his second wife.
In some scenes they're idyllically happy — interestingly, the early scenes from the '60s show more cracks in their relationship than later ones — it's all intertwined with the audience's knowledge that eventually, Betty will kill her husband.
The first flashback is from Eastchester, New York in 1963. A very young teen Betty gets her first period (crimson red against her white school uniform in a moment tailor-made for Seventeen Magazine's embarrassing moments column) — and her mother closes her in the bathroom, tosses her a sanitary belt (thank god for self-adhesive pads), and essentially tells her to fend for herself. Her mom is maybe a monster; got it!
A slightly older Young Betty, now played by Polly from Riverdale (Tiera Skovbye), is sitting at the dinner table when her father comes in and accuses her of being a "slut" because a boy has called her on the phone, even though she doesn't even know who it is. So her dad's maybe a monster, too; got it!
In South Bend, Indiana, Young Betty is at a bar and dudes are mansplaining football to her until a cute boy in glasses comes over and talks to her. You can tell this is Dan because this actor (Chris Mason) is doing a bit of a Christian Slater impression, and it's pretty good. He also hits on Betty, but he doesn't mansplain to her. Instead, he tells her he's an "MDA" — "medical doctor almost," about to start Cornell Medical School. That's good news, since Betty's also about to head to college in Ithaca, New York.
In a flashback to the later '70s, Betty (Peet) and Dan (Slater) get a tour of the San Diego law firm he's about to join. Dan and Betty excitedly embrace, thrilled at the prospect of their new life in California together. Back in the '60s, Young Dan (Mason) is late for a date with Young Betty (Skovbye). On another date, they dance at a bar and she talks skeptically about feminism. On yet another date, he writes her a note and they drink milkshakes. Finally, on another date he proposes, but she tells him she's not planning on getting married until she graduates from school.
Of course, we all know that she said "yes," and in Westchester, New York, Young Betty is wearing a wedding dress. It's 1969, and she and Young Dan are about to tie the knot, but Betty's mom is mad that Dan didn't wear the correct suit to the ceremony. Betty brushes it off. Later, on their honeymoon, she's wearing lacy but modest lingerie and they're both awkward as they fumble around in bed (they were both raised very Catholic, per real-life reports, so this is probably their first time sleeping together). The next morning, Dan makes an offhand comment about housekeeping not coming to their honeymoon suite — he sent them away, and he expects her to make the bed.
The episode continues as essentially a montage of the couple's life together. Young Betty is pregnant, and she's worried that she can't hide it from her coworkers any longer and she'll have to quit before she gets fired. Dan forgets to buy her antacid. Later, she's caring for the baby by herself while Dan studies in the other room. She doubles over in pain as blood trickles down her leg — it's a miscarriage. One of many she'll suffer over the next few years.
In a slightly more modern flashback, the slightly older Brodericks (Peet and Slater) move into the much-contested house. Betty talks about how happy their life is together, and she seems to find a community with the wives of Dan's coworkers. The scenes from their California life seem much happier than the difficult early days of their relationship, where Dan seems checked out and focused on school, and Betty suddenly has to take care of a home and children. Like when Young Dan is distracted trying on the embroidered doctor's coat he had made for himself. Or in Boston at law school, when Dan says he won't have enough time to work on school stuff and work a part-time job, and Betty tells him it's okay because they'll cut back and she'll pick up the slack.
But, of course, "the slack" really means "do everything." Young Betty is pregnant again, but overwhelmed. She wants an abortion. They can barely afford the girls and she's so alone all the time. Dan promises they'll do it together. But one night, when Betty's very pregnant and Dan isn't home, she suffers from intense cramping. She's rushed to the hospital, where she's later informed that the baby has died. She didn't even get a chance to see him before doctors whisked the infant away.
The episode continues to cut to various people testifying about Betty's mindset the morning of the murders. She was distraught, apparently, but didn't really confess what she'd done to everyone. And none of the friends and family she spoke to seem to have realized what had actually happened.
Back in the '70s, Young Betty is pregnant ~again~, but this time it's Amanda Peet and Christian Slater sharing a sweet moment together. Other scenes from their California life include Betty caring for a newborn, and Betty comforting Dan when he gets angry about a situation at work. She talks him down from his anger, and the scene ends with another sweet moment of joy between them.
That work grievance must've been the final straw, because now Betty is helping Dan decorate his new office — he's left to start his own law practice, and he's freaking out about money. As if right on cue, she pukes — she's pregnant again. When a pregnant Betty visits a doctor, he gets serious and business-like once he realizes she's Dan Broderick's wife. It appears Dan has built up quite the reputation as a malpractice legal shark, and the doctor is clearly scared of doing anything to piss him off.
After the baby's birth, Betty tells Dan she doesn't want any more kids. She wants to get her tubes tied. Dan distractedly tells her it's okay if that's what she wants. A montage flashing back to every era of their relationship plays, and then cuts to Betty's friend confiding that she caught her husband cheating. Betty's so lucky, the friend tells her.
But in the courtroom at Betty's trial, a cop testifies about the brutal details of the shooting: Betty shot five rounds that morning, and they only discovered four casings at the scene. The last bullet was found inside Dan's wife Linda's body at the morgue.
The plot of the series didn't exactly move forward in episode 2, but the hour did provide some valuable context about Betty's life. She came from a strict household, and was a smart girl with a lot of potential. She was just as ambitious as Dan, who seemed to lose interest in her once he finally got Betty to marry him. It's as if she was just another item on his checklist for success. The courtroom details weren't exactly new to anyone who's read a little bit about the case — in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 1989, Betty broke into the bedroom of Dan's house and shot him and his new wife Linda while they were sleeping. Linda died instantly, while Dan died a few minutes later. "Okay, you shot me. I'm dead," he supposedly said before he died.
After the incident, Betty was disoriented, but didn't tell everyone she called what happened. It was only later that most of her friends and family found out the truth about what she'd done.
To recap the first two episodes, we know what happened as Betty began to unravel during the divorce proceedings, we know when and how she eventually kills Dan, and we know more about the history of their relationship. The question for the remaining six episodes is what happens in between?