Posted by Melissa Weller
Yesterday I asked a coworker, with whom I’ve participated in many a yay Skyler/nay Skyler conversation, to forget details for a minute and sum up in one general statement the first time he remembered filing Skyler White under the bitch column, and why. Coworker settled on Skyler’s early and obvious hobby of not letting Walt just do what he wants. He cited her cancer reaction, specifically her reaction to Walt’s cancer reaction, as the earliest example.
I later asked a second person (not a coworker) the same question. This person contributed to my market research survey with “because she wasn’t letting walter sell drugs and it’s like let walter sell these drugs.”
The vehement collective loathing of Skyler didn’t sit well with me from the beginning. Not because of my differing and increasingly unpopular opinion on the nature of Mrs. Walt, but because I genuinely couldn’t understand the drive behind such a widespread disdain. I pride myself on my ability to sympathize with a vast array of moral compasses, so the mental brick wall standing before me was annoying. So annoying in fact, that I shot right past asking for an explanation of the position and went straight to 24/7 defend Skyler warzone. As such, stockpiling my own arsenal of Team Skyler chants to unleash on the unsuspecting soul who dared speak her name within earshot began commanding more of my allotted Breaking Bad brain space than I care to admit. Discussions escalated from:
“You think Skyler shouldn’t have forced Walt into chemotherapy? It wasn’t her place, you say? By all means, let’s hear what you’d have done differently. Allow your husband, father of your son and unborn daughter, to sign his own death certificate just because he wants to feel he’s ‘the one deciding’? Good, he can pat himself on the back for his last six months. You and your children are more than willing to pay the financial and emotional consequences for the next several decades. Fair trade. When’s the last time you even called your mother?”
“What’s ‘Skyler had on a white shirt’ supposed to mean? What’s wrong with a white shirt? Do you think it’s symbolic? You think it represents a white flag of defeat and surrender? Skyler’s been defeated and is now surrendering to Walt, like every woman should surrender to her husband? To any man, for that matter? You’re sexist, a misogynist. Skyler isn’t responsible for your failed relationship with your father, don’t take it out on her.”
So on and so forth. Eventually I resigned to the general public’s inferior analysis of the show/of everything as the answer to their misguided opinion of my Skylark. Vince, Anna and I would be just fine looking down from atop our mountain. But Anna Gunn’s recent piece in the New York Times offered a different take. She points to the existence of modern-day misogyny.
The op-ed titled “I Have a Character Issue” is a confessional of sorts, in which she shares her unrest at the vicious uproar spanning all five seasons against her character. The character feedback I cited earlier reflects opinions across the board, but is also fairly moderate in comparison. People seem to get personally offended just by seeing her on screen, an accomplishment not many actors can pull off. Gunn references Facebook pages dedicated to cataloguing fan hostility toward her. She admits receiving death threats, threats aimed at Anna Gunn, the actress, when Skyler White, the character, was found particularly unfavorable.
Really take stock here. King Joffrey can make his fiancé watch as he hacks off her dad’s head and beat two call girls to a bloody pulp all in time for lunch, but we appreciate the dynamic his presence brings to Game of Thrones – so no harm, no foul. Pulling the gender card is never a go-to for me, far from it. But could the gender issue cloud, something so seemingly outdated and passé, really be the culprit in this anti-Skyler mania?
I took to the message boards. Here are the three big player haters.
“If she really were the pinnacle of morality she claims to be, she would have gone to the police. She is a hypocrite.”
Skyler, like all women, holds one agenda sacred above the rest. Ensuring the security and livelihood of her family. It’s an evolutionary truth that, for better or for worse, we’re all strapped with. Going to the police would have been in direct contradiction to this agenda. Turning her husband over to the police means the rest of his already limited days are spent rotting in jail and her children are saddled with a lifetime of disturbing and perpetual confusion, at best. Bitter resentment toward both mother and father would be unavoidable, and self-destructive tendencies are not uncommon among children thrown in such situations. Not to mention the very real possibility of her implication in the whole thing.
“She’s ungrateful for all that Walt is doing for his family to make sure they are financially secure and have a future when he’s gone. She spends his hard-earned money, then cheats on him with a man who is also a criminal. She’s a hypocrite AND a slut.”
