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Dirty John - Perception is Reality - Review

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Ah, the aftermath. In the Dirty John finale, Betty must face the consequences of her actions, the killing of her ex-husband and his new wife. Except, for Betty, in this, she will also be forced to face truths she’s never allowed herself to see in the years prior: her divorce, the way she’s hurt her kids, and her willful ignorance of the latter. In the end, though, does she actually face the truths, or does she just discuss them on the stand?

After last week’s episode aired, I decided to go ahead and buy the book “Until the Twelfth of Never” by Bella Stumbo, and after receiving it and skimming through it, I have a newfound love for Dirty John. I know what you’re thinking: here we go again, she’s going to talk about how good Dirty John and Amanda Peet are for three straight paragraphs.

And you’re right. Because we hadn’t gotten there yet, I hadn’t read much about the trial, but now that we’re here, reading about it in the book has me realizing how much the writers really put into the show. Direct quotes from both trials (and the divorce trial, I’m realizing looking back) are used on the show, and not just from Betty. Things the jurors said, things Kerry Wells (Melinda Page Hamilton - Devious Maids) said, were direct quotes.

I know these seem like things any normal TV writer writing a true story should write -- but this is a story that the writers could’ve easily taken their liberties with and they didn’t. They could’ve written Betty as a woman scorned, as they noted (which, you guessed it, really happened), but they didn’t. They could’ve taken this stay-at-home would-be La Jolla socialite and turned her into a terribly heartbroken ex-wife who’d decided she’d had enough with no way out, and they didn’t.

They let us see the bad sides of Betty. They showed us all of the bad, scary, hurtful, awful sides of Dan and they said: that’s not all. The writers took this story, that could honestly be expanded to a 40-hour series if we’re being honest, and they wrote it as best as they possibly could in the eight hour (not even) time span they were given, and I, personally, think they did a phenomenal job.

Betty Broderick, in jail, as she stands trial for two counts of first-degree murder, receiving a cross-stitch that says “Free Betty Broderick so she can kill another lawyer,” is the scene that really sums up this series as a whole. Betty was always going to have people behind her, and she absolutely eats it up. At one point, we see her shake out her hand as it cramps from her responding to all of her adoring fans.

Of course, as we know, the first trial ends in a hung jury, and I’m not at all surprised about that. I looked it up and on average, it takes about 8-16 hours to select a jury. For the second Betty Broderick case, it took three weeks. To be honest, I can’t believe it didn’t take longer.

I absolutely loved the shots of the jurors discussing the case afterward to the press in between the shots of them speaking to the judge in the courtroom, especially since most of what they’d said to the press was accurate to what was said in real life. This review is a bit different because normally, I’d include things like this in my Dirty or Clean segment, but that would just be the entire review if I wrote it that way, so we’ll tweak it just a bit. “What took her so long?” Ah, Walter Polk. Infamous Juror who held onto manslaughter from the very beginning. He wouldn’t consider first-degree for even a minute, from what he and the other jurors said.

Seeing all of her friends on the stand turn against her sent me into a rage. Especially Karen (Missi Pyle - Impulse), who sat with Betty on Dan and Linda’s wedding day, who comforted her, and told her she was there for her and supported her and would continue to do so. The only person who was honest was Janet (Lena Georgas - Westworld). Thank goodness for her. Not that any of them really saved her, let’s be honest.

I did love when Betty’s lawyer stood up and pretty much said “Why were you her friend if she was this horrible person you’re describing to the jury?” Of course, the women didn’t have an answer for this. I also loved the camerawork in this scene. The close-ups on the women’s faces, from their pristine, clearly expensive earrings and necklaces, to their perfectly touched up lipstick and eyeliner, and their carefully worded phrases as they discussed money-hungry, no good Betty Broderick is what really makes you realize that these women wouldn’t know loyalty if it slapped them in the face.

The moment Betty’s eldest daughter, Tracy, is shown on the stand, we see the edges start to blur just a bit around the image of Kerry Wells. It really only starts to shift when we begin to get into what happened in Dan and Linda’s bedroom when Betty shot them. Kerry telling the story, and the intercut scenes playing it out for us? Impeccable. I absolutely love it when shows do this.

Amanda Peet’s performance as Betty in the last 15 minutes of this show (I mean, in this entire season, but I’ve talked about that enough as a whole) are indescribable. How she can keep a straight face while tears are pouring down her cheeks is something I will truly never be able to understand. She speaks nearly unwaveringly as her eyes are full and her lip trembles and you can see she’s about to break. Peet takes Betty Broderick and she embodies her. In watching videos from court you’ll see -- Peet physically reacts the way Betty does, in hand motions, in misplaced gasps, in awkward smiles. 

The what-if scenes at the end of the episode made me genuinely upset because this really could’ve ended so much better for Betty had she and Dan both just gotten divorced and left each other alone when they weren’t co-parenting. If they had only interacted to discuss the children, and they actually interacted, instead of hurling insults and backhanded compliments, it would’ve gone over so much better, but we can’t go back and change the past.

