The Ladies in Your Box: Skylar White on ‘Breaking Bad’

Welcome to the Ladies in Your Box, where we explore the women you see every day on TV, what relevance (if any) they have to your life, and what they mean to the world at large. Today, we look at TV’s favorite drug-dealing family…

Maybe you’re not watching Breaking Bad yet — you have other things to do on Sunday night, or you just haven’t thought to tune in. In that case, let me bring you up to speed while simultaneously slapping you upside the head for missing out on one of the smartest shows on TV. Is it bloody? Yes. Violent? Oui. Having to do with excessive drug use, and so emotionally painful? Of course.

But it’s also awesome. In a nutshell, suburban chemist Walt White (Bryan Cranston, who you probably know as the dad from ‘Malcolm in the Middle‘) is dying of lung cancer. In order to provide for his family after he’s gone, he begins making and dealing crystal meth. Chaos ensues. Simple, right?

Wrong! Walt is just a nice guy with a great idea — as a chemist, he can make some of the best meth around. But what happens when his cancer goes into remission and he’s already caught up in the drug game? Well, that’s when we find out the true colors of his wife, Skylar White (Anna Gunn).

Skylar has known that there are shenanigans afoot for a while — Walt goes missing, acts shady and doesn’t always tell her where he is. When she finally finds out what he’s been up to, she’s naturally pissed off. Files for divorce, takes the kids and the house.

But wait! Skylar, it turns out, is a bit more of a badass than we ever knew. When her brother, a DEA, gets shot multiple times after getting caught up (unbeknownst to her) in Walt’s drug ring, he’s going to need a shitload of physical therapy…and guess who has the money to pay for it? Suddenly, Skylar has gone from angry, harpy housewife to co-conspirator in Walt’s dealings.

And thank God, because Skylar was beginning to get a little pigeon-holed for my taste. Sure, it was completely understandable for her to be bullshit once she found out what Walt was doing. But after a while, it started to seem like her character was a way for some angry writer to take out his frustration on women in general, or maybe his own wife. She was almost inhumanly lacking in compassion, or any kind of ability to empathize. After all, her husband thought he was going to die well before his secret surfaced and his family got family involved.

But now, suddenly Skylar is in on the plan. She’s helping Walt find the best way to launder money, coming up with elaborate stories to tell their friends about how they got the money, and butting heads with Walt’s black market lawyer. And all the while, she never stops being the suburban mom, sitting by her brother’s bedside as he heals, hair casually blown out, make-up light and unassuming.

You see, Skylar White is one of very few complicated women in your box. Just because she lives in the ‘burbs and has a family doesn’t preclude her from having a darker side that she can access at the ready. She takes the heralded notion of the “good mother” and “good wife” and turns it on it’s head, while in fact remaining an excellent mother, wonderful sister, and upstanding member of the community.

So as sitcom moms go parading around making one-dimensional jokes about laundry, and reality show divas refuse to string together a coherent sentence, Skylar White proves that there’s actually more to most women than meets the eye. In other words, just because she looks like a good girl doesn’t mean she can’t also be bad.

The Ladies in Your Box will be back next week. Stay tuned.

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