This review of Betty Broderick takes a horrifying look at gaslighting.
Gaslighting, or the practice of sowing seeds of doubt in another person’s view of reality, is a manipulative form of psychological abuse that’s conducted by undermining another person’s perspective, essentially manipulating a person into bending to the abuser’s personal will.
It’s a meticulous practice to pull off and is often outright cruel. This episode showcases Dan Broderick’s gaslighting in his marriage to Betty. He spent years outright lying to her face and then effortfully spun the truth to convince the courts that she was crazy.
In the last episode, Betty had confronted Dan about the attractive young receptionist he was talking about with his business partners. A woman with no real skill being groomed to be a paralegal always at his side. He’s grooming Linda Kolkena, whom we know as his eventual wife, and, though, he is not immediately sleeping with her, it’s obvious he wants to, and eventually does.
But, this is noticeable to Betty. Things are getting mysteriously different at home. As Dan works long hours, Betty spends his money on luxuries out of revenge, all in desperate cries for attention. She argues that she knows he’s been dumping the kids off on her while he avoids being home. Yet, Dan argues that he’s the victim and that he can’t prove that he’s not having an affair because no matter what: she’ll always suspect him.
This, of course, is pure gaslighting.
Dan knows he’s brainwashing Betty. He needs to convince her into believing there’s nothing wrong with their marriage. When confronted about it, he goes into denial and blames Betty’s craziness. Yet, when months of this pass, he gets closer to Linda, and the people in the office start to question their relationship. Dan tells them it’s not their business. You can see those same people later suddenly disappear around the office.
It’s all very tactful and a great example of how gaslighting works both in this episode and in real life. The person in power dictates who gets to see and say what, and the victim consistently is undermined for extended periods of time.
It should be unsurprising then, that soon after, Dan starts to look into new divorce laws through his practice partners who’ve been through divorce. It’s evident to the audience that Dan wants to come out on top in a divorce. Also, Linda wants to be open about her new relationship with Dan to her parents so he’s pushed into making his move.
He tells Betty he needs time apart. He packs his bags, but, eventually, buys them a house for them to move into. Somehow, he convinces Betty to move her things into the new house there, with the deception that he promises to move the family to the house and eventually start a new life.
It’s a cunning move meant to make it seem like Betty wanted to move out and leave the family, all while Dan, tactfully, would move back in after she’d left. This makes it seem like the purchase of the house is an unreasonable selfish purchase on Betty’s part. To make it more confusing, he even goes over to make love with her to convince her that they’re still in good standing.
Expert. Level. Gaslighting.
Soon after, Betty’s life falls apart. Dan refuses to answer her phone calls, instead utilizing the invention of the answering machine (which she always gets, never being able to talk to him about what’s suddenly happening). At a breaking point from being silenced, Betty wants to show the kids what Dan is doing to her. She wants them to see the affair and how Betty’s being used to babysit them at their second house, while he fucks his secretary behind everyone’s back. And, though the ploy fails, the intentions weren’t unfounded, as he wants to show he can parent Betty’s kids without her. This escalates the legal situation with the now pending divorce.
It’s all horrifying for the audience to watch unfold because it’s real. When finally confronted, after a good amount of attacks back-and-forth, she asks Dan why he is doing this when they have everything they ever wanted together. He finally admits he’s been gaslighting her all this time (though it’s not on record). Worse, he’s in love with Linda.
The solace is that Betty isn’t crazy. That’s her small win in itself for this episode.
It just cost her everything she ever cared about.
Tune in next week for the next breakdown.