A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story AND Her Final Fury: Betty Broderick, The Last Chapter (1992)

That’s right folks, a double-header!  You can’t watch one without the other, so put together, these two make a miniseries.  Plus, it has to be in the top ten most played on the Lifetime network (if only Tori Spelling had made a sequel to “Mother May I Sleep With Danger?” we could be talking about her too) and it’s too much fun to ignore.

It’s a true story, that of Betty Broderick, a woman who killed her husband after he left her for another woman.  I don’t know Betty Broderick personally so I can’t speak of her personality, but somewhere very soon into the movie, it stops being about Betty and starts being about Meredith Baxter’s performance.  Good?  Not really.  Insanely watchable?  You bet!  Meredith goes over the top and then more in her grab for role of a lifetime.  The goes so far that one actually sympathizes with the dead characters for not having to deal with her anymore.  In saying that, I’m not worried that should Betty Broderick ever be released from prison she’ll come after me, but I am worried that Meredith Baxter might hunt me down if I weren’t so absolutely sure she’s damn proud of her work here.  She’s having a whale of a time as Betty Broderick!

Things start out as perfectly as possible.  Betty is a soccer mom, literally, with shoulder pads and mom jeans, cheering on her kid as he scores the winning goal.  Hubby Dan (Steven Collins, always dying in a miniseries) is a successful and they were “euphoric” with all the money they had.  All the perks of being rich.  The kind of rich that goes to fancy balls and buys friends trips to Paris at the spur of the moment, which doesn’t sit well with Betty.  “Dan, that’s my manicure day,” she says, getting nervous laughter from her friends, but pissed as hell that wasn’t told.  “You act like royalty or something.  It’s irritating as hell,”  she snaps.  Yeah, trips to Paris are so awful! 

Betty has to take over Boy Scout duties from Dan, who is on the phone with a call for ages.  She tells the kids a scary ghost story that seems a bit too real.  Yup, nine minutes in and she’s losing it.  And Dan has to sleep on the couch because of it. 

At a St. Patrick’s Day office party, Dan notices the new receptionist and Betty notices him noticing.  That is immediately followed by a scene of Betty staring into the mirror without make-up, looking particularly haggard.  Hey, at least the movie is efficient!  On a ski trip, the husband and wife carp at each other, but Betty gets all the better jabs.  Her children even mouth the argument along with them because it’s become so routine. 

The family is forced to move into a rental as their house is under construction, and Betty seems happy enough to manage that, but Dan has hired Linda to be his personal secretary (Michelle Johnson).

Betty shows up at Dan’s office, decked out in a red suit, black and white shoes, champagne and glasses, only to be told by the secretary that Dan and Linda are out.  “It’s his birthday,” she chirps.  Betty shoots her a withering glance and then goes into his office to find it done up for a big birthday celebration.  When he comes home in his little red sportscar, Betty at first plays it cool.  For a minute.  “Who goes to lunch for seven hours…and with a 19-year old whore to boot,” she rails.  And from there it’s an attack, out on the street no less. 

Then comes the moment where Meredith tears into the role, unhinged and uncaring.  Right there on the lawn, kids watching, she burns all of his clothing, whispering “liar, liar, pants on fire.”  Dan jokes it off with his brother, concentrating on his golf game while his brother tries to tell him she’s cukoo. 

Loyal secretary Alice (Debra Jo Rupp) confronts Dan about Linda zooming up in the company, making more than poor Alice.  Alice doesn’t buy Dan’s explanation and quits.  She leaves him with a monologue about treating people better that is nice and succinct.  Take a lesson, Betts.  She doesn’t.  For Christmas, Dan buys Betty a gorgeous piece of jewelry, not the one she wanted, one he liked better.  “You like it better?…It’s not the one I asked for, so it’s a piece of crap!” she howls and stalks off. 

Dan invites Betty to a formal lunch, where she immediately launches into him.  She can’t understand why they have to meet somewhere, but she doesn’t know he’s about to leave her.  He says he’s moving out, which comes as a complete shock to self-absorbed Betty, as wide-eyed as Manson and as sarcastic as Wolocott.  You see, she believes SHE is the key to their success.  She wants him to stay, “because you owe me.”  She stalks off, telling him he’s selfish.  She has a point.  He’s not perfect, that’s for sure.

