With the “help” of her ex-husband Dan, Betty Broderick destroys any civility or common sense in their divorce proceedings.
In Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story Season Two Episode Five “Scream Therapy” directed by Maggie Kiley, Betty’s erratic behavior leads to her downfall. Dan Broderick is not entirely blameless in how their divorce proceedings fall apart. Broderick officially divorces Betty in court without giving her any notice knowing she doesn’t have a lawyer to defend her. Dan doesn’t allow his ex-wife to see her children or gives her any alimony. He got a bifurcated divorce from Betty, meaning they nail out all the terms after the legal separation. But Betty only hurts herself through her actions and words.
First, “Scream Therapy” successfully portrays Betty losing all high ground or sanity through a series of edits of Dan handing his secretary recorded tapes of her leaving visceral hateful messages calling Linda a “whore” and threatening their lives. The episode also uses Betty’s POV as she periodically writes in a diary to document her mental decline. She falls further into her obsession with ruining Dan’s life devastated that he is dismantling her wealthy “housewife” fantasy. She continues to break into Broderick’s home to destroy his property, including Christmas presents and ornaments.
Betty’s friends keep questioning why her responses to Dan are so out of proportion to his actions. Dan offers to pay for Betty to take their children to their traditional skiing resort for Christmas, but she refuses to take him up on his offer. Supposedly, Dan is trying to dictate terms to her, but it is because if she goes on a Christmas trip without Dan, she will have to face that they are no longer together. Betty is correct to stand up to Dan since he has been controlling her life from the start of their marriage, but he offered an olive branch to her. Instead of taking the peace offering, Betty screams at him over the phone and defaces his property.
Dan doesn’t help Betty’s fragile mental state by starting to unofficially dox hundreds or thousands of dollars from her spousal support every time she leaves a scathing voice mail, visits the children without permission, or breaks into his property. Since they have not legally set the terms of their divorce, Dan doesn’t have to support her financially, but he has no right to penalize Betty. Betty’s penalties one month are so bad that she owes him 1,300 dollars. Thankfully, her friend Evelyn gives her some money to survive.
“Scream Therapy” explores how much Betty truly loves her children. Her friend Evelyn recommends a female lawyer named Hilary after Dan shuts her down for asking why he penalizes Betty. Hilary is tough, but fair with Betty. She uses logic to persuade Betty to attend therapy to gain custody of the children even though Betty wants one-third of Dan’s money before fighting the children. She wants to live the luxurious lifestyle with the children that they had before the divorce. Betty rightfully points out that Dan would not be the lawyer he is today without her. Hilary tells Betty that she will win the argument for more money from Dan if she first regains custody of her children.
The world seems brighter for Betty with her new divorce lawyer. The judge orders Dan and his divorce lawyer to stop filing nuisance claims against Betty. Betty visits one of her sons secretly so she can help him with a school project. Betty’s therapist points out that since Betty was the primary caretaker and Dan works such long hours, she should be able to get back custody if she attends therapy. Betty finally seems to be putting her affairs in order and acting as the wonderful mother she has always been though her stubborn mindset holds her back. She threatens Dan in front of Hilary, saying he will die before she becomes a single parent. I find this bizarre since she has been acting like a single mother most of the marriage.
When Hilary tells Betty that she will get her two younger sons for Easter, she is overjoyed. She decorates her home with all these Easter decorations and hides eggs full of treats all over the house. We can see how much Betty loves her sons when she describes the Easter Wonderland to the boys over the phone. Potentially if Betty won custody even for that weekend, maybe she could have had the mental clarity to act congenially toward Dan to gain custody of her children. But we will never know because Dan picks his sons up from school, blocking Betty access during her court-appointed time.
Betty loses any plot that she had left. One of the young sons, Ben, calls his Mom begging her to behave so they can all come home. He doesn’t like living with his Dad and Linda, but instead of listening to his concerns, Betty yells at her son. She babbles about Linda being a whore, how Dan corrupted his mind, and that she didn’t choose to be divorced. In Betty’s mind, she is still married. Ben correctly tells his Mom that only she can stop herself from acting insane.
Betty refuses to continue therapy because she is worried that if she stops being angry with Dan, she will lose all will to go on. Hilary drops Betty’s case because she isn’t being paid. Dan was willing to pay for Hilary through selling their family home, but Betty won’t go for it. Hilary shows how much she cares about her client by standing up for Betty in court one last time. The lawyer points out how Dan is finding every loophole to hoard his money. Hilary wins some battles for Betty like Linda’s voice being removed from Dan’s home voicemail to stop trigging the divorcee, but because of all the contempt charges, she has to face a few days in jail.
Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story does a great job documenting both the unfairness of society’s treatment of women who challenge men’s authority and Betty’s mental instability, which ultimately leads to the murders. Dan’s dominating behavior and legal maneuvering cannot be entirely blamed for Betty Broderick’s violently refusal to accept the divorce.