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  • Writer's pictureRua Fay

In Defense of Skyler White

Vince Gilligan's Breaking Bad is one of the most critically acclaimed shows of all time, beloved by audiences around the globe, long after the airing of its finale. Breaking Bad is a show with no shortage of characters who are morally questionable and/or bankrupt. After all, it centers around the underground trade of methamphetamine on the West Coast. But despite the show being full of drug dealers, murderers, corrupt officials, and literal neo-nazis, no character gets nearly as much hate as Skyler White, wife of main character, Walter White. But why is this? Is this hate justified or is it another textbook example of misogyny and viewers simply missing the point of the show?

Skyler White is the long-time wife of Breaking Bad's main character, Walter White. In addition to being a wife she is also the mother of Walter Jr, and for a large portion of the series she is pregnant with her daughter, Holly. For a brief period she helps Walt with money laundering to cover up his drug trafficking, but the majority of her life has seen her holding mundane jobs such as a writer, hostess, bookkeeper, etc. So in a show full of evil and morally-grey people, why on earth is Skyler White the most despised character?

Upon closer inspection, all of the hate directed towards Skyler is coming from viewers rather than critics. In fact, Anna Gunn has recieved seemingly unanimous praise for her performance as Skyler. During Breaking Bad's run, Gunn recieved two Primetime Emmy Awards and a Screen Actor's Guild Award for her portrayal of Skyler. Her character has even been referred to as "the template for television anti-heroines." Never before has there been a character that has garnered such a divisive reception from viewers and critics. While Anna Gunn has been showered with praise from critics, she has been the victim of a vicious hate mob from the show's audience. It even got to the point where Gunn became concerned for her physical safety because of all the bullying and harassment she would recieve, all because she was doing her job as an actor. All of the constant negative attention even prompted Gunn to write an op-ed in the New York Times entitled, "I Have A Character Issue." In her article, Gunn wrote that she was "unprepared for the vitriolic response she inspired...'I have never hated a TV-show character as much as I hate her,' one poster wrote. The consensus among the haters was clear: Skyler was a ball-and-chain, a drag, a shrew, an 'annoying bitch wife.' Gunn's appearance often became the subject of ridicule, with people comparing her face to Woody Harrelson in another attempt at bullying.

It's incredibly disheartening that a woman who was just doing her job, portraying a character that she didn't even write. Unfortunately this isn't an isolated case. Other actors such as Edie Falco and January Jones who played Carmela Soprano from The Sopranos and Betty Draper from Mad Men, respectively, have all received similar spiteful reception, despite the fact that their TV husbands are the ones who are in the wrong. Characters like Walter White, Tony Soprano, and Don Draper aren't written to be likable characters, charismatic maybe, but not someone the audience should be rooting for. Yet no matter how terrible the men's deeds are, it's their wives who are met with vitriol from the audience as soon as they object to their husbands' wrongdoings. It's all an example of textbook misogyny that unfortunately stretches past the characters and onto the actresses, themselves.

Breaking Bad is a complicated show to watch at times, which is partly what makes it so brilliant. The story is told from the perspective of Walter White which tricks you into involuntarily rooting for the villain at times. It's such an interesting show because the main character isn't necessarily the protagonist. Because of the way the show is written, we as audience members are forced to see Walt as the protagonist and Skyler as the antagonist simply because she is against his illegal activities that put herself and her family at risk. Walt may claim that he only got into the drug trade to give his family a financial nest egg after he passed away from Lung Cancer, but after a certain point he was doing it for himself, because it gave him power like he'd never experienced before. Walter White is one of the most iconic television characters in history, and his personality has been analyzed and studied countless times throughout the years, but people still don't take the time to think about Skyler and what she goes through during the show's five seasons.

Think about it, Skyler is a 40 year old woman with an unexpected pregnancy, a son with Cerebral Palsy, a kleptomaniac sister, and a husband who is dying of Lung Cancer. Then while dealing with all these issues, she discovers that her husband is a drug kingpin, putting herself and her family in serious danger. When she finds out, she is concerned, horrified, and wanting him to stop, something that anyone else in her situation would also feel. However, because the audience has been practically forced to see Walt as the good guy, Skyler is made into a villain rather than a normal woman who is worried about her family's safety.

Admittedly, Skyler is not without her own faults, after finding out that Walt is a meth dealer, she has an affair with her coworker, Ted Beneke and helps him cover up his tax fraud. She also briefly helps Walt run the car wash that he bought for money laundering purposes. However, when you stack all of these misdeeds up against Walt's they seem absolutely miniscule. Not only does Walt cook meth, he has also manufactured a bomb, hired contract killers, poisoned a child, and has been involved in multiple murders. Yet, it's still Skyler that gets all the hate from fans. Skyler White is far from a perfect person, and she is not without her flaws, but it's ridiculous that her character should be the victim of a hate mob while behaving like a normal person and condemning the illegal activities of her husband. All of the hatred towards Skyler is a prime example of why Breaking Bad might be one of the most misunderstood shows of the past decade. Similar to Mary Harron's American Psycho, Breaking Bad also goes to show just how much you can get away with when you're a white man in America. Where American Psycho proved it with the law, Breaking Bad proves it with the opinions of the audience.

At the end of her op-ed in the New York Times, Anna Gunn writes: "I can’t say that I have enjoyed being the center of the storm of Skyler hate. But in the end, I’m glad that this discussion has happened, that it has taken place in public and that it has illuminated some of the dark and murky corners that we often ignore or pretend aren’t still there in our everyday lives."

I'm glad that Anna Gunn has moved forward with a positive attitude after being the victim of a national hate mob, simply for playing a character. My point here is not to convince you that Skyler White is an angel or completely above criticism because she is a woman. I just hope that the next time you feel an overwhelming sense of hatred towards a female character, take a moment to reflect on whether your hatred is for a deeper reason than just "she's a bitch," and please treat your entertainers with kindness.

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