Walt is just as much in the empire business to help his family as Gus Fring was in the fast food business to sell chicken. She is resentful toward Walt for putting her in a position where her only viable choice is to be an accomplice. As she made clear to Walt and to everyone watching, in one of the most powerful scenes of the whole series, “I am your hostage.” As for her affair with Ted, she and Walt were separated at the time. The woman is human whose only shred of intimacy in months, maybe longer, has been with a wine bottle. True, she eventually starts laundering his money, but only as an attempt to temper the possibility of dire consequences.
“She is an annoying mega bitch.”
You would be, too.
These are not revolutionary responses; anyone who had thought about these accusations for half a second before plastering them on every Breaking Bad article comment section they could find would have reached the same conclusions. This is where the gender argument starts retaining more weight.
Skyler is a woman who stands in the way of a man, everyone’s favorite super anti-hero Walter White, who has proven steadily throughout the series to be an egomaniacal sociopath. Yet unlike Anna, Bryan Cranston’s character has only been judged by the rules of Breaking Bad fantasy entertainment, a land where the only thing bluer than his pills of methamphetamine decadence is the blood inside the bodies he’s buried. We love navigating the New Mexico drug labyrinth in his Chrysler 300 and the issue of morality has been a nonstarter.
Why? Why is Skyler burdened with a moral standard that Walt isn’t? Maybe because she’s proved to be an obstacle in Walt’s half paintball-half chess game, like an annoyingly placed pawn keeping his legion from ultimate takedown. We perpetually tune in to the almighty Next Week’s Episode for fantastic entertainment, for escape, and Skyler serves to take that escape from us. But if that were true, how do we answer for Hank? Does he not serve the same purpose? Sure, he’s not the most likeable character at times either, but he’s never bore the brunt of visceral hate the way she has.
TV writers far my superior point to a lack of care in writing Skyler’s character, suggesting a small failure on Vince Gilligan’s part in making her as interesting or dynamic as Walt. I don’t know, personally I think Skyler is one of television’s strongest, most dynamic and interesting characters to date.
Then again, I am a woman.
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August 28, 2013 | 8:58 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Well, this one was full of surprises. Which isn't necessarily a good thing! A well-plotted thriller will pull off reveals that are shocking but then, upon consideration, not unexpected; last night's Twisted was full of turns the viewer never could have seen coming. Most of the episode is focused on the social reprecussions of Danny and Lacey's "sex tape" (they're just making out, fully clothed, but kissing tape doesn't have the same kind of shock value, really): Jo is furious at both of them for lying, and at Rico when she finds out he knew before she did, Lacey's a pariah among her friends and Danny is... still the same level of pariah he pretty much always was. Lacey, despite flashing back to her own cruel dismissal of Phoebe from the in-crowd several months ago, still wants to be friends with these people for what I think I can safely say is no apparent reason. They all seem awful. Regina seemed awful! I've never gotten it. Luckily Lacey finally realizes that her friends are the worst-- but only after she and Danny stage a dramatic breakup at the soccer team's party and Archie confesses to her that he was the one who poisoned Cole.
Jo, meanwhile, deals Danny's rejection by losing her virginity to creepy Tyler (the show is not great about respecting the girls' sexual choices in a very disappointing way). When she gets home, she gets a surprise confession of love from Rico, who tries to kiss her. No fun being on the receiving end of that one, is it, Jo?
And then there are the actual plot developments! Lacey's flashback, it turns out, serves two purposes: to let us know that she used to be a heartless mean girl, and to remind us that the reason Regina rejected Phoebe was allegedly because Phoebe scratched her during a fight. Now it turns out that someone in a dark car with Connecticut plates was responsible for the injury-- and it's the very same person who Green Grove's mayor has hired to "help" Chief Masterson with his investigation, the same person who dragged the lake again and somehow found a weeks-old murder weapon with Danny's fingerprints and Regina's DNA on it. Karen finds some financial irregularities in her real estate boss' papers that I'm sure will lead to something soon-- there's an actual plot thread, her taking that job-- and tries to spirit Danny away when Tess calls to let her know that Danny's arrest is immanent. The episode ends with Tess calling someone using the phone number scratched into the bottom of one of her pots (??? who knows??). It's supposedly-dead Vikram Desai. "It's time," she says. "It's time for you to come back."
