(Seasons 1-5a spoilers ahead)
"I think the people who have these issues with the wives being too bitchy on Breaking Bad are misogynists, plain and simple." - Vince Gilligan
Over the past month, my dad and I have been watching Breaking Bad from start to finish in preparation for the final eight episodes. This was my dad’s first time watching the show, and my first time watching the show with another person.
And of course, somewhere between seasons two and three:
"This woman is such a bitch."
"I hate her so much."
"This woman is a really good actor, because I genuinely hate her."
I knew about all the hate Skyler gets, but I had never experienced it from someone in person. It is perplexing that in a show featuring a protagonist that is a manipulative, drug-dealing murderer, the character that many viewers despise is the wife, whose only crime (early on) is telling him “no.”
So, why do so many people hate Skyler? Maybe a lot of viewers simply don’t understand the character.
What motivates Skyler White?
"When we do what we do for good reasons, then we’ve got nothing to worry about. There’s no better reason than family." - Walter White
Vince Gilligan has recently come up with a new favorite reason as to why many viewers dislike Skyler. Paraphrasing here, the explanation is essentially, “viewers dislike and can’t identify with helpless characters, because no one wants to feel helpless themselves.” He defines Skyler’s “helplessness” as the dilemma she faces between turning Walt in and devastating her family, or helping Walt launder his money so that she can help keep him from getting caught (Preventing the devastation of the family). She chooses the latter.
I think Vince is 100% wrong on this. Having read a fair amount of Skyler-hate posts, one thing people seem to dislike most is her supposed “controlling” disposition. They hate that she wants Walt to get chemotherapy, that she kicks him out of the house when she finds out about the drug dealing, that she refuses to let Walt use his drug money to buy his son a nice car. They don’t see a helpless character, they see a character that should be more helpless.
The problem here is that labeling all of this as some self-centered grasp at control is incredibly dismissive. I’d go as far as to say that all of Skyler’s actions throughout the series are done with one thing in mind: her children.
Skyler doesn’t want Walt to give up on chemotherapy, because she wants her kids to have their father around for as long as possible. She kicks him out of the house when she finds out he’s a drug dealer because she is fearful that Walt’s actions will bring danger to their home. She refuses to let Walter Jr. keep the expensive car because it will raise suspicions as to how they could afford it, which could mean their children eventually finding out about their father’s crimes. She helps launder Walt’s money for the same reason.
Even her affair with Ted, which most people see as a passive-aggressive way of getting back at Walt, is done for her children. That’s right, there’s nothing “passive” about it at all. Skyler has her affair as a way to aggressively anger Walt into divorcing her. Creating as much physical and emotional distance as possible. Which means her children are no longer trapped in the crosshairs of a drug empire.
for the kids.
For as often as Walt’s defenders remind us that Skyler shouldn’t stand in his way because he is “providing for his family,” it’s ironic that many of them don’t realize that the only person on the show actually doing that is Skyler. Walt’s motivations are infinitely more self-serving.
And speaking of Walt, maybe these people who “fucking hate that cunt” understand Skyler just fine. Maybe it’s Walt they misunderstand.
Why Walter White is kinda sorta not at all the person you want to think he is
"If Walter White has a true superpower, it’s not his knowledge of chemistry or his intellect, it’s his ability to lie to himself. He is the world’s greatest liar." - Vince Gilligan
If I had to guess how a Skyler-hating fan of Breaking Bad would summarize the show, it would probably go something like this:
A humble high school chemistry teacher gets cancer and decides to turn to manufacturing crystal meth using his vast scientific knowledge to leave money for his family after he dies. Along the way, he grows as a man (and becomes a total badass) by learning to do whatever is necessary to provide for his kids, and paving his own way without any help.
If you believe that^ to be an accurate description of Breaking Bad, consider yourself Heisenberg’s latest victim. You’ve been deceived.
There’s an episode in season five called “Buyout,” in which Walt and Jesse have a conversation about selling their entire supply of methylamine to a competitor and getting out of the drug trade. In business terms, Jesse wants Walt to agree to sell all their assets and let this other “company” buy out their business for $5 million dollars each.
