Monday, September 30, 2013

Breaking Bad: Feel bad for Skyler

I like what friend and fellow blogger Gunner* has to say about Breaking Bad:

...for a beloved TV show to end on a high note is rare. It's like Breaking Bad broke up with us, and we're used to being the ones that lose interest in a story and watching the next good thing for a while. 

Breaking Bad is one of a minority of TV shows that not only didn't jump the shark but that ended just as strong as it started. Gunner is pointing out that we fans of Breaking Bad didn't get our usual choice of dumping a show when it got weak or sticking with it in the hope that it would get better. Breaking Bad made us want more every time it took a hiatus and many of us would have happily watched it even as it waned, if it had just lasted another season or two. But I'm glad it didn't last another season. It was a singular show, but I felt it ended just when it should have and with completely appropriate and satisfying endings for the various characters, with two big exceptions.

[SPOILERS COMING UP]

The characters I feel the most pity for in the end are Marie and Skyler. Marie is robbed of the satisfaction of seeing Walt pay for his many crimes, two of the worst of which are getting Hank maimed and then killed. Marie deserves much better than she gets, although the finale leads us to believe she'll at least get to recover Hank's body and give him a real burial. (And why didn't Gilligan do more with the Marie character? Remember when she was a klepto? Marie started out much more interesting and then the storyline just forgot about her. She's like a character polyp.)

Anna Gunn as Skyler White
But Skyler really loses everything: her marriage, her home, any life savings they initially had, her peace of mind, her career and her reputation. And for all we know, her relationship with her family is tanked, too. I wonder if Walt at any point considers what his ego trip costs his wife. Skyler, Flynn and Holly would be much better off if Walt didn't start cooking meth. If Walt had died of cancer and left Skyler with thousands of dollars of hospital debts, at least she would have enjoyed her last years with her husband and Flynn would have had good memories of his father. Mother and son wouldn't be left to live in ignominy, plus who's to say Skyler won't still be held accountable for Walt's crimes now that he's dead? Walt's long-term plans go catastrophically wrong and the only decent thing he leaves for Skyler and Flynn is the trust fund from the Schwartz's. In  Skyler's last scene, she looks like she's been smoking instead of eating and pacing instead of sleeping. It looks like it will be a long time before she and Flynn dig their way out of the mess Walt has left them.

Another friend of mine wonders why ever-practical and money-careful Skyler hasn't squirreled away some of that $80 million for just such dire circumstances. It's a good question since Skyler is extremely savvy about finances and -- before this all started -- probably kept some of her own money separate from Walt's in a just-in-case account (many smart wives do that). But I think Skyler's failure to secure a little nest egg for herself and her children is consistent with her character. Sure, Skyler would normally tuck a little away, but she's conflicted about this drug money from the very beginning and I think that moral tension affects her usual common sense. I don't think Skyler ever really believes she's entitled to that money; she simply tends it to keep her husband out of jail and her family together. Constantly conflicted about it, she forgets her usual self-preservation habits. Walt's wild ride that makes him feel so "alive" costs Skyler the most.

I'm aware that many Breaking Bad fans turned all the moral outrage and disgust that they could have felt for Walt onto Skyler. People commented and posted that they hated Skyler, that she was an awful hypocrite and that she should die. I can only figure this was plain old misogyny: fans wanted to identify with Walt so completely that they had to displace his hypocrisy and flawed morality onto his wife. I didn't read enough of the Skyler-hate to form much of an opinion about it, but I find it disturbing that there were many characters in this narrative to dislike, but the worst vitriol was aimed at Marie and Skyler. I like them. In fact, I'm disappointed that the relationship between the two sisters doesn't form more of a focus of the show. Then again, this is really a boys' story and mostly what the two main women characters are given to do is wring their hands and moralize (ahem, Vince Gilligan?).

Walt's goals and decisions suck and the person he does the biggest number on is the person he supposedly wants to benefit most of all. In the end, as he faces off with the Aryan Brotherhood and frees Jesse, Walt manages to strike a heroic pose, but his moral descent actually has no turnaround. As he finally admits in the finale, he did this all for himself because this was a game he played better than anyone else. Selfishly he leaves his family to pay the price, probably for the rest of their lives. Breaking Bad shows an everyman playing out his fantasy of being Jesse James, and how nightmarishly bad that childish single-mindedness turns out for the rest of his family. Pity Skyler, whom Walt leaves with less than nothing.

*Gunner wrote this statement in a personal email to me. He hasn't blogged about Breaking Bad, but he's blogged about many other topics and can be found here: Gunner Saves the World.

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