Haters of Breaking Bad‘s Skyler White are gonna hate, and their hate is misogynistic, plain and simple. SPOILERS AHEAD!
The first Hater I ever met was one of my friends.
The words of passionate, flaming-hot rage were coming from one of the first people I’d met who was a fellow Breaking Bad fan—Breaking Bad, my accidental, life-altering, awesome-as-fuck! discovery of 2009. The Hater was my friend, Susie—Susie is not her real name, but I wish her no ill will (and more importantly, don’t wish to give due cause to her petty bitchiness)—a fellow MFA-candidate in my creative writing program. I first learned she was a Hater in early 2011—season four was on the horizon, slated to begin that July, and I was itching out of my skin (kind of like how I’m itching out of my skin right now, awaiting the final eight episodes, the first of which premieres Sunday at 9 EST on AMC). Susie was watching the show all the way through for the first time, thanks to Netflix. She was somewhere in season two. This was before the show’s free streaming began; she had to wait for the individual DVDs, so she was essentially binge-watching three episodes at a time. I was just thankful to finally have someone to gush to about the show, which I’d been In A Serious Relationship With since I’d first seen it, during the soul-killing boredom that comes with working a day job then trudging home to trudge through grad school applications every night. I needed something to give my mind a breather, but I wanted it to be a good breather. I usually don’t watch television, but I’d finally listened to the critics. And holy shit, were they right.
Susie was sitting in her usual seat in the teaching assistants’ computer lab, next to our mutual friend Adam. I walked in excited to see her and hear her take on the latest trio of episodes.
After a few comments about the show’s actual plot…the deluge. Susie unleashed a rant so loaded with shrill proclamations and whiny groans, I fumbled my way into a free chair across the row of interlocked computer cubicles, my eyes wide and more than a little scared.
Susie kept repeating herself: “I just HATE SKYLER. I just…HATE HER! I REALLY REALLY REALLY HATE HER!!!”
There was no logic to it. There was no sensible attempt at an argument to prove this hatred valid. Evidently, Susie felt she didn’t need any sort of justification. It was just so obvious!
I stared at her, peeking meekly over the back of her computer monitor, as she ranted on and on to Adam. I looked over to him, unsure why he wasn’t offering any form of rebuttal. No—Adam was actually agreeing with her. I didn’t even know Adam watched Breaking Bad. He was a friendly, quiet guy, one who could bust out worthwhile information—like, Hey, I Too Am Obsessed with the Breaking Bad!—at seemingly odd times. I didn’t even care that Adam watched the show, however, because I was too swollen with what I can only describe as anguish and inexplicable embarrassment. The knot in my 25-year-old stomach felt like the most popular girl in middle school had just exclaimed that my mom really smelled like cat pee; therefore she deserved to be shot. Publicly.
I remember the words, “annoying” and “bitch,” along with the phrases, “ruins everything” and “pain in the ass” ring in between Susie’s groans and grunts of disapproval. She spoke at a higher octave than usual, in the tinny whine she reserved for when she was especially disgusted with something—or someone—she couldn’t logically blame for anything. (And folks, we’ll get to the Ted issue soon.)
Adam was much more calm and observant than Susie was, because at some point he noted my silence with a chuckle.
Susie turned to me. What?! Do you NOT hate her? HOW!? she demanded, as though I’d just remarked that, Nah, I didn’t really have a problem with Hitler.
I proceeded to fumble through my attempt at a Defense. I said that Walter White was clearly the show’s “hero” character—at least, at the time—even though he’s doing really…well…bad things. He was also lying to Skyler constantly, keeping her in the dark on most matters, thus making Skyler look (to viewers) like, sure, like one hell of a suspicious shrew and/or a buzzkill. Because we’re along for Walt’s ride. Skyler didn’t know about the good intentions that, at least at the beginning, had propelled her husband into the Wild West’s meth world. She wasn’t aware of the complete transformation her husband, who had been a certifiable Mr. Chips for almost 20 years, was willfully in the process of undergoing, or why he’d been so ready to die when diagnosed with cancer (all because he’d never gotten over the whole Gray Matter thing—let it GO, man!). Skyler was confused, frustrated, overwhelmed, bewildered, pissed off, and scared as all hell. If not about Walt’s impending death from cancer, about the meth shenanigans.
