Better still? Reviews are extremely positive, with many praising the series for working on two levels: as a typically addictive true crime series, and as a rather disturbing look at gaslighting, coercive control, and how women’s rights were eroded in the past.
The first season of the Dirty John series, of course, focused on con man John Meehan and the last woman he abused and manipulated before his death in 2016 – a case made famous by the incredibly addictive Dirty John podcast. However, season two is different for two reasons.
Firstly, this season is less interested in labelling the ‘Dirty John’ of the case: instead, it’s far more interested in the ruthlessness of divorce. Secondly, viewers are far less likely to be aware of the real-life events which inspired The Betty Broderick Story. Indeed, many may not have heard of the eponymous Betty. At all.
And so, with that in mind, we’re here to do our best to unravel the case for you all.
Who was the real Betty Broderick?
As reported on 11 August: Betty Bisceglia (portrayed in the series by Amanda Peet) was born in 1947 to devout Roman Catholic parents, who she later claimed trained her to become a housewife from a very young age.
That didn’t stop her excelling in her studies, though: in fact, Betty met her future husband Dan Broderick (played by Christian Slater) while she was attending the University of Notre Dame in 1965.
The couple married four years later, and Betty returned from her honeymoon pregnant with the first of her and Dan’s five children. And, despite her parents’ strict beliefs about a husband supporting his wife and children, Dan went back to law school and Betty became the main provider for the Broderick family, working hard to pay off their bills and keep food on the table.
You may also like
Netflix’s Dirty John is a masterclass in coercive control
It paid off: Dan was quickly hired by one of San Diego’s top law firms, and the family moved to an ‘American Dream’ house in the suburbs.
All seemed to be going incredibly well for the Broderick family. Until, of course, Dan’s affair with his legal assistant, Linda Kolkena (played by Rachel Heller), came to light.
Broderick vs Broderick
“Divorce is the closest most people will come to war in their lives,” Peet’s character says in the trailer (via a voiceover).
“And that is what war is: who controls who. If you don’t control them, they control you.”
And, as The Betty Broderick Story showrunner Alexandra Cunningham tells Variety, the enormous impact of these divorce proceedings on Betty’s emotional state is felt throughout the series.
“A lot of our research [showed] women specifically fought so hard for ‘no fault’ divorce where they would not have to go into court and play the victim and prove how terrible their husband was just to get money that they were entitled to,” explains Cunningham.
“But that actually has resulted in a lot of unfair treatment of women in a courtroom because there’s no assumption that they need to be taken care of, and I think a lot of people don’t know that. They think that in community property states, it’s just 50/50. Those issues alone, for me, would make it worth doing the show.”
At the time of the couple’s divorce, Dan was a very prominent local lawyer, serving as the president of the San Diego Bar Association, which made it extremely difficult for Betty to find a lawyer willing to represent her in the divorce. And she also believed that Dan used his legal influence to sell their house against her wishes and win sole custody of their children – although it’s worth noting that it was Betty who left her children on his doorstep.]
“The children were just a ball being passed back and forth, which was completely inappropriate,” says Cunningham. “That’s how low she sank.”
After the divorce was finalised, Dan married Linda. Betty’s behaviour, though, became frighteningly unpredictable.
She left hundreds of obscene messages on Dan and Linda’s answering machine. She ignored numerous restraining orders. She vandalised their home. And she even drove her car into the front door despite the fact that their children were inside the house at the time.
On 5 November 1989, Betty broke into Dan and Linda’s house, slipped into their bedroom, and fatally shot them both as they slept. Forensic evidence suggests that Dan did not die immediately, and that Betty removed a phone from his reach to ensure he could not call for help.
She was convicted in 1991, receiving a sentence of 32 years-to-life in prison. And, now 72 years old, she is currently still serving that sentence.
How Netflix’s The Betty Broderick Story presents the case
“Betty, I would argue, is a victim in her own mind,” Cunningham says.
“I cannot justify what she ultimately did, but I wanted to tell a story about why she got to that point… [because] she’s not the first or last person to shoot people dead in this country because of perception of what has happened to their self-identity and their lives.”
You may also like
Gaslighting: how to spot the signs of this emotional abuse
The showrunner adds: “I wanted to re-examine the whole, ‘Here’s a crazy, evil woman who did this purely out of jealousy’, and then to [have viewers put themselves] in her place in the narrative she constructed herself.”
Netflix’s Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story premieres on Friday 14 August.
Images: Isabella Vosmikova/USA Network/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images.
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.