There’s a lot of Breaking Bad mania right now, mainly due to the premiere of ‘Better Call Saul’ which debuted on Netflix a few weeks ago. Getting nostalgic about BB, and my favourite character, Skyler White, I decided to do a quick google search for Skyler to see whether anyone else is missing her. Apparently not. I always knew that the hatred for Skyler was monumental (and unwarranted) but when the nicest article is IGN’s ‘Why Skyler White Isn’t Terrible’ then you have to wonder what on earth happened? Personally, Skyler is one of my all-time favourite TV characters ever and I dedicate this to her in the hope that it can counteract some of the bile that is directed towards her.
Why all the hate?
There’s a few reasons why poor Skyler gets a lot of hate, and I’m going to be completely blunt – it’s almost entirely misogyny. We are all aware of the ‘I Hate Skyler White’ Facebook pages, the ridiculous memes that draw her as a ‘nagging wife’ or a ‘bitch’. These are probably the most PG insults Skyler receives, but lets just analyse these for a minute, shall we? The trope of the nagging wife appears in a vast number of television series and films, usually used for comedic effect – see Big Bang Theory’s Bernadette or Audrey from Rules of Engagement.
Specifically, programmes such as Family Guy and American Dad use this trope as a regular comedic device. The men want to get out and have fun, but oh no the controlling wife steps in. We know the ‘henpecked husbands’ will always win, by deception or other means, but it’s a *ahem* hilarious ruse which features in many episodes.
Nagging Wife syndrome is something uniquely reserved for the women of television world. When put into context with Breaking Bad, which I am sure we can all agree is not a comedy, it becomes clear that calling Skyler a ‘Nagging Wife’ or a ‘Bitch’ has nothing to do with the narrative of the show. Instead, it has everything to do with the gendered sexism many of it’s viewers have regurgitated after watching comedy shows depicting that trope. Not that I would ever commend Family Guy (that’s a whole different essay) at least within comedy, the wives have generally little to moan about and it’s *generally* an overreaction, a caricature. Skyler, however, is married to a man who manufactures and sells meth. Among other things. I think she has the right to be a little bit angry.
Anna Gunn explains it in perfectly in her article ‘I Have A Character Issue’– which if you haven’t read, I would highly recommend. Gunn tries to speculate what exactly it is that Skyler does that makes the Skyler-bashers hate her so much; ‘Could it be that they can’t stand a woman who won’t suffer silently or “stand by her man”? I think she is on to something. There is a small portion of society that still believe women should be silent, should be modest and not contradict their husbands. Thankfully this group is getting smaller everyday, but the intense Skyler-hatred comes directly from this pool of thought. So we can pretty much establish, it’s an audience related issue rather than a Skyler White problem.
But I finally realized that most people’s hatred of Skyler had little to do with me and a lot to do with their own perception of women and wives. Because Skyler didn’t conform to a comfortable ideal of the archetypical female, she had become a kind of Rorschach test for society, a measure of our attitudes toward gender. Anna Gunn.
Why do people hate Skyler and not Walt?
Breaking Bad isn’t a tit-for-tat kind of programme, and if you are keeping a tally of each characters evils then I would quietly suggest you are watching it wrong. Comparing how ‘bad’ Skyler and Walt are would be a) irrelevant to what is important about them as characters and b) would end with Walt certainly winning.
It’s interesting the different perceptions of ‘badness’ and ‘goodness’ within Breaking Bad. The two protagonists of the show, Walt and Jesse, have oppositional character arcs in terms of their morality. Jesse begins ‘bad’ and becomes ‘good’, Walt starts out ‘good’ and becomes ‘bad’. This is clearly an oversimplification of Breaking Bad, but it is essentially how the show works to create friction between characters. Walt’s crossover to ‘the dark side’ happens quite quickly (I would argue he begins his downward spiral after he kills Krazy-8 in ‘And The Bag’s in the River’) but both Walt and Jesse hover around the grey area of morality for a few seasons – which is where Breaking Bad gets its momentum from.