It’s all about point of view! I proclaimed (what I thought was so obvious to begin with). We’re goddamn MFA students! Why the fuckity fuck are you having a problem understanding simple point of view? (Okay, I was too chicken shit to say those last two sentences aloud. [Obvious pause.] You got me.)
I added lots of “kind of…”s and “maybe…?”s into that nervous defense at the time, because both Susie and Adam were looking at me like they had just realized who I really was, what I really stood for, and that was definitely not a good thing. Because I was standing up for (gasp!) Skyler White.
I wish I could say that my battle for Skyler White was a one-time-only event, but that was only the beginning. As has been noted widely in the entertainment media for quite a while now, there is a vast, passionate pool of people who Really Fucking Hate Skyler White. Hatin’ on SW, as well as the other females on Breaking Bad—the shallow and truly pesky Marie and in season five, the conniving anxiety-oozing snob, Lydia—has been a Monday morning water-cooler topic since the show began. Many of the Haters also take out their anger behind the sweet, sweet embrace of the internet (of course). That doesn’t mean they’re all anonymous—Facebook has a slew of Skyler Hate groups, most of which look like they’ve been created by a very sexually frustrated failure of human life with serious anger management problems and lives in his mother’s basement. Or, perhaps, a particularly misogynistic, lug-headed frat boy-type. (If you google “I hate skyler white,” the groups will pop up before you finish typing.) They even project their caveman-like cruelties onto actress Anna Gunn—her fluctuating weight (her character had a baby, you idiots), her facial contortions, her voice—which I find extremely offensive and problematic, for reasons that I’m filing under “So Obvious I’m Not Going To Explain This.”
There are also the blah-blah-blah bloggers, but even writers for semi-worthwhile entertainment commentary websites will openly argue that Skyler really is a shitty/evil/annoying character. Argue poorly, I might add.
What makes this more complex—and not a completely ignorable issue—is that Skyler has truly not been the model of a perfect wife. She cheated on Walt with Ted. If she were a slightly better person, she wouldn’t have done that. True. But the harpies bring ol’ Ted up at every opportunity. “She fucked Ted! Ha! She sucks!” Yes, children, adultery is very rarely a justifiable move. I’ve listened to all the episodes’ DVD commentary tracks with the cast and crew (because I’m a Nerd In Love), and I know that, in the words of the actor who plays Ted himself, “Everyone hates Ted.” Other commentary guests, actors and crew members, chuckle and agreed with him; yep, everyone who watches our show HATES your character. Sorry dude. This fact makes Skyler’s moral oops look even more damning.
I think anyone with a sense of what relationships are like can identify why she did the deed with Ted—to hurt Walt, who had been dragging her through a nightmare of unimaginable proportions for quite some time (we’ll get to time itself momentarily). Skyler also felt needed and wanted by a man who had always needed and wanted her, at a time when her husband’s needs and wants were clearly not worthy of fulfillment. Sexual frustration is a powerful thing, man, and she uses that to hit Walt where it hurts.
Then there’s the fact that she gave Ted $600,000 without Walt’s permission—only to prevent Ted, but more importantly HER, from being audited by the IRS. And the son of a bitch refused it! If your memory is failing on the details, I’ll spell it out, just as Skyler spells it out approximately 40 times over the course of season four to Ted, Saul, and we the viewers: with the carwash embezzlement scheme fully underway, if Ted gets audited, SHE will get audited, at which time they are all FUCKED. Like, you might as well leave a piece of super-incriminating evidence on the back of the toilet seat for Hank to find while he’s taking a shit. And the IRS has precisely zero familial connection to the Whites. They would have dropped kicked everybody—EVERYBODY—into prison to get shivved by some of Gus’s white-power contract killers. When I hear or read anyone harp on the fact she gave Ted the money—I feel the need to give them my icy “You are an imbecile who doesn’t listen/understand what ‘AUDIT’ means”-stare. Skyler’s $600,000 “gift” was not dumb, or disloyal, or annoying—that was Skyler harnessing Walt’s meticulous and corrupted attention to detail to protect the Family.
That she flipped at all could be considered a bit on the evil or hypocritical side, sure. But she’s given two choices: 1) turn her husband in and/or divorce him, which really would only succeed in scarring their children, to one degree or another, forever, or 2) going along with the plan and protecting the whole charade from Saul/Walt’s foolish and sloppy tendencies, because yes, she is a really good accountant, one who knows how to hide embezzled funds from Hank and Marie. However, judging by her reaction to Ted’s body cast, Walt’s “The End Justifies the Means” philosophy just is not something his wife can stomach. She doesn’t take pride in the power she flexes; she’s ashamed of it.