Walt refuses. He explains to Jesse the story of Gray Matter, the multi-billion dollar company that he himself co-founded with two friends in college, and how he sold his shares in the company for $5,000 dollars early on. He then delivers the iconic line, “you asked me if I was in the meth business or the money business. Neither. I’m in the empire business.”
A lot of people think of that line as just another one of Heisenberg’s badass one-liners, but it’s actually a lot deeper than that. The entire conversation Walt has with Jesse in that scene is meant to show you that Walt was no longer doing this for his family. He was doing it for himself, and maybe always had been. The way he speaks to Jesse about selling out his potential for “pennies on the dollar,” the fact that he checks how much money Gray Matter is worth every week (and has been doing so for who knows how many years). All of this is meant to finally show the viewer that Walt saw drug dealing as a way to make up for his own personal failures that stemmed much farther back than his cancer. All that talk about “providing for his family” was merely a rationalization of his true motivation: to build something great for himself.
The truth is, Walt has been endangering his family much more than he has been helping them. His actions brought members of the Mexican drug cartel to his home, where his children sleep, on two separate occasions (Tuco and the cousins). If anyone besides Walt had been home when the cousins came looking for him, they’d be dead. Hank also came face to face with these cartel members as a direct result of Walt’s dealings, almost killing him and causing him deep physical and emotional damage. Walt’s house is constantly watched and bugged by members of Gus’s drug network. Gus threatens to kill his entire family.
And let’s not forget Jesse Pinkman. Walt may see something in Jesse, but this is far outmatched by the fact that he sees Jesse as easy prey. When asked why he works with a “junkie,” Walt tells Gus, “because he does what I say.” Walt has Gale replaced by Jesse because Gale is not as easily controlled. He has Brock poisoned and guilts Jesse into breaking up with Andrea. When he’s trying to convince Jesse not to leave in “Say My Name,” he talks about “all the people we’ve killed: Gale…and the rest.” Walt has killed plenty of people at this point, but of course the only victim he mentions by name is the one that Jesse himself killed and feels most guilty about. Walt doesn’t want a friend or a partner, he wants someone he can manipulate.
This even applies to his own family. There’s a scene in “Hazard Pay,” after Skyler has her big “shut up!” breakdown, where Marie confronts Walt to ask what’s been going on. We as the viewers know that Skyler’s breakdown was because of the fact that she has to live not only with a selfish, manipulative, drug-dealing murderer for a husband, but also with the guilt that she has played a part in aiding his actions. However, Walt plays Marie and makes it seem like Skyler feels guilt over her affair with Ted. A stunned Marie then gets up and HUGS WALT, as if HE is the victim in all this.
Do you see that disgusting smirk on his face? Walt knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s turning Skyler’s own sister against her out of pure spite. He does the same with his own son, by buying him an expensive car against his wife’s wishes. He is now the cool dad and she is the bitch mom.
Early (and I mean really early) in the show, Walt may have truly set out to do what he did for the good of his family. But when Gretchen offers to pay for his medical bills, she is essentially offering him a way out. Walt gets into drug dealing because he is worried his family will be left with nothing after all the medical bills are paid. Gretchen’s offer totally negates that, but Walt refuses. He would rather sell drugs and put his family in the middle of the criminal underworld than accept money from the company that represents his past failures.
He chose his own pride over his family.
But Walt is the protagonist, and anyone who impedes the protagonist is someone the viewer should hate
This is one of the more recent explanations I’ve seen invading the internet comments about Skyler-hate. The rationale here is that, no matter what kind of horrible person Walter White is, Breaking Bad is still his story. This means we are invested in him, and any character that gets in his way or tries to impede him is someone the viewer is probably going to automatically dislike, because of how emotionally devoted we are to Walt’s journey.
At first glance, this seems like a really good explanation. It makes Walt’s sociopathy a non-factor, which is the main thing he has working against him vs. Skyler. It also appeals to a broad sense of psychology and TV tropes, which all sounds very important and intelligent, thus making the explanation, by association, also seem very important and intelligent.
