Skyler’s Story

07Aug12

One part of Breaking Bad‘s new season 5 that I’m finding most impressive is Skyler’s development. This is by no means a consensus opinion, as Skyler has long been the target of many Breaking Bad fans’ ire. TV critic Alyssa Rosenberg has pushed back against this hatred of antihero wives, and highlighted how Walter White is an abuser, both to his wife and surrogate son. Some of the most virulent Skyler hating runs through the misogynist hotbed of internet comment threads, but I know a number of thoughtful, feminist viewers who also hate Skyler. The latest episode, “51,” is a Skyler showcase, as Anna Gunn delivers a jaw-dropping performance as the abused spouse of our sociopathic protagonist who finally dares to speak her mind – and at least for TV blogger/critic/friend Noel Kirkpatrick, it made him reconsider his lack of empathy for her.

I must admit I don’t really understand the anti-Skyler vitriol, as I’ve always found her to be an interesting character who both provides a compelling dramatic foil for protagonist Walt and has developed her own intriguing arc of moral boundary-pushing. One thing that remains unclear to me is how much people dislike Skyler White the fictional person (finding her annoying, unsympathetic, or otherwise doing things that stand in the way of characters we like more) versus Skyler White the character (finding her unrealistic, poorly acted, or out-of-place in the storytelling) – do any articulate Skyler-haters want to clarify in the comments? (And I talk some about this distinction between character and person in Complex TV.)

[Spoilers through the fourth episode of season 5 below the fold.]

Amidst the general ongoing Skyler-hating, I’ve seen some specific pushback to how Skyler has reacted to Walt this season, as she responded to Walt’s victory over Gus and subsequent ego boost through paralyzing fear. The thrust of this complaint is questioning why should Skyler freak out so much when clearly Walt killed a horrible criminal who was going after the White family? After all, Walt assures her that the threat is dead, and now they’re all safe. But this points to one of the challenges of interpreting characters in a serialized narrative, as it is difficult to keep track of and differentiate between what we know as viewers, and what particular characters know about the story events. On one hand, this might make Skyler’s reaction seem even more unwarranted – after all, Skyler has no idea of many worse things that Walt has done and how much he has lied to her!

But if we think about what she knows and how her perception of Walt has shifted over the series, we can see a very different vision of her character and relationships. Thinking through this, I started remembering how Skyler has experienced Walt’s transformation, and imagining the story from her perspective. I thought about trying to edit down the series to only Skyler’s scenes to help map her experiences, but I lack the time to fully work through the video archives. Instead, I’ll try to recap how the series has portrayed Skyler’s story, what she knows and how she’s reacted to Walt, ending with my thoughts on season 5’s shifts and one theory about Skyler-hating.

Skyler started the series in a content and comfortable place, if not living the life she had dreamed when she married the older Walter White, an ambitious and successful scientist who was a bit too risky in wanting to spend beyond his means. But Walt’s professional failings and the challenges of having a disabled son shifted their life into a more struggling but stable existence: she gave up trying to be a writer to work as a part-time bookkeeper, he became a chemistry teacher who had to moonlight at a car wash. A surprise pregnancy changes things, but more abruptly Walt starts acting highly erratically around his 50th birthday. Walt’s behavior soon is explained when he reveals that he has terminal lung cancer, and is resigned to die rather than getting treatment. In an effort to keep her family together, she convinces Walt to undergo treatment and extend his life.

But Walt’s behavior remains bizarre, including a fugue state, connection with a druggie former student, numerous unexplained disappearances, strange parenting decisions (what was up with Junior and the tequilia?), and possibilities of a second cell phone that points toward his deception. Despite being 8 months pregnant, she goes back to work to help pay for their medical bills, even though her boss’s affections creep her out. And on top of everything, Walt misses their baby being born with a shoddy excuse. When Walt undergoes cancer surgery, he confirms his second cell phone, leading to Skyler investigating some of his cover stories, revealing a web of deception worse than she imagined – and thus she leaves him as soon as he has recovered from surgery.

Soon after their separation, Walt tells Skyler his secret: that he has been cooking meth. He assures her that it’s a safe job, with no violence or threat of danger, but she’s outraged at how this risks everything for their family and demands a divorce. Walt refuses, calling her bluff and moving back in despite her threats to go to the police. So she lashes out in the only way that she can think of: having an affair with her boss, who has his own corrupt business practices that she finds herself wrapped up in. Eventually Walt does agree to a divorce, but Skyler decides to remain married for the legal protection. When Hank is  shot and left paralyzed due to circumstances seemingly related to Walt’s crimes, Skyler agrees to pay for Hank’s medical costs, devising a cover story for Walt’s riches involving compulsive gambling and card-counting, drawing her deeper into Walt’s criminal interests. As Skyler learns more about Walt’s business, she puts her bookkeeping skills to work to help launder money and purchase a car wash as a front, rationalizing her decision that helping Walt is better for the family than breaking the law for Ted.