If you want to harp on something, it’s that she let Ted get away with anything sketchy at all while working for him. But—do I really need to state this?!—how the fuckity fuck would she have known at the time that she may, in the near future, need to purchase a CARWASH with her husband so that she could embezzle his meth money? One could say that Skyler is simply unimaginative…? Okay, sure. The Haters can have that one.
By the first half of season five, we should all agree that Walt has become a very unsympathetic “hero” to root for, if you can still root for him at all. We also should all agree that Skyler is now the parent who is truly protecting the children—not from outside threats triggered directly by Walt’s hijinks, like he had been doing for previous seasons, but from Walt himself: his pride, his greed; his abysmal self-esteem; the stupid shit he does trying to boost it; and finally, his ability to drop all moral standards for the sake of his burgeoning “empire.” Then there are all the possible Shady Characters, from the Albuquerque streets to the poor, poor Czech Republic, who may one day wish Walt and his family harm. If revenge does come to collect, Skyler can’t save her husband; she can’t save herself. She might not be able to save her sister, brother-in-law, and most importantly, her children. But she does everything in her power to try.
There are still people who will hold onto their ill feelings toward Skyler White by settling for what Susie did three years ago in our teaching assistant computer lab. Skyler is annoying. She’s whiny. (As though Susie herself was not? Bitch please.) She craps on all of Walt’s fun! She’s an uptight, controlling shrew!
That is difficult to argue with, because it’s a simple tolerance issue. I can tolerate quite a bit of whining, buzzkilling, and annoying behavior if I feel so inclined, and in Skyler White’s case, I feel quite inclined. Why? the Hater would demand. For a long time, I couldn’t adequately express my willingness, except for that I felt really terrible for her. I also knew that if I were in her position, I’d be much whinier and bitchier and crazier (and sluttier).
But the key to Why I’m Right arrived, in a true “EUREKA!” moment, at the onset of season five. It was episode two. The key lies in Walt’s birthday bacon—shredded by Skyler’s appropriately perturbed fingers—into the number “51.” Its meaning didn’t register fully until the end of the episode, when Skyler makes her fateful “suicide attempt” walk into the deep end of the White family pool. The walk itself didn’t trigger any eurekas, but Walt’s overlapping hokey, insincere, downright enraging “Thank You For All Your Support This Past Year” speech to Hank and Marie did. While most viewers were probably concerned more with Skyler’s steely suicide-in-slow-motion, my eureka moment was sinking deeply, deeply in. “Oh! My! God!” I exclaimed, to my empty apartment. There were several more OMGs, along with a good number of f-bombs and at least one “Sonofabitch! Sonofafuckingbitch!!!!!”
Because I had realized this: the entire show—everything that Walt had been through, everything that he’d put Skyler through, from hiding the cancer to the Winnebago to Tuco to the second cell phone to the plane crash to missing Holly’s birth to the severed head on the turtle shell to Hank getting shot to Saul and Jesse and Gale and Kingpin Gus, the Superlab that came with him, and his glorious ding-ding-ding death, all of it—had taken place over the course of ONE YEAR. ONE. YEAR.
I wasn’t sure how I’d missed this and felt appropriately stupid for a few days. How could I have not thought more about Holly! She ages VERY slowly. The commentary tracks talk about the damn baby actors on practically every episode. Dammit! (Skyler is seven months pregnant when the show starts; Holly has yet to take her first steps when the timeline factoid is revealed.) And I had, in all earnestness, wondered quite a bit about the actual timeline of Breaking Bad, although never in a too investigative of a fashion. Dammit.
Luckily, I read somewhere online—and Vince Gilligan talks about the subject at length during one of season five’s commentaries—that everyone involved with the show knew that there were to be as few indicators of time, any time at all, as possible from the get-go. We don’t know what year it is. We don’t know much about the season. We don’t know much at all, except for a few very minor slip-ups here and there, along with the obvious time-marker of Holly’s birth. It’s there, but is only through Holly. It should, according to Gilligan, come as somewhat of a revelation to the viewer that this whole shebang had, yes, taken place over the course of one calendar year, even if that took almost six years of actual television-time to get there.
