Monday, September 16, 2013

Team Walt? Really?

[Content note: abuse, violence, misogyny, spoilers for Breaking Bad's 9/15/13 episode, "Ozymandias"]

[Image text: the knife block and the phone from the White's house.]
So Breaking Bad...if you are caught up at all, I assume you found the most recent episode as intense and heavy as I did. In fact, I think my heart rate just now came back down to normal. Wow.

I'm writing this with an intended audience that is both familiar with the show and totally caught up, so again, I'd like emphasize the spoiler warning. Bail out now.

A year ago I wrote about how I see the dynamic between Skyler and Walt to be largely symptomatic of a volatile, controlling, and abusive relationship. While the show has evolved since then and the situation between Walt and Skyler are not exactly the same now, I still see Skyler as ultimately a prisoner in Walt's control. She's smart and she tries to do the best she can to gain some agency and figure out how to survive, but it is only out of trying to adapt to the traumatic life that Walt has put her in. (That is not to say that she is a totally innocent party, but just that she never freely chose this life.)

Despite this, and Walt's undeniable decent into sheer evil, some viewers have unquestioningly stayed by his side. They've taken on the name and frequently tweet under the hashtag #TeamWalt.

The fact that anyone is still by this man's side utterly baffles and terrifies me.

I mean, I realize that in the beginning Walt was the downtrodden sad sack that you could identify with. He was fighting for his life, he was desperate that his cancer treatments not ruin his family, and he was a good man who turned to crime out of desperation. However since then, we've had 5 seasons of increasingly evil behavior. In the beginning when Walt was responsible for someone's death, we, as the audience could see a justified nature to it. But the longer we are on this journey with him, the more we see that he is acting selfishly and immorally, and with far less remorse.

The fact that people have stayed with Walt and like him through everything at this point really does disturb me.

Skyler, on the other hand, is virulently hated by certain segments of the population (segments which  I think are prone to misogyny, let's be real.) Anna Gunn, who plays Skyler, recently wrote a piece for the New York Times. She said:
I was unprepared for the vitriolic response she[Skyler] inspired. Thousands of people have “liked” the Facebook page “I Hate Skyler White.” Tens of thousands have “liked” a similar Facebook page with a name that cannot be printed here. When people started telling me about the “hate boards” for Skyler on the Web site for AMC, the network that broadcasts the show, I knew it was probably best not to look, but I wanted to understand what was happening.
A typical online post complained that Skyler was a “shrieking, hypocritical harpy” and didn’t “deserve the great life she has.”
“I have never hated a TV-show character as much as I hate her,” one poster wrote. The consensus among the haters was clear: Skyler was a ball-and-chain, a drag, a shrew, an “annoying bitch wife.”
This pattern of people hating Skyler and loving Walt, to me, is really about the misogyny that Gunn has detailed here. Instead of seeing Walt as the dangerous, rageful, egotistical abuser that he has become, certain fans view him as a bad ass...and because Skyler stands in opposition to this (rightfully so, in my opinion) she gets positioned as the nagging bitch killjoy. And perhaps people drank from the kool-aid that Walt drinks, telling himself that because he is "doing this for his family" she should mindlessly or happily go along with everything.

But Skyler won't and that is why I am her champion.

Nothing has better demonstrated the schism between Walt and Skyler than their knife fight last night. (Listen, if you haven't seen it yet, I warned you of spoilers!)

While Skyler was the one who initially pulled the knife, it was pretty clearly out of self preservation. She learns from Marie that moments before Hank had Walt in custody. And then Walt appears at their home in a strange truck demanding they all pack their things and leave NOW? She gets it out of him that Hank is dead so she knows that shit had hit the fan. She needs her kids to be safe, so if anyone has to leave, she's going to fight for it to be Walt and Walt alone. During their tussle with the knife, Walt is again the aggressor--so much so that Jr., who had literally just learned everything for the first time, can plainly see that his dad is a clear and present danger, so he jumps in to help his mom and calls the police on Walt, specifically.