Although their relationship is far from solid, Skyler and Walt reach a balanced arrangement of mutual benefit, until she learns that one of his drug associates was killed in cold blood. After expressing concern for their safety, Walt lashes out with an anger she has never seen before, claiming to be “the danger” in a threatening moment. She comes close to taking baby Holly and fleeing, but decides she must remain to “protect this family from the man who protects the family” – how much she honestly fears Walt versus seeing him as a blowhard out of his depths is uncertain, but clearly she feels like she can still manage him. Trouble with Ted returns in the form of an IRS investigation, which she helps skirt by paying him off – and enlisting Saul’s help to convince him to step aside. And then a threat to Hank’s life prompts the family to go into protection, which ends when Gus Fring is killed in a nursing home explosion.

That takes us to season 5, which opens (after the flash-forward teaser) with Skyler’s conversation with Walt, when she realizes he was responsible for the bomb. Remember, this is the first indication she has gotten Walt is capable of murder – while we witnessed his procession of increasingly amoral killings (that I’ve discussed more here), to Skyler, this means Walt has suddenly gone from a criminal chemist who seems in over his head, to a scheming murderer willing to blow-up a nursing home to take out an enemy. Just imagine what might go through your mind if you discovered such news about your spouse, and what else you might imagine he has done that you’ve yet to discover. Suddenly she’s not only aiding a drug criminal, she’s an accessory to murder – and soon learns that her efforts with Ted have led to his near demise and resulting terrorized paralysis. Skyler is simultaneously repulsed by the murderer who moves back in & assures her “life is good,” and horrified that she too has made moral compromises in the name of protecting her family, taking her down the road that Walt has already traveled. But unlike Walt, she experiences remorse and horror at her own actions, changing course toward a state of passive paralysis to plan how to protect her children from “the danger.”

I find this contrast to be one of the brilliant resonances of this season thus far, reminding us that Walt’s slide into monstrosity was due to a series of active choices & moral failings, not the reactive “shit happens” that Skyler calls out as part of his perpetual series of rationalizations. And now his path has taken him to another fork in the road: see himself as the man that his wife sees to try to save his marriage (and perhaps his humanity), or puff himself up to bully or manipulate her into accepting Heisenberg, just as he did with Jesse. And he has clearly chosen to double-down as Heisenberg, continuing his color palette redesign with the matching black hat and macho car. The argument in their bedroom was one of the most violent scenes the show has ever done – despite the lack of physical contact, it is clear that Skyler is now a battered spouse, desperately seeking any way to protect her kids and self while she waits for Walt’s cancer to overtake his body.

So why do so many people hate Skyler, despite her clear position as victim? Aside from the knee-jerk misogyny that Rosenberg discusses, I think a large part has to do with the power of first impressions: the first season of Breaking Bad did a pretty mediocre job developing any character beyond Walt and Jesse, and of those undeveloped characters, Skyler was the most central in the story. Thus we didn’t see that much of Hank before he became more nuanced in the second season, but we’d seen enough of Skyler to cement a sense that she was unappealing. Plus in those early days, we were rooting for Walt to break out of his boring life into the more exciting world of crime, and Skyler’s primary function was to ground him in mundanity. But just as Walt has transformed as a character into a hateful and repulsive man, Skyler became more fully-realized and complex, far more nuanced than her first impressions. But seemingly, many viewers cannot get beyond those initial impressions to see and appreciate Skyler’s transformations, both as character and person. (Again, if any Skyler-haters want to offer other explanations, I’m eager to read them!)

At the end of the fourth season, my main investment was in seeing Jesse survive the series, hopefully rising above Walt’s toxic influence. But 1/4 through the final season, my allegiances are just as strongly with Skyler, the only character who sees Walt truly for what he is. We know she won’t be there for his 52nd birthday, but I truly hope she’s found her escape from Walt’s oppressive bullying to a safe place.

And with that, I end with this brilliant triptych image that circulated on Twitter yesterday – Walter White’s character “development” over three birthdays:

 

UPDATE: Just a few links that I’ve found or were posted after writing this. First, a nice examination of these issues by Feminist, Unplugged. Next, a good interview with Anna Gunn on her character & the backlash. Finally, a very interesting take by Kelli Marshall, who articulates her dislike for Skyler from a feminist perspective.

