“Someone Has to Protect This Family from the Man Who Protects This Family”
In Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, she writes about “woman”: “She is occupied, but she does nothing; she does not get recognition as an individual through her functioning as a wife, mother, housekeeper. The reality of man is in the houses he builds, the forests he clears, the maladies he cures.”8 Skyler White’s role—as Walt’s wife, antagonist, and partner—is complicated. As Beauvoir describes woman as the Other, so is Skyler’s role often the subject of infamous audience scrutiny (fans holding up Walt up as a Superman, a hero, treated Skyler—who at times attempted to stop him—not only the Other, but also the enemy).
Carol Gilligan’s analysis of Amy’s response to the Heinz dilemma posits that the multiple angles of Amy’s response—which relied on looking closer at communication and relationships—are not less developed than Jake’s response, which relied on strict logic and justice. Indeed, there are numerous times throughout Breaking Bad that Skyler’s approach to problem-solving saves lives and businesses. Her idea to purchase the car wash and to attempt to negotiate the price, her performance with the IRS to save Ted (and herself), her attention to details in the storytelling that she and Walt had to agree upon, and her maneuvers to keep Walt Jr. and Holly out of harm’s way oftentimes proved her to be a more effective and shrewd parent and business-person than Walt was. His primary concern—as he admits in the finale—was himself, what he considered as his rights and what he considered just. Her primary concern was her family’s safety and navigating and repairing the convoluted web that Walt snared them in. Skyler appears to have the most fulfilling experiences when she goes back to work as a bookkeeper and when she gives birth to Holly vaginally without anesthesia. She is capable and successful in the public and private spheres, yet even those moments are marred by the incompetence and criminal actions of the men whose realms she inhabits.
Carol Gilligan frequently mentions Woolf’s concept of “the Angel in the House.” This “Angel” would whisper to women to be what women should be: “sympathetic,” “tender,” “pure,” and to “never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own.” Woolf goes on to say, “I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up on a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defense. Had I not killed her she would have killed me.”9 Gilligan uses this quote to illustrate the need for resistance to patriarchal systems, and Skyler too had to break free from both external social pressures and also Walt’s pressures to do as he says to decide whether or not to go back to work so quickly after Holly’s birth. As she feels more and more like a hostage in her home, she lashes out not to seek self-satisfaction, but to dismantle the patriarchal grip that Walt tries to hold her hostage in. She tells her therapist that her affair with Ted, she suspects, is just to make Walt leave her. She momentarily gets pleasure from the affair, but she’s really just looking for a means of escape. When she feigns drowning herself at a family picnic, she does so to ensure Hank and Marie take the kids. She’s self- sacrificing, but she grows stronger by utilizing care and communication in her actions. She refuses, above all, to allow her children to live in a home where drugs and murder are simply “shit [that] happens” (“Fifty-One”). Yet, the vitriol that Skyler’s character received online by fans was illustrative of the hurdles that still remain when women attempt to resist patriarchy.10
Marie is affected by the feminine expectations of Woolf’s “Angel” for physical and domestic perfection, and although Hank is, on the surface, the patriarchal ideal, Marie is powerful in the home. She gets the best possible care for Hank, even if it means borrowing from Walt and Skyler, and she has professional success as a radiologist. However, her habitual kleptomania echoes Beauvoir’s sentiments that the woman’s “...unique personality is expressed in her clothes and her ‘interior’; she builds up a double that is often sketchy, but sometimes constitutes a definite personage whose role the woman plays for life.”11 Indeed, Marie typically steals feminine or domestic objects: black heels, an expensive tiara for Holly, a Hummel figurine, a spoon, a family photo as she attempts to take ownership of her own passive and isolated life with rebellious, illicit acts of control. As Walt’s guilt comes to light, Marie’s total consumption in the need for justice and revenge is noteworthy. Hank knows that his career will be in jeopardy as soon as he reveals Walt; they know Walt’s cancer has come back and that he will probably die soon; however, Marie seeks a swift justice no matter whom it might hurt. Walt must pay. Marie embodies a masculine sense of logical justice here, even though those around her ask for other considerations (Hank out of pride, Skyler out of compassion). Here, Marie desires the rules and order of justice and patriarchy. After all, patriarchy dictates that some men are above other men, and she wants it to be clear that Hank is above Walt.