Betty is put into a straitjacket in the premiere of 'Dirty John: A Betty Broderick Story,' but what ultimately led her there? EW asks the show's creator.

By Omar Sanchez
June 02, 2020 at 10:00 PM EDT
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Isabella Vosmikova/USA Network

Warning: This story contains spoilers about Tuesdays' season 2 premiere of Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story.

Betty still really loves Dan.

At least that's what she tells the prosecutor at the end of the season 2 premiere of USA's "love gone wrong" drama, Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story. If only Dan could "see reality for what it is," she tells the lawyer, then she could wake him up.

"You can't because he's dead, right?" the lawyer asks.

With minutes left in the episode, we unknowingly witness the grisly aftermath of the fragile marriage between SoCal's Dan (Christian Slater) and Betty Broderick (Amanda Peet): Betty is in jail and out of sorts, and Dan's dead. Moments earlier, Dan was putting Betty in a straightjacket, and now he's dead — and she did it?

First, some background: In 1989, San Diego socialite Betty Broderick killed her ex-husband and his second wife and was sentenced to 32-years-to-life in prison. The first scenes of the second season throw us into the heat of Betty and Dan's divorce, a tug-and-pull for their Coral Reef property.

They're rich. They have two houses. Dan is a big-time malpractice attorney. Betty takes an art gallery gig or two on the side while taking care of their kids. They've been married since 1969, and a flashback brings us briefly to when Betty and Dan first bought their home.

But don't let the sun-kissed cinematography and lavish brunch locales cloud the muck brewing between them. Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story brushes the timeline of their marriage in broad strokes, slowly panning out to reveal the full, nightmarish picture. When Betty learns the house is being sold from under her, she gets in her car and slams into Dan's front door. She's soon taken away in a straitjacket and sent to jail. Then, in the last few minutes of the premiere, the show's creator pulls a sleight of hand and fast forwards us to her next defining visit with Dan.

Get your extravagant floral blouses and crank up Cyndi Lauper's "When You Were Mine" as we chat with the show's creator on how she wanted the episode's twist to pack a punch, and just what to make of dirty Dan.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You start out the series by narrowing in on Betty and Dan's property fight and the infamous car crash that sent Betty off in a straitjacket. What was the decision behind starting us off there? 

ALEXANDRA CUNNINGHAM:  Smashing the suburban into Dan's front door is a thing that's stuck with me since I encountered the story however many decades ago. It's the helpless and rageful thing to do. We actually went location scouting down in San Diego. We went to Balboa Park and saw Dan's house. The brickwork, you can still see the effects of the crash. It actually brought tears to my eyes. I wanted to really open [the show] with a moment that sells the misunderstanding. For Dan trying to accommodate her, and him not realizing what [the sale of the house] means for Betty. Her belief that it couldn't happen without her consent, thinking "you must not be able to get divorced if I don't agree." That carries forward. It was hard to identify a single moment between Betty and Dan that doesn't show what was at stake between the two of them.

You could definitely feel it while watching. You also see Betty and Dan briefly in this episode as a younger, smaller family. How important was it for you to show what their relationship was like at the beginning?

We wanted to go back in time and tell the story of the partnership Betty thought that they had established between the two of them, the agreement they had made about how it was the two of them working together for success. When things went wrong, and after he left her, she was always looking for what to show him to remind him of that agreement. I wanted to put that element of the plot upfront so that the story would be about "how could these two people have gotten to [the murders]?"

Throughout the first few episodes, we see a lot of Betty's perspective. Dan doesn't come out pretty in the narrative Betty has constructed for us. Were you worried at all people would try to see this as siding with Betty? 

I represented Dan's actions as accurately as I could, based on thousands of pages of court transcripts and the rights to the Bella Stumbo book Until the 12th of Never, which the show is based on. It formed my holistic worldview of the case. It was not my intention to have created a thing that bashes Dan. But at the same time, when people are angry and they know each other so well, I think the situation we end up with was "Dan created a bear that he couldn't stop poking. It was cyclical until the bear went rogue." There was poking happening for years. I think people just don't believe that they're creating a fate for themselves and others until it's too late.

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