About these ads


29 Responses to “Skyler’s Story”

  1. 1 Eric

    I for one was happy to see Walt finally standing up for himself with her. I always felt she was the one who abused Walt. She has treated him like a kid since day one. She has to be in control of everything. His treatment she made him get is what got him into cooking to begin with. Had she not tried to control him he never would have started. Sure it saved his life luckily, but had he not started cooking, saving his life would of required him to go against his beliefs and humiliate himself. He didn’t want to leave his family with a pile of bills since he thought he was going to die. She not only forced him to get treatment but then tried to make him borrow the money from somebody who he obviously had a falling out with years before. Somebody who he felt owed their fortune to his work and screwed him out of his share. But she didn’t care that it would humiliate him. She didn’t care how he felt about it and refused to accept his reasons. Sad how she went behind his back and told them he had cancer knowing they would feel sorry for him. Then they try and trick him into getting a job out of pity to get the insurance. She sure is manipulative. Speaking of jobs, another sad thing is when she went back to work for the boss you say she was so uncomfortable with. The one who sexually harassed her at the Christmas party that she then lied to Walt about. Gave him a whole other reason why she quit and kept it from him. Then lied again and went back to work for him knowing that he had a thing for her and that he owned the company now. Matter of fact when she went there she seemed pretty confident even though the girl said they weren’t hiring that she could get that job if she saw old Ted. She didn’t care that she was only getting the job because he had a thing for her and knowing he would likely make more moves on her. What a faithful loving wife. There’s a name they give girls who use their looks to get ahead or get money. Sad how she started smoking behind Walt’s back even though he is a cancer patient. Lately she blows it in his face which is just ignorant. She makes him return the car he got his son and gets him a girly car. Emasculating both of them as if it’s her thing. When he finally had to tell her about his cooking, that he only had to start doing because of her and what does she do. Throw him out and go sleep with yet another criminal. She caught the books her first week so at the time she slept with Ted she knew he was a criminal too. So makes you wonder if it wasn’t just an excuse to sleep with Ted. Considering she went back there knowing he wanted her and lied all about it to Walt and first chance she gets she jumps in bed with him. As far as abusing his son because he gave him a few shots. Some would call that a lesson. Teaching him what happens when kids drink. Also he finally stood up to hank in that scene. But of course Walt can’t stand up for himself without catching hell from Skylar. Skylar who’s kid probably thinks is going crazy treating his dad like crap for no reason. Throwing him out for no reason. Not letting him see him for no reason. Taking away the cool car and giving him the crappy car. Taking his bacon away. About her doing the books. You say it was to protect the family, I say she did it to control the family. She has to have control. Control the books and money which she then lends to her buddy Ted which is another slap in the face for Walt that he forgives her for. But the cover business has to be the car wash she wants. She starts ordering poor Saul around. Threatening people and becomes a real gangster for a minute. But then Walt out does her again and kills somebody and now the only way in her mind to have control is to become a killer herself which she doesn’t seem to be capable of so now she can never wear the pants again and she throws a childish fit bringing more attention to the family business from the brother in law DEA agent. One can only hope that Walt takes a ride over to the condo and moves the night stand, takes the electric plug back apart and adds a little something to her coffee. She gets the flu and bada boom bada bing.

    • 2 Lance

      You are a monster.

    • Well.

      I didn’t want to scan the internet to link to examples of irrational, misogynist Skyler-hating. So thanks for bringing an example to everyone’s attention.

      • 4 lisa nakamura

        so true. it’s like it was planned. also, I hope that this commenter never gets married.

    • 5 joel

      Seriously Eric, it’s entirely possible you forgot to use the #sarcasm tag but something tells me you actually believe this bile you posted. You’re a deplorable human being if you actually do believe this. I hope that if you ever have children, CPS takes them away and gives them a loving home with intelligent people who actually treat them with the love and respect you are functionally incapable of expressing in any nurturing, human capacity. You have no right to raise another human being if you really believe the BS you’ve posted here. Your thinking only contributes to the world being a shitty place for women to live in, so thanks for the object lesson, you hopeless hateful douche bag.

  2. 6 Jonathan B.

    “His treatment she made him get is what got him into cooking to begin with.”

    This is factually incorrect. Walt made the decision to start cooking meth before even telling Skylar about the cancer, let alone the decision to do treatment. Which was something HIS WHOLE FAMILY wanted, not just Skylar.

    “As far as abusing his son because he gave him a few shots. Some would call that a lesson. Teaching him what happens when kids drink. Also he finally stood up to hank in that scene.”

    I’m also going to say that this is pretty much incorrect. Walt wasn’t teaching Jr. a lesson on underage drinking. He was taking his anger at the world out on his son in the vilest manner possible. From a man with many low points, this was one of the lowest and most despicable.

