Refusal to Settle: Why I Love Skyler White

Skyler White Breaking BadWhen I tell people my favorite show is Breaking Bad, I am usually met with the same reaction. Their eyes light up, they smile from ear to ear, gush about the complex characterization of the world of drugs, gush about the glorious cinematography and the use of the Albuquerque desert landscape as an allegory, and then say the exact same thing. “I just wish Skyler wasn’t in the show, she’s the worst character.” But unlike most people, I was enthralled with Skyler White from Breaking Bad’s incredible pilot episode all the way through to its heart-wrenching series finale. I found her to be a complex and well-written female character, despite her personality’s severe edge and her tendency to do what the audience doesn’t want her to do – actually, perhaps because of those very aspects of her.

The women of Breaking Bad are unfairly derided by the show’s viewers. Skyler White is associated with eye rolls and deep sighs because she says and does things that cause tension with her male counterpart, Walter White. To me, it is precisely this tension that makes Breaking Bad’s leading lady so compelling to watch; she is not afraid to stand up to her man and act on her own emotional callings. Skyler does this when she allows her anger to come out and when she eventually cheats on Walt in Season Three’s iconic episode “I.F.T.” Skyler White is not the worst. She is a multi-faceted, important character that represents important aspects of the story Breaking Bad tells; and she does not flinch when her story is hard to watch.

Skyler White is despised by viewers largely because of her attitude toward Walt, which many people will describe as “bitchy”. To use a word like “bitch” to describe Skyler White is not only demeaning, but also strips her of her character traits. Skyler White may not be the most likable woman in the world, but in the universe of Breaking Bad and in the White household, she is one of the only people whose actions have any moral fiber. Her anger and lashing out at Walter is justified when his actions are taken in a greater context, and his resentment of her, paralleled by the viewer, is childish.

Skyler White Breaking Bad

When Walter first gets involved in meth production, his first instinct is to lie to his wife. The viewer swallows this quite easily; after all, they got into the show knowing that the main character is an anti-hero and that he is deeply flawed, and the viewer sympathizes with his desire to keep his cancer and his methods of dealing with that cancer to himself. On some level, the viewer understands that Walter wants to shoulder the burden himself. When Skyler discovers the cancer and tries to help Walter, however, the viewer should be expected to see her actions as sympathetic. But instead, they find her annoying. She has a harsh edge and a severe tone to everything she says and does, and the viewer is turned off to her immediately because of that. This does the character of Skyler White a great disservice. Her harshness, her severity, and her justified anger at Walt for hiding his medical problems from her (his wife, for goodness’ sake!) do not make her a villain. They make her normal. It is normal for someone to be upset and angry in response to a personal tragedy. Skyler faces the tragedy of Walt’s cancer, the tragedy of learning he’s lying to her, and eventually the greatest tragedy of all – knowing that he is a drug kingpin – and her grief manifests itself in anger and resentment. The viewer tends not to sympathize with her resentment, rather denying her agency over her grief. Interestingly, the viewer is completely okay with Walter’s resentment of Skyler – in fact, they tend to encourage it and maybe even experience it themselves. But is Walter’s resentment justified? No! Not in the slightest! So why is the viewer on his side?

Skyler and Walter White Breaking Bad

Walter resents Skyler because she turned out to be smarter and more complex than he expected. When Walter met Skyler, she was a pretty blonde waitress, nothing like his ex-girlfriend Gretchen, who he was convinced had betrayed him simply by having ownership in his company Gray Matter. Walter was afraid of being with a woman – or a business partner – who was stronger and more talented than he was, and so he turned to Skyler for comfort, thinking she would be a harmless patsy in his greater schemes. Of course, those schemes were at first simply to dominate in the field of chemical entrepreneurship, not necessarily to delve into the world of drugs and methamphetamine, but in both cases, Walter expected Skyler to bow to his every will. When that did not happen, he became incredibly hateful and resentful of his wife as a result. In response to that resentment, Skyler lashes out, first in the form of a severe and angry attitude, and later in more concrete ways, like cheating on him with her boss and then eventually leaving Walter.