You must know what I think at this point: it's time for this to be over! And next week, thank god, it finally will be.
August 27, 2013 | 9:19 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Bunheads' fate hung in the balance for months. Long after fall slates had been announced-- even for their own channel-- the folks at ABC Family kept us waiting, refusing to confirm its cancellation or the go-ahead for production of a second season. Eventually it seemed that the news could only be bad, and ultimately it was: Amy Sherman-Palladino's offbeat comedy about serious small-town ballerinas is and always will be a one-season wonder, destined for Netflix binges and much e-gnashing of teeth by those (including New Yorker tv critic Emily Nussbaum) who thought the show was taken from us all too soon.
Those who remember Sherman-Palladino's writing from the days of Gilmore Girls will find Bunheads comfortingly familiar, filled with breathless, clever monologues and an almost endless font of witty exchanges. It centers on an aging Las Vegas dancer named Michelle who impulsively marries a man only to have him die in a car crash the day after their wedding-- and then she discovers that he's willed everything he owns, including his mother's house and dance studio-- to her. MIchelle could be a parellel universe Lorelei Gilmore: she loves coffee and sweets and bantering with handsome men, and she's an imperfect but deeply loving mother figure to the tween girls who end up as her dance students.
The girls and their stories are the show's secondary focus. Ginny, Sascha, Melanie and Boo are a very sweet foursome, a group of dance-obsessed fifteen year olds who almost actually look fifteen. (The actresses who play them are eighteen to nineteen, as opposed to, say Teen Wolf's twenty eight year old Crystal Reed.) Their stories descend into occasional wishful surrealism-- when Sascha's parents divorce they let her stay in Paradise in a rented apartment-- but there's something refreshing about the relentless innocence and optimism of them. When Bunheads was cancelled the cast got together for one last dance, which demonstrates just how skilled the girls are-- both it and the season are well worth a watch.
And if you're hungry for more there's always the CW's Breaking Pointe, now in its second season, a reality show that follows a group of young dancers at Salt Lake City's Ballet West company. It mostly follows the tried and true formula of reality, focusing on romantic tribulations and career worries rather than the specifics of the dance world, but it's still a fun watch. Hopefully its successes will inspire more shows in the genre-- or maybe, just maybe, enough buzz and interest to bring Bunheads back.
August 26, 2013 | 8:17 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Two years ago one of my best friends got married. She had a big, traditional wedding, which, of course, included a big, traditional dress. It happened that I was shopping with her on the day she found The One, at a bridal boutique in Beverly Hills, accompanied by three of our close friends from elementary school and her mother. The other girls were delighted by the whole operation, walking the aisles and talking mermaid versus trumpet versus A-line, silk and satin and lace and bling like seasoned pros. "Have you guys... done this before?" I asked them. It turns out that all wedding dresses look like massive clouds of tulle and shimmer on the rack, to me, shapless and enormous and terrifyingly similar. "Say Yes to the Dress," they said, so I dutifully went home to start watching.
It sounds like a stupid, depressing premise for a show: a half hour of reality television that follows the customers and sales associates of a New York store called Kleinfeld's, which endeavors to provide young brides-to-be with The One. One of the weird features of the modern wedding industry is its insistence on saying yes over and over and over again: the your groom and then your dress, a relentless storm of positivity that makes some brides panic. What if they don't feel bridal in a given gown? What if they like but don't love what they try on? It becomes the locus for a lot of other inexpressable anxities, but the metaphor basically settles out at: if you can happily decide on one of thousands of nearly identical white dresses, you can also decide on one of thousands of nearly identical men, and your marriage will be Real because you will be a Bride and you will live out Happily Ever After.
