How Do You Solve A Problem Like Marie?

STORY BY James Sullivan

Published: August 6, 2013

I got hooked on Breaking Bad a year ago, and have been anxiously awaiting its return ever since, only for AMC to keep offering teaser trailers with no actual footage from the new season, every time they run a new plug. I really don't even know where to begin when it comes to predicting the outcome between Hank and Walt, or Walt and Jesse, so any time I ask myself, I just hit a dead end, knowing only that the ending won't be a happy one. However, there's one character that very few people have on their minds right now, who somehow struck most viewers (my friends who got me into the show included,) as the show's lowest common denominator: Betsy Brandt's character Marie Schrader. Somehow, I have a feeling it will be her character who surprises us in some way.

Complaints about the character of Marie are typically the same, whoever I talk to. She's weak, dull, causing unnecessary problems for Skylar, and largely clueless about the situation her own family is in. Rather than add to the list of complaints, I feel that very little has been written in support of Marie Schrader and her significance to the show, which I hope to change. To sum up how I feel, I think that Marie's character actually represents the average viewer – of Breaking Bad or for that matter, any given show on television. She is given one side of the characters, seeing them perform, but is for the most part kept on the outside, removed from the action and the danger. It's easy for people to dismiss the show's basic premise, to wonder what Walt was thinking by making and selling meth, or write Jesse off as a troubled meth head with no future in sight.

Even people who enjoy the show first dismissed her husband Hank as a power hungry thug, before the duration of the show made him a likable character, a meticulous detective who cares for the safety of his family. Indeed, it seems a major theme of the show is how characters seem, versus who they really are, something that's only revealed by exploring their world and the nature of their work. As Marie is a housewife, she seems to be given only minimal interaction with the characters, rarely seeing them away from the domestic scene. She's supportive of her husband and sister, but can never be fully empathetic of their plights, and she isn't nearly as involved in her husband's line of work as Skylar is. At the same time, because of the environments that both Skylar and Walt end up in, many of their decisions, whether right or wrong are made out of desperation, whereas Marie in her refuge remains an impartial believer in what is right and wrong throughout Walt's cancer and her sister's divorce.

Although Marie is as unsympathetic as her husband towards people in the meth trade, her chronic kleptomania shows that she too has the tendency to go 'breaking bad.' The theft of the jewelry in the beginning of the show gives Skylar her first brush with the world of crime, when she is accused of stealing. As her husband spends his time off duty determined to identify Heisenberg, Marie's kleptomania takes over again, as she tours houses, lying about her identity to agent after agent and stealing property. It is as though she is living out different characters – more ideal lives that could have been, doing what is the essence of acting. Essentially, her catharsis in a world with limits is to act out fantasies. Had Walt not decided to go into meth, this could have been his own life. This is not all to say that Marie is naïve and dull – a hapless nobody doomed in her situation. In a subtle way, creator Vince Gilligan lets us know that Marie – and her sister's perception of her as a confidante – work in her favor, as she learns about Skylar's affair and ends up being one step ahead of her husband. This is a bit of foreshadowing for season four, but could perhaps suggest she proves her worth before the show is over.

Other Stories by James Sullivan
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