Skyler and Marie stand by their men—until the men don't like it so much

By Melissa Maerz
Updated August 01, 2011 at 06:00 AM EDT
Ursula Coyote/AMC

Breaking Bad

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A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do—but a woman’s gotta do it better. So we learned this week, as Skyler out-maneuvered Walt in the Great Car Wash Swindle of 2011, and Marie crumbled under the pressure to play the good wife. Between Jesse’s breakdown, Hank’s powerlessness, and Walt’s uneasiness over Skyler’s scheming, it was an episode that asked some big questions: What does it mean to be a strong man? How does a man’s strength affect his wife? And what sane person could ever mistake Fritos for Cheetos?

For many of the guys on Breaking Bad, masculinity has always been inextricable from work. Hank and Walt both seem to believe what Gus said last season: “A man provides, and he does it even when he’s not appreciated, or respected or even loved. He simply bears up and he does it. Because he’s a man.” When that episode aired—at the height of what economists were calling “the mancession,” a time when men were being disproportionately laid off and women outnumbered them in the work place for the first time in history—that quote tapped into a very of-the-moment anxiety: If Walt and Hank couldn’t provide for their wives, what kind of men were they?

But since Walt started dropping more than $300 on Winston Churchill’s favorite champagne, it’s probably been safe to say that he’s not worried about paying the bills. Lately, he’s been more motivated by power. And now that Gus has the upper hand at work, installing cameras in the meth lab and manipulating his employees, Walt’s even more invested in keeping the upper hand at home. Which might be why he was so outraged when Skyler told him that his car wash boss Bogdan said “Something along the lines of, you weren’t man enough to face him yourself, and that you had to send your woman to do your business for you.” Ouch.

Apparently, Skyler’s threatening to some people—and Bogdan and Walt aren’t the only ones. Some Breaking Bad viewers loathe her so much, they’ve created “The Official I Hate Skyler White” group on Facebook. When a blogger tried to defend Skyler earlier this year, one commenter went on the attack. “This character will either remind you of the overbearing, controlling girlfriend you were glad to be rid of or the overbearing, controlling wife who you never had the balls to say ‘f— this’ to,” he wrote. “I think if you, as a woman, can’t understand where the men who hate this character are coming from, you’re probably one of these busy body bitches yourself.” Who us?

We’re kind of amazed that Skyler’s character has been deemed so unforgivable. Walt’s out there dissolving corpses in acid and landing his brother-in-law in permanent bed rest, and we’re still rooting for him.

NEXT: What’s up with Marie’s shoplifting?

So, on behalf of busybody bitches everywhere, we’d like to say how satisfying it was to see Skyler stick up for herself this week. We loved how she rejected Saul’s condescending suggestion of having her run a nail salon. (“For the lady of the house, how ‘bout lifetime supply of French manicures and enzyme peels? Go ahead pinch yourself.”) Sure, she kind of enjoyed emasculating Bogdan, low-balling him just to hurt his pride, and letting the phone ring multiple times before she picked up, but if she did it to defend herself, she also did it to defend Walt. “You were rude to me and disrespectful to my husband,” he told him, right after rudely and disrespectfully cheating him out of his business. We suspect our little Carmela Soprano is quickly turning into Tony.

Like Walt, Hank’s still mad that his wife is becoming the man of the house. But it doesn’t make Marie any happier to have her husband “lying around like third base,” as he put it. How heartbreaking it was to watch her dream up stories for those real estate brokers, imagining what her life could’ve been like if she wasn’t emptying bedpans every night. Her husband could’ve been an astronaut! She could’ve been an illustrator! They could’ve lived in Paris or home schooled their kid!

You probably noticed that Marie only wore purple in these scenes. Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan always uses color so expertly, from the names he gives his characters (Walter White, who’s not so vanilla as his name suggests, and Jesse Pinkman, who’s not quite so inexperienced as his name suggests) to the furious reds and cool, methodical blues of the meth lab’s color scheme. For Gilligan, Marie’s color is purple because, he told New York Magazine, “Marie would say that purple is the color of royalty.” Which makes sense: every time Marie dreams up another story about her life, you can almost see her thinking, I could’ve been the queen of this castle! Instead, she’s stuck measuring out her life with tiny Puerto Rican spoons. And if that’s not insulting enough, while she’s trying to nurse her own husband back to health, Hank would rather watch porn stars play doctor.

Still, as sad old married couples go, Walt and Jesse might be the worst off. They’re not even talking anymore, unless you count asking each other if there’s anything the should talk about. Meanwhile, Jesse’s hitting a new emotional low: crying while driving a bumper car. (That amazing scene, by the way, was directed by David Slade, a guy who should know a thing or two about what addiction looks like, having worked with rehab vet Scott Weiland on Stone Temple Pilots videos.) The Fever Ray song that played while Jesse walked slowly into that den of rough sex and bad drugs couldn’t have provided a more resonant soundtrack: “This will never end / ‘Cause I want more / More / Give me more / Give me more.”

This week’s episode was called “Open House,” and that title hit home for everyone. For Jesse, the open house was that nightmare party where everyone’s invited and anything goes. For Marie, it was the real estate openings that brought out her risk-taker side (just as an open house once did for Walt during that flashback from the season three finale). And now that the meth lab has been equipped with cameras, it’s an open house for Walt as well.

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Also, since Hank got those Lab Notes, we have a feeling he’s gonna be keeping his eye on Walt very soon. Who else would Hank seek out to help him decode those chemistry equations? Heisenberg’s bound to get discovered sooner or later. When he does, will Jesse take over his empire? Or, if Jesse’s too far gone, will Skyler run it all from her car wash? You know what they say: behind every great man, there’s a con woman. And we’re dying to see what this one’s capable of.

Breaking Bad

Walter White descends into the criminal underworld.

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