Then it gets bad!  She drops off one of the kids at his house when he’s not even there.  She did it on purpose, to make him realize what it’s like to raise kids.  Step two in her plan is to buy a brand new house.  “Ultimately, what turns him on is status,” she says, and bi-polar Betty thinks she’s going to win him back.  Those two steps don’t exactly make any sense, to us at least.

Betty pays a surprise visit to Dan’s house whenhe’s not there, telling the kids he’s a lousy parent and then cuts up his bedroom before leaving, smearing it with the cake Linda made.  That’s the final straw.  She gets served with divorce papers.

With a shaky cam, meaning lunacy, Betty tears over to Dan’s house, screaming from the outside before breaking in.  And taking out her frustration on the house with a bottle of spray and a holy hell temper.  This earns her a restraining order, but that doesn’t penetrate Betty’s mind.  “All I want to know is if we can nail this guy in court,” she bellows to her lawyer, who isn’t “excited” enough for Betty.  Cancel that lawyer! 

Betty refuses to sell the house for the money Dan agrees to.  Dan has a legal maneuver ready to combat it.  He’s a little on edge, telling his daughter not to come home from a date because she’s pissed at having to spend a holiday with his new girlfriend (finally, he’s doing Linda).  Betty has a new man and can’t find a lawyer because word is out that she’s crazy and that he’s a famous lawyer.  So, she leaves a message on his machine full of ire.  “You think you can just ignore me?  You can’t?  I will not be ignored!” 

When Betty finds out he sold the house, she’s furious, violating the restraining order and showing up at his house in gold flats.  Even the kids are scared this time.  The wrath of Betty is fully unleashed.  She drives her gigantic van into the house.  Over and over and over again.  Dan and Betty fight on the lawn until the police arrive and she’s arrested, scratching and clawing about the power men have over women.  Oh, it’s a corker, and Meredith mines every last drop of venom out of it. 

Just so we have SOME sympathy for Betty, she’s given a tearful speech in prison.  It doesn’t work.  That is not Meredith’s forte.  Keep the kiddies away when Betty’s Christmas lights don’t work.  She goes over to Dan’s and breaks in.  When her daughter comes in unexpectedly, she asks, “is there anything under this tree for me?” and then goes on a tear through the presents, breaking one and injuring her daughter.  “I’m sorry.  I just love you all so much.”  Uh huh.

Betty is no less together in court.  She can’t keep her mouth shut, snapping at the judge that she has no rights in “Mother Russia.”  She feels that he controls the whole law system and she loses.  Loses all custody, all visitation rights. 

Working at an art gallery, Betty phones a friend to take her out, but it seems all of their friends have taken Dan’s side.  She leaves more nasty messages attacking the girlfriend, but the little son hears the expletive-fed message and tells her to knock it off.  Even he’s ashamed for her.  She calls him a traitor.  “Who put you up to this?  The slut or the traitor?” she’s yelling as he drops the phone.  Worst for her is that Linda has slipped very comfortably into her life, even going to the costume parties they used to go to (the first scene is repeated, but with Linda, but this time everyone is happy).  Betty tells the kids that when Dan and Linda are married, he will disown them and forget about them.  She’s not above using the kids as pawns.  Dan tells the kids in the next scene that he’s hoping his new marriage brings everyone stability.

Not likely, since Betty hotfoots it off to buy a gun, which she takes to very easily.  In one of her Japanese night outfits that she loves so much, with the gold shoes, she leaves him umpteen messages until he finally picks up.  Dan decides to make her pay, taking money away from the alimony every time she curses, comes over or takes the kids.  That leaves her about $15K in the hole after one month.  Betty ruins the daughter’s graduation by following Linda around with her camera like a cracked paparazzo. 

Betty steals Dan and Linda’s wedding list, which sends them back to court.  She fully admits that she stole it, but doesn’t have it.  So, the judge takes away her alimony.  A suddenly stupid Linda breaks into Betty’s house to get the list back and finds Betty is obsessed with her, even making up Christmas cards that have pictures of her and Linda, saying “Don’t we look alike?”  Betty has penned an autobiography, which Linda brings to Dan, still too gooey to do anything about it.  He doesn’t want Linda ruining her “credibility” by having proven she’s broken into Betty’s house.  Betty still has the list, calling everyone on it and begging them not to go. 