    That’s all I’m going to bother addressing from that comment.

    GREAT post Jason, captures most of the feelings I’ve had about Skylar, especially after the last few episodes.

  3. Good grief. Walter standing up to her? I think you got that backward, Eric. I can see when Skyler left Walter at the end of season 2 how that seemed rash on her part — she didn’t know what the truth was and Walt wasn’t the completely deplorable individual that he is today. Since then, she became infected — willingly — to help Hank and Marie and then to protect themselves from Ted’s selfishness. Everything changed once Walt gave her the speech about being “the man who knocks,” gloating that he won when she told him that Gus was dead and the final blow was when she learned what her actions did to Ted. It’s made perfect sense as to how tragic a character she is and it’s given Anna Gunn the best material to play in the series yet. She’s nothing like Betty Draper on Mad Men, who is easy to dislike.

  4. The 52nd birthday scene is puzzling because it provides a parallel to the 50 (and now 51) scenes but Walt is making a sort of show of himself to the waitress by claiming it’s his birthday, and then shows her a fake ID — as he walks out, she remembers his (fictional) name. Going on to not eat a bite of his food, and leaving a $100 tip, it appears that it’s a broadly-acted fake-out of a cover story for the car he’s planning to abandon in the Denny’s parking lot with New Hampshire plates. All this makes me assume that it is not Walt’s actual 52nd birthday. Maybe the hair’s a wig. Maybe the glasses are just to wear when he wants to disguise himself in the diner.

    Boy is that completely and totally off-topic from the post! I’ve never had a problem with Skyler, but it mostly seems to me that criticism of her character is that some people like Walt (or at least want to focus on him more, which I don’t know would really be possible – the show is already so tightly focused on a small handful of characters) and think she’s a wet blanket.

    • “All this makes me assume that it is not Walt’s actual 52nd birthday.”

      It’s possible it isn’t–the whole thing could be a huge fake-out to convince us more time needs to pass before the “present” of the show catches up with the cold open–but I think “actual birthday” makes more sense. There’d be no character reason to bring it up otherwise, unless Walt was dead set on a free Denny’s meal, and in particular no reason for him to do the annual bacon number, a highly symbolic and emotionally loaded action, unless it really was his 52nd. Gilligan and his writing staff have got us so primed for twists that it’s easy to start expected convolutions when they don’t really serve any narrative purpose, like the speculation I’ve read elsewhere that Jessie planted a bomb in the watch he gave Walt. I’m sure there will be shocks ahead (although I think the power from the show now is going to be more seeing events that we’ve been building to for years finally come to fruition), but for the most part, Occam’s Razor holds sway. (Although, to be completely honest, I also initially thought everyone was over-thinking the whole Lily of the Valley twist. So who knows, although I while I love what the LotV twist accomplished character-wise, I still think it was an overly-complex bit of plotting, and I hope the Gilligan doesn’t go back to that well again.)

      Great article, Jason! I re-watched the first couple of seasons of the show, and it’s unfortunate the way it takes time for Skyler to come into her own; that first season especially, she’s dangerously close to a parody of a granola-y, distracted, dominating spouse. It would’ve been nice to get a better understanding of the White marriage before everything went to hell, but there are signs of close friendship and love between the two of them–I like Eliot’s party a lot, because it starts off with Walt and Skyler as a team, somewhat embarrassed about over-dressing, and ends with Walt angry over Skyler’s concern. Is she controlling? To an extent, but it’s important to remember how passive and disinterested Walt comes across; if Skyler is the dominating force in their marriage when the show starts, that’s because Walter has abdicated responsibility for his half of the relationship. He’s a void, and it’s only natural for Skyler to have tried to take up the slack.

  5. 10 Jones

    First off, great article Jason, really made me think a lot about a character that I wrongfully ignore. It’s not that I dislike Skylar, I just have always enjoyed other aspects of the show more (Walt and Jesse, the loss of morality, the love of breakfast.) The post by Eric, in using the clipped syntax of a movie serial killer, barely made a point that is worth looking into.

    Skylar is in no way directly responsible for any of Walt’s actions, but I think her emasculation of Walt early on led to him continually overcompensating for it now by always trying to be the baddest dude in the room. A specific example I recall is the handjob he got in the pilot from her while she’s trying to win an online auction. Again, that could be saying more about their dull marriage (in the beginning) than her emasculating him. Either way, Skylar was clearly in control in the marriage and Walt’s transformation into Heisenberg upset that. While becoming a drug dealer would most likely strain any marriage, I think Skylar, to some degree, felt upset about not entirely knowing what was going on and having full control. This lead to future conflict, and the fact that she did take all of his money paying off Ted without asking Walter in “Crawlspace.” However, I think this is only one aspect of the complicated White relationship, and cannot be easily defined as Skylar is at fault/is the worst (the misogynist view) or Walt being entirely at fault.

