This week for Debate Day we’re discussing Skyler White. You can view Aaron’s typically wrong opinion here. Needless to say, we’ve got a third-degree spoiler warning in effect for the whole post.
Ah, Breaking Bad. For five seasons you took us on a gripping journey into the seductive world of underground meth empires. Walter White taught us that we can all follow our dreams and be what we want to be. When Jesse’s girlfriend stood in his way, Walt let her choke on her own vomit. When Gus threatened his infant daughter, Walt got an old man to blow him up with a suicide bomb. When a bunch of neo-nazis killed his brother-in-law, Walt shot them hundreds of times with a machine gun. His success in the face of incredible odds exemplifies the American dream of opportunity and innovation.
But for all of Walt’s success, there was one thing always standing in his way: his wife. Skyler was one of my most-disliked characters on television for most of the show’s run. She got better near the end, but I wouldn’t really describe her as good. She was merely less bad. How do I loathe thee, Skyler? Let me count the ways.
Her only purpose in Season One is to antagonize Walt. Walt is the hero (usually anti-hero) of the piece, so in some ways every character exists to complicate his road to being a drug kingpin. Skyler, however, is a thorn in his side from episode one. In her very first interaction with Walt, she cooks him a special bacon and eggs breakfast for his 50th birthday. Sounds pretty nice, right? Wrong. Because it’s veggie bacon, which, as we all know, isn’t really bacon. Her husband breaks his back at two jobs to feed his family, and she doesn’t even have the decency to feed him genuine pork-flesh. Instead she serves him a monstrous vegetable imitation and nags him about not working too late. Then she scolds him for being tardy to his own birthday party because he was too busy being humiliated at his emasculating carwash job. His birthday present? A half-hearted handy. Before Walt saddles up and decides to just be awesome all the time, this is the kind of controlling bullshit he has to put up with. It’s enough to turn anyone bad.
Sleeping with Ted Beneke. I can’t fault Ted for following his natural urge to sleep with his employees. He’s a divorcee and, frankly, not the brightest crayon in the box. But Skyler jumps head first into an adulterous relationship, heedless of the damage it could do to her family. For shame! I mean, okay, Walt isn’t there for the birth of their daughter and Ted has to drive her to the hospital, but that’s only because he has a huge important meth deal to close! Diapers aren’t free, Skyler.
Giving $621,552.33 to Ted Beneke. The affair is nothing compared to the monumentally boneheaded move of giving Ted $621,552.33. Ted, who as we’ve already established in’t the sharpest tool in the shed, has been cooking the books for years. Beneke Fabricators is going under fast, and Ted owes the IRS more than $600,000 in back taxes. Skyler, who finds all this out after getting her bookkeeping job back, decides that if the IRS audits Ted it would somehow lead to them uncovering Walt’s meth business. Because that’s how IRS audits work. Coming up with the worst solution possible, she tricks Ted into accepting a gift of $621,552.33 of Walt’s money, and sends two thugs to his house to force him to mail it to the IRS. Because that’s not something the IRS would find fishy.
For a successful meth mogul like Walt, that kind of change shouldn’t be a big deal. But at the time, it’s his whole nestegg, and he needs it to pay Robert Forster to get his family out of town before Gus murders them. But thanks to Skylar, who takes it without asking, Walt is fucked. Sure, it spurs Walt to new heights of amazing ingenuity and possibly his greatest triumph of the show, but it’s only because Skylar backs him into a corner with her gross incompetence. His reaction? The only sensible one: insane laughter.
She’s just really, sort of, you know . . . boring. I’d rather watch paint dry than watch Skyler scenes. I think the writers really botched it by having her character be so weak and ineffectual compared to her husband. When she’s not screwing things up beyond belief, she’s moping around, smoking cigarettes while pregnant, and failing the Bechdel test. I know Walt is the main character and the show revolves around him and all, but Skyler should have been second only to Walt in terms of importance and how interesting her plots were. Instead she mostly exists as an accessory to Walt’s character, reacting to his actions rather than being proactive. Her one really good contribution is laundering Walt’s money through her idea of buying the carwash, but as soon as Walt goes on the lamb, she turns helpless again. As usual, Walt is the only one with any sense.
TV wives have a tough job. They rarely get the focus, especially when their husbands are badass meth-cooking gangsters, but Skyler is worse than most. She could have been an awesome character who rivaled Walt in resourcefulness and likability, but instead she just comes off as mean and uninteresting. Anna Gunn is a great actress, and she deserves accolades for doing the best she could with what she had. The problem is that no one could save Skyler from sucking.