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Dirty John - No Fault & The Turtle and the Alligator - Double Review

This season of Dirty John starts out with a bang -- into a front door, that is. Throughout the first episode alone, we end up in a psych ward, a night club in the 80s, and a family court. That’s not even mentioning episode two, when we get three timelines, one of them being post-Dan Broderick’s death. Fun! Let’s jump in.

I have to admit, coming into writing this is a lot more difficult for me because I’ve never written documentary reviews. While this is obviously a dramatization, Betty and Dan Broderick are not fictional characters with fictional families who will never see or hear things people on the internet are saying about them, so saying “I absolutely despise Daniel Broderick” holds more a bit more weight than saying something like “I absolutely despise Dean Boland.”

There’s also a balance between how I want to review the show, personally. Do I want to review it objectively, based on the directing, writing, editing, cinematography, etc, or do I want to review it based on comparisons to what actually happened in the Betty Broderick case? Based on the research I’ve personally done separately to watching this show? The hours of podcasts I’ve listened to and the articles I’ve read? I hope you’ll bear with me and join me as we figure this out together.

First of all, guys, the acting? Insane! Amanda Peet (2012) and Christian Slater (Mr. Robot) play off of each other so wonderfully and they’ve both mastered making me love their acting but seriously question how I’m going to get through eight episodes of this show without screaming at my TV the entire time. Spoiler alert: I haven’t even made it through two.

As is the case with most dramatizations, there are elements of the story that are true and those that are not. With that being said, I’m going to try to make it clear when something really happened. I don’t particularly like either of these parties. I hate when Dan calls Betty ‘Bets’ and I think it’s terrible when Betty loses control in front of her children and it’s wildly immature for either of them to find joy in the other suffering when, again, there are children in the picture.

When Betty slammed into Dan’s front door (with her license plate that says LOADUMUP, which is true, by the way) I was losing my whole mind. It was interesting to me that they didn’t keep the part in the show where Betty had a butcher knife in the passenger seat -- and she reached for it when Dan tried to take her out of the car. You’d think a dramatization would want to make it more dramatic, right? But, we’ll get to my theory on that later.

Dan also toys with Betty like there’s no tomorrow. He pays for a last-minute trip to Colorado for her and the kids but refuses to cover the costs for the lawyer he previously agreed, in court, to hire. He does things like calling her ‘Bets’ -- a term that you’d think should be used endearingly, but from his tone, is clearly meant to be more placating than anything else.

Then there’s the phone call after Betty goes to the club with Janet (Lena Georgas - Westworld) where Betty calls Dan and they talk and laugh about a friend they used to make fun of there. It’s sweet and nice and the music is melancholic and you’re reminded of a time in their marriage where they were happy -- so the next morning when Dan is dropping off the kids and he doesn’t even get out of his car to greet Betty, it’s shocking to her.

At the end of the episode, as the scenes are shifting between Betty having lunch with another divorced friend, and Dan in the courtroom, we’re able to slowly piece together Dan’s plan this entire episode. Dan didn’t pay for her lawyer because he didn’t want her to know what he was really doing; with her none the wiser, he could make sure she was empty-handed and take everything from her. He knew Betty would believe that she had things handled, which, yeah, she thought she did. In turn, the divorce was finalized, and she lost custody of all four of her kids because she didn’t show up to the hearing she believed was postponed.

Except, hold on, that’s not the end of the episode. The end of the episode is actually Betty, clearly flustered, in tears, speaking with a cop, saying “I’m amazed it only took one bullet to kill Dan Broderick.” How romantic, amirite?

The reason I split up episodes one and two, whereas usually I’d just put them into one big review, is because episode two is sort of its own entity. It’s almost completely a flashback episode, compiled of three (!) timelines: when Dan and Betty first met and throughout their first few years of marriage, after Dan was killed, and somewhere in the middle of these two events, in their honeymoon years when Betty was PTA-mom-of-the-year and Dan was slowly but surely rising to the top.

Dirty John seems to imply that as a woman in the 80s you must choose one -- either be a feminist or be a doting motherly housewife. This isn’t to say that being a stay-at-home housewife doesn’t mean you can’t also be a feminist, but that’s what I felt like the show says. Throughout this episode, Betty seems to make her choice clear, or at least Dan makes that choice for her. The most interesting part of this episode was, instead of showing Betty transitioning from a college student literally reading a newspaper called “The Feminist” to becoming a stay-at-home housewife, they showed the opposite. While, yes, she does pretty much go against feminism when speaking about Gloria Steinem, they place the scenes of her being with the kids, redecorating the house, and being the dutiful wife before the scenes of her lifting up Dan, encouraging him to be brave, to do what he wants and needs and to fight for it no matter what.

