Breaking Bad: Marie Schrader’s Light Fingers

Yes, I know I said I was going to blog about Star Trek next, but that’s going to be a big post, so I thought I’d slip in a shorter one first. In this post, we’ll be venturing back to the rich playground that is Breaking Bad to discuss one of the storylines that never felt like it was quite played to its fullest, namely that of Marie Schrader. Cast somewhat into the background by her brother-in-law Walter’s sociopathic tendencies, Marie nonetheless had some interesting developments of her own, and a quick delve into her character would hardly go amiss.

At first glance, Marie seems to be the typical annoying side character – she’s fussy, opinionated, and unlikely to shut up under any circumstances. No matter the topic, Marie knows best, and anyone who disagrees with her is just plain wrong. The best thing she can do to a scene is exit it and let the other characters get some peace and quiet. As season one of Breaking Bad unfolds, however, we learn that there is more to this seemingly vain and shallow woman than meets the eye.

At Skyler’s baby shower, Marie presents her with a $600 baby-sized tiara – the ultimate in overpriced and unnecessary bling. Only the family who has absolutely everything – not to mention far more money than sense – could possibly be interested in such an item, and indeed, Skyler’s first thought is that she will return the gift to the store and use the refunded money to buy something more practical. When she arrives at the jeweller’s, however, Skyler is in for an unpleasant shock. The sales assistant detains her because the item was stolen from their store, and only a well-acted pretence that she is imminently going into labour gets her out of the situation.

Even after being confronted, however, Marie refuses to admit the truth, denying that she stole the tiara and even getting upset that Skyler would accuse her of doing so. As her husband Hank well knows, however, Marie is a kleptomaniac with a crow’s eye for shiny things, and although she has been seeing a psychiatrist about it, she is far from having resolved her issues.

Whilst this storyline is used to drag out a bit of sibling tension between Marie and Skyler for the rest of season one, it isn’t really revisited until much later on. This time around, Marie pretends she is in the market for an expensive new residence, and spins all manner of contradictory tall tales about her family and career for the benefit of the house vendors and the estate agents. Along the way, she steals valuables of both monetary and sentimental value from people’s homes, and is only stopped when she is caught out by an estate agent who catches her out in a lie.

Again, whilst this provides good drama, none of it is really resolved or followed up within the series, with Marie ultimately only providing a supporting role to the drama of the White family. Nonetheless, as a storyline that tried to add some depth and complexity to someone who would otherwise have been a shallow joke character, it seems worth trying to analyse where the writers might have wanted to go with this story and the character of Marie.

I need support. Me! The almost 40-year old pregnant woman with the surprise baby on the way and the husband with lung cancer who disappears for hours on end and I don’t know where he goes and he barely even speaks to me any more, with the moody son who does the same thing and the overdrawn checking account and the lukewarm water heater that leaks rusty looking crap and, and is rotting out the floor of the utility closet and we can’t even afford to fix it but OHH, I see, now I am supposed to go ‘Hank, please what can I possibly do to further benefit my spoiled, kleptomaniac, bitch sister who somehow always manages to be the center of attention, cuz God knows, she is the one with the really important problems.”

We all know someone like Marie. Someone who was the apple of their parents’ eyes, who could do no wrong, who through some combination of charm and manipulation managed to get everything they wanted when they were growing up. They were probably more demanding than their more pliable, agreeable siblings – harder to please and easier to bribe than to deny. And what we probably noticed with those people is that many of them grew up to believe that they deserved to get everything they wanted. After all, if you’re treated like you’re special and superior, why wouldn’t you come to believe it? All the evidence you have says that you are more deserving than those around you, and that they should acquiesce to your demands. And besides, any time someone tried to say no to you, you just got upset until that answer was changed to yes.

Whilst Skyler is hardly an objective observer in this matter, her rant at Hank at the beginning of season two is enough to imply that Marie was one such person. She was the sister who could cry and pout and get upset until she got what she wanted, even if that meant that Skyler, who was less likely to put up a fuss, went without. Marie has come to expect that the things she likes and wants will be given to her. If she sets her eye on something, she can have it – that’s not at all wrong. If anyone tries to call her to account, she can’t possibly understand that she might be in the wrong – instead, she’s the poor persecuted victim.

Driving this sense of desire and entitlement is likely more than a mere desire to acquire a few shiny things. Although her life is eclipsed by Walt and Skyler’s situation, we get the sense that, for all that she can pretty muchy get whatever material item she wants (through fair means or foul), Marie is deeply unhappy and unfulfilled. She has a career of her own and isn’t a bored housewife, but from what little we can see, it’s not a fulfilling occupation. She’s a technician at a radiology centre, but she clearly dreams of being more. Whilst we don’t really see her at work, Marie is quick to complain about how the doctors she works with are far less observant and competent than she is. She’s clearly ambitious – both for herself and her husband Hank.

Unlike Walt and Skyler, Marie and Hank have no children. It’s never directly addressed in the series as to whether they wanted children or ever tried to have them, but from the way Marie dotes on her niece Holly, it seems that some part of her would have liked to be a mother. It’s unclear whether she has ever truly considered or appreciated the practicalities and hard work involved in raising a family, but it seems likely that, even if she wouldn’t actually enjoy the reality, her rose tinted vision of having beautiful babies who grow up into talented offspring is one that appeals to her. It’s likely that, at some point in the past, she and Hank discussed the possibility of starting a family, and Marie professed that of course that kind of thing wasn’t for a career woman like her – it would wreck her body and her shoe budget! Hank, being a straightforward kind of bloke, would have taken this at face value, not realising that at least part of Marie secretly did want a family, and that she might grow to resent him for not providing her with one.

Much of the above is abstraction and speculation, but the things we do in the series are enough to paint a picture of Marie as someone who never really grew up. At heart, she remains a little girl, with childlike ambitions – to become a world-class surgeon, an astronaut, a princess with a dashing prince for a husband, a mother who effortlessly raises amazing and superior children. Her extravagant lies about her fictitious career and offspring reveal the life Marie wishes she lived, for she has never quite grown up enough to realise that, whilst life can bring us many good things, it comes in a warts-and-all package that doesn’t exclude hard work or things not going as smoothly as we might have hoped. Unable to realise or accept this, the Marie we see is instead a woman destined to remain frustrated and unhappy that no one can be a fairytale princess.

Coming up soon in this series of editorial posts:

  • The previously promised post about the economics of the United Federation of Planets, and how sci-fi writers are doomed when they try to write about societies vastly different from our own.
  • Following on from that, how different should sci-fi worlds be to our own anyway? Is it about the realism of world-building, or about providing an allegory for human society?
  • Men – you might call yourselves feminists, but would you take your wife’s name, or care if she didn’t take yours? Would you be the one willing to work part-time if you started a family?
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