After the dust settles, depending on the personality, that is the tricky part of moving on. With “Dirty john: The Betty Broderick Story” that has been the pendulum in Betty’s mind over the season. Her essence of accepting versus obsessing over the smaller details plays a big part in her trajectory. Granted perception of what people think means a whole lot to her. But in this episode, against her own judgment, her friends even seem to be putting up a wall against her. In the essence of how she was raised, this idealism of what a family is supposed to be seems to be continually drawn from her (even in refection of her parents which might have been initially part of the problem. She tries to fight fair and then not fight fair but she is woefully outgunned. The title of Episode 7 “The Shillelagh” refers to an Irish weapon of blackthorn and oak which acts as a blunt instrument even after an initial attack. This seemingly reflects the continuing onslaught of happiness that Dan’s new wife flaunts in her face.
There is an interesting diametric though that happens at one point though when the issues that Sam (the new wife) have parallel exactly certain elements of Betty from before in terms of her complaints. The way Slater plays it shows that he could in fact turn on his younger wife at a later date as well. One action that is simple and not right (but then none of the way some of these characters act is “right” per se) sets certain actions in motion. Again certain actions Betty commits could be misconstrued one way or another but the space seems to be tightening on her. Peet again knows how to construct this women’s feelings while still reflecting her love of her children. Then at times her mania in a way takes over. It is an interesting continuing character study for sure. And again Slater in one specific moment gives a link of civility telling his new wife to “put it back”. And yet as the first scene with him in front of a class dictates, sometimes it is s not exactly what one says and if it is understood but how it is being said.
The rabbit hole that “Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story” continues to go down is a slippery slope. With Episode 6: “The Twelfth Of Never” one would think that Betty (as played by Amanda Peet) has reached her lowest point but the episode shows her resolve and redemptive ways to a point. But unlike her ex-husband, she tries to play fair whereas he doesn’t. Why a husband would treat the mother of his children so recklessly even if he remarried is beyond reprehensible. Again this is a dramatization though so parts of the story might not have the full fact represented at certain points. However what is undeniable is the sacrifice that Betty endured to get Dan (played by Christian Slater) where he is but he does not see it that way. There are some bright points that indicate Betty’s potential but also many wrong decisions or perceptions. There are two possibilities for light at the end of the tunnel but the situations don’t quite play out as one hopes or Betty hopes they would. It is about wordplay and coming to bear. The system is stacked against Betty at her best points to gain ground, mostly shrouded in the smugness of the boys’ club and legal jargon. Slater plays the character with an inherent smugness of course but his character ends up being very two dimensional which likely is by design. Giving away too much more would reveal how the descent happens. Either way the path will always end darkly. The issue is that seeing the destruction of such a positive soul, whatever her perceived shortcomings may be, is a tale in unnecessary tragedy.
The further detriment that visits Betty Broderick in the wake of her husband breaking down her resolve reveals something nihilistic in the bran of Dan Broderick. The essence of his two faced conniving personifications to his ex-wife maybe are meant to be a reflection of America at the time. With Episode 5 of “Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story”, “Scream Therapy”, the progression of Betty’ s path to possible redemption which skews to a wanton path of destruction is undeniable. Even without full support, she almost finds her way almost to balanced ground. There is however an imbalance and lack of control. The downfall is not primarily or even remotely her fault. it is a world bought out of Dan’s belief that he is right. He only admits at one point in an earlier episode that he is wrong and what is interesting there is that he seems almost on a mission to show that he was not. It as if his truth was a victory when in actually it shows that she is the victor but she doesn’t have the tools or a feeling of focused vengeance…hers is uncontrolled. Dan Broderick’s new girlfriend has her own issues (as she displayed in an earlier situation). Her parents didn’t want her to be a homewrecker but she is just worried what the outside thinks. Once she is inside the den, she doesn’t care. At a certain point inside a therapist’s office Betty asks that question in “Is anybody else asking about the well being of the children but me?” It is a dark place that Betty exists with no money, and no support. Even worse there are summons against her because she cannot control her rage. While it is a hopeful element that she might be able to find a power base, she makes small understandable mistakes that undermine er position.
The situation is vicious and immovable. It is a tale of love lost and love rebuked. As much as Dan does, Betty still harbors some love for him which is why it makes no sense to her as to why he would shun and destroy her so. This series has been dramatized but it is hard to think that someone would be this cruel to the mother of his children and then manipulate their minds (especially one son) into the idea that his mother was always disturbed. This is, of course, a reflection back to code cinema in certain ways of the metaphor of what is right just because society deems an action at the time as acceptable as long as it is swept under the carper. However in the modern age it might be a Shakespearean metaphor on the inherent unfairness that reigns in some circles. “Scream Therapy” is just that: the continuation of Betty’s maddening decent into oblivion is based not so much on her mistakes but her blindness to the lousy and cruel person her husband has become. Slater plays that darkness as light for all its worth and that is part of the charm of why the character can continue to function. But like the title namesake of “Mr. Robot”, Slate understands the necessity of a villain as the dark specter who simply turns the knob a little but more against his opponent each time.