The only problem is, if you take a couple seconds to really think about it, it’s probably the worst reasoning you could possibly give.
We’re all meant to hate characters that get in the way of the story’s protagonist? Really? All antagonists make you feel the way Skyler makes you feel? So I’m sure you hated The Joker in The Dark Knight the same way you hate Skyler. In fact you must hate every antagonist (“villain”) ever, because they stand in the beloved protagonist’s way.
"That’s not what I mean at all!" you say. "A villain is just as important to the protagonist’s story as the protagonist themselves! I don’t hate all villains because without them, the protagonist’s story I’m so invested in would cease to exist!"
Okay. That’s a fair point. So you’re saying that because Skyler is not the true antagonist, but her actions still threaten or attempt to stop the protagonist, she comes across as an annoying secondary character that the viewer can’t help but hate.
I have two problems with that.
I have yet to come across anyone who dislikes either one of these characters anywhere close to the way people hate Skyler. What’s the difference between them and Skyler? You tell me.
"Gus is so annoying. Hank is such a cunt. Mike is a naggy bitch." - No one ever.
So…what’s the reason?
I don’t know.
It’s a gutsy thing to do, accusing a large chunk of your fanbase of being misogynists as Vince Gilligan did. And I’ve seen some people try to address it above and beyond the “ugh feminazis” response the internet tends to give.
A few people have suggested that Skyler is just a poorly written character, and that there are other female characters on the show that they do like. Coincidentally, Lydia was mentioned as an example of an “interesting character” every time this came up.
First of all, I flat out disagree that Skyler is poorly written. Her character requires maybe a bit more thinking to understand, as a lot of her development is more subtle, but Breaking Bad was never a show that you could half tune out and expect to catch everything.
Secondly, Lydia as an interesting character. Okay, I’m not hating on Lydia. If you like her, good, so do I. I like most characters on the show. But what exactly makes her more “interesting” than Skyler?
You know what the difference between Skyler and Lydia is?
That’s not to say that Skyler isn’t fearful. She fears for her own safety, Walt’s safety, and most of all the safety of her children. But Skyler fights back. Skyler doesn’t just do what Walt says, as much as he’d like her to. Skyler stands up to Walt and tells him that what he’s doing is wrong and that she will not just take it lying down. Even in season five, when Skyler seems scared to death of Walt, she still stands up to him on his birthday in “Fifty One” and lets him know that she will try to match him at every turn to keep her kids safe. It can’t be a coincidence that those first few season five episodes, where Skyler is so shocked at Walt’s actions that she is genuinely scared to be around him, are the only time where any Skyler hater seems able to back off and say “I didn’t hate her as much then, I felt a bit bad for her.”
Lydia, on the other hand, spends most of her screen time cowering in fear of the men on the show. Seriously. With all due respect, I don’t think Lydia is the more “interesting” character, I just think she’s easier for some people to stomach.
The final reason I’ve been given to explain the Skyler hate came from just one person. This person said to me, “this is a television show, I couldn’t give a fuck about morals. I just want Walt and Jesse to kick ass, and Hank to be a badass.”
This is the only explanation I’ve heard that I consider acceptable.
The idea here is that this person watches Breaking Bad for the action. They wanna see some Cool Shit happen. Skyler, as the voice of reason, would keep Cool Shit from happening if she had her way. Therefore, her presence and character are annoying to this viewer.
Fair enough. My only response to that is, by not caring about the aspects of the show that bring up questions of morality and character, you’re missing out on a huge chunk of what makes the show outstanding. Without that, it’s apples and oranges. And in order to have a proper discussion about Skyler as a character, you need to appreciate the moral struggles the characters face. Because Skyler is one of the closest things to a morally dignified character Breaking Bad has.
"What a bitch." - The Internet.
(credit for the amazing Skyler gifset goes to tumblr user krazy-8. see the whole thing here: http://krazy-8.tumblr.com/post/28966235050)