Moments after this happened, I saw this great tweet:

During the Talking Bad, after the episode, Dean Norris (Hank) made a similar comment about if the Team Walt people still think he's a hero now. It got me thinking in more detail about this whole fucked up Team Walt thing. I was not surprised by anything that Walt did in this episode. (On the edge of my seat and heart racing? Yes. Surprised? No.) He is an angry, selfish person who has been increasingly violent and controlling. He might be using the "I'm doing it for my family" card as a justification to himself, but it is now astonishingly obvious that this is 100% about him. He wasn't just fighting with Skyler to take the knife from her. He was in a rage and was turning it back on her.

He can't claim it's for Skyler and Walt Jr. when he nearly just stabbed them.

Listen, I love Breaking Bad and I love that Vince Gilligan has created a show where he "explore[s] a world where actions do have consequences." What I don't love--and what scares me--is that people either didn't pick up on the fact that we're not supposed to be rooting for Walt anymore or they know and choose to root for him anyway. We having been watching his devolution. Like Gilligan said in that linked interview, "I like the idea that if you're really a rotten human being, you don't prosper for it. Not in the end. Day by day, you might, but there's some sort of comeuppance, some kind of karma, whatever you want to call it."

I do too. I gleefully await for Walt to get his.

Please see the commenting policy before replying to this post.


  1. "...but it is now astonishingly obvious that this is 100% about him."

    Yeah. Because that phone call to Skylar was 100% about him and not saving his wife from jail.

    1. That phone call was a total after the fact thing that could partially save her from the utter shit storm that is descending on their family now (that he caused, might I add.) Trying to salvage a life for his family after he fucked them all over is hardly "doing it for them" like he originally set out to 5 seasons ago. His family is an after thought excuse that he uses to justify being the literal worst. The phone call isn't's the bare minimum he could do to save her from prosecution. Gee, thanks, Walt.

      So was that phone call for her benefit? Sure. Would it have ever been necessary if he wasn't already such an selfish raging person at this point? Hardly.

      I didn't write about that scene because I was focusing in his continual abuse and control, but now that 2 commenters have brought it up, it actually nicely illustrates my point further because abuse actually comes in cycles and part of the control is exercised through the nice times. They're used as bargaining chips later ie "remember when I did X really great selfless thing? Why aren't you more grateful?" Or "now I need Y."

    2. What you say about the Skyler haters is true, but you've clearly become biased yourself in your reaction. Just because Skyler is a sympathetic character, wrongly hated by misogynists who empathise with Walt - it doesn't somehow mean Walt is also a misogynist, or completely evil and selfish.

      By this point Walt is trying to make amends, at great sacrifice to himself. He has to pretend to Skyler and Walt Jr. that he killed Hank, for God's sake. It is clearly traumatic to him, and it's hard not to be moved. You've missed the entire point of this scene and the end of the series if you think it's Walt doing the "bare minimum".

  2. I'm sorry, but to say that Walt was turning the knife on both his wife and kid is just wrong 100%. He clearly was in trouble at that point. And why? Because Skyler could not listen to Walt, as always the case. She jumped the gun before he could even explain to her what happened. She assumed he killed Hank when he was trying to explain. Walt Jr. tries to "save" his mother because he believes Walt killed Hank as well. And it is "astonishingly obvious" he still is doing this about for his family. Lets not forget he was willing to give up all his money for Hank. And you completely fail to mention the phone call Walt made so he could clear Skyler of everything by saying he forced her into everything and that he did everything alone.

    1. Wait, are you saying that Walt was "in trouble" so he was justified in trying to stab Skyler back...? You need to go rewatch that scene and see how it turns from him trying to take the knife to Skyler and Jr being genuinely terrified and attacked.

      I honestly can't even go with you down a path where we pretend that this is at all for them.

      Re: the phone call see comment above.

