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Sunday, 10 November 2013

Breaking Bad, Part 3--I'm Over The Feels Now

Hello hello, and welcome back for the final installment!

So; a couple of weeks ago, I mainlined Breaking Bad. I thought two posts would be enough, but I realized there was one tantalizing issue I hadn't explored fully. In fact, I hadn't seen much of it around the internet. That issue is simple--what about the women? While the mens are running around getting blow'd up and taking down gangsters, what are the female cast members doing?

At this point, I have to dock a mark or two from the series. It's still excellent, but in spite of some very good moves, there were a lot of genre cliches. Gilligan, like Steven Moffat of Doctor Who and Sherlock fame, seems to have a problem I've noticed in quite a few male writers otherwise known for quality--they can write an interesting woman, but they can really only write one woman, or perhaps two or three if they're skilled. I do quite like both Moffat and Gilligan's writing, but this really does bother me. And that's not the only thing.

 Let's go through the named female characters and get started with the one that bothered me most: Jane. Obviously, I'm leaving out Walter's principal/colleague person because I can't remember her actually doing anything other than responding to Walter, Wendy the hooker, the receptionist at Saul's, and a few of the drop-in mothers, etc. Now, I'm going to remind you all that there are going to be


So if you haven't seen the show, really, either watch it and finish it, or be prepared for the fact that you're going to learn some stuff that might seriously spoil plot twists.

Source. The lovely and doomed Jane.

Jane Margolis 

As soon as she showed up in series 2--I mean season 2, sorry, I've been watching a lot of British television--I knew she was dead meat. She was flirting with Jesse, she was a Cute But Remote Goth Girl, and she was an ex-junkie. In other words, dead meat. She did get an interesting character arc, I suppose. I mean, I really enjoyed it, but it certainly couldn't be called unpredictable. As her storyline went on, I remember muttering at the computer, "please don't make her into a Girlfriend in a Fridge. Please don't make her into a Girlfriend in a Fridge." And guess what? They did. There is nothing I can say about this other than to express my disdain that Gilligan introduced a character for the sole purpose of killing her off for Jesse Pinkman's personal development. BOO BOO SHAME BOO. That's awfully cheap.

Gretchen Schwartz

This character was interesting, in that she was presented a few times in the first season and had a pretty interesting role--the 'might-have-been' girlfriend of Walter White. She was actually a really interesting character, both condescending and sympathetic. (My, that word interesting comes up a lot.) However, after a truly undeserved tongue-lashing from Walter, she complete disappeared. BYE! *waves* That is, until the final season, when she was one half of a human plot-device by way of the Elliots. I'm assuming something happened with the actress, but I liked her and hoped to see more of her than we did. Her writing was unfortunately quite thin, and the moments where she was unsympathetic seemed really contrived. Oh, well. At least the worst thing that happened to her was a laser pointer and some embarrassment.

Lydia Rodarte-Quayle 

Oh, Lydia. Just in case you thought Marie was too laid back and sympathetic, we got...Lydia! I almost liked Lydia; she was a love-to-hate character, but without Marie's moments of compassion. I enjoyed the fact that she was in a position of power, but what did one of our only mover-and-shaker characters do? Cringe, cry, and moan to manipulate the d00dz, of course, even leveraging her child to guilt Walter. She was even grossed out by dead bodies. Really, Lids? Really? Even Joss Whedon did a decent job of making the Black Widow playful in The Avengers, and made a point of giving her a chance to get the upper hand on Loki. And considering she was one of the weakest characters, that's saying something. Lydia was whiny, underpowered, and a wuss. I was really, really hoping she'd pull out a gun and go all cold, but nope. I'm pretty sure there's not a single person who didn't cheer when she got a packet of ricin-laced Stevia. Would have been nice to get some sympathetic moments, especially since she was deviously clever, but nope.

Women, according to Vince Gilligan.

