- Breaking Bad fans treated Skyler White with an undeserved amount of malice despite her being a victim fighting back.
- Despite her loyalty and efforts to protect her family, Skyler’s character was viewed as a bully to Walter.
- Skyler’s character was heavily criticized for embracing her darker side and labeled a hypocrite, while fans sympathized with the morally corrupt Walter.
Fans of Breaking Bad viewed Bryan Cranston’s protagonist, Walter White, as the everyman who made it “big.” They applauded his meteoric rise from an ill-fated loser to a powerful drug lord who may have influenced The Book of Boba Fett. The critically acclaimed AMC drama was rife with characters very much like Walt; although they possessed obvious flaws — and committed innumerable misdeeds — their positive qualities and complexities kept viewers coming back (and then following them to spinoff Better Call Saul).
Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) was beloved for his good heart and quirky personality despite aiding Walt in his meth-making endeavors. Walt’s brother-in-law, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), a racist DEA agent who often abused his power, was nevertheless predominantly viewed as a righteous and self-sacrificing family man on the side of the angels. A notable exception was Walt’s wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn). While crushed beneath the weight of Walt’s criminal activities and desperate to protect their children, Skyler was widely seen as a massive hypocrite by Breaking Bad fans, who treated the character with a shocking amount of malice.
Updated Joshua M. Patton on December 15, 2023: The series created by Vince Gilligan as one of the earliest original offerings from AMC was full of despicable villains. However, Skyler White received more fan derision than many of the murderers and scoundrels who populated the series. The reaction is a phenomenon that baffled Gilligan and Gunn. Of all the characters who were villainous in the series, Skyler wasn’t one of them. There are a number of reasons why fans reacted the way they did, some of them entirely predictable. So, why did Skyler White catch so much hate from fans of Breaking Bad?
Skyler Was Viewed as Someone Who Bullied Walt
Cranston’s performance as Walter was truly groundbreaking, making audiences fall in love with a character who seemed like a good man but was, as the title said, breaking bad. The writers may have been a little too effective at making Walter empathetic. Even though he loved Skyler more than anyone else, except maybe Walter, Jr., fans saw her as disloyal. In reality, she was a decent person caught in an impossible situation. How far she went to help Walter showed she was loyal, almost to a fault. Yet, that’s not the way the most passionate Breaking Bad fans saw it.
Fan forums were flooded with hateful comments that tore apart Breaking Bad‘s Skyler for everything from minor transgressions to her openly pleading with Walter to get out of the drug game. It went too far when they turned to actress Anna Gunn’s appearance. From the onset of Breaking Bad, viewers saw Skyler as someone who put down her husband. When Walt arrived late to his own birthday party, she berated him for it. She seemed too focused on a trivial online auction to provide him with any real intimacy. She even “nagged” him about obtaining money for his presumed terminal cancer. This is all typical behavior for long-married couples, and she didn’t know anything about Walter’s secret life.
Still, Skyler was quickly characterized as the antithesis of the “supportive housewife” archetype, which placed her in an adversarial role before the start of any real conflict. Her strong personality and clearly illustrated desires clashed with Walt’s meek and listless demeanor in the early seasons, despite her husband lying to her constantly. When Walt later asserted himself as a drug kingpin, Skyler’s helplessness to protect her family was viewed as yet another attempt to prevent her husband from thriving. The audience wasn’t meant to be rooting for Walt, but they did just the same.
Skyler Embraced Her Darker Side and Was Called a Hypocrite
When efforts to distance herself from Walt proved fruitless, Skyler was seduced by the money and developed something akin to Stockholm Syndrome. That led many Skyler critics to dub her a hypocrite. To some, Walter White remains among the most celebrated antiheroes in pop culture. And that left his wife — as Gunn noted in a New York Times article — relegated to the role of “a drag, a shrew.” To a number of viewers, Skyler was a whining, spoiled, and perpetually unhappy woman worthy of their vitriol. Where Walt plays into the gendered stereotype of the ideal American male — a ruthless provider — the strong-minded Skyler refuses to partake in the docile role apparently dictated by her gender.
Despite that, much to the outrage of fans, she was frequently shown partaking in frivolous “feminine” practices, such as bathing, applying lotion, and taking pride in her appearance, all while lecturing her “hard-working” husband. Skyler was lied to, manipulated, attacked, and abused over the course of Breaking Bad‘s five seasons. Yet, Walt is viewed as the victim of his wife’s domineering nature. As YouTube essayist Jack Saint noted, that is illustrated most clearly in Season 3, Episode 3, “I.F.T.” The episode placed an unusual focus on Skyler, who had attempted to remove Walt from the family home.
Walt broke in and — in front of the police — cradled their daughter, Holly, admitted to his shortcomings, and shared his regrets about not being “the most attentive father.” Audiences, fully conditioned to empathize with Walt, took his words as truthful. They fully believed Walt’s ongoing charade as a loving and selfless family man. They, like the officers, were being lied to. Skyler was living in abject terror with every new revelation about how dark his life had gotten. Walt was an obvious danger to Skyler and their children. However, every effort to protect her children was met with, at best, indifference and, at worst, further sympathy for her tormenter. Contextualized any other way, this scenario wouldn’t be out of place in a horror film.
Breaking Bad’s End Marked the Start of Skyler’s Redemption
Although the sheer amount of hatred for Skyler hasn’t completely disappeared since the end of Breaking Bad, most viewers re-examined their viewpoint as Walt became more and more irredeemable. Season 5, Episode 14, “Ozymandias” saw Walt kidnap his daughter. His associates had just killed Hank, and he wanted them to flee with him. But Skyler, along with Walter, Jr., refused. The scene in which Skyler fell to her knees in the middle of the street, pleading for Holly’s return, woke many up to the fact she was as much a victim of her husband as anyone. The episode finally allowed viewers to see the truth behind Walt’s actions.
Breaking Bad was never a story about a poor, tyrannical man attaining great — if unlawful — success. It was a story about one pathetic, self-pitying man’s slow downward spiral into undeniable evil. Unfortunately for Skyler and the actress who played her, many fans realized that far too late. Gilligan admitted the show was “rigged” against her in an interview with The New Yorker because of how Cranston’s performance humanized Walt. However, he also couldn’t deny the role sexism played in the hate the character and, even more so, Gunn herself received. Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) was Walter’s nemesis, and he “didn’t suffer the animosity Skyler received. It’s a weird thing. I’m still thinking about it all these years later,” Gilligan said.
The most vocal viewers forgave the men for almost any transgression, but Skyler was treated harshly for behaving like any decent person would in such an impossible situation. Over the course of his downward spiral into villainy, Skyler was meant to be a character of moral conscience, and fans punished her for it. At worst, she was a spouse who initially took her husband for granted. When she discovered the truth, she tried to support him in her own way. When everything fell apart, her life was also ruined. Breaking Bad doesn’t have any heroes, but it’s full of victims, including Skyler White.
Breaking Bad is available to stream on Netflix.
A chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer turns to manufacturing and selling methamphetamine with a former student in order to secure his family’s future.