It is cruel, really, how the viewer empathizes with Walter’s resentment and finds Skyler’s to be so distasteful. Skyler White’s anger is completely justified. She’s not the worst character on the show for having a resentful and severe demeanor; her behavior is a direct result of the emotional trauma she’s gone through as a result of her husband’s selfishness. She’s the only character in Breaking Bad whose attitude really makes sense, and unlike the average viewer, I love her for it.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Kathleen is a TV production professional in the greater NY area. She is also a freelance writer published across the web.

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47 Comments

  1. Perfect, gripping television drama. Huge respect to all involved in writing, filming and acting it, and that includes New Mexico itself, a place I’d never even dreamed of wanting to visit but woukd like to now.

  2. Breaking Bad is really, really good television. But I do wish there were solid female characters. Or solid characters who happened to be women.

    • Agreed. I hate the idea of just having a women shoehorned into a story to make up some sort of quota, and I hate the argument that tokenism is really what I’m after when I lament the fact that there aren’t that many good female characters on some of my favorite TV shows. For one thing, I don’t believe a woman character would have to be a “token” at all: we make up 50% of all the people on the planet. Women can be criminals and cops and doctors and addicts and whatever else out in the real world, why not on TV?

      It’s not hard to write a good female character. It’s happened before. I understand a popular novelist was recently asked how he could write such good female characters. “Well,” he replied, “I’ve always thought of women as people …” If TV writers would apply that idea to TV writing (that women are people) and there will be no more need to say things like how very, very good a show is before having to add that there aren’t any non-cartoony women on it.

  3. Skyler’s not meant to be a mirror for the viewer. Rather than a nag and a bore I see her as someone else corrupted by Walt’s arc and as his wife is a mirror for him.

  4. Slaidey

    This is a great article, I felt strongly for Skyler while watching Breaking Bad too. I find the same in Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones. People hate her, and I ask them, why? It really boils down to people not having the capacity or attention span to empathize with a character that is just emotionally complex and cunning, not action heavy.

  5. bhammer100
    0

    I never understood the hate for Skylar. Its not like she turned in Walt when she found out he was in the drug business. She broke bad with him.

  6. Aaron Hatch

    I agree with you. Calling her a “bitch” is not only disrespectful to her as a character, but it simplifies the character development through out the show. We can all remember a time in our lives where we were in a lose-lose situation, and it could be hard to look for a bright future. She became more of a victim of an evil husband by each and every episode. In real life, some wives are victims of abusive husbands, and the point of the show is that if you become a criminal, you won’t be able to hide you loved one form the truth for very long.

  7. A great show in many ways. Waiting for season two of Better Call Saul now.

  8. I’m one of the weirdos who thinks Skyler White is a great character. I know the male fans of the show hate her for getting in Walt’s way, but as I watched her in each episode I thought to myself, “that’s probably how I would react in that situation,”

    • I am probably one of the few male fans of the show who thought she was the strongest character and I liked her.

    • Exactly my thoughts…what would I do if my husband was Walter. And I completely agree with Skyler ‘s way to protect her family and her own life and still caring for the one who had been my partner for so many years. The affection can’t end in one day, the love for each other as a couple is slowly fading with every lie and every threat. Now i love Skyler but in the first season i had my reservations…then i asked myself :what would I do…?

  9. As a ginger man, I am often moved to ponder why there are no great red headed and freckled characters.

  10. DClarke

    Great article. “Bitchy” women are so easy to hate because the director and writer make it that way, very few times does the public stop to think that the female character is justified in her displeasure/hurt/anger. It is great that you have used this example to make a very valid point.

  11. Carranza
    0

    The two biggest shows where the main characters were female.

    Sex in the City and Desperate Housewives.

    One completely shit and the other pretty shit.

    Maybe time for better female written, female based TV programmes.

  12. I don’t think anyone will ever beat Mags Bennett from Justified.

    • Mags Bennet is probably one of my favourite characters in anything. Justified is a great example multi-dimensional women taking centre stage. As was Deadwood, which a lot of supposed authorities on TV with all their talk of Mad Men and The Wire tend to ignore.

    • Sons of Anarchy has some good female characters too.

    • In Sharkey
      0

      Justified has a few good female characters.

