A courtroom during a closed-to-the-public divorce trial isn't the sexiest setting for juicy drama, but the sixth episode of Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story features the most heartbreaking and frustrating moments of the series so far, as Betty Broderick (Amanda Peet) represents herself (with zero legal experience) and her high-powered lawyer ex-husband, Dan (Christian Slater) has a similarly high-powered lawyer represent him in front of a judge, who will ultimately have the final say in how their property will be divided.
The first half of the series showed how Betty transformed from a young housewife into a woman who would regularly vandalize her husband's home and unceasingly send threatening messages to the father of her children — and the ways in which she was essentially set up to fail as a person living on her own later in life. The second half shows just how deeply the system failed her, and how the odds were stacked against her when it came to receiving what she thought she deserved in her divorce.
"The Twelfth of Never" begins with Betty surrendering herself to jail (for the week or so she was sentenced to when held in contempt for violating Dan's restraining orders). A reporter meets her there and tells her that her divorce is the worst case he's seen while covering courts in San Diego County, and he'd love to talk to her because "sometimes a problem just needs a little daylight."
In a voiceover, Betty seems to agree, saying, "there's nothing more liberating than realizing you don't have to live up to anything anymore."
That perfect life she strived for? It's gone anyway. Might as well go scorched Earth — which has essentially been her strategy ever since Dan served her with divorce papers.
But things take an interesting turn when Betty tells her friends about her jail stay over lunch at the club. She's been sent a newspaper clipping about Dan's engagement with "eat your heart out bitch" written in red marker. Her friends point out that it doesn't sound like something Linda (Rachel Keller), Dan's new fiance, would do, but Betty is convinced "the whore," as she calls Linda, did it.
At her oldest daughter's high school graduation, Betty freaks out that Dan has brought Linda and follows her around with a camera taking photos of her. Later, at Dan's house, Linda complains that Betty was essentially stalking her with a camera that they suspect Betty broke in and stole from his house. Linda wants to get an alarm so she has some piece of mind that Betty can't come in, but Dan is convinced that Betty will view it as a victory and he doesn't want to capitulate to her bad behavior. (This, kids, is what we call foreshadowing… though with the non-linear time structure, the whole series has kind of foreshadowed what's to come.)
Once Betty's served papers announcing the court date for her property settlement with Dan, she calls up the reporter to get her side of the story out before it happens. She then attends a meeting of HALT, a citizen's group critical of the U.S. legal system, where she meets a woman who helps advise her on her trial (since Betty still doesn't have a lawyer of her own). Side note: HALT is very real and so was Betty's involvement.
With the help of a woman she met via HALT, she researches and recovers a few vital documents that are missing from the files for her upcoming trial date to determine alimony, child support, and custody. And while her new friend accompanies her to court, Dan asks to close the proceedings to the public and she's forced to leave. The subsequent events are brutal, with Dan essentially testifying that Betty is and has always been a gold digger, and that she didn't contribute anything of value to their marriage despite the fact that she was the family's sole breadwinner and caretaker of the children while Dan worked his way through medical school and then law school.
Betty is repeatedly chastised by the judge for bringing up the fact that Dan had an affair and kept it secret and tried to convince her that he wasn't being unfaithful. California is a no fault divorce state — meaning it doesn't matter whose fault the split actually is, it has no bearing on the division of property. It doesn't matter that Dan knew exactly what he was doing when he left the house at the beginning of his affair, or that he continually manipulated Betty throughout. It doesn't matter that he hurtfully says their divorce began the day they were married, or denies that Betty ever contributed anything monetarily to their marriage.
Betty does eventually stumble across some real information that helps her: Dan closed two different savings accounts in the week before he moved out; and Dan had his law firm valued at the time of their separation, when he'd just set out on his own, rather than currently, when he's one of the most successful lawyers in the area. The judge gets to decide when to take the valuation of his practice, so it lies out of their hands.
The article about the divorce finally comes out in the San Diego Reader — you can actually read it here — and it contains plenty of details about Betty and Dan's acrimonious split. But the reporter doesn't use much of his interview with Betty, instead writing about the pettiness on both sides during the case, and focusing on Betty's misbehavior. When Betty calls him to ask why, he says Dan threatened him with some intimidating lawyers.
Betty fixates on the last line in the piece, when Dan says, "It’s not going to end until one of us is gone." That is the actual last line of the piece, and it's also, unfortunately, some major foreshadowing about Dan's real-life fate.
It's something that clearly sticks in her brain, and things collapse even more when Betty's friend says there's a rumor going around that she's a child molester. And when Betty calls to ask her mom to fly out for moral support, her mother refuses. When the verdict comes in, it's the final straw: The court values Dan's legal practice at the date of their separation, rules that Betty owes Dan $780,000, that she'll get a lump sum of $28,606.02, that Dan gets full custody of the kids (with alternating holidays and weekends for Betty), and spousal support of $6,000 a month until remarriage or the death of either party.
"Men would be angry about this," Betty says in a voiceover, "but women don't get to be angry because men write the rules."
The future fate of Dan and Linda finally seems set, especially after Linda rejects the idea of sending an olive branch to Betty in the form of some china she really wants back. A flashback shows Betty holding on to the newspaper clipping about Dan and Linda's engagement — and there's nothing written on it. Betty seems to have written the threatening message on her own. Now, Betty buys a gun.
"You're allowed to defend yourself if you're a man," Betty says ominously. "If you're a woman you're supposed to cry and take pills and kill yourself."
Ultimately, as we know, Betty won't die by suicide. But as we know from watching the series and learning more about what's going on in her head, she will eventually commit what she likely thinks is the ultimate act of defending herself.