    2. Walt tried to stab Skyler? It looked to me like he was simply trying to get the knife away from her.

    3. I do want to rewatch the scene, but my interpretation was that it went from self defense and trying to take the knife to being the aggressor at her, hence Junior stepping in. Let's remember, at the end they were both on the ground cowering in front of Walt shielding themselves...

    4. He did not try to stab her, in the scene you can see that he tries to hold her down and is trying to calm her down. And logically, Walt Jr tries to save his mother because he believed Walt killed Hank. At the end of the situation Walt held the knife in his hand because he successfully removed it from Skylers hand. And seeing as how Walt just "killed" Hank, it seems to them he's going to attack back. But we, the viewers, should know better to believe he would hurt them.

      And about the phone call.

      What you're basically saying is Walt can't feel bad for unintentionally bringing Skyler and Walt Jr into it? And trying to save his wife's future because of that? And you're right, the phone call wouldn't have been necessary of he wasn't such a raging person. But why was he raging? Because he came to save his family and his wife yielded a knife on him and his son called the cops on him; all because she couldn't let him explain.

  3. I think you're being absolutely biased against Walt. You seem to not see any teeny tiny bit of care or humanity in Walt. I'm not saying I'm rooting for him. I'm not rooting for anyone but you saying Walt is evil seems exaggerated. Some part of him still cares about his family. He was desperate to save Hank. And during that knife scene, he was definitely trying to get the knife out of Skyler's hand. Skyler's feelings and actions were justified. That woman has been through so much.

    1. I am biased against Walt--I don't deny this. In the White family, he's the one that chose this situation. He's the one who has killed or been responsible for people being killed. I absolutely don't trust him.

      Any time that he's shown humanity in the last few episodes, it's because he's gotten himself into a really fucked up situation and is trying to just make the best of it (bargaining for Hank's life, calling Skyler w/the cops listening.) Why did he have to tell Jesse what happened w/ Jane? He was already having him killed (to his knowledge)...did he REALLY have to add the salt to the wounds and rub it in Jesse's face? He's spiteful.

      I just think he's the worst.

      Again, I feel I need to emphasize that's not the same as saying the show is the worst (it's so entertaining!) But I can condemn and hate the main character if I want.


    The whole episode was an up and down for my feelings for Walt, but ultimately, I still root for him. I guess that's how Vince wanted it. He thought Jesse has a crew to kill him, so that's why he called Uncle Jack's crew. Once he saw it was Hank, he surrendered and called the crew off. But it was too late. He was willing to sacrifice his fortune to save Hank, but it did not work. So he put all of the blame for his mistakes on Jesse, because his anger at what just happened had to be imposed on somebody at that time, since he couldn't do nothing about Uncle Jack's crew. And to give him the zinger by telling him about Jane, I was pretty much done with Walt. But he lost it, and I believe he was not in his right mind, and that's where you got the one of the craziest segments in the history of TV at the White house, and the knife fight, and taking Holly away. But it was that phone call that turned all around for me. He made sure that all the blame was on him, and not Skylar. You can tell it was an act, and he was struggling with the call too because that was not the way he felt. And I love how the writers took a jab at all the folks who hate Skylar. Then to return his daughter, there's still a decent man in Walt. He done alot of crap, but I believe it was all for self preservation, and not because he's some evil monster. I think other themes we forget is the problem with the health care system, and how the broken system ultimately led Walt down this road. But that's a whole other issue. And please don't act like you guys are so full of purity. If you had a talent that could set your family up for life, you would do the same thing. To keep from going to jail for the rest of your life, you would do the same thing.

  5. Walt is still the main character that we rooted for initially, and due to that I just can't find myself to stop rooting for him. I'm not saying that anything he's done is right; but everything he does is as a consequence for what happened before. He keeps getting himself into deeper and deeper shit, he's just trying to get out. Any show that makes some of it's audience root for the bad guy main character has terrific writing. Dexter is a serial killer with a body count god knows how high, but we still root for him! Walt, underneath all that is going on, still cares for his family, and everything he has every done is a result of that.

