You’re Done Being His Victim
Well, if last week was all about Hank, this week was all about Skylar…at least for me. I was riveted and, yet, left wanting more – just what is going on inside her head? At this point, I’m not entirely sure if she’s protecting Walt, protecting herself, or just caught up in momentum that she can’t escape. But when Hank told her that she would no longer be Walt’s victim, I was struck not only by how wrong that language was for describing her, but also how incapable I was of coming up with something better. Hank can list all the reasons why Skylar is a victim, and they’re all true. She was emotionally manipulated, faced borderline physical abuse and certainly emotional, feared for her safety, and so on. But in the end, all those reasons don’t quite capture why Skylar has and continues to go along with this plot. Walt has been utterly corrupted by power; Skylar, I wonder, has perhaps become, or is becoming, corrupted by the thrill of her own success. She got the carwash going. She hid all the money. She figured out that Hank’s got nothing. She might not be great on the spot when crisis hits like Walt is, but give her a few hours to mull things over, and she’s as much the brains of the operation as Walt. Perhaps all these years being married to a(n unacknowledged) genius has left her wanting her own smarts acknowledged too. I don’t know – do you guys have any further thoughts on her motivations here…because I’m still trying to figure them all out??
With Skylar at the centre, I couldn’t help but be intrigued more than ever with the episode’s other key female character – Lydia. How this panicked, jittery, can’t-look-at-carnage, wears-her-Louboutins-to-the-desert screw-up manages to run an international drug operation and imagine at any moment that she can be threatening is beyond me…and yet, she manages to surround herself with all the right people to get her job done. Lydia is working from a completely different set of motivations than Skylar – emphasized especially by the repeated shots of the fancy shoes. Although, weren’t those the most dismal Louboutins you’ve ever seen on tv? For a moment, the heel made me wonder if they were fakes. Not that I’m any great expert on spotting fakes – but somehow this particular pair, dusted but not caked with sand, kitten heel rather than stiletto like we usually see on tv, leather old but not worn, managed to communicate the wealth and status without the beauty. Alongside other costuming choices – particularly the constant matchy-matchiness of Walt and Skylar’s costume colours now – this little visual cue really hit the nail on the head. Lydia’s faking it, and she’s floundering with some style, but no substance. To make her (and Todd) so significant to these final episodes, though (all the BB recaps highlight Lydia and Todd’s backstories) leaves me wondering just what crucial role they’ll both play in the final crescendo.
I didn’t get to chime in last week, but let me just say – if someone makes that Star Trek episode, I WILL watch it! I wonder if we actually want to start placing bets on how long it will take for some animation student to make a short of it that will go viral – by the season finale at least, I hope!
Hi Natalie and friends,
I think you’re right about Skylar’s motivations (not so easily discernible)…but my take is the following (and a trope I’ve harped on before): family. It’s the same as Walt’s professed motivation: family (so his alleged willingness to turn himself in as long as Skylar keeps the money and passes it on to his kids; the reason Walt won’t kill Hank, etc.) What does this motivation ultimately come out to? That, I think, is the great question of ‘Breaking Bad’ in my opinion: is ‘family’ just a stand-in for ‘power,’ ‘recognition,’ what? Because we’ve certainly seen again and again, that, really, family is the last thing anyone is concerned with (and the circle widens now to include Hank, who was going to use Skylar).
What struck me about this episode is how Walt has taken root in people’s lives much the same way that his cancer has taken root in him: everyone knows it is a matter of time before it is over, but until then, it seems that everyone is now living Walt’s lie, which is an interesting place to find a character like Hank. And Hank, to me, has been the real standout of these last two episodes. Dean Norris has taken an already powerful character and elevated him to a new level, pushing him towards a fever pitch (paralleling perfectly Walt), and, for the first time in the series, you get the sense that, once he knows enough, Hank will not be overwhelmed by W.W. again.
