"I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was...I was alive."
Henri and Devin have already written up last night's perfect finale of Breaking Bad, so I wanted to focus on the one scene that I found the most fascinating of the entire episode. I guess it isn't surprising that Skyler and Walt's denouement hit me harder than any other scene, as their relationship has always been, to me, the most intriguing dynamic of the show.
I find the fact that people hate Skyler a little remarkable. Here is a woman who is Walt's equal, a person who calls him on his endless bullshit and requires him to own up to his atrocities. Only a very few other characters have done that for Walt, and the audience loves them: Gus Fring, Mike Ehrmantraut and, at the very end, Hank. When those men catch Walt in a lie, when they refuse to be bullied by him, when they point out the myriad ways in which he fails as the criminal mastermind he believes himself to be, audiences cheer and bloggers extol. When Skyler does it - his wife, his partner, the person best suited and most deserving of taking Walt to task - she's called a bitch.
I can think of plenty of unsavory reasons that this is the case - and Anna Gunn wrote them up better than I could, as an absurd amount of that vitriol has been turned onto her as the actress behind Skyler - but I think one of the main reasons is that audiences don't want to see their cool antihero made foolish by his strident wife. They're embarrassed for him. It's like they're watching their buddy get nagged by his wife in front of his fantasy football bros. It makes them uncomfortable, and they don't want to side against their man Heisenberg, so they blame Skyler.
I've always viewed Skyler in a different light. I've seen her as a stand-in for myself, saying all of the things I want to say to Walt. Like Skyler, I don't hate Walt. I concede that he's brilliant and eternally watchable and that he started his descent with good intentions. But I also think he's dangerously overconfident for being so often inept, and his constant refrain of self-sacrifice is maddeningly insincere in the face of so many decisions made solely to sate his ego. Gunn herself called Skyler Walt's antagonist, but when the protagonist is a man as flawed as Walter White, is that a bad thing?
That's what made last night's final scene with Walt and Skyler so skillful, so satisfying. Walt found some small measure of redemption last night, and it wasn't by killing Jack and Lydia and freeing Jesse - that was reparation, and that's a little different. Walt made grievous mistakes and he took steps last night to correct them, but his true redemption came in the form of one small, self-evident admission:
He did it for him. He liked it. He was good at it. It made him feel alive.
Walt never could lie to Skyler. This duplicitous man could deceive drug kingpins and the DEA alike, but when he had to fib to his wife, he stammered and blushed and repeated himself like a preteen to his parents. Of course it is to Skyler that Walt finally admits the truth. She's his equal, the one person who has always seen through him, and Walt respects her for that. In many ways, Skyler's journey is parallel to Walt's: she began incriminating herself in Heisenberg's schemes to protect her family...and then she realized she was good at it, and she kind of liked it. Skyler's a pragmatist, and she does what she has to do to ensure the safety of the people she loves; like Walt, she doesn't have time for moral strictures.
Skyler and Walt have had a marriage fraught with deceit and fear and hatred...but there's always been love there, too, and respect. Their relationship ended in a quiet admission of the truth, and with two gifts for each other: Walt granted Skyler her exoneration, and Skyler let him say goodbye to Holly. It's a beautiful ending, the best possible for two people who are at once equally matched and diametrically opposed. There was never a happy ending in the cards for Skyler and Walt, but Vince Gilligan gave us a damn satisfying one.