Marie Schrader

Oh, Marie. For all the complaining about Skyler, which we'll get to in a moment, it was Marie that bothered me. Her character development was so...fragmented and inconsistent. What a disappointment. In addition to being annoyingly high-strung (sometimes humorously so), she was loyal, protective, and a completely reactive character. Sure, there are women like this, and the actress did a great job, but it would have been nice to see her do more. Be more sympathetic. I'm not saying she needed combat boots and a big-ass gun (though that would have been hilarious and awesome), but just...something. I can't imagine her with Hank, and all of her desires (except for that neat shoplifting plot) were reactive. I do have to give her character points for the love and concern she showed, but she was kind of a human plot-complication. She showed up to annoy people and express concern. That was it. However, I do have some kind things to say about her sister.

Skyler White 

Skyler, who started as an uptight failing writer and stay-at-home pregnant mom, was one of the best and most interesting characters on the show. Where Gilligan often rewrote the same 'almost nice, mostly neurotic' female character several times, he actually succeeded with Skyler. She's willing to be devious and even enjoyed it, was capable of being aggressive, and actually showed some backbone when Walter was abusive. Her daughter Holly popped in and out (did I mention that I hate human McGuffins?) at plot convenience, but Skyler actually tried to go out and do things. Did she succeed? Enh. However, that lack of success made her interesting! She had feelings about things that weren't related to Walter! She argued! She was unethical, but had a moral compass and struggled with it! The only thing that really bugged me was the way she had interests in writing and the plot was completely dropped in the rest of the show. (Writers don't work like that. I smell a failed plot thread.) Sure, she was bitchy, but most of the time, Walt really deserved her tongue-lashing. It's a cliche to have a female character act as the voice of decency in a wasteland, but her character brought life and personality to the role. Not merely a soapbox or a plot device, but a person, and an imperfect one at that. Skyler White is actually my favorite Breaking Bad character.

Final Verdict

So, in addition to the 'rewritng the same woman' thing I've highlighted, my biggest complaint with the show is probably the lack of women with self-determination. All of the female characters above are attached to a man in some way. Lydia was attached to Mike (platonically) and was a villain; the rest were all romantically involved with male main characters in some way. I will give the show points for not resorting to cheap sexytimes that were out of character, but it was still so disappointing to see these interesting male characters complimented by half-deflated women. 

Women, according to most writers in Hollywood. I'm probably going to get in trouble for this. 


So, as always, how would I fix it? My recommendation would have been to add a couple more female characters in there. It wouldn't have killed them to gender-swap a few minor characters. Yes, it was a realistic show about crime, and that's a misogynistic field, but if you can buy a Gatling-gun in a car trunk and a Walter White plan actually working at the end of the series, a couple of women shouldn't break your suspension of disbelief that much. That's just silly. I'm not saying Jesse should have been female (though that would have been interesting!) or that Hank and Marie could have been gender-swapped too, but--no, wait, that's exactly what I'm saying. Wimmenz don't always stick around the home to annoy their husbands. There's also more to us as a broad category than being pool sluts, inconvenient girlfriends, wistful exes, or villainous cry-babies.

Come on, Hollywood. We can work with this. Show us the goods. And while you're at it, maybe sneak a few gay people in through the side entrance? It would cost absolutely nothing to have more inclusive roles in TV, and would add so much to the possiblities and diversity of the cast, that I really hope we seem more stuff in the future. Orange is the New Black, which I have not watched, is apparently an imperfect show--but even touching on some issues has really made for interesting stuff and plenty of audience attention.

So, finally, stop using female characters as cheap character development black boxes, give the wimmenz some self-determination, and let ladies out of the home and into non-traditional roles. I'd prefer not to see tokenism here, but hell, at this point, anything would be nice for a change. Will it break immersion for some people? Maybe. However, it could also be a talking point, and when people are talking about your creative work, that is a Good Thing.  Imagine that--thinking! Dialogue! Ultimately, I don't think being entertained should mean clicking the 'off switch' for one's higher cerebral functions. I didn't hate the show, and I still quite liked it, but this theme left me more disappointed than 'the greatest show in the history of TV' should have. 


Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr. More interviews and witty commentaries are coming. Keep checking back to see those surprise posts, too. This is your darling SciFiMagpie, over and out!