Breaking Bad, Season 5, Part 2

In Defense of Skyler-Bashing
Talking television.
Aug. 19 2013 12:00 PM

Breaking Bad, Season 5, Part 2

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Why Skyler is one of the least sympathetic characters on television.

Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) in Breaking Bad.
Dean Norris as Hank Schrader in Breaking Bad

Photo byUrsula Coyote/AMC

Can I just say how much I love Lydia? Watching her get out of the car, walk across the sand, and descend the ladder in those Louboutins, I thought the show had taken things too far. Yes, Lydia’s fussy out-of-placeness is delightful, and yes, women sometimes wear less-than-practical shoes. But Lydia is such a fussy person that she never would have worn that pair to what she knew was going to be a rustic location. That’s just silly. Unless of course she was hoping Declan and crew would underestimate her in case she had to order their execution!

Boom.

Which is to say I don’t think we should simply read her girlishness as annoying. It’s an asset. Perhaps a calculated one that’s allowed her to rise to the heights of the methamphetamine game. And unlike Walt, she’s managed to stay off the DEA’s radar.

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As for the purity issue, Malcolm Harris and Lindsay Beyerstein had a good debate about this last fall, and I side with Beyerstein. Meth users probably don’t care that much about purity and are likely consuming a heavily diluted product. But at other stages in the meth economy, it matters a great deal. A “purer” product means more meth per unit of methylamine or pseudoephedrine, so you don’t need to buy or steal as much. Declan probably doesn’t care that much for the purposes of the local market because he has plenty of precursor. But it’s a big deal to Lydia’s Czech buyer, because presumably there are limits to how much volume of product she can move. If Lydia’s able to deliver a highly pure product, then the buyer can dilute it and sell tons and tons of meth to his Czech clients. If she’s delivering a product that’s already diluted, then it’s less valuable to the Czechs, and ultimately she’s going to lose out.

Skyler White (Anna Gunn).
Skyler White (Anna Gunn)

Photo byFrank Ockenfels 3/AMC

In response to Emily, though, I want to mount a mild defense of Skyler haters. Skyler-hating has tended to be tinged (or worse) with misogyny, and consequently I think a pernicious pro-Skyler sentiment has become the conventional wisdom among TV-watching’s intellectual elite. This episode, though, highlighted exactly what’s wrong with Skyler: For someone who’s so scoldy about the drug kingpin lifestyle, she sure seems like a willing accomplice.  

It makes Skyler, as a character, one of the least-likeable people on the show. But we should distinguish that from Anna Gunn’s acting, which—as seen especially in this scene with Hank at the diner—is consistently excellent in a very challenging role. I really do wonder about Hank’s detective skills, though. Confronting Walt was, predictably, a disaster. Then he confronted Skyler seemingly without much in the way of a plan other than to condescendingly assume she’d blunder into a confession without consulting a lawyer or receiving any assurances of immunity. Hank has no way of knowing her level of involvement or culpability, but he ought to know that she’s not an idiot. Now he’s tipped her off and signaled to his prey that he doesn’t really have any usable evidence. It’s sloppy, sloppy stuff. More a Declan cook than a Heisenberg. And sad to see Hank compromising the investigation to some extent out of concern for the impact on his own career.

But it does kind of seem like Jesse might talk, right? I mean, who knows what’s going on in that kid’s head at this point?

Just throwing thoughts out there,

Matt

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.