Say Yes to the Dress' saving grace is, in some ways, that it's become such a well-known brand name, so that people really come from all over the country to be a part of it. There's a significant financial investment-- Kleinfeld's dresses start in the low four figures and rise sharply into the $50,000 Pnina Tourne gowns that have become one of Kleinfeld's calling cards. (Tourne, who keeps offices on Kleinfeld's property, is an Israeli designer with a penchant for bling, corseting, and baroque silhouettes. Her dresses are also always the sexiest on offer, with a lot of sheer bodice and a few above-the-knee hems. My favorite SYttD catchphrase is "she's a true Pnina bride," which the sales associates will say to one another wearily, in heavy Long Island accents, when a woman wants something sexy and outrageous and outrageously out of her price range.) Other than that, though, the show is remarkable diverse, and it does a nice job of telling capsule versions of these womens' stories, giving them a neat, compelling narrative that contextualizes them as something other than Women in Need of a Dress.
And then there are their families! Kleinfeld's employees refer to the folks who come to offer their opinions as the bride's entourage, which can mean anything from her mother and a few bridesmaids to a fifteen person gaggle replete with bored younger cousins and brothers with strong opinions about cleavage. That's the real trick of Say Yes to the Dress: it offers a unique window onto family dynamics, which are always particularly stark when things like money, fashion and self-presentation are on the table. It's a fascinating cross-section of moneyed Americana, a demonstration that having five or ten thousand dollars to spend on a dress doesn't mean that you have the same ideas as your parents-- much less the woman trying on gowns next to you-- of what will make it classy. (Or elegant, which is another word that comes up often. Classy, classic, elegant, sexy, edgy, funky, unique: it needs to be my personality, brides are always saying, which is a really interesting conflation, the idea that a dress can and should and indeed must represent who you are as a person.)
It's not perfect, obviously, and there's a whole furious essay that needs to be written about the confusion of love and capital, the idea that in order to promise someone forever you need to buy a bunch of stuff that will transform you, a living, breathing woman into a vision, a bride, someone capable of eternal feeling in a way no human being will ever be. In the mean time, though, Say Yes to the Dress is unusual and entertaining and surprisingly heartfelt, a vehicle for women to tell honest stories about their lives, who they are and what they want. They pretty much all end up in the same sea of white tulle, which is depressing, but it's nice to watch these women choosing something they adore. It's the same spirit that animates weddings, really, a rehearsal for the real thing: no matter how stupid and offensive the concept seems in theory, it's hard not to warm to it, watching people fall in love.
August 22, 2013 | 10:29 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
We're officially approaching the dog days. Shows are wrapping up their summer seasons-- Teen Wolf is down for the count, and Twisted and Graceland have two episode left each-- and while there's always reality to fill in the gaps (I mean, both reality television and the real world beyond the screen) pickings are going to be slim around here until the fall shows starts airing in September. Luckily Hulu has a pretty comprehensive slate of previews up so we can figure out what to get excited about in the mean time.
I'm beyond thrilled that Joss Whedon is returning to television, his true medium, with The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (strike the awful parts of Dollhouse from your memory please; those really weren't his fault), a show about the folks behind Captain America, Thor et al. and if you don't think I'm excited about Dracula and Sleepy Hollow and Almost Human I don't know what TV blog you've been reading. I'll probably give The Originals an episode or two-- it's a spinoff of The Vampire Diaries, and surprisingly smart take on the Twilight model that's lately been too bogged down by complicated plot and a massive cast to be very much fun.
There's also Andy Samberg in Brooklyn Nine Nine, a half-hour comedy take on the familiar police procedural that looks goofily entertaining. (The trailer includes the deeply cringe-y line, in re: Samberg's character, that he's the precinct's best detecive-- "the only puzzle he hasn't learned to solve is how to grow up"-- but pilots are always, always terrible, so I'm going to cut them just the tiniest bit of slack on that front.) I'll definintely be skipping Dads, which critics have already taken to task for its racist, sexist pilot; the show is Seth McFarlane's baby, and after his outrageously misogynist showing at the Oscar's this year I'm not inclined to give him the benefit of any kind of doubt.
Finally there's Rebel Wilson in Super Fun Night, which I want to like-- a comedy staring three women! One of them is Asian! One of them is fat! This is diversity in action! And yet the preview is as unbearably, obviously awkward as can be. Rebel's historically been good at finding a way to play broad comedic stereotypes so maybe she'll make it work; plus she and Conan O'Brien co-created the show, which means there's got to be more to it than jokes about blinking underwear. Here's hoping, anyway. I need something to look forward to.