Thus, my argument was strengthened. Over the course of ONE YEAR, this woman has been through:
-her husband getting cancer,
-him keeping it from her,
-him not wanting treatment,
-him starting to act strange and distant,
-him accepting treatment,
-I could go on, but this list would be approximately 40 pages long, and if you’ve read this far into this article, you surely know all the crazy, fucked up, frustrating, terrifying, and traumatic things that would be on it. Giving birth (hormones?!), learning about a second cell phone’s true existence only as your sedated husband is being wheeled into major surgery, and getting put in a safe house (while said husband is out blowing all the “bad” people up) would definitely be big points on the list. As would be buying a carwash, almost killing your former mister to cover up the embezzlement occurring at said carwash, and, well, realizing that your husband is not only a meth cook, but a major meth kingpin, and he’s killed at least a few people (247, to be precise).
In other words, I am flabbergasted that Skyler has been as “together” as she has been all this time. I know I would have lost my shit several seasons ago. I would have lost my shit about 247 times. And hell yes I would have smoked that cigarette while pregnant. Hell yes I would have screamed “SHUT UP!” at Marie over and over, like a broken record (and I would have cracked much earlier, frankly). Hell yes I would be terrified and disgusted by my husband, hell yes I would’ve fucked another man (if not many other men), and hell yes I would be drinking a ton of white wine every night straight out of the biggest wine glass made on this planet. Hell yes, Skyler White, it is O-fucking-K that you did all that stuff. All things considered, of course.
And if Susie, or a blogger, or some idiot on Facebook, or any other Hater out there thinks that they would’ve or could’ve handled the situation in a better way, well, in my rather intelligent opinion, they can head straight down to ding-ding-ding hell.
In case my opinion and insight is not enough to sway you, I would like to point to two recent tidbits in the media that I believe sum up my position quite well.
First, Dean Norris (Hank!) recently appeared on Conan O’Brien’s talk show. Among other things, Norris says that it’s weird to him when people come up to him and ask “who they’re supposed to root for.” The on-air exchange:
CONAN O’BRIEN: What kind of fans are you getting? I mean, you have a lot of fans, but some of them are a little strange, yes?
DEAN NORRIS: Yeah you do get some…(chuckles)…You do get some interesting fans, yeah. I’m always concerned about, err, I always wonder about the fans who say, you know, “I’m never sure who to root for!” And I’m always like, Really? The guy’s a psycho-killer who’s willing to poison a ten-year-old kid and….you’re not sure who to root for? (Deadpan stare; audience laughs.) Let me give you a hand on that. (Puts left hand in the air): Walter White… (right hand in the air): pretty much anyone else in the cast. (Audience laughs along with Norris and Conan.)
CONAN: No, well, I mean I can see what they’re saying, I mean, we’re so invested in Walter White at this point…we’ve watched him develop and grow over all this time, so…you can get a little conflicted at times, right?
NORRIS: I guess you can, I don’t. I want him dead. (Conan and audience laugh loudly.)
If Dean Norris, a seasoned actor who went to Harvard, doesn’t strike you as a voice worth listening to, then maybe Breaking Bad’s creator and executive producer Vince Gilligan’s opinion may be worth your while. In a May interview with the Vulture blog at New York Magazine (it was published around the time of the Arrested Development brouhaha, so many people probably missed it), Gilligan addresses the Skyler White question:
VULTURE: One of the criticisms of Breaking Bad that keeps coming up is over the female characters. Skyler White is seen by some as this henpecking woman who stands in the way of Walt’s fun.
GILLIGAN: Man, I don’t see it that way at all. We’ve been at events and had all our actors up onstage, and people ask Anna Gunn, “Why is your character such a bitch?” And with the risk of painting with too broad a brush, I think the people who have these issues with the wives being too bitchy on Breaking Bad are misogynists, plain and simple. I like Skyler a little less now that she’s succumbed to Walt’s machinations, but in the early days she was the voice of morality on the show. She was the one telling him, “You can’t cook crystal meth.” She’s got a tough job being married to this asshole. And this, by the way, is why I should avoid the Internet at all costs. 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. How could you have a problem with that?
And that, dear Blunderbuss readers, concludes my closing argument.
I wish I were still in touch with Susie, if only to tell her that Vince Gilligan thinks she’s a misogynist, plain and simple. And with the risk of painting with too broad a brush: all the Haters are.
Ladies and Gentleman, the Defense rests.