Walt got a new car, now all he needs is a new woman.
I wish Walt would just kill that crazy bitch.
These are just a few of the ugly sentiments that found their ways to my various feeds Sunday night as the new episode of Breaking Bad aired on AMC (not on Dish). The show, which is in its fifth and final season, is frequently praised for its ability to make viewers identify with its protagonist, Walter “Walt” White, as he transforms from a mild-mannered science teacher to a meth-making monster. Nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent, however, than in the internet’s current animosity toward Walt’s wife, Skyler.
“Because I say so,” a grinning Walt says to his grudging business partner, Mike, who has asked how they can be sure that a large electromagnet has successfully erased the evidence of the past three seasons. The line, from the season five premiere, is not a reason or an argument or an opinion; it is an edict, and it reminds me of another line that I have been hearing a lot lately: “Breaking Bad is the best show ever.”
Over the course of fifty episodes, Breaking Bad has turned its fans into some of the worst people on the internet. With delusions of vicarious grandeur, they brag about the show’s accolades as if they were their own while tuning out any hint of reality like a Fox News junkie. But let’s face it: Breaking Bad, though compelling and cinematic (did you see that loose thread on Walt’s hat?), is simply an FX show with a nice camera and a few good actors (Anna Gunn among them). It’s an above-average, over-the-top drama about a mid-life crisis. That’s it.
No, Breaking Bad is not better than The Sopranos or The Wire. (Sorry, Chuck.) It’s not an inside look at drug trafficking, nor is it a critique of a desiccated American dream. (Sorry, Max.) Better than Mad Men? Sure — I’ll let you have that one. But only because Mad Men isn’t as good as you think it is, either. “But Breaking Bad isn’t supposed to be about cities or institutions — it’s about a man!” Yes, Facebook friend, it certainly is. Unfortunately, that man is a creepy husband in a Lifetime movie, and your continued adoration of him makes me think twice about sharing my personal information with you.
Don’t get me wrong: I like Breaking Bad. I watched the first two seasons over one weekend, and I’ve seen every episode since. I don’t blame the show’s makers for the reactions of its fans, just like I don’t blame drug dealers when drug addicts try to steal the bike off my porch. (It’s chained, man — it’s always been chained.) My problem isn’t with the show itself but with a subset of its fanbase that makes the internet a little bit dumber every Sunday night.
Though the end of the fourth season saw Walt’s plans stumble to completion, culminating in the Looney Tunes death of kingpin Gus Fring, Walt is no mastermind. “Just because you shot Jesse James,” says Mike, “don’t make you Jesse James.” This became clear Sunday night when Walt brought home two brand new cars — a Dodge Challenger for his son, Walter Jr., and a Chrysler 300 (with Beats by Dre) for himself. Gus, of course, drove a humble (but reliable) Volvo.
Gus wasn’t just sensible with his money, either. He went to work at his restaurant every day, and he kept his public persona spotless. Two cooks into the season, however, and Walt has already begun to check out early, delegating his work to Jesse. He is getting older, sloppier, and more stubborn with each episode, and as he continues to burn bridges left and right, the obliviousness of his brother-in-law, his son, and everybody else who idolizes this megalomaniac gets more and more asinine.
“Clear sailing from here on out,” Walt assures his wife, “I promise.” With the possible exception of the way he rubs Skyler’s shoulder in bed, Walt’s hubris is his worst crime yet. Drugs, murder, child endangerment, tax evasion — all fine by me. But his arrogance, manifest in a pork pie hat and a shit-eating grin (the same one that crawls across a certain fan’s face when he finds out you don’t get the best show of all time), is insufferable, and I look forward to Poseidon punishing him for it over the coming weeks.
We all knew that Walt would beat Gus, but in this final season, as Walt faces off with his own wife, we can’t be so sure. I suspect that it is this uncertainty that makes some people hate Skyler White. Not because she represents the conscience that these fans are so desperate for Walt to shed (who would say such a thing?), but because she is Walt’s toughest foe yet. Not only does Skyler know his weaknesses better than anyone he has faced thus far (she is one of his weaknesses), she has the motivation, in her children, to be more ruthless than any of them ever was.
Skyler has been backed into a corner, a hostage in her own home, her own bed, just as Walt was a hostage in his own body before his transformation and miracle remission (remember when Walt had terminal cancer?). Skyler’s dip in the pool is Walt’s “fugue state,” and while Walt’s new TAG Heuer watch (let the comparisons to Steve McQueen begin) is ticking away, Skyler has nothing but time and, if that hospital scene with Beneke is any indication, potential.
“All I can do is wait,” Skyler tells Walt in a tense bedroom scene that many fans apparently skipped to tweet about how much they hate Skyler’s scenes. “Wait for what?” Walt asks. “For the cancer to come back,” she answers. The words are as cold and sharp as anything Gus Fring ever said — but Gus was a methodical genius, and apparently, Skyler is just a crazy bitch (what kind of woman wishes cancer on her husband?!).
Of course, Walt could give the people what they want; with Skyler’s recent behavior, and the standards of awareness set by the other members of the family, an apparent suicide would not be impossible for him to explain. Yet I suspect that if the Skyler-haters actually saw this (think Anakin Skywalker force choking Padmé), even they would be forced to see Walt for what he really is. They would realize that Walt is not a gangster or a mastermind, nor is he a man clinging desperately, heroically, tragically to life for the sake of his family. They would see that he is just a selfish, scared, over-the-hill man in a pork pie hat. Which is what makes Breaking Bad so much fun.
Eric Jett is a writer, designer, and teacher from Charleston, WV. He is a founding editor of Full Stop.