I also have to mention how intense these episodes are; it’s like the writing team and the team of actors has reached something close to perfection. There is no filler. Every shot is perfect (the carousel shot of Jesse was especially stunning), no line of dialogue wasted or meaningless (this is perhaps why Jesse now speaks so little), and every emotion perfectly presented in the smallest motions (Anna Gunn in the diner was incredible). It’s almost as if you need the commercials for a break from the intensity (OK, you don’t need them…I still fast forward, but…)
PS – Natalie, I sure do hope someone makes that Star Trek, short!
I am not sure if “family” has to stand in for or mean any one particular thing (power, recognition, etc.), Martin, but I think you are right that the particular genius of Breaking Bad is the way intimate relationships drive the drama. Unlike The Sopranos where the “The Family” looms over the regular family (granted that the two are all mixed up), almost all of the devastating decisions on BB are motivated by the wounded pride and petty jealousies of suburban family life. I also agree with you, Natalie, that “victim” is both the right and the wrong word to describe Skyler. She has been trapped and terrorized by Walt in so many ways, and yet, she can’t bear to be seen as the victim by Hank and Marie in particular. Those two couples have circled around each other in love, dependence, jealousy, and competition. Some couples just compete over lawn furniture; the Whites and Schraders have upped the ante. Walt has always been motivated by a desire to get out from under Hank’s shadow (rewatch the first couple episodes of season one to see how pronounced this is from the very beginning). While Skyler and Marie depend on each other, each is desperate to prove that she needs the other less. Is it too much of a stretch to say that this ball got rolling and continues to be propelled down steeper hills by old-fashioned sibling rivalry (extended, also to the brothers-in-law)?
I also love your image, Martin, of all these characters infected with the cancer of Walt’s lies. Instead of just destroying their lives through proxy (Skyler living down the communal reputation of being his wife, for example), Walt’s proximity is causing all of these characters to question their integrity, if not throw it away. We’ve been watching Skyler on this path for quite some time, but now Hank (and probably Marie) have joined her. When we were together in person this summer, Bryan and I talked about how Hank has never faltered in his pursuit of justice. But as he hides his evidence and considers tampering in another investigation to keep Jesse away from the wrong investigators, is he about to start his decent into lies and manipulation too? Will Walt’s ultimate destruction be his ability to suck everyone into his free fall?
I, too, noticed Lydia’s Louboutins, Natalie. Very nice read of all they implied!
Great insight on all of this. Natalie, this has already been covered pretty much, but my interpretation of Skyler’s motives has been that she doesn’t want to ruin the kids lives. In her mind, finding out that their dad was a meth kingpin and mass murderer would be more detrimental than losing her sister’s respect and love.
While Skyler was very fascinating this episode, I couldn’t help but think about Hank more and more (during the episode and after). For the entire series, Hank has essentially been the only morally upstanding character throughout. He has terrible emotional-management skills, and he can be emotionally damaging to Marie because of this. But, his morals to “do the right thing” have always been steady. Even after making a mistake like beating up Jesse, he was willing to accept his punishment. But now, he seems to be willing to bend the rules of his morality. And, it seems to be basically the same root cause of Walt’s immorality: pride. Hank’s dream is catch the biggest bad guy. In season 3, Walt Jr. talks to Walt about a book that Hank had given him, Killing Pablo, that is about the law enforcement agents that caught and killed Pablo Escobar. These are Hank’s heros. They are his Michael Jordan. When Gus Fring gets killed and Steve Gomez is congratulating Hank, Hank says that he wanted to be the one to put the cuffs on him. Even back in season 1, Skyler has an intervention to convince Walt to get treatment for his cancer, and Walt explains that he doesn’t want to die weak and helpless for months. He is too proud. Hank, who had been dutifully taking part in the intervention, immediately changes his opinion to match up with Walt. All of that is to say that I am very excited to see how far Hank is willing to bend the rules in an attempt to be the one to bring down Walt.
One other thought: this season (counting the first 8 episodes from last year) has been much lower on comedy because the nature of the show does not lend itself to comedy nearly as much at this point. However, the writers are able to find a wonderful moment of Huell and Kuby laying down on the bed of money. I loved this. It felt right in line with the nature of the show, and was really, really funny. Lavell Crawford and Bill Burr played it perfectly.
I’ll send you to Belize,