  6. Walt did not make an attempt to hurt Skylar after she attacked him with the knife. He was merely trying to get it away from her and while I understand her actions (and those of Walt Jr.'s as well) to say that he is 100% selfish is a bit much. There's still that shred of him that is trying to do the right thing for his family and as someone else previously mentioned, he was willing to sacrifice his life's work, the money that he made entirely for his wife and children to live off of when he finally passed, to save Hank. Unfortunately that was yet another mistake he made but to still call him selfish after a play like that is completely unfair.

    Yes, a lot of what he's doing (especially after tonight's episode) is still driven by selfish means but now, at the end of all things, what else does he have? He's lost his family, he's lost his fortune. The only thing he has left is the empire that he left behind, his legacy and he might as well get up and take it by the reigns. If all he can have is power, then I think he should pursue it by all means. His family's lives are destroyed and even giving himself up now will do very little. The cancer will get him before anything can be done. He might as well go out in a blaze of glory and rightfully earn his place in Hell.

    I've always had mixed feelings towards Skylar but there's no doubt that she is a prisoner of Walt's due to his actions but she could have taken the initiative and run as well. Walt may have threatened by never raised a hand to her and had she overcome her fear, she could have left with the children and avoided getting personally involved with Walt's dirty business.

    I feel like you need to stop looking at this from a gender perspective and observe them as human beings. Walt has made some absolutely terrible decisions and he's undoubtedly hurt those he was trying to protect but you should try to remember that this all originally stemmed from a place of love and absolute terror at not being able to provide for his family. Walt started out as a person who was extremely down on his luck, who had been kicked around and taken advantage of and this provided him the opportunity to take back some of the power that he lost originally with the Grey Matter company and leave something behind for his children. Naturally he lost his way because he became corrupted by power and he grew greedy, always wanting more money to leave behind for his family. He never wanted the money for himself -- that is what I believe. The money was for his family and it was a tangible form of POWER, power he lost when things fell through at Grey Matter.

    Walt is just a lost person, as is Skylar, as is Marie and as was Hank. They all had their own incredible faults and made terrible mistakes that got them to where they were and many of them started out from a place of love and good intentions.

    Yes, there are plenty of immature viewers who do see Skylar as this harping bitch and root for Walt, but there are those of us who root for Walt regardless because this is still in a way the story of the underdog and we always want to see the underdog win. Winning for Walt at this point will be bittersweet because he can secure his empire and make his mark but his family is lost forever. That's already the worst thing that can happen to Walt. "Gleefully waiting for Walt to get his?" It's already happened. He's lost the most important thing in the world to him already. It's now time to look beyond that finish what he's started. Walter White is gone and Heisenberg is all that's left. I prefer him to embrace that and go out in a blaze of glory.

    As a woman and a feminist, I am PROUD to be a part of Team Walt. I always have and I will ride this train until the very bitter end.

    1. Oh, and what very bitter end it had come to be.

  7. I'm pretty far behind on the series so I can't comment on this scene yet, but ultimately the show seems to be about how much a man can do wrong before he's no longer a good man, and I genuinely think that's a point they're consciously trying to make here. The issue with TV heros and villains (or at least one of them) is that they're so obviously fitting into either role. Maybe you'll get a flashback to when a villain was good, but because that's not how he's been presented to you, you know he's still the villain, and it's obvious because he's continually doing bad things. I wonder if breaking bad had shown the worst of Walt first, and then merely flashed back to the days when it actually was all for his family, I wonder if they could give the audience the exact same content, and the exact same information, and yet have them perceive him as bad, viewing him in a totally different way.
    It just seems strange that people are so keen to cling onto the shred of him that still contains some goodness, because I just don't think that's enough
    Most real life evil people will have a shred of them thats good, it doesn't stop them doing real life evil things, just like everyone has some bad in them, but a shred doesn't stop you being a good person
    the goodness that he has left is mostly just like being a decent human, it doesn't seem enough to redeem his actions


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