  13. Xuan Felton
    0

    I’ve always interpreted Breaking Bad to be primarily about masculinity, and the consequences of Walt’s pursuit of his own masculine ideal (empire).

  14. Crooker
    5

    Skyler was annoying because NO MATTER what Walt did her reaction was ALWAYS negative. Walt was damned if he did, damned if he didn’t. It got to be really, really annoying. That’s why people hate Skyler, plain and simple.

  15. Raymond
    0

    I actually like Skyler. She has become more appealing as Walter has degenerated. Hanks wife is unfortunately very one-dimentional.

  16. Dude Skyler was awesome. I loved Skyler. It’s Marie I wasn’t a fan of. But man Skyler was one of my favorite characters up there with Walter himself.

  17. Yes the combination of characters kept the show alive and interesting drawing you into the story….Skyler was the perfect counter to Walt’s ways, giving and taking and then finding resolve and purpose by action.

  18. I disliked Skyler mainly because she lacked gratitude.

  19. Great read! The utter disgust so many people have towards Skyler while glorifying Walt speaks directly to the inherent misogyny of the viewing public. Her decisions are as immoral as anyone’s in the entirety of the series, but because of her role as housewife, she becomes a “bitch” because she steps out of that role.

  20. Having watched and loved Breaking Bad, I find this article and point of view particularly refreshing. I also fear it potentially misses the larger question of the series – many viewers dislike Skyler’s character but feel great sympathy and even admiration for Walt. Why?

    What does this reaction to a murderous drug dealer say about the state of our society as a whole? The arguments in favor of Walt’s actions are legion (the unfulfilled, dying genius seeks to provide for his family, etc.), but how can so much of the viewing population fall for a villain (myself included)?

    Breaking Bad’s first episode aired in 2008 – a period in our national history characterized by deep dissatisfaction with the establishment and a strongly subversive social undercurrent. Walter became a means by which people unhappy with “the system” could vicariously express their personal desires to break the rules. Skyler, conversely, is the voice of reason against which Walt (and we) wish to rebel.

    Calling Skyler “bitchy” is perhaps rancorously simplistic. Disliking her character and her role in the show means only that Gilligan successfully channeled the collective psyche of his viewers.

  21. Skylar was hated because she was normal, which was apparently crazy in this show. But of course people love to side with the deeply flawed and live vicariously through them.

  22. southdakoda

    I am so glad someone took up this topic. As a fellow fan of the show, I always felt that Skyler was the strongest character. And more than just character-wise, I felt like she was often “out-acting” her male counterparts. For a long time, I wasn’t sure if her role as “the bitch” was genuine, that she really just happened to be a bitch, or if the creators of the show were just unable to write and depict a complex female character under pressure. I think it’s a mix of both, and I really enjoyed your exploration of the audience’s role in contributing to her being seen as “uptight” or “bitchy.”

  23. Taylor Henderson

    Yes to all of this. And JohnArthur’s comment is spot on.

  24. I think part of the misplaced hate for Skyler White also has to be pinned on a misunderstanding of what her character is meant to be in relation to Walter. I think that she is actually meant to act as a kind of antagonist throughout many parts of the show, especially in the first two seasons. She is certainly not cast in the same light as Gus or Jack, but I think that those looking to find a protagonist in her are looking in the wrong place. Skyler is as complex as Walter himself, and just like Walter, she is no hero.

  25. Yes! This is excellent. When I finished Breaking Bad, I immediately wanted to talk about the complexity of the entire White household, but found that people would just groan about Skyler’s character. It frustrated me because they were letting their bias towards Walter cloud their ability to empathize or even appreciate Skyler. She was brushed off as the nagging wife instead of the legitimate and comprehensive symbol of morality within the story.

  26. Skyler White is a flawed character. But so is Walter. So is Jesse. So is everyone on this show. And that’s what makes for a GOOD character. No one’s going to relate to a perfect person because perfect people don’t exist. Skyler doesn’t deserve nearly as much of the shade that gets thrown in her direction for being just as flawed as everyone else.

    Great article.

  27. Diego Santoyo
    DSantoyo
    0

    I need to watch the show so I can see all this play out.