The slip into paranoia is about the approach of loss versus simple narcissism. Episode 4 “More To It Than Fun” of “Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story” provides, in perhaps a more diametric way than some of the episodes, the psychological framework for the structure of Broderick’s breakdown. It is an interesting character study but one that is of course shown in different perspectives but also simmers in the frame of human frailty of will. Christian Slater continues to inject his possibilities of intention with a sense of knowing in Dan Broderick. At certain points the “Heathers” and even “True Romance” parallels comes through but the callousness of the character is simply unwavering. The reasoning, pointing to an aspect of power versus loyalty, is summed up by Betty in passing later in the episode which is undeniably true. He is reacting to what all these people are seeing in him whereas she is the one that can see his truth because she was there from the beginning.
Peet plays Betty as so wanting to forgive but also being in parallel that she is as much responsible for his success as he is. That narcissistic streak that was seen in their younger selves would be nice to flash back to now and again, and would give a sense more of the flip. The reality of the essence of purpose of the betrayal is icy cold, especially with Slater at a couple points since at many times he is tring to hide in the open with no sense of couth. It all comes down to the individual of course. But having a pscyhologist in a book end really gives a sense of the intricacies of how Betty’s psyche could be trapped in a corner and coming undone. Dan Broderick was an effective lawer, Harvard trained. He began using these tactics on his wife perhaps not even realizing it, to protect himself although he surely became aware he was using it soon after…yet does not stop.
Betty as Peet plays her is always willing to move back and forth in blame and rage. It is not alluded to in either of their characters if there was ever any mental health aspects or diagnoses either of them possessed. But back in the 80s, that would not have been paid any attention to. As the rabbit hole continues to spin for Betty, it is simply reflected in the idea that she wants to have it all. Her husband thinks he can have it all, ever single way, which is the difference. Some of the actions when he stays out later and returns home flagrantly shows that. He is a silent aggressor which makes admission of guilt in a response mechanism too little too late and is delivered with a sense of snarkiness that paints an idea of egotism while giving no satisfaction to his target. It is an interesting case structure again because the ending is known so watching it unravel is like watching a top spinning out of control.
The two part premiere of “Dear John: The Betty Broderick Story” is an interesting progression, specifically in context of the actors and how the story plays out. This story obviously could have the texture of a movie of the week and might have played in that stake 20 years ago. But with broadcast standards changed up and production also high, the inclusion of certain talent like Amanda Peet and Christian Slater as the would-be doomed couple in an interesting blend because of the move against expectation. Amanda Peet is in many ways remembered for comedy in “Whole Nine Yards” whereas Christian dates all the way back to “Heathers”. The reviewer is using these two films as reference points in specific because they show mindset in a relationship. This story follows Betty Broderick’s path to what becomes an untenable situation. While there is an understanding of her motives, the breakdown is an interesting psychological push, a maelstrom of expectation, child raising, sacrifice, upbringing and consequence. The first episode “No Fault” shows the unraveling of a marriage that was based on Betty giving up her thoughts and dreams to be traditional and help Dan (Slater) achieve his goals within the aspect of taking care of them forever.
What is interestingly done is the use of flashbacks including a younger actor that totally gets down the Slater playing Nicholson aspect while making it part of the character. The show runner explained in her message before the screener that when she remembered this real life event happening it was a bit of urban lore but as she grew up and had kids of her own and reached the age of Betty Broderick, the pain of the woman and how she kept trying to see the light or best until she couldn’t rang true. The series does come with a disclaimer that the events hve been dramatized and fictionalized to a point. Slater has an interesting line to play in a character that does give his soon-to-be ex wife chances to move on but also doesn’t give her the tools that she needs. In this specific situation, he has the chips stacked in his corner but won’t provide. It is a choking mechanism. Peet, for her part, has ever played a character like this before. It might also have to do with her becoming a mother in recent years as well to give different perspective.
It is hard at times to understand why Broderick reacts but the key is to take it in the context of the 80s: the exit strategies were not in place (not that they fully are today) but the coldness of Betty’s parents to her plight and what they saw as traditional in an interesting conundrum. Now as the second episode (“The Turtle & The Alligator”) integrates, Peet’s Betty tries to connect back to Dan but then dives into an overt emotional space. She tries to put up a strong front but cannot take the ego destroyer of the tactics that her husband is using. She can’t understand how he can be so cold and still laugh at her jokes. The most painful and some of the best acting from Peet is when you see her smiling and yet the pain. I have talked to Peet many years ago and actually remember an interview when Matthew Perry snuck into her interview for “The Whole Nine Yards” while he was doing interviews for “Servicing Sara” with Liz Hurley upstairs. They enjoyed each other’s company and made jokes but again, like Betty and Dan, it is a moment in time.
Not that that is a reflection of the show. It just shows that every human has their own path to follow but one has to see the whole picture. With human beings are never like that in the moment. It is always upon refection when it is over. That is the structure that plays here. Either people don’t believe Betty could do something like this or maybe she didn’t know that she could do it. Or she is hiding. Or she had a break. It is a dynamic idea which in today’s TV landscape can be done. What this “Dear John” does in an interesting way is do it in a more sanitized way, showing the psychological breaks without being overtly graphic or crass per se. It is a human drama and is shown that way.