  6. 11 j1mb0

    I certainly don’t hate skyler, and am absolutely sympathize with her and the situation she has been put into, but in general I agree that she suffers from her lack of early development. We were meant to root for Walt, and Skyler easily fell into the role of the typical wet-blanket wife that is present in so many other shows; boring and whose sole existence seemed to be to cause (boring) trouble for the main character who we wanted to see do cool things.

    It was certainly hard to get over that initial lingering impression. In addition, I’m not sure if this is a fair assessment, but she seems to have pretty quickly taken the moral leaps to be able to lie to and manipulate plenty of people to team up with Walt and protect her family, albeit from the situation that he got them all into. I think that continued hatred for Skyler comes from her inherent hypocrisy, if you can call it that, of the fact that she didn’t fully jump into the life of crime like Walt has. She was willing to do things, but each time Walt takes another step towards the deep end, and she doesn’t follow him, makes her appear hypocritical or not dedicated to her family. Both of those conclusions are obviously unfair assessments, as she is a better person than Walt for having some higher level of morality and not being so quick to delve further into criminal activity.

    People hate her, because she started out being in the way of Walt when we were meant to be on his side. People continue to (mostly unfairly) hate her because she accepts the spoils of what Walt has done (and that she has no choice but to deal with) while still maintaining most of her original morality and questions the moral implications of her involvement. Walt is riding a train straight to hell; Skyler is just trying to get her children from hopping on, because she knows she can’t get off.

    • I agree with the above that Skylar (not fully developed at the time) appeared to be in full control at the onset of the series, and while it was Walter, in my opinion, that clearly had not recovered from being left out in his friends’ steep climb to success, it was Skylar that had kept the family together by taking charge. Walt’s erratic behavior not only upset the power balance, but, assuming she picked up the pieces before, must have been scary to her especially with being pregnant. I had always wanted Skylar to be someone pushing Walt to be more “masculine”, but, while I did not favor how her character was developed, thought she was one of the most important counter balances for Walter’s progression in the show, and thus saw her less as her own character and rather as a plot-point that aided in Walt’s decent. Skylar became a control-group example of how far Walt was moving away from his live he originally had set out to protect.
      As far as the comments on her “quick” moral lapse and “accept(ing) the spoils” are concerned I believe that her hand is forced in the case of helping Hank,which took a considerable amount of time after knowing about her husband’s “new life” and that her spending habits otherwise don’t appear to change. Also, while we experienced a short-lived Skylar-at-crime during her preparations to take over the car wash, her morals are not truly changing, as her intense remorse in recent episodes clearly shows.
      Thank you Jason for another great post.

  7. 13 emmitwest

    I never actively disliked Skylar, but I found myself starting to really like her when she played the bimbo bookkeeper for Ted to the IRS. The balls on her!

    But I have always wondered… were girls born in the 70’s named Skylar? It sounds like a Millennial name, not Gen-X.

    • It’s become more popular since 1990, but, as I found the choice odd myself I looked it up, apparently has been relatively “common” in NM, TX, and NV since the 70s. It’s Dutch in origin.

  8. “One thing that remains unclear to me is how much people dislike Skyler White the fictional person (finding her annoying, unsympathetic, or otherwise doing things that stand in the way of characters we like more) versus Skyler White the character (finding her unrealistic, poorly acted, or out-of-place in the storytelling)”

    — As I mentioned on Twitter last night, I like this distinction, and it’s one I haven’t considered in depth until now. Still, as one of the presumably “thoughtful, feminist viewers [you know] who hates Skyler,” I think I take issue with both the fictional person and the character, at least as you’ve defined them here.

    — Based on her victimized status (which she could’ve avoided after that rapey avocado/chicken scene in “Seven Thirty-Seven”), traditional role as mother/protector, and, if I’m being honest, some of the nagging, I do find Skyler White the fictional person unsympathetic. As such, I mostly tune her out and wait for the men to appear onscreen. Yeah, I said it. Eek.

