Skyler’s final scene on Breaking Bad: the duality of Walter White and Anna Gunn’s second Emmy

SHARE Skyler’s final scene on Breaking Bad: the duality of Walter White and Anna Gunn’s second Emmy

Obviously there’s gonna be finale spoilers in here

My fondness for Anna Gunn as an actress has blossomed from ‘acknowledging she is in a show I like,’ to ‘internet bros hate her so she must be good’ to ‘if she does not win an Emmy I will be mad.’

It’s easy to have an opinion in the ongoing debates against the overwhelming misogyny leveraged against Skyler White (and Anna Gunn) but her final scene on Breaking Bad should put to rest any and all question on both her acting and the quality of the character in Vince Gilligan’s story.

Both Gunn and Skyler’s Breaking Bad swan songs were perfect. Gilligan wrote the character the best closure he could, and Gunn made it very clear why she not only won an Emmy last week, but why she deserves another.

“Truce, alright?”

This conversation has largely been overlooked in all the post-game analysis I’ve read. Obviously Marie and Skyler still aren’t getting along. But the way their dialogue flowed (“Becky is on the left, Carol is on the right”) – they’re still family, man. Marie’s progression as a character effectively ended with the death of Hank so it was good to get her in on this episode’s action. There is a weird glint in Betsy Brandt’s eyes as she calls Walt an arrogant a-hole… it was a great send-off for the character and Brandt handled it well.

Quick note on the cinematography

I’m far from informed on matters of cinematography, but even I can recognize Vince Gilligan’s masterfully crafted techniques here. That obnoxious pole not only frames the big reveal, it is a jarring interruption of the scene’s visual continuity. It obscures Skyler through most of this, conveniently disappearing when Walter admits why he did what he did.

Draining the purple from Marie’s home was a dramatic and obviously intentional move. If you spend too much time staring at the screen you’ll realize there IS purple in there – mainly Marie’s pants and the kitchen’s curtains – but the scene is lit in such a way that it appears black. Compare it to the end of episode 10, where Marie learns about the drug empire. Purple trinkets are gone. The purple tea kettle has been replaced.

Reconciliation & the duality of Walter White

Fill in the blank: This is the first time Walter has been honest with Skyler since _________.

The cold open in Ozymandias made a point of showing us Walter’s first lie after getting into the empire business. This scene was the first truth.

Walt is almost sounding defeated in his delivery here:

“You didn’t hurt anybody…” “No. Didn’t have to.”

“You look terrible.” “Yeah… but I feel good.”

“Why are you here?” “It’s over. And I needed a proper goodbye, not our last phone call.”

I went back and forth on Bryan Cranston’s performance in this scene. It almost feels hollow, and not in a “Walter is at-terms with his destiny” way. Learning that Todd and the nazis broke into his house to threaten his family should have elicited a bigger reaction, should have galvanized his resolve, should have triggered something. Ultimately, I decided Cranston did good work. His deadpan delivery of every line save for “Yeah, but I feel good” accentuated Skyler’s emotional turmoil and let Gunn steal the scene.

“The men who stole it from us.” There are some folks on the internet arguing that Walt was being his manipulative self in this scene but this line buries any doubt of that. Through everything that will play out in the next 25 minutes of the episode, Walter still thinks of that money as the White family fortune. He just doesn’t care.

The duality of Walter White – the idea that the character is a struggle between an ordinary school teacher and the Heisenberg persona – has always struck me as rubbish. He murdered a man in the first episode of the show and raped his wife seven episodes later. Jessica Schwartz, the actress who played Gretchen, revealed why Walter threw away his stake in the Gray Matter fortune: an inferiority complex over not being able to connect with a family of privilege.

Walter has always been a megalomaniac, a brilliant man bound by his own fanciful sense of self-entitlement. This scene isn’t Good Walt and it isn’t Heisenberg. It’s just a man finally coming to terms with how to make things right with the estranged family he’s spent the last two years abusing.

Ed. note – I know the Gretchen scene in the beginning contradicts this. I’m having a very hard time processing how that scene fits in with any interpretation of the show that would still make sense from a storytelling perspective. Jessica Luther’s tweet on the matter resonates with me but I have a hard time working that into everything else I believe this episode to be. One interpretation

@CitizenBrasky had some good insight. He framed this entire episode as Walt going out on his own terms. “He exerts his control over Gretchen and Elliott, he finds a way to force Skyler and Walt Jr. to take the money, he kills the men who stole the rest of his money.”

The beauty of this episode rests in the fact that it neatly wraps up all the storylines while remaining wide open for interpretation. Kudos, Gilligan & Co.

“If I have to hear – one more time – that you did this for the family…”

“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. I was alive.”

Singlehandedly the best exchange in the entirety of Breaking Bad. The first glimpse of honesty in their relationship is him showing… remorse? regret? realization?… and it is their last interaction on the show. Skyler is left speechless. All she can do is tell Walt to leave – her final line of dialogue.

Stray thoughts

  • The scene opens on a pair of paintings, what appear to be Skyler and what is probably definitely Walter Jr. Portraits by Skyler?
  • I hope some of the 55 hours of bonus material on the Blu Ray collection is Skinny Pete & Badger running around Albequrque phoning in bomb threats and inventing the Heisenberg manifesto as they go.
  • Vince Gilligan said Anna Gunn’s reflection in the microwave was purely coincidental but jeez, it was great.
  • “The burial site. That’s where they’ll find Hank and Steve Gomez. It’s where I buried our money.” Should have realized this sooner, but obviously the nazis dumped the bodies into the same hole they pulled the money from. Walt literally dug Hank’s grave.
  • Holly is still sleeping in the Tampico crib from Krazy 8’s family’s furniture store.
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