  28. She’s an important character, but definitely not my favorite. However, I don’t think that the viewer is supposed to like her.

  29. People that hate skyler are the worst type of breaking bad fan. Her development becomes almost as fascinating as Walt and Jesse’s. She’s an absolutely essential character. I remember a late night reading this horrible bro website that claimed to be written by all Alpha Males. There was this disgusting piece that just tore skyler apart for… holding back Walt? But he was evil? I don’t know. I’m a fan of her.

  30. I found Skyler appealing in many ways that some people disagree with. She seemed to have a sense of what was morally appropriate for her children, especially by the end. Granted, she did do some things that were questionable, but by the end of the show she was really the one protecting them in the way they deserved in spite of what Walt did.

  31. itskaella

    Huge Breaking Bad fan here, if there is ever a gameshow just for Breaking Bad trivia you’ll see me on it! That being said, Skyler White is such a complex character. Her motivations are clear, she is a mother of two whose husband is a drug lord by the end of the series and her plate is clearly full trying to keep the kids safe and herself happy. I didn’t start respecting Skyler until the end of the series, mainly because she doesn’t treat Walt very nicely in season one. I’m all for a strong female character, but seasons one through three Skyler can be hard to watch. Its also important to remember that this show is about Walt’s transition from ordinary man who is constantly emasculated by his wife and those around him to becoming the most dangerous man in the country. I get that she has a surprise baby on the way, and I understand that she handles everything at home while Walt goes to work at J.P Winne High and A1A car wash, but instead of encouraging him and supporting him it seems as though she adds to his stresses. After Walt ‘breaks bad’ she immediately goes on the up and up for me. Skyler becomes more and more respectable as Walt slowly loses the viewer’s respect through his newfound occupation. Thus revealing the true genius of this show, the switch that happens between Walt and the other characters from beginning to end.

    • Surprise baby, or baby that allows her to stay home for another 18 years? Likewise, Skyler’s “writing” a book that just never gets started. Reminds me of Stewy Griffin asking Brian, “So, how’s that book comin’? Makin’ progress on that book, huh? Published any day, huh?” ad nauseum.

      One of the goals of the feminist movement is to end the abuse of women by giving options to women equalizing men and women. Skyler White uses an option Walter will never have, pregnancy, to abuse her husband through control. For God’s sake, she’s a stay-at-home mom for a high schooler who attends where his dad teaches. The woman doesn’t even give the kid a ride home. Reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s line about American aristocrats marrying the most useless woman possible to show off the fact that their wives were nothing more than ornaments. While Skyler is intelligent, I t wouldn’t surprise me if Walter, as vain as he is, married her for that reason, not accounting for her will, impulsiveness, need for control, passive-aggressiveness, and laziness. Skyler is an insult to feminism.

  32. I thought this article was an interesting take on the show “Breaking Bad”. I fell in love with the show, much like the rest of the world, and have never really looked into the female characters. Skylar White is indeed a compelling character, because at times she is more witty and harsh than Walter is himself. Awesome article!

  33. Caitlin Ray

    I agree-Skyler is a really interesting character that got a lot of undeserved hate. One of the best choices the show made (and I’m not sure if this was planned or if the writers decided to move her character in this direction) was to have Skyler be an excellent accountant. This totally explained some of her more “annoying” traits in the first season-being incredibly detail-oriented, for instance. Then, she was able to fit into Walt’s world in later seasons as she helped launder their money rather than acting purely as an obstacle for Walt.

  34. Thank you for writing this article. Just finished watching this series and next to Jesse, Skyler was my favorite character much to my friend’s dismay who told me how much she was hated when the show originally aired. I didn’t look anything up related to show to avoid spoiler but have since and really don’t understand the vitriol surrounding her.

  35. Kenny Lim

    I completely agree with you. I have absolutely no problem with Skyler, and I feel like she is the most realistic character and ties everything together. Marie, on the other hand, I’ve always found annoying.