    — Similarly, because she does seem so very out of place in this male-dominated world and mostly serves as a springboard for the other (male) characters’ actions, I don’t really care for Skyler White the character. But I’d never say that she’s “poorly acted.” At least we can agree on that? ;)

  9. 16 Kuba Ryszkiewicz

    Hello,

    It was a huge scene, I really enjoyed watching it. It somehow reminded me of The Shield’s final season, where the story closed its circle, reminding the audience of who the protagonist truly is. After watching Vic Macey for six seasons, watching him escape consequences, the viewers saw him for what he was, a selfish man, who without a second thought would give up on his friends to survive. I remember not only being impressed by how the story ended, how the main plots unfolded, but also confused by my own feelings. It totally shifted my reception of main characters.

    The Shield was one of my first serious TV dramas, and by watching it I discovered the possibilities that TV grants its writers. I hope that Breaking Bad will reach its great ending of its twisted and complicated story. I personally think that Walt is going to kill one or more of his family members, possibly Skylar, as he will perceive her as a serious threat, and this way the haters will be satisfied. I agree that her painful conversation with Walt was one of the best and difficult to watch scenes of the whole series.
    Thank you for an interesting article, hope to read more.

  10. 17 Lisa Schmidt

    Hi Jason… I’m one of those self-avowed feminists who don’t like Skylar… or I did until recently. Thank you for your post, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m so embroiled in Breaking Bad right now, I need to talk about it with someone! it is so rich and so brilliantly written. This is a somewhat lengthy post… let’s hope that WordPress allows it.

    I’ve also read Kelli Marshall’s post and, like her, I refuse the assumption that if I it must be because Walt is the protagonist-anti-hero and I am invested in that protagonist’s success. I never liked Walt that much, in fact. Vince Gilligan has stated in interviews that he wanted to show us a character develop from being “a good person” to a very bad person (notably, “from Mr. Chips to Scarface”). But I don’t think Walt was ever that good a person. He successfully passed himself off as one, but inside he was always a mass of ego, resentment, vanity and a desperate need for control. I believe that the writers show us that too: hinting that Walt was the source of his own failures as a professional scientist and the falling out with Gretchen and [can't remember his name]. And I believe that the writers, whether consciously or not, are doing a magnificent job of showing us the perils and pitfalls of masculine ego. Walt’s repeated statements that he “wants to provide” are less about a true desire to take care of his loved ones than an egoistic need to be the one who fulfills that role as brilliantly and completely as possible. The cancer and its associated traumas give Walt the reasons he needs to act on these aspects of his personality. Does he love his wife, his children? Of course. Does he love Jesse? I think so. But this is not what really drives him.

    I was able to have some empathy for Walt in the beginning, because we have a hint of how and why he became beaten down by his life. I rooted for him in those early episodes in the same way that one roots for a Hitchcock villain. You like seeing how cleverly he will think himself out of his situation. You vicariously enjoy the fantasy of making the fat stacks of cash.

    But Walt has become a monster. He is toxic to everyone in his life. I am gobbling up every new minute of this show to see how the writers bring this car crash to fruition, not because I want him to get away with it but because I need to see him brought to justice. My greatest hope is to see the people around him survive him — especially Jesse, although I have this terrible premonition that he will not. In fact, I have a feeling that Walt will end up killing Jesse.

    As for Skylar… my dislike of her, especially during last season, stemmed from what I see as her dishonesty with herself. It seemed to me that she had an image of herself as a very virtuous, honest person, but she never has been. If you will recall, the writers have shown her a couple of times engaging in “performances” to get her way, and she was pretty darned good at it. There was the time when she tried to return the stolen baby tiara and was hauled into the back room by the owner and threatened. Then there was the time she manipulated the locksmith into letting her into Walt’s condo. And, of course, she comes up with the entire scheme to buy the car wash and to create a back story for where the money comes from. I don’t necessarily blame her for doing that but again the point is that she can be a masterful liar. Yet she acted like she was just a victim with no choice, and this annoyed me deeply.

    I want to note that, with Kelli Marshall, I didn’t hate Skylar at all for sleeping with Ted. I felt terrible for her because she was in an impossible situation and reduced to doing this not (mostly) out of passion but as the only way she could inflict some pain on Walt.

    My feelings about Skylar have done a complete 180 however, and I think it began when Ted was refusing to use that “mystery” money to pay back the IRS. I was right with Skylar. I wanted to smack Ted when he pulled up to work with his new car. I wanted to tie him down and physically put his hand to the paper. Again, masculine vanity! And again, I don’t think it is an accident that the writers included this little twist with Ted.

    As of this season, I am completely in empathy with Skylar. I think that her depression stems not entirely from the realization that her husband is a monster and dangerous. I think it is self-hatred, primarily, as suggested by her statement “I am a coward.” And the realization that she has trapped herself through her own actions, her own decisions.

