Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Rethinking Skyler White

Back in August, I talked about strong female characters, and also Anna Gunn and her character Skyler White on Breaking Bad (there are some spoilers at the very bottom of the linked post). I've just finished watching Breaking Bad, and feel like I've got a more complete grasp of Skyler.

See, the show's writers have a very solid idea of who you should be rooting for. Walter White. At times, Skyler appears diametrically opposed to him, and that makes us boo and hiss her, even though Walter is Doing Bad Things™. It's brilliant in a way, truly. Because of my dislike for Skyler's passive-aggressive (and sometimes, it seemed, irrationally aggressive) reactions to things, I didn't take the time to try and get in her head, and empathize with her. She made some bad decisions, sure, on incomplete information, but everybody in that entire show made some bad decisions, I assure you. So why would I judge Skyler most harshly?

(in general, I'm kind of a misogynist, personally. Or perhaps less controversially, a misanthrope. I don't like people readily. I like being left alone. I frequently think people do dumb things, or like things I can't relate to, etc. So this is my first and most logical reason for not liking Skyler. But it's interesting to dig further.)

 Walter is meant to be sympathetic. He's a regular, if intellectually brilliant, guy who's thrust into a bad situation. The basic rundown of the show (if you don't know), is Walter White, high school chemistry teacher, is diagnosed with Stage I-Forget cancer that his insurance is not capable of paying for the treatment of. Through a couple leaps of logic and situation, he hits upon the idea to cook meth in order to make money for his family to live on after he's gone. This turns into paying for his treatment, and he continues cooking, etc. Varying levels of hilarity and gratuitous, abrupt, and improbably violence ensue. There are some very startling scenes in the show. There are some very powerful scenes in the show. And we're supposed to be cheering for Walter, ever deeper down his rabbit hole. And Skyler, well he's just doing it for her and the kids, right? That's what he says. Over and over. Is repetition truth?

I won't spoil the show ending. I was happy I finished the show without being spoiled myself. But suffice to say the writers pulled it around (for me, anyway) and showed me: oh wait, Skyler isn't a bad guy. And that, my friends, is part of the point. Morality is that way for a reason. Loyalty, that has its own rules. And priorities, those are entirely unmoored from society's rules and expectations.

Breaking Bad is a lot about fear. It's a lot about limits, physical and emotional. It's about the lengths to which people are willing to go, and the lengths to which they can then be pushed. Do I think it's the best show to ever be shown in show town? No. But I really enjoyed it. It frustrated me, made me laugh, got me angry. It did its job. And so did Skyler White. And Walter. et al.


  1. I had a love/hate relationship with Skyler. In the end, I thought she turned out to be one of the best characters.

    I think they wrapped that series up very nicely.

    1. There were times I was actually yelling at the screen "Why would you think that? Why are you asking that? Don't be a dumb bitch!" (and yeah, I guess I'm misogynist, but I'm also misandrist. In which case the character is a "dumb bastard". Really, I'm a misanthrope.) Other times (like the shoplifting scene, the "quicken slut" scene, and when she triumphed in purchasing the car wash) she was totally awesome, and I wanted her to be that Skyler all the time.

      Yes, I think the series did finish very well. It hit some very strong notes, though I was profoundly disappointed in at least one death (and called Walt a stupid goddamn bastard).