  36. of course “Skyler is a bitch” is not a just comment on this character. It is a simplified one. Deep down, the reason people call her that has many reasons. I am on the 3rd episode of the 3rd season, so I cannot say anything about what happened thereafter, but being passive aggressive, and unfaithful to the other partner is in no book a right thing to do in a relationship, whether you are a male or a female. And there is no justification for that. Walter’s reason to do all the bad things so far were to support his family, and he has been doing that and nothing but that, wether or not he has harmed other characters on the way; whereas Skyler did this terrible thing only to get a revenge on Walt or just try to assert her own power? This is purely selfish and even more selfish than Walt in that being unfaithful does not even do her family any good, in contrast to Walt’s motivation. It is selfish, and childish, like a high school girlfriend sleep with other dudes just to get a revenge on her boyfriend because her guy cheated on her. But in this case, she doesn’t even have the right to do so. You might say “oh Walt moved back in without her consent and refused to live that’s why she is doing this”. Well this is because she shut off Walt in all possible ways and left Walt with nothing to do but this. You can’t just be passive aggressive and give the other person silence treatment so that they go crazy then you can come back and point fingers at him/her and be like “oh why are you doing this i didn’t do anything it is your fault that you flipped the pizza/moved back/ etc etc”. To conclude this long comment, I would like to say “fuck Skyler because she is indeed a passive aggressive bitch”.

  37. Refusal to settle? “Sometimes even the president of the United States must have to stand naked.” In an unintended way, this article’s title is perfect since those who don’t “settle” end up, like Skyler, alone.

    According to writer Sherwood Anderson’s description, people like Skyler White are “grotesques,” people who destroy themselves by clinging to one truth to the exclusion of all others. Skyler’s preferred truth is belief in control.

    Skyler’s refusal to “ever believe” in Walt (his words, from his police-taped conversation with Skyler) was one factor in him becoming a drug lord. Can’t win in the professional world? In marriage? In creating a strong, healthy, name bearing son? Build an empire, even if there’s a crack (pun intended) in the foundation.

    Bogdan makes a comment about Walter having to send his woman to do the difficult work. Jesse says to Walt, “I guess we know who wears the pants in the family.” Skyler impulsively makes up the gambling money story. She also impulsively chases off Lydia from the car wash. She’s as thoughtful and subtle as a hammer blow.

    Moral? Only if morality is measured by degree of control. Her moral misgivings disappear when her attempts to stop Walt fail. Her asking price? Control. “Walt,” she says, “if I’m part of this, it needs to be done my way.” Skyler’s “control,” is a Pyrrhic victory, however, as Walt allows Skyler to purchase the car wash also he can crush Bogdan.

    Walter brakes down Skyler like a shotgun. Think about it: episode one, the woman gives Walt history’s worst tuggie on his 50th birthday, cheering when her eBay item sells. Series finale: she resignedly covers for Walt while talking on the phone to Marie. Regarding control: game, set, match goes to Walter White. At least in her beloved truth of control.

    Breaking Bad is the story a man who loses everything in his attempt to change his destiny by avenging himself of anyone who has sinned against him or blocks him in his self-glorification. Skyler is a controlling bitch who attempts to undermine and emasculate her husband who, in turn, crushes her. She is no more like able or admirable than Walter.

  38. Tigey

    Another thought. Skyler is toxic to men. Her disrespect for Walt was a major contributor to his moral downfall (see my remarks above). She used Ted as revenge against Walt since she couldn’t control him, and Ted’s final, post-Skyler condition show the title of the IFT episode to be true: she really did #%!$ him. Finally, her womb crippled Walt, Jr., but not Holly.

  39. Jason Grafler
    0

    I love Breaking Bad, it’s the best show I have ever seen. In fact, I have seen every single episode three times! With that being said, I think the hatred towards Skyler White just proves how our world is in a severe moral decline, and I’m only 32!

    Skyler White was pretty much shit on by every character in this show, from her lying steeling sister to her egoistical loud mouth brother-in-law to her spoiled son to her lying embezzling boss to her murdering meth producing husband. I am so damn confused as to why so many people don’t like Skyler, all I can feel is sympathy for the poor women. Yes, she cheated on her husband, but her husband started it with blackmailing her, manufacturing meth, lying constantly to her face and murdering people. Once again, the population at large scares the crap out of me if they all think Skyler is a bitch and should have never been on the show, times are changing my friend, and it’s not for the better.

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