    Is there some way out? Sure, she could take the kids and go to the DEA. She could kill Walt in his sleep. But this is not what people do in real life. As feminists, we may cringe when woman act helpless, but the catch is, our society is still, however it likes to congratulate itself otherwise, deeply patriarchal and masculinized. Women get into these situations and feel helpless, unsupported, trapped, and there they stay until the inevitable disaster arrives.

    My heart is breaking for Sklyar and I believe that this representation of a female is a writing triumph, even if she is not rising up like some feminist superhero and slaying the vampire — er, dragon. She is a very truthful character, deep and complex and tragic. To be this is a privilege that is usually restricted to the Walts and the Jesses.

    And, yeah, I don’t think I was entirely fair to Skyler. I can be very, very hard on the females in stories, precisely because I am weary of stereotypes and expectations and disappointments. I think that I am not the only one.

    • Hi, Lisa — just wanted to pop in and say thanks for reading my post as well.

      I like and agree with this statement of yours, btw: “And I believe that the writers, whether consciously or not, are doing a magnificent job of showing us the perils and pitfalls of masculine ego.” It reminds me of something Matt Zoller Seitz wrote on Twitter recently: “Breaking Bad is the most moral show on cable. Its show bible could be a copy of The 10 Commandments.”

      • 19 Lisa Schmidt

        Absolutely true! It is a deeply moral show; I have complete faith that the writers will bring Walt to justice… just no idea how, or how much tragedy will ensue.

      • 20 Lisa Schmidt

        I apologize for not posting a comment on your actual blog!

      • No worries! :)

  11. 22 Lisa Swain

    Jason – I’m at SCMS 2013 in Chicago presenting a paper that offers a psychological theory for this phenomenon. Come see me!!

  12. 23 Simon

    I want to like Skyler, as I sympathize with her situation and her character arc. But — and I feel bad saying this — Anna Gunn’s acting really makes it difficult for me to like the character. All those wide-eyed stares with her mouth open yet with no teeth showing… so strangely alien and fishlike.

    In season two, when she begins her prolonged passive aggressive stint of shutting Walt out (as he has shut her out) and is basically trying to push him to tell her what’s going on, again I can sympathize.

    In fact, I admire her intelligence and perception — she knows he must be hiding something big (bigger than his ‘I smoke pot’ smokescreen) and she can see through his smooth easy lies.

    So I feel that I want to be rooting for Skyler at that point, but again… those stares! Those constant dead fish stares! I’m sorry, but when she does that face it just drives me up the wall. And she does it every chance she get. Omg… when Walter comes into the bathroom, indignant over Walt Jr wanting to be called Flynn, Skyler looked like her eyes were going to shoot out of her head. I wanted to cry out, “Please, Anna! Dial it down a notch. Honestly, we get it. Some subtlety, please!.”

    I think Marie is awesome though. In fact, Betsy Brandt and Dean Norris’s performances are one of the major highlights of the show for me.

  13. 24 Chris M.

    So, I’m coming into this very ex post facto, but it’s too interesting a discussion not to weigh in. I’ve never watched Breaking Bad before until I started streaming it this summer (2014), and at the moment I’m about halfway through S5, right about the point when this blog entry was originally written.

    And while I find the show enjoyable and sometimes suspenseful, I certainly don’t think it’s anywhere close to “the best TV show ever” as so many people proclaim.

    There are multiple reasons for this. One of them is the often transparent level of contrivance and coincidence in the plotting. Another is the continuing problem of how unlikable Skyler is.

    She’s not the only underdeveloped character on the show, but she’s central enough that she shouldn’t be one at all. Walt has a strong, consistent progression in his character arc over five seasons. (The main arguable exception is the moment in S3 when he refused to cook for Gus, for perfectly valid reasons, then abruptly reversed himself in the same episode in response to a very transparent attempt at manipulation,not for any plausible diagetic reason so much as for the obvious need for the show to go on.) Skyler, on the other hand, has no credible character arc at all — her behavior is pretty consistently driven by the plot’s need for interpersonal conflict. As such, she comes across as completely unsympathetic, and the exact opposite of fully-realized, complex, or nuanced. (So, in terms of the distinction proposed here, I think she’s problematic both as a “fictional person” and as a “character.”)

    It’s not a matter of misogyny. And it’s also not just a matter of first impressions from S1, although that certainly set the tone for much of what followed — right from the start, when she gives her husband fake bacon on his 50th birthday. She has repeatedly been controlling, abrasive, sanctimonious, manipulative, passive-aggressive, and hypocritical. It’s been clear all along that Walt loved her more than she did him, but his reasons have always been a mystery to me, because she’s never come across as appealing in the slightest.