Dan and Linda have to have security guards at their wedding and Dan’s brother wants him to wear a bullet-proof vest under his tuxedo!  Everyone in town has Betty’s number.  The costume designer of this movie fails us once again as Linda is given the ugliest wedding dress (with a bandana no less).  Luckily, they make it through the wedding day without incident, “guarded” by a friend, though she does say that it was the worst day of her life.  That one?  The day she rammed the car through the house was less bad? 

Betty’s best friend (her only friend) tries to get her to move on in an impassioned speech (“you’re cultured, you’re funnier than any two comedians I know”–boy, that’s heavy praise), but she’s rewarded with a tantrum and exits.  Following are zigzagging scenes of Dan’s happiness and Betty’s misery.  We get it. 

In a funk (maybe for sympathy?), she heads on over to Dan’s in the middle of the night, sneaks in quietly and mows them down.  She didn’t seem to want to do it until Linda opened her eyes, and then she had to fire the whole gun.  Dan, still alive, reaches for the gun, but she grabs it from him and leaves.  As the sun rises, she makes a call and admits it.  In prison, she says she intended to kill herself in front of them.  “I have regrets, but no remorse.  I regret that my husband had no character, that my kids lost their mother and stability,” she reports, “happy to be locked up in this dark little world where no one can get me.”  She will be eligible for parole in 2010. 

So ends the first part. “Her Final Fury” actually shows us the killing again, picking up with her phone call to daughter Kate (Kelli Williams) confessing.  The kids are a mess when friends come to tell them, but Kate tries to calm her down.  Get this, as they do it, she apologizes to them.  “I hope you didn’t have anything special planned.”  Um?  What?  Didn’t she just murder their father?  Hell, the one even cradles her as she vomits in the toilet.  Betty snaps to and has the presence of mind to write up a will and check for $10K to divide among the kids.  She even takes off her jewelry.  This is an awfully calm woman, a woman who has apprently had time to do her hair.  Then it’s off to jail, where she looks comfy in a sweatsuit, not at all scared.

Kerry Wells (Judith Ivey) is the District Attorney assigned to the case, told by her boss it’s a clear cut case, “now you have to prove it.”  What’s to prove?  Betty’s defense is that Dan took everything from her, that she couldn’t get a fair shake from the whole town’s legal system.  Sorry?  Not at all.  Now we have Meredith the calm-about-to-let-loose nutball.  She loved her rage throughout the first movie, but now we have a new Betty.  However, Kerry’s job isn’t so clear-cut because Betty is seen as a victim by women’s groups and has some sympathy building in her favor. 

One of Betty’s sons asks Kerry “will my mom be out in time to see my soccer game?”  That pretty much shuts down her attempt to question them.  Maybe her kids are as out of touch as she is!  On her side, Betty has had to fire “one incompetent lawyer” she threatens her second one.  They go to a bail hearing, where the judge wisely denies Betty bail.  “I’d rather have her be my lawyer,” Betty snarls at her lawyer, referring to Kerry. 

Betty takes to the press, hiring a PR firm to defend her reputation.  “When did you last see your children?” a reporter asks her.  “Just before I checked in here,” she chirps, as if he’s having voluntary plastic surgery.  We get Meredith-in-a-haze Betty again as she tells the stories, but boy does she tell her story, over and over and over, on any phone she can find in prison.  She feels no lawyer can defend her, so she files to defend herself, not a bad plea for sympathy, but eventually she gets a darn good lawyer.

Talking to the prison shrink, she is asked bluntly if she sees the implications of her acts, and she doesn’t see it at all.  She is only the victim.  Her friend comes to prison to tell her she’s the topic at every party, at the hairdresser, in the checkout line.  “It’s be nice to your ex-wife week,” she even jokes.  Betty is thrilled!  She gets mail from all over the world, women cheering her on.  Prison seems downright fun.  She won’t put on a wristband because everyone knows who she is, she’s so popular.  “I don’t need a wristband, I need a secretary.”  Oh, our Meredith is flipping her lid again, just in a different direction.  No matter which kind of crazy Meredith goes, she’s oh-so-lovable! 

One of the kids tries to yank the movie away from his on-screen mother by blaming himself and crying for Kerry.  That will not be allowed for long!  It’s back to Betty and her friend, discussing which outfit she’ll wear.  “Maybe being dressed as a human being again will make me feel like one again,” she says before it’s time to go back to her cell.  On the prison bus to court, she alone is dressed in designer apparel, her hair done, jewels in place.  Everyone else looks like…well, a prisoner. 

