Happy Mother’s Day to TV Mom, Breaking Bad QueenPin Skyler White
ABTV salute to TV Moms wishes Happy Mothers Day to problematic but passionate mom Skyler White of Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad, played to perfection by the great Anna Gunn. Bryan Cranston’s Walter White was a great antihero, but this crime boss mom had to clean up his mess
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ABTV Happy Mother’s Day to TV Mom Skyler White
When we think of the term “mother”, the first things that come to mind are “protector, provider and leader”. These are the qualities that are instinctually given to those who bear children. It might be one of the most difficult jobs you can possibly have.
When we think of strong mothers who exemplify this kind of behavior in the world of film, there are many names that easily run through our minds, but a mom comes to mind instantly who demonstrates those fundamental qualities: Breaking Bad’s Skyler White.
When Anna Gunn masterfully played the wife of Bryan Cranston’s Walter White in five seasons of Vince Gilligan’s increasingly evil (and cinematically flawless) Breaking Bad, she experienced a horrifying, misogynistic backlash on social media that castigated her mainly for obstructing the lies and atrocities of her dissociating meth gangster husband. Moms are prone to nagging when the body count of Dad’s midlife crisis starts getting blood on the doorstep. Gunn was understandably rattled and wrote an eloquent op ed response.
It’s a testament to the power of the show’s storytelling that thousands of men identified so closely with Walter’s twisted will to power journey that they were personally affronted by Skyler’s voice of reason and humanity, but maybe the real horror here is how prone so many men are to turn on anyone who speaks out against their favorite monsters. When I hear a male making light of a woman in crisis, I tell him to imagine it happening to his mother. On this Mother’s Day, I would like to draw the attention of all Skyler haters, Skyler Lovers, and loving mothers to the superhuman sacrifices and struggles Skyler endured to protect her children in a hellish situation while the harmless high school teacher she loved and married got his cancer-crazy mojo on by secretly playing Scarface all over Albuquerque.
Before the rise of Heisenberg, when Walt was just a schlubby high school chemistry teacher and she was pregnant with their daughter, she was mothering Walt Jr. around the clock and supplementing the family income by selling tacky figurines on e-bay. When he revealed his cancer diagnosis, she made his recovery the family’s core project and made herself available to him in every way. When his criminal activities invigorated his libido, she got freaky with her formerly vanilla mate, halting him only when his desperate appetite almost gave her a concussion.
Her patience with his more and more frequent deceits and disappearances was saintly. It was only when intimations of his criminal side came to light and she seemed to be living in a world of Walter’s lies that she kicked him to the curb and took up with the boring, but conventionally successful Ted Beneke. Was this a selfish betrayal or an act of independence and actualization committed by a woman living in an ongoing climate of gaslighting and psychological abuse at the hands of her homicidal husband? I’d go with the latter view.
When Walt revealed the nature of his actual business, she was naturally repulsed, but she reconsidered, regrouped, and committed to Walt’s criminal enterprise for the very reasons that initially motivated his break into badness.
She was doing it for her family. She became her monster husband’s money-laundering partner in crime instead of a victimized bystander. The dazzle that flashes in her eye the first time she sees one of his mountains of meth money cannot be denied, and she does deepen the traumatizing web of half-truths that her son is now immersed in, and she applies herself with crafty skill to subterfuge and cover stories to mislead agents from the IRS and the DEA. Her wiles lead to Beneke’s paralysis and, indirectly, to the brutal murder of her beloved brother-in-law by Neo-Nazis. So there’s that.
But Skyler White is a good woman who makes bad choices. Walt apologists might feel like those words apply to him as well, but when we watch the epic hardboiled tragedy from start to finish, I think it’s obvious that Walt was an accident waiting to happen. He wasn’t just a self-sabotaging genius in the field of chemistry. He was born to be a gangster. He just never had the opportunity in life to get possessed by that persona until his life seemed to hang in the balance. And gangsters are born to die.
In the desolate aftermath of the series finale, as a wrecked and redemption-hungry Walter sees Skyler and their daughter one last time before he walks into the certain death of Operation: Rescue Jesse, this problematic and guilt-ridden but still loving mother manages to call Walt on his bulls%#t. After all the lies and the excuses and the rationalizations, he admits to her that he became Heisenberg not fundamentally for his family, but because it felt good. He liked being a monster. And amidst her complicated struggles, Skyler White had been mothering alone for a long time.
Happy Mother’s Day, Skyler White. Walt Jr. must be 21 by now. We know he must have issues, now, but he better use some of his hated late father’s tech-laundered blood money to buy you something nice.
All 5 Seasons of AMC’s Breaking Bad are available for streaming on Netflix.
If you love Skyler White, Breaking Bad, and ABTV’s salute to TV moms, share this article with a friend. Tune in daily to AfterbuzzTV for articles, aftershows, and all the latest news on the world of entertainment.
Jason M. Lucia is a media critic, columnist, and professional ghostwriter whose work has been published under several pseudonyms. He was raised in Medford, MA. He went to school in NY. He lives to rhapsodize the stories he loves on the page and in the flesh.
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