August 20, 2013 | 9:10 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Last night's mid-season finale of Teen Wolf had plot holes you could drive a truck through-- or at least Stiles' much beloved baby blue Jeep, which may or may not have been among the episode's casualties. Entire plotlines were dropped (remind me again, was there supposed to be something about the Alphas altering memories this season?) and villains were dispatched in handfuls (Kali and Jennifer are both down for the count, though Deucalion was given an improbable second chance and the twins seem to be in Beacon Hills to stay, which, for those of us keeping count at home, means that three women and three non-white characters have been dispatched this season while not a single white male died). The episode wrapped up twelve episodes' worth of poorly developed arcs and good riddance to them, is my feeling. I'm ready to write the whole thing off and start fresh with the second half of this season in January.
It's too bad, too, because the episode is a waste of a gorgeous cold open: Stiles, Allison and Scott climbing out of white enamel bathtubs in a long white room and flashing back to their opening scenes on the show, Scott and Stiles wandering around in the woods looking for danger, Allison still innocent and naive and, as always, hellbent on helping. Those little left turns have changed everything for all of them, and Teen Wolf plays the moment beautifully, just letting us watch them watch themselve, setting out on a path they didn't know, then, they would have to keep walking.
Then, though, everything devolves into a mess. The trio emerge back into the real world certain they can find the Nemeton where their parents are being held captive but it turns out they've been out-- passed out in ice baths-- for sixteen hours. (What happened to it's dangerous, what happened to their anchors, what happened to Stiles and Allison's very human bodies? Nevermind that, I guess. Onwards with the plot! There are like thirty characters and a lot of them have to die!) There's almost no time left before the moon rises and then the lunar eclipse happens and then Jennifer can make her sacrifices and become the most powerful Druid ever in history and kill--whoever she wants, I guess.
Allison sets off a smoke grenade to distract the FBI, headed up by Scott's long-lost father, and she and Isaac head out into the woods. (Three officers see her do it, but there don't appear to be any consequences. Ever.) Stiles conveniently crashes his Jeep and spends the episode mostly concussed, which really can't be good for him on top of that sixteen hour ice bath but apparently Dylan O'Brien was shooting The Maze Runner when they taped most of the finale so we will cut them a break there. The kids find their parents, Jennifer almost collapses the root cellar they're in on top of them, Stiles saves the day with another, sturdier bat. That's a wrap on the family drama. There is no time to mine it for the deep vein of emotion that was tapped last week, because there are boring speeches and action sequences, apparently, that have to be dealt with instead.
Jennifer tells Derek he can save the parents if he helps her get Deucalion, who will be her sacrifice instead. Scott is on Deucalion's side because he promised, and Jennifer has his mother. They have the world's dumbest fight, with like five reversals of fortune and useless callbacks and a flash grenade and the lunar eclipse happens and anyway, eventually Deucalion almost kills Jennifer but then I guess they decide to leave her alone for a while and she escapes, again. (Don't worry, she's a woman, and Peter Hale slashes her throat for real at the Nemeton, howling I was always the alpha, which I guess means we know who to look out for in season three.) Scott comes into this True Alpha powers and that means he can break a mountain ash circle. Derek and Scott decide to let Deucalion go because he's a white guy and he used to be a visionary so maybe he'll just give up on the DEMON WOLF thing and play nice? Who knows.
The episode ends with a gratingly indulgent voice over, Scott explaining to Deaton that he does feel darkness around his heart, but he solves that problem with friendship. It's embarrassing for everyone involved.
The only good news is that Derek and Cora take off at the end of the episode. Adelaide Kain, who plays Cora, is also bound for better things, playing the queen in Reign, but I'm hoping this signals a bigger reset in store: that poor battered Derek will return rested and refreshed and ready to murder his psychopath of an uncle, and that where Derek goes, the rest of the show will follow. The newly reactived Nemeton will apparently turn Beacon Hills back into, um, a beacon, which probably means more monster-of-the-week episodes in store for January. Hopefully the structural change and fewer cast shakeups will help get the show back on solid ground-- because if the back half of this season is anything like the first, Teen Wolf might be too lost to ever recover.