What actress doesn’t dream of a trial scene?  Both here, because Judith Ivey is going to work her considerably talent raw trying to win the day from our Meredith.  Betty’s lawyer gets at least some of the women on the jury to sympathize early on with some corny theatrics.  But Judith comes back with Betty’s old friends who portray her as materialistic and vain.  Back and forth the witnesses go, pro-Betty, anti-Betty.  Daughter Kate gives some pretty damning evidence about how Betty stole her keys to Dan’s house and pretended to help her look for them all over the place. 

When it’s Betty’s turn to take the stand, she’s rational and has an excuse for every check ever written.  She’s not a spendthrift, she’s just supporting a family.  Even when Kerry brings up the vandalization, Betty is calm.  For her defense, she claims that he was verbally abusive, that she didn’t please him, that she was fat, boring, etc.  “I tried to get rid of wrinkles that weren’t even there,” she bawls, pulling out all the sympathy acting, and they are buying it!  But, talking to her lawyer, she’s full of anger at the prison system.  Still the victim, she’s angry at the jury for taking so long!  As if Kerry isn’t clear on the case, she has a poster on the wall, a picture of a casket that says, “He beat her 150 times and she only got flowers once.”  Ouch!

The jury is deadlocked (and a male is the holdout, telling the press “I don’t know what took her so long”).  The judge has to declare a mistrial and we have to go through it again.  Betty is overjoyed; Judith, not so much, though she decides to work the second trial.

Back in prison, Betty has a showdown with the guard who has wanted her to wear a wristband.  Go, Meredith, back to crackpot Betty, the screaming harpy!  We missed you!

Meet Natalie Parker, she’s the reporter who wants to celebrate Betty in the press.  As her friend tells Natalie, “maybe the next Dan Broderick will think twice.”  Then Betty gets to spew her famous tirade again, about how the legal system did her wrong, the bifurcation order (“where the man gets to screw his wife and her girlfriend at the same time”) and her other favorite topics.  She’s mighty proud of herself. 

Steel yourself.  Betty has a fight with a fellow prisoner (actually, the other woman causes it).  When the guards come for Betty, she refuses to go and it takes a small army of them to pull her out, with one officer recording it for posterity.  First a trial, then a prison fight scene?  Is there nothing our Meredith can’t handle channeling Betty?  The footage makes it to TV (where of course, her kids see it).

Now the problem is what Kate should do, testify against her mother, who has threatened to kill her, or skulk away?  She gets on the stand and has sudden amnesia about her previous testimony and this isn’t good for mom.  Kelli goes all cry-cry-cry on the stand, but she’s out of her league.  No one can trump our Meredith, and Judith has stopped trying, merely doing journeyman work to get it over with.  A shrink diagnoses Betty with narcissistic personality disorder.  Wait, that took nearly two movies?  We knew that from the third or fourth scene all the way back in the first movie.  The doctor also says she’s never been suicidal, only homicidal. 

After Betty is refused a trip to the infirmary to touch up her roots, she gets to testify again.  She’s just as ornery as ever, but Kerry is smarter this time, doing her best to rile Betty, rather than let her hold the cards.  Judith gets back in fighting form, but still holds back a bit.  This really could be a grudge match, but hey, it’s Meredith’s movie.  Kerry picks apart all of the differences in testimony, debunking Betty’s suicide theory.  Betty gets so confused that it’s all over for her in a few moments.  Don’t get me wrong, Betty doesn’t cower.  She keeps saying “it was my impression,” rather than admitting what happened, but Kerry is too smart for that and tears apart the testimony.  After Kerry crushes her, she asks, “why didn’t you kill yourself?”  “There were no bullets left!!!!!” Betty rails, making it oh so much worse for herself.  Her own testimony damns her to a guilty verdict. 

Meredith Baxter has had a long and distinguised career, both before 1992 and after 1992, but I’m afraid she will always be Betty Broderick.  I say “afraid,” becuase I actually fear she BECAME Betty and every performance since (anyone see the remake of “Murder on the Orient Express”?) has had some Betty in it.  Perhaps when Betty is released from prison, there will be a third story, and we can dig up Meredith to make it work.  I can only hope.

Categories: Historical Miniseries

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