Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
(Thoughts on the fourth season of Breaking Bad, written by somebody who doesn’t have cable and by the time he had Netflix he was too busy with other projects, which is why he’s years behind the rest of you.)
The Ballad of Walt and Skyler
One of the most tragic things about both Walt and Skyler is the way they gaze into the distance at a foggy notion of normal, a thing beyond their grasp no matter how doggedly they walk towards it. It becomes especially unwieldy once Walt tosses his family into the chaotic crucible of the meth business, yet still maintains that he can hold onto his family while burning away bits of his soul. Strangely, however, he finds that Skyler is a more willing partner — despite her slowly hollowing protest that she “never wanted any of this” — and in some cases more canny criminal than he could have expected.
Both man and wife, however, seem unwilling to admit the fundamental truth that they are changed people, no longer quite right for each other but possibly the only people still left who could be. Their first moment of passionate reconciliation sours almost immediately afterwards due to Skyler’s concern for Walt, based on a memory of a long-past and mild-mannered person who himself may only have existed because he felt it was expected at the time. Walt’s vicious snarl that he is “the one who knocks” is a rejection of Skyler’s long-ago memories, a bucking of a perceived saddle, but it is also an attempt at self-actualization, arguing with his most recent memories of being outmatched by Gustavo.
While Walt is willing to insist that he is the danger, Skyler is too satisfied with her own cleverness to realize that she’s slipped beneath Walt’s murk. She almost casually escalates her strategies to save Ted (and herself by proxy), keeping the real risks of her actions at arm’s length. As ever, she is working to control characters in a story, attempting to wrap the narrative up neatly and efficiently, and her frustration with Ted slowly becomes less about him failing to behave rationally than it is about his failure to let the story resolve. As the fourth season finishes she has yet to hear that her actions have led to Ted’s accidental death — Skyler’s first casualty — and it remains a coin toss whether she will have the capacity to hold herself at all responsible.
The essence of the Walt/Skyler dichotomy is this: Skyler is unwilling to call her actions wrong, as they’re being done in the name of her family’s safety, whereas Walt is unwilling to regret actions he knows are wrong, as they’re being done in the name of his family’s safety. The fracture in their marriage has always been a matter of trust and of clarity, and the reason Skyler has talked herself out of running far, far away from Walt is that she lacks the vision to see just how truly evil her husband can be.
And at this point, Walt has indeed earned that word, evil. While it may have indeed been the only way to have saved his own life and that of his family, it becomes impossible to forgive Walt for the act of poisoning a child solely to manipulate Jesse into giving up Gustavo’s weakness. The vestiges of guilt and remorse that nearly spilled out of him during that feverish night in the lab are all but gone, replaced by the cold calculation that made him consider the plan, implement it, and then lie directly to Jesse’s face about it.
Of note, of course: He used his wife’s lilies of the valley to make that leap.