Over the course of Breaking Bad‘s run, fans witnessed the evolution of Skyler White from bored housewife to terrified prisoner in her own home. As audiences rooted for the megalomaniacal Walt and his drug empire, it was sometimes easy to overlook Anna Gunn’s realistically nuanced portrayal of a wife and mother forced to confront impossible decisions thanks to her abusive husband.
Though Skyler, and by extension, Gunn, was the victim of unwarranted misogynistic backlash, time has allowed fans to attain a greater appreciation of her character upon re-watches of the show.
After Walt’s Fugue State
Walt’s “fugue state” story is simultaneously one of the most bizarre and brilliantly realized cons he pulls off. He manages to cover up his sudden disappearance by using his cancer as an alibi but soon learns Skyler isn’t buying it. In an attempt to set things right, Walt becomes more present and engaging with his family.
However, his suspicious behavior, combined with the revelation of a second cell phone, push Skyler to see through his cracking pseudo exterior. In a climactic moment between the two, Skyler finally shuts down his attempts to lie and demands he tell the truth once and for all. But while she was upset and knew he was up to something, she didn’t have solid evidence of any specific wrong-doing.
When Walt Admitted To Having A Second Phone
The second cell phone plot thread was a heavy source of tension in the show’s early run, culminating in Walt’s inadvertent admission while heavily medicated. Skyler’s terrified reaction soon gives way to anger after she untangles his web of lies.
To her credit, Skyler tells Walt she wants him gone from the house after he’s recovered from surgery. This ultimately proves ineffective, however, as she bears witness to Walt’s cunning tactics to force himself back into her life in the following episodes. She did leave, but left him enough loopholes to work his way back.
When Walt Said He Manufactured Meth
Following Walt’s exile from the White Home, Season 3’s premiere “No Mas” sees Skyler confront Walt with divorce papers and a shocking revelation: she knows he’s a drug dealer. Atypically, Walt is stunned and speechless before finally admitting that he manufactures methamphetamine.
Seeing as Skyler has known nearly from the Pilot episode that Walt has been up to something, her character finally receives some well-earned validation. She insists she will not tell their family (including Hank) or the police, hoping to leverage Walt’s freedom for the divorce. As Saul Goodman puts it – “One word. Blowback.”
When Her Lawyer Says To
It’s easy to forget in the Breaking Bad universe that there are actual lawyers who advise people not to break the law. Following Skyler’s confrontation with Walt over his drug manufacturing, she seeks counsel with a lawyer, Pamela. Though reluctant at first to disclose her husband’s misdeeds, Pamela reassures her that it’s her job to protect her, not arrest Walt.
Upon learning Walt is a drug manufacturer, she implores Skyler to sue him for divorce immediately and let her file a restraining order so that Skyler and the children can be safe from Walt. However, she wants to protect her family at all costs and thinks Walt will likely die from cancer anyway.
When She Finds The Money
This moment felt like the point of no return for Skyler. As Walt forces his way back into their home, Skyler finds herself confronted with being culpable for her husband’s criminal behavior. This becomes apparent when he leaves a bag of money out for her to find, in hopes she will be persuaded to see his side of things.
Skyler takes this information to Pamela, who upon hearing it provides her some very tough love: “You are a fool to stay in that house one minute longer. If he won’t leave, then you go. You are now an accessory after the fact. You are culpable. You can lose everything you own.” She appears to be in denial, telling Pamela she didn’t marry a criminal. Pamela tells her “You’re married to one now.”
When Walt Signs The Divorce Papers
After Skyler returns home from visiting her lawyer, she finds Walt has surprisingly moved out and the is money gone. She then notices the divorce papers he initially refused to sign all filled out. Unbeknownst to Skyler, Walt has taken a lucrative new job under Gus Fring’s employ.
His ego now inflated, he then bullies Skyler into taking his money by revealing to her that she’s actually been an accessory all along, as evidenced by how they’ve been paying their bills since his cancer diagnosis. She needs Walt to talk Jesse down from suing Hank, and then Hank is nearly killed by the drug cartel.
“I Am The Danger”
Season 4 finds Skyler directly in the thick of Walt’s criminal enterprise as she herself has become involved in laundering his money. Born out of desperation for her family’s well-being, Skyler chooses to become involved rather than ignored. Walt initially opposes her involvement, but begrudgingly comes to appreciate her talents and intelligence as time goes on.
The pair appear to be heading towards reconciliation in “Cornered” until Walt’s ego reemerges at a family dinner party. Skyler questions his motives for telling Hank that Gale wasn’t the mastermind and if he too could be murdered, leading Walt to unleash a Heisenberg-laced tirade on her : “I am not in danger Skyler. I am the danger! A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks.” Skyler’s horrified reaction says everything. She’s already involved and knows she must protect their cover story.
Following Gus’ Demise
Season 5’s “Live Free Or Die” finds Skyler frightened after Walt’s triumph over Gus. When asked what happened after a senior care facility was blown up leaving 3 people dead, Walt simply tells her “I won.” It’s a chilling choice of words considering that day’s events.
Believing he has just saved his family and himself from sure death, Walt comes home expecting to find Skyler relieved when instead she is terrified. He soon learns her fear is no longer directed at any threat from the outside their home, but the one inside her bedroom. After hearing what happened to Gus, she’s scared of what Walt would do to her or the kids if she tried to escape.
After Walking Into The Pool
Skyler’s intelligent ploy to get her children out of the house is successful, but she remains under Walt’s tyrannical rule in “Fifty-One.” Walt agrees to let the children stay at Hank and Marie’s temporarily but insists there is no more danger looking to harm them.
The episode features breathtaking performances by Gunn and Bryan Cranston, as they engage in a battle of wits over protecting their children. Skyler finally concedes that while she can’t defeat Walt in a showdown, she can keep her children away from him as long as possible. She is hoping the cancer will come back and kill Walt.
When Hank Confronts Her
Without a doubt, Hank’s unmasking of Walt’s secret identity pays off the series’ most satisfying plot thread. After finally discovering Heisenberg’s true identity, Hank confronts Walt in a memorable showdown before then turning his attention to Skyler.
Unaware of Skyler’s knowledge of Walt’s crimes, Hank displays compassion and promises to protect her and the children. However, coercing her into a confession causes her to withdraw, leading Hank to mention that her cooperation will go a long way in helping the family after Walt’s arrest. Skyler refuses, finalizing a series of decisions that potentially will haunt her for the rest of her life. She learns Walt’s cancer is back and doubts Hank’s intentions.