Last week, we looked at Saul Goodman and the comic fool aspect of Breaking Bad and how that pushes the show into the realm of “True Shakespearean Masterpiece.” This week, we’re going to look at a character that seems more problematic: Skyler White, Walter’s wife.
If you type in “Skyler White” into Google, you will see a series of prompts. One of the prompts is “Skyler White Hate.” There are forums, essays and other things dedicated to how much they hate this woman, who is initially ignorant of Walter’s crimes. (I use ignorant here to indicate that she didn’t know. Not that I think she’s stupid.) At first, this was one of the reasons that I mentioned that yes, I was having a problem with the show: I hated her. But Breaking Bad is truly like a fine Shakespearean play: If you try judging the show on it’s first act, then you may not be around to see the final act where you can appreciate the hints dropped in the first act.
Skyler’s “job” in the first season is a prop, let’s face it. Her pregnancy, her existence is so we as the audience can get behind a guy doing something pretty terrible. I mean, Meth has never been portrayed as “glamourous” or “harmless” in any media. So, Skyler is pretty much around to show us, “hey, Walt is just trying to provide for his family the best way he knows how.” Shakespeare loved to do this to us. Hey, Macbeth is just acting on some knowledge of some witches. Hey, Lear is dying, so he has a pass for acting a little goofy. Hamlet’s father died, he’s just trying to get through his grief. Iago just thinks that he deserves Othello’s spot. Those are things introduced in Act 1.
However, as things continue, we get to see what Skyler is like. I was annoyed that she seemed to take Walt’s diagnosis so personally. She wanted him to go into (expensive) treatment. Which he ignored as long as possible, then gave in. But what I wasn’t seeing was the hints as to why Walt would dive so quickly into the drug world. Skyler is controlling. Not in the “stereotypical bitchy TV wife” way. (Excuse the language, but if we’re talking meth and this show, well, sometimes there’s no way around it.) No, she’s subtle. When she figures out that Walt isn’t telling her everything, she is passive aggressive to the max. (There’s no other way to state that.) Then she starts cheating on him, pretty much while Walt knows everything. (She makes sure he knows.) Then she figures out he’s dealing drugs. She kicks him out, asks for a divorce, which prompts him to try to quit, and get in line, despite the fact that at this point he’s a local drug legend. When he eventually goes right back to it, she uses her super book-keeping skills to help launder the money... on her terms. Stealing him away from Saul Goodman’s ideas. She comes up with the script that allows him to announce to his family that they have all of this money. She decides that they’re going to buy the car wash where Walt worked and was treated badly.
The car wash. To me the car wash is where we finally meet Skyler White as a character. As mentioned she buys it to “launder money”. But it’s a symbol. It’s a symbol of a time when Walt couldn’t afford anything. It’s where Walt first collapses before his diagnosis. It’s where we see Walt being treated horribly. And now she owns it, (Well, they own it but she’s the one in charge of it.) and acquired it through devious means.
I could go on, but I think you get my point. I know eventually she is doing this because she says she’s “afraid” of Walt, but she’s not. She’s always been in control. She’s probably one of the most complex characters in the entire series because she is, and there’s no other way to avoid saying it any longer... but she’s this show’s Lady Macbeth. She’s behind the scenes. Her hands are only a little dirty. But she laid every seed possible for Walt to start being who he is in the series today.
“I’m going to protect this family from the man who’s trying to protect this family.”