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Skyler White: Only Human

Breaking Bad is a series that quickly establishes itself as a serious-toned program which makes it clear from the outset that our main characters shan't enjoy rosy endings to their journeys. Even within this ecosystem and environment, Vince Gilligan's carefully crafted narrative still manages to surprise, shock, and horrify nearly a decade after its conclusion. The story of a mild, weak-willed High School Chemistry Teacher transforming into a figurative (and literal) demon from Hell whom uses his illicit knowledge of drugmaking to generate self-worth in the last years of his life is something... particularly horrifying. Breaking Bad has the narrative worth to keep you addicted even if numerous elements have been spoiled prior, yet has an inherent quality to make you feel sick to your stomach. A pit forming within your gut that develops over the seasons into a widening black hole that eggs you on to keep watching each episode and binge. Getting to know all these unique characters and how they'll ultimately fit into the equation of Walt's Doomsday Meth Empire, how they'll all suffer... You could only want to finish the series quick as you can, to end the pain and stress and madness, though you'll know there'll be an unsatisfied, gaping hole left where that pit once was. Because Breaking Bad is the master of storytelling designed for suffering. A tale of increasingly terrible events accumulate to an explosive conclusion, yet still retains the qualities and merit to keep viewers fully engaged throughout its five-season runtime, and then hunger towards the prequel series 'Better Call Saul' just to see more of this spectacular cast in action.

But that's not why we're here. We can sing the show's praises another time, this essay's topic revolves around a rather controversial character that encapsulated not just themes for the story, but wider societal issues in general. I'm talking about Skyler White, Walter's husband that is often reviled by audiences for hampering her husband's attempts to build a drug empire. While the masterful writing and acting naturally anchors us against Skyler given that Walt is our protagonist and we want him to succeed, as the show progresses we slowly begin to reap the consequences of Walter's actions. Nursing homes bombed, children poisoned, and fan-favorite characters executed simply because of Heisenberg's incredible vanity, ego, greed, and lust for power. Meanwhile, Skyler becomes entrenched in his schemes. First as an accomplice, then a hostage, though still remaining loyal to all of Heisenberg's machinations all the while until nearly the end. Many instances throughout the story point to Skyler being guilty and second-guessing her involvement in her husband's criminal empire, seemingly losing such feelings during the third season's second-half and fourth season. However, given that she shares a home with Walt, how exactly can she react otherwise? To say Skyler's character arc is controversial is an understatement. Among the show's fanbase, there is a division on whether she is a representation of womanhood being oppressed by Walt's patriarchal personality, while others see her as a hypocritical whiny b-word that'd be better off shutting up and letting her husband be the breadwinner he's always desired. However, there are definitely more nuanced arguments and inferences to be made about Skyler White, and she's a far more layered character then either perceived side gives her credit for. Honestly, yes, Skyler IS hypocritical at certain times in the show (mainly during the Ted Beneke arc), but she's also just as much victim as accomplice and enabler. What I think we see with Skyler is just... her being human. Over the course of a year since her husband's diagnosis has been applied, she has dealt with Walt's careful web of lies, dissecting each one but only realizing the full scope of them after she kicks the man out of her house, only for Walt to march home fearlessly and call out Skyler's bluff. From then on, he works to disadvantage her political and social position in the family, spending time with Walt. Jr. Already, Walt. Jr believes his mother is the issue, not his father, and takes his side and constantly rejects her. Compound this with Walt's masterful manipulation skills that are all too real and recognizable, and it's not like Skyler was ever in a position of power over anything in the family to leverage against Walt in the first place.

The Ted Beneke arc is where most people derive their hatred of Skyler, given her adultery and later using criminal means to intimidate Ted into accepting her cache of criminal money to pay off his federal taxes. Skyler clearly descends into the Beneke Arc's main antagonist, and it's probably where we see most of her inner Heisenberg, but to say she was always wicked and anchored for this is simply untrue. Again: we have to remember she only considered cheating on Walt for Beneke after the full extent of his criminal activities were revealed and his forcibly moving back into the house. I'm not trying to excuse her adultery, but providing an avenue to understand it. After all, isn't that the story's goal? Providing us a window into understanding why horrific monsters such as Gustavo Fring, Mike Ehrmantraut, and of course Walter White treat human life as cheaply as they do? While Walter never cheated on Skyler and remained mostly loyal to her throughout the series (aside from one stint with that vice principal), even by the time Skyler admits her unfaithfulness to him, Walter has done several unforgivable things, most prominent of which was letting his meth-making partner Jesse Pinkman's girlfriend die before him and doing utterly nothing about it. People will cite that Walter knew Jane would drag Jesse into drug-use and kill them both this way, but let's be honest, the real reason he didn't intervene was to take out the most important person in Jesse's life so he could fill that role yet again and continue manipulating him for future drug manufacturing prospects. Hell, he practically admits that in the third-final episode of the show. So among the manufacturing of a highly addictive and destructive substance, a few murders (some WERE actually justified, ie Tuco and Krazy-8), and letting his partner's romantic interest die just to continually use him for his own ends, Skyler commits adultery once, and from what I believe was mostly out of stress rather than genuine deep interest in Ted, and she's suddenly the great villainess of our time? What exactly did I miss? Perhaps I'm overlooking elements other have noticed, but it seems to me the extent of Skyler's sin emerges from her unhealthy venting mechanisms about living with the greatest drug lord since Pablo Escobar and forcing herself to act entirely normal about it. And during the series climax when Skyler constantly brings up that her family isn't safe thanks to Walt's antics, this is framed as her simply being hysterical since Walt managed to eliminate his greatest rival, Gustavo. In truth though, her concerns are entirely validated upon the penultimate episode of the show when Jack's Neo-Nazis infiltrated her home and... well... threaten her and her family because of her husband's criminal activities.

Look, Skyler is not a morally righteous character by any means. She engages in countless dubious activities both on her lonesome and as Walt's accomplice. However, ultimately, her 'bitchy' attitude and constantly opposition to Walt are vindicated because events in the series essentially verify her concerns about what he's doing. She insists Walt will harm his family, and he brings nothing but public shame to them and being partly responsible for Hank's death. He doesn't even manage to smuggle his money to them because of his allegiance to Jack's gang and carelessness with evidence that allows Hank to finally solve the Heisenberg case. In the end, Skyler, I believe, is more victim shaped by bad decisions than outright villain. That title goes to Walter, the monster. But to say Walt is any less of a character because of this is simply untrue. In fact, doesn't the fact he pushed his wife to such lengths and still genuinely loved her just make him that much more interesting? In his eternal love for his family, he destroyed it. And Skyler was the only person that could recognize that.

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