Betty backs the idea of getting an abortion later in the episode, which Dan is very against. Betty obviously doesn’t want an abortion but, as she points out, they can’t afford another kid right now, not with Dan still in school, and the two of them living in an already very tiny apartment. Plus, as the doctor informed her, it's a high-risk pregnancy for her. This is incredibly telling to me because they have two kids together, they haven’t been married very long, and she’s already telling him that he’s not there for her and she has no one? Dan. Bud. Yikes.

They end up going forward with the pregnancy only to lose the baby boy shortly after he was born. I don’t think this was mentioned on the show, but Betty Broderick ended up having two other miscarriages as well, so those four kids were genuine blessings.

There’s something that I’ve noticed in the last two episodes that I wanted to bring up because I literally can’t tell if this is the choice of the writers or the directors, but since the writers and directors vary, this could just be how the show is. You guys will have to let me know what you think, too. 

There are some scenes I’ve noticed where certain aspects of the scene are in focus and some aren’t. In particular, this happens with scenes involving Betty and, more specifically, involving moments where Betty is reaching a breaking point. For example, this happened when she rammed her car into Dan’s house. As Dan was pulling her out of the car, Dan was very clear, but everything around him was fuzzy and blurry. I’m not sure if this is because that’s indicative of Betty’s state of mind, or if I’m looking too hard into it and it’s just a stylistic choice for the show.

It happens again in the courtroom in episode two when they’re discussing Betty shooting Dan, and later when Betty is setting up an appointment with a doctor and the doctor recognizes Dan’s name. He repeats the name and you can see his demeanor change -- he stiffens and you almost see his walls come up -- and that’s when the picture blurs. Betty’s face falls and immediately comes back up as she puts on a facade of her own, smiling as happy as ever for the husband she has to smile for.

If you didn’t already know the details of this case - which, at this point, I didn’t - the end of the episode brings yet another reveal. We find out that Betty didn’t just kill Dan, she also killed Linda, his very new wife, who we haven’t been introduced to yet.

I’m very interested to see what they do for the rest of the season and honestly, after reading up on this case, I’m a bit shocked that a show like Dirty John would choose this case to do. Betty Broderick is absolute, 100%, no doubt about it, a victim, but she’s also not innocent. I did my research on this case because I was curious and I wanted to do these reviews justice. Not everyone is going to do that, though, so I hope the show includes everything written about the way she herself admits she acted, too.

Here’s where we’re starting my new section I’m introducing just for Dirty John: Dirty or Clean? Here, I’ll take events that happened in the episode and let you guys know whether they actually happened or if they were part of the fictionalization.

Clean: Dan Broderick did sell their house under a loophole clause that Betty didn’t know about. Clean: Betty Broderick did indeed drive her car into Dan Broderick’s house while he and the kids were inside cooking dinner.
Clean: Dan Broderick did have Betty Broderick committed to a psych ward.
Dirty: Betty Broderick claimed that she couldn’t find a lawyer who would oppose a lawyer like Dan -- not that Dan wouldn’t pay for one.
Wishy-Washy: There’s no outward confirmation that Dan lied to Betty about the custody hearing being postponed -- just Betty stating that Dan made a deal with a judge behind her back, which also cannot be confirmed.
Clean: Dan got full custody of all four kids.
Clean: Dan literally introduced himself by calling himself an MDA, a “medical doctor... Almost.” (Ugh.)
Clean: According to Betty, Dan called the maids away during their honeymoon since Betty was there to clean what needed to be cleaned. (Ugh x2)
Clean: Betty Broderick did, in fact, kill Dan Broderick and his wife Linda Broderick in November of 1989.

My favorite quote from No Fault is when Betty is in the psych ward and she’s on the phone with Dan and she says: “Since all the money I have is controlled by you, withheld, or denied by you, I could always, obviously, use more. I could also just use a little bit of the respect and fairness you’d show a stranger on the street.” Yes, Betty! Slam that phone down in the psych ward! Realize your mistake and try to call back! Get told you’re on a 72-hour hold and you can’t make any outgoing calls!

Bonus Betty quote, because this one is too good to not include: “I’m a woman being divorced in America, I have no rights.”

My favorite quote from The Turtle and the Alligator is when Dan says to Betty: “What’s better, Bets? Rich, or richer?” Yes, as we all know, that’s always the best reason to become a lawyer!

What did you guys think of the episode? Are you enjoying this case better than last season? Am I looking too far into the blurred edges? How much bigger can they make Christian Slater’s glasses before they completely take up his face? Let me know in the comments below!

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