In the end, I think we all knew it would be Betty’s treatment of her kids that really broke her. If everything about her divorce, and maybe even the murders (eh, because I still have to use the word murder) without bringing her children into it, people might’ve honestly claimed some sort of self-defense. She was mentally abused. She was gaslit beyond belief. Dan toyed with her for years, and when he was tired of using her as his plaything, tossed her aside and got a new one. But instead of only taking out her aggression on him, she brought everyone into it, in ways even worse than the show had time for, which is what made it 10x worse, and what made the jury finally sit down and decide to formally agree to two counts of second-degree murder.

Overall, Dirty John season two, for me, was much more interesting than season one. Season one was still amazing, and I think about it all the time, but season two has a special place in my heart; maybe it’s because I’m reviewing it, maybe it’s because I’ve done so much research and delved so deep now, but it’s so amazing, guys. Everyone involved deserves so much credit for this impeccably put together show, I truly hope it doesn’t go unnoticed or is forgotten about.

Here we are, our final Dirty or Clean? of the season! We’re going to go through and talk about what aspects from the trial actually happened (that I can piece together, at least, it was a lot of info, y’all.) 

Clean: Betty received lots of fanmail in jail. They also started making bumper stickers that said things like “Do You Know Where Your Ex-Wife Is Tonight?” “Burn, Betty, Burn,” and, of course, “Free Betty Broderick So She Can Kill Another Lawyer.”
Dirty: The boys flew to California to go see Betty, but they never actually made it to visit her. Betty claims it was because they were still brainwashed by their father even posthumously, but I think we can all agree it was probably a bit more layered than that.
Clean: Both of her daughters took the stand against Betty. It was a lot nastier than what we saw, which is why I said this really and truly could’ve been a 40-hour show if we gave them no limits, but I think they showed us what was most important: Tracy and Jenny knew their father loved them and they knew Betty was in the wrong no matter how this trial was shaped.
Clean: On April Fools Day, Betty really called her friends, told them she’d escaped jail and asked them to come and pick her up. Yikes.
Clean: Most of the juror’s comments were very accurate and true, but the most notable, of course, comes from Walter Polk in the first trial, who said plainly “What took her so long?”
Clean: That Jeffrey Dahmer quote? “I should’ve eaten them. Then maybe they would’ve given me bail, too.” Betty Broderick really said that. Yikes x2.

Before we get to my favorite quote, I’d like to talk quickly about a few things I wish we could’ve gotten to, but I completely understand why we couldn’t given that this series was, again, technically less than eight hours long.

1) At one point, Betty’s lawyer, Jack Earley, recreates the bedroom set up in Dan and Linda’s bedroom -- including the actual sheets from their bed from the night they were killed. I don’t know how, legally, he was able to do this, but seeing how they fit an entire bed into a courtroom, and then watching this lawyer, who already kind of (off show) didn’t hugely favor Betty, would’ve been something to see.
2) There are a few things in the second trial that the judge barred the lawyers from discussing at all, so, of course, being lawyers, Wells and Earley tried to fit them in at any chance they got. In Bella Stumbo’s book, she describes a scene where there are days in court in which Wells or Earley had to literally shout their objections as to try and make sure the jury didn’t hear whatever comment was made, so it didn’t skew their judgment.
3) Betty Broderick’s first trial took place in October 1990, so apparently, there were lots of Halloween decorations around the courtroom during the trial. That would’ve been a fun little thing to see.

My favorite quote from this episode comes from Betty, from when she’s on the stand and she’s describing her thoughts before she drives over to shoot Dan and Linda.

“The whole world was inside my head.” 

 A simple quote, but something Betty has pretty much been describing from the beginning. The whole world has been inside her head since the moment she was born, since her mother put it in her head that she must be a good student, she must be a good wife, she must be a good mother. Then Dan says, well, you can’t be a student: you must be a better wife, you must be a better mother, you must be a better lover. Then Linda comes along and Dan leaves her and Betty’s kids have grown up and Betty thinks she has nothing and she says now what? Where do I go? How do I grow? The whole world is inside her head because she has the whole world to explore and no idea how to do it.

What did you guys think of season two? What was your favorite episode, or scene? Did you think they did a good job fitting it into eight episodes? Are you hoping for a specific case if it’s renewed for season three? Let me know in the comments below!

Listed below is all of the material I used to verify the information I mentioned in every review I’ve done for Dirty John, including this one. (Yes, I did get an LA Times subscription to read 30-year-old archived articles, thank you for asking.)

The Untold Story of Dirty John's Linda Kolkena

Till Murder Do Us Part | LA Times

Betty Broderick and Her Son's Recordings | LA Times

The Murder Dictionary Podcast | Adultery: Betty Broderick Part 1 & Adultery: Betty Broderick Part 2

 Until the Twelfth of Never by Bella Stumbo  

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