August 19, 2013 | 2:27 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
I started watching Eat Drink Love mostly because the rest of the world was at that very moment tuning into a new episode of Breaking Bad-- which, as I admitted last week, I am woefully behind on. And even though I should have known better I will admit that I was a little excited about it: I spent my first few years out of college working for a food-focused non-profit, and I hoped that maybe a show centered on three professionally successful women would cover something more substantial than their love lives. They could gossip and fight all they wanted, as far as I was concerned, as long as they did it over anything other than the men in their lives. The food industry is notoriously a masculine one, and anyone who's made her way to the top of it has got to have more going on than the real housewives of American suburbia.
My first inkling that this was not going to achieve even my modest dreams for it came midway through the first episode. The show's cast, some of whom know one another well and some of whom are pretty clearly strangers to one another, gathered at a taco place for dinner. "It's so nice to be out with women who eat," Nina Clemente, a private chef observed.
"Oh, I don't eat all day in order to do this," Waylynn Lucas, owner of Third Street's Fonuts, told her casually. The conversation moved on from there, highlighting publicist Brenda's recurring fear that she's "the big girl" in the room and in the city. At the end of the episode the rest of the women threw Brenda a birthday party at an exclusive bar where they gifted her with a vibrator, a dig at her very single status, and Brenda called out the beautiful, flirtatious Kat Odell for stringing along the bar's owner among a host of other men. The second episode tried to play Kat and Brenda off of one another again, though from Brenda's voice overs it's clear that she knows the supposed object of their affections, Chris, isn't into her and certainly isn't looking to settle down.
There are other narrative threads: Jessica's struggle to be taken seriously by the male kitchens of the restaurants she manages, Nina's attempts to rise above her current position as a mostly untrained private chef who cooks fancy dinner for wealthy families. And it is fascinating to watch Brenda and Waylyn disparage Kat, which they do freely in interviews, while both acknowledging that they need her (she's an influential food blogger) and that they think she's a hack who gets ahead because she sleeps around.
In some ways it's telling of the way women in every profession are ghettoized: they're lumped together and told to support one another, forced to duke it out for a vanishingly small number of token positions. Of course they hate one another, and of course they have no choice but to be friends with one another. The show has an interesting story but it's not the kind that gets ratings, so it doesn't choose to tell it. Women arguing with one another always sells. The reasons why they might be doing it, sadly, are still immaterial to the story they're trying to tell.
August 16, 2013 | 8:14 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Last week on Graceland: nothing much happened. This week on Graceland: a bunch of semi-improbable things happen at once. Mike discovers that his supervisor, Juan, has been bugging him, and decides that his whole assignment investigating Briggs is based on nothing more than a paranoid revenge fantasy of Juans' for a tragedy that happened years ago. Charlie keeps investigating the Odin/Briggs connection but instead turns up a Mexican federale, with whom she enters into a tentative alliance. Paige and Michael have a lot of long conversations for no real reason-- have they ever been close before? The only non-surprising development is that the Caza Cartel continues to pursue Bello, eventually trapping him in his supposedly safe house to torture Odin's location out of him.
Most of these developments are surprises, things you couldn't reasonably have guessed at from the clues we've been handed so far. The reveal of Jangles-- the notorious, terrifying Caza boss-- as being one and the same with Mike's supervisor, Juan-- works as a legitimate twist only because for the space of the episode we've been learning not to trust him. It would have been far more effective if we'd been suspicious of him-- or even seen him as anything other than a low-level pawn taking Mike's reports-- previously. It's also tough to pull of an FBI officer as drug dealer surprise! when you've done just that several episodes ago with Paul as Odin.
The episode ends with Michael confessing to Paige why he's been in Graceland all along. It's one secret too many, the thing she's not yet ready to hear. She leaves him alone in the hospital room, and Michael has officially lost everything: his girfriend, his friends, his family, perhaps soon his job. Next week he goes undercover to try to flip Bello on Odin: three episodes left, and he's hit rock bottom, which means it's time for him to begin to rise again.