    Walt’s original motivation for cooking was, clearly, to provide for his family after his death (albeit in a way that also served his sense of pride). As such, it makes perfect sense that he kept his activities from her, not just for fear of her reaction but also because you don’t want to make someone you care about an accessory to your crimes. So, yes, his behavior must have seemed increasingly erratic to her. But, after all, he was dealing with the prospect of death compounded by sever financial hardship. Did she respond to this sympathetically? Offer him nonjudgmental moral support? No, she tried to reassert her own sense of control over things.

    Consider her reaction when she thought he was smoking pot: it wasn’t to talk to him, to see if it was helping as it does for many other cancer victims, but instead to go behind his back and threaten his (assumed) supplier.

    Consider her reaction when he disappears in early S2: she’s all about trying to find him while he’s gone, but as soon as he returns — after the “fugue state” — she treats him like a pariah in his own home. She’s uncommunicative and frankly hostile. She suspects he’s keeping secrets, yes — so is her response to talk with him? No, it’s to shut him out and impose ultimatums, and even walk out on him for a time. At one point he practically begs her to ask him about her suspicions, only to have her say she’d “rather not know.”

    It’s not as if honesty and openness is her own stock-in-trade, either. Another poster mentioned several instances of her own deceptive behavior. And consider: when she decides to go back to work, she deliberately chooses a place where she knows the boss has a thing for her. Ted’s affections don’t “creep her out,” she then deliberately plays upon (remember the thing with the spilled pen holder?). When he learns Ted is cooking the books, she’s sympathetic to him and decides to stay on the job, despite the fact that signing off on them could incriminate her. But she’s less sympathetic to Walt — when she discovers he does have a second cell phone, instead (again) of trying to talk to him about it, she spies on him behind his back, waits weeks, then springs a surprise separation on him, kicking him out of his own house and even threatening to turn him in. And when he calls her bluff on this (since, after all, she had no right to do kick him out), again, rather than trying to mend fences, she “lashes out” (the OP’s own words) by having an affair with Ted.

    When she finally susses out what Walt has been doing, she again offers no sympathy, support, or concern, only holier-than-thou judgment. Yet when he gives in and grants her the divorce she demanded, she rejects it — instead insisting on becoming *more* involved in his activities with the car wash scheme. After all, she’s a bookkeeper, so she must know more about money-laundering than the lawyer who’s been doing it for years, right? Even if it means spending a half-million more than Saul proposed on a cover business and taking a personal hand in its management. Again, it’s all about being controlling. (As is forcing Walt to take back Flynn’s first car — her concern about appearances is specious, as the car is a far less conspicuous purchase than the car wash.)

    And then when Ted reappears with his IRS problems, she unilaterally gives away $600k (of the money she found so distastefully dirty, until she got control of it) without even telling Walt, for the primary purpose of covering her own ass for the cooked books she signed off on.

    Although Skyler’s not half as smart as she thinks she is, she’s not a complete idiot either, so she knows the drug trade can be dangerous — especially if, as the OP suggests, she thinks Hank’s shooting is related to Walt’s business (although in reality it’s tangential to it at best). But yet again, her reaction is to insist Walt share more information, then to reject it when he does. When he insists he’s in no danger? When (after the protective custody) he drives the point home by defeating Gus? She reacts by lashing out at her sister and then (once again) emotionally retreating, as if there were more danger than before, and turning to excessive smoking, alcohol, and self-pity.

    Skyler’s not a “victim” as the OP asserts. She’s certainly not a “hostage” in her own home, as she claims.Her situation is of her own making. If she thinks so little of Walt, has so little respect for him, as the show demonstrates again and again, then she could and should have left him at any time, rather than sticking around to make his life hell. Both he and she would have been better off. She never needed to play passive-aggressive not-speaking-to-you games, never needed to to take the job with Ted, never needed to cover for Ted, never needed to have the affair, never needed to come up with the gambling cover story, never needed to devise (much less insist on) the car wash scheme, never needed to get personally involved in the money laundering. She brought her situation on herself, every bit as much as Walt did — arguably more, since many of his dubious actions were responses to genuine threats on his life. Through the entire run of the show, she stands out as a *relentlessly* unpleasant character, and I have no sympathy for her whatsoever.

    So. How’s that in terms of an articulate clarification of the widespread dislike for the character?


  1. 1 Diskussion: Breaking Bad “Fifty-One” « tvaddictfromgermany
  2. 2 El vuelo de Ícaro | Diamantes en serie
  3. 3 The Good Wives | 20TV
  4. 4 Complex TV: Serial Melodrama | Just TV
  5. 5 Based on Nothing – Why Do You Hate This? Skyler White

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,042 other followers

%d bloggers like this: