Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
(Thoughts on the second season of BREAKING BAD, written by somebody who doesn’t have cable and by the time he had Netflix he didn’t have time which is why he’s years behind the rest of you.)
Before discussing Skyler White as a character I feel a certain duty to discuss Skyler as a cultural figure. While I’ve managed to avoid a vast majority of spoilers regarding the plot of the next three seasons, it became virtually impossible to ignore the constant rumbling from the show’s fans about how hated Skyler was. (As I understand it, both the character and actress Anna Gunn received no shortage of disparaging and misogynist commentary from the Brave Pseudonymous Warriors of the Internet.)
I mention that because that knowledge tainted my experience of Skyler even before I began watching the series — I walked into it determined to give the character a fair and evenhanded assessment because it seemed that many others had responded to her with ugly overreaction. There is a compulsion in me to defend Skyler, to give her a greater benefit of doubt, because I have no desire to be associated with the jackasses who spent hours gleefully coming up with creative ways to call her a bitch.
That said: I don’t find it’s that hard to defend Skyler … at least not in these first two seasons. While her character may not be the most pleasant, the writers have provided everything one needs to realize how she became that way, and if you can’t feel a certain level of sympathy for her then I suggest you weren’t paying close enough attention.
(And to get it out of the way: While the emotions and hormonal rollercoaster of pregnancy were factors, they’re not the only ones.)
Skyler, to my estimation, has been forced to live most of her life in survival mode, a coiled-spring existence that’s fraught with constant tension and release. Moments of happiness are poisoned by a very real concern that the moment is about to be wrenched away and moments of disappointment are met with a certain resignation.
Why? Because she grew up with Marie. And Marie is a swerving, stomping train wreck of neuroses and ego, so desperate for attention that she complains about not being the technician in charge of Walter’s PET scan. It’s not reasonable to expect Skyler to have spent her entire life in that relationship without being scarred by it, to be slow to trust and quick to retaliate.
The first two seasons for Skyler are an exercise in assessing all of the things she has lost and all of the things she never actually had. She met a shy and romantic scientist who grew more shy but less romantic. She had to endure the many challenges that come with raising a child afflicted with cerebral palsy. There’s a creative and risk-taking piece of her that she both enjoys and fears — the same piece that’s willing to engage in foreplay in the midst of a PTA meeting and smoke in public while pregnant — that she doesn’t believe she deserves.
Her attraction to Ted Beneke is based as much on physical chemistry as it is on the way he drives her to indulge her risk-taking … first by letting her hand linger in his, then by coaxing the Marilyn Monroe impersonation out of her in front of the whole staff, and finally by convincing her to indeed be complicit in his accounting fraud. By choosing to keep her in the dark about the meth enterprise, Walter has completely misread his wife. While she does her best to follow laws and moral codes, she’s willing to compromise all of it under the right circumstances, and for the person who makes her feel the most needed and loved, because she has no capacity to need or love herself in any way she finds satisfactory.
That’s why, at the end of the season, she no longer wants to know how Walter got the money for his treatment. Even the truth, at that moment, wouldn’t offend her as much as the fulfillment of her suspicion that Walter didn’t love or need her enough to confide in her. She’s leaving him because he lied to her, but it’s not about the volume of lies as it is about the absolute dearth of trust.
Current Music: Django Reinhardt, “After You’re Gone”