Even so, Breaking Bad tends to measure people’s goodness and badness on their reasoning for doing the things they do. Killing Krazy-8 was justified because, as Walt wrote in his cons list, Krazy-8 was going to kill Walt’s family. Walter White does some pretty terrible things before he his held accountable for actions. Or at least until the audience start to realize that there is no saving Walt, and that Jesse is the protagonist we should be rooting for. So why are we so hung up on Skyler’s wrongs?
There is a certain expectation, a moral code if you like, that Skyler is held to and Walt is not. Both characters main motivations in the show is protecting the family, both of them fail at doing this. Walt puts the family at risk by trying to protect them, the drug business being a dangerous place to get caught up in. Skyler eventually concedes that she has to help him, or turn him in. For the good of their family, she doesn’t want the kids to grow up without a father, Skyler lends her accounting genius and ensures that the money is laundered properly. Perhaps it is subconscious, but because Skyler is presented as first and foremost a mother – she is held to a higher moral code. The idea of her doing anything illicit is horrendous, whereas Walt can kill anyone (including poisoning a young child) and audiences will never denounce him. Mothers are supposed to tell us what is right and what is not, fathers can run around manufacturing as much meth as they like.
So she protects the family better than Walt… so why do people still dislike her?
Yes, without Skyler’s accounting finesse, Walt would have been in trouble way before the end of season 5. I feel, however, there are two reasons why the Heisenberg’ites (new name for misogynistic Breaking Bad fans, I’m trying it out) are still hell bent on hating Skyler. She is hypocritical and she doesn’t want to reconcile with Walt. Skyler’s decision to help Walt launder money could be seen as hypocritical, if you remove their marriage from the equation. Let’s remember that Skyler has been emotionally and physically abused by this point (I think Walter White fans like to forget the time when Walt tried to rape Skyler) and walking away from her family would not be an easy decision to make. I think it’s clear their marriage is in trouble before Walt even begins manufacturing meth – why would Walt not want to tell his wife that he has cancer? Skyler’s reconciliation with Walt is never going to happen. She will make excuses for him, lie for him, cover up his scheme but when she tells Walt that she is just waiting for the cancer to come back – you know she’s right. As viewers, we aren’t hurt by Walt’s actions which enables to us to have that great love-hate relationship that Breaking Bad captures so fantastically. But Skyler’s been hurt, and her response makes sense. Skyler’s character arc from happy housewife, to trapped victim, to single mother living in relative poverty is superb in this respect because it mirrors the struggles of real women who are stuck in abusive relationships.
In terms of hypocrisy, I feel that most of the hate stems from Skyler’s affair with Ted. Which, undoubtedly, is not excusable even if your husband dabbles in methylamine. It’s no reason to want Skyler killed off though, and it fits with her characters reasoning throughout the show. She is trapped, she looks to someone else for comfort. Skyler’s instant regret and horror at what happens to Ted is Gilligan’s way of showing that Skyler still has morals.
A triumph for well rounded female characters?
I’m not too sure, if I’m honest. Skyler is complex and interesting and it’s no mistake that she was written this way. There would be no Walter White ice-cool-meth-making-psycho if it wasn’t for Skyler. He did this to protect his family and Skyler is his family.
One of the greatest disappointments regarding Skyler’s character is the lack of outside information we are granted. I would have loved to see scenes between her and Marie where they behave like sisters, where they help each other, where Skyler really confines in her. The narrative is geared so that Skyler carries around everyones baggage with her, and subsequently has no-one to turn to when it all becomes too much. Certainly, Skyler is incredibly fleshed out and provides discussion for plenty of debates (as opposed to petitions to kill her off) which can only be a good thing for the women of television.
I will leave you with this quote from Vince Gilligan, on misogyny and Skyler White.
People are griping about Skyler White being too much of a killjoy to her meth-cooking, murdering husband? She’s telling him not to be a murderer and a guy who cooks drugs for kids. Vince Gilligan.
So there you have it kids, Skyler hate is misogyny and that’s from the creator’s mouth!