Until recently, I had never seen Breaking Bad. Now I have seen every episode. Thanks to the publicity surrounding its final episode, the internet, my non-traditional viewing habits and the quality of the show, I now know what all the fuss was about. It was a good show, and I am glad I watched it all. There should be more shows as good as Breaking Bad. And if I ever have to cast the part of a loser who transforms himself into a ruthless crime lord, I will try to repeat the trick pulled by the makers of Breaking Bad. They made an inspired choice, when hiring a guy who used to be the comic dad from a family show about schoolchildren. The character of Walter White is excellent. Combine his presence with a plot that crosses two popular tropes – organized crime drama + nerds using science to do crazy shit like blowing stuff up – and you have all the factors needed for success. I salute the makers of Breaking Bad. They made a product of a very high standard. And yet, it was not made to the exceptionally high standards of Walter White, central character, demon chemist and manufacturer of 99% pure methamphetamine. Unlike Walter, they allowed one significant pollutant to spoil their product. And that was the character of Walter’s wife, Skyler.
I will admit that, from the very outset, I disliked the character of Skyler White. I assume that was the intention of the show’s creators. Walt is a downtrodden nobody, bullied at work and in the home. Skyler is portrayed negatively from the very beginning, before Walter begins his own bad behaviour. Skyler is the wife of Walter, the show’s protagonist and central character. She is his most enduring antagonist, not in the sense of being a genuine obstacle or opponent, but more in the sense of being a constant irritation. By the time I reached the final episode of the penultimate season, I had to ask myself a simple question: “am I the only person who finds the character of Skyler to be jawbreakingly annoying?” So I googled. And learned I was not alone. Far from it. Which was a relief. It seems that very many people enjoyed the show, but found the character of Skyler White to be grating. But I also learned something else, which worried me. In short, I learned something about myself. Anna Gunn, the actress who played Skyler White, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times which explained why people hate Skyler White. She wrote that:
[Skyler is] a flash point for many people’s feelings about strong, nonsubmissive, ill-treated women.
Because Skyler didn’t conform to a comfortable ideal of the archetypical female, she had become a kind of Rorschach test for society, a measure of our attitudes toward gender.
I thought about this, and worried about the misogyny of society and whether I was suffering from some deep-seated anger issues that needed to be addressed. After giving this a lot of thought, my conclusion is: what a load of fucking bullshit.
Going back to what I felt about Skyler’s character whilst watching the show, I found her to be a badly-written, superficial and contradictory character. The writers did not give her consistent motives. She makes no meaningful choices. She primarily exists to create a faux-tension by impeding Walt’s stepwise transformation as a character. That makes her the worst possible thing in entertainment: a dull character.
For most of the series, Skyler’s character exhibits hardly any depth given the very large amount of time she spends on screen. Mostly she complains about her husband, to her husband. There is little variety or dynamism to the character. Compared to Walt, who deals with various criminal characters as well as his family, Skyler hardly interacts with anyone but Walt. And she does this over the course of 62 episodes. Complain, complain, complain to her husband, and not much else. For 62 episodes. In that sense, she is not an interesting character and her presence drags on the storytelling, instead of augmenting it.
To be clear, my dislike of Skyler White has nothing to do with her being a woman, and I have given this far more thought than any sane person should have to. We live in a topsy-turvy world where everybody is constantly being accused of thought crime, even when they dislike a fictional character. I find myself being defensive about my alleged misogyny, guilty by associating myself with other Skyler-haters. Maybe some of them are misogynists; I do not speak for them. And yet, it is cheap and silly to suggest that Skyler White is especially loathed because there are so many misogynists. Only a poor artist blames their audience for not liking what they see.
With that in mind, I will analyse what is annoying with the character of Skyler White, and why this can be separated from the immature emotional need exhibited by some men – and by some women – who superimpose their personal and political anxieties on a badly-written fictional character.
To start with, let me share one insight about who Skyler White reminded me of, an epiphany I had whilst watching the second episode of the fourth season. Skyler White reminds me of Oliver Hardy. Yes, Oliver Hardy, from Laurel and Hardy. The fat one. This one:
Now, before anyone jumps to any ridiculous conclusions, let me state that the actress Anna Gunn does not look like Oliver Hardy. But there is a resemblance between the character of Skyler White, and the character perfected by Oliver Hardy. They are both pompous, self-absorbed oafs. Neither exhibits power, or guile, or wit, or intellect. They do not laugh at themselves. They are self-important, whilst unimportant. And they both spend most of their time picking on the only individual who is willing to tolerate their boorish behaviour.
Only one thing saves Hardy, turning his character into a comic creation: the comeuppance. Everybody likes to see an insufferable overbearing twerp receive their comeuppance. It makes no difference if the twerp is male or female; I favour equality in this regard. Hardy’s character is redeemed solely because he is routinely kicked up the bum, or has his hat set on fire, or suffers the slamming of pies into his face. None of these things occur to Skyler White. She just cruises on, with no comeuppance. So watching her character is like spending many hours of Laurel & Hardy setting up all the reasons why you should dislike Hardy, but without any of the comic pay-off. That failing is especially noticeable in Breaking Bad because, at its best, it delivers dry humour that complements the heated drama.
When one character seeks to dominate another character, I typically side with the underdog. This is natural, and common for audiences. From the very beginning, Walter White is established as an underdog. The creators did this knowingly, so the audience would side with him. They then proceeded to change the character, a small step at a time, to make him an oppressive, ruthless criminal kingpin. Hence the genius of the show, and why it works so well. The audience is encouraged to side with Walt, and then their loyalty to Walt is tested, blurring the line of when their sympathies should turn against the central character.
Siding with the underdog is the same basic psychology that drives audiences to empathize with Stan Laurel, or Charlie Chaplin, or Rocky Balboa, or countless other screen heroes. Like many children, I felt the same desire to support the underdog even whilst watching cartoons. In Tom & Jerry, I found myself desperately wanting Tom to defeat the obnoxious and over-confident Jerry, although he never did. I wanted Wile E. Coyote to not just chase Roadrunner, but to catch the infuriating, beeping bird. It did not matter who was supposed to be the weaker of the pairings. By repetition, we all soon learned who was the loser, and who was the winner, and it is natural to sometimes want the loser to win. As a 6 year old child, I sided with the clever and amusing ‘bad’ characters, not because they were bad, and certainly not because of some twisted form of sexism. I empathized with them because they hatched clever plots, and they strove, and they were funnier and were more interesting than their unassailable opponents. There is no need to call on crass gender politics to analyse antipathy to Skyler White. Yes, the character is a woman, but more importantly, she is boring. She is unimaginative. She lacks charm. And she acts like she is accustomed to getting what she wants. Here is the phrase that Skyler White uses more than any other:
“I need you to…”
What kind of person would ever use this phrase? What kind of person uses this phrase over and over? A generous reading might say the character was needy, or insecure. But when the phrase is repeated with stunningly regularity, as it was during the earlier seasons, I am forced to believe the character is selfish, bossy and intent on manipulating others into serving her wishes. In the early seasons of Breaking Bad, Skyler White’s character routinely put her needs ahead of others. She expected them to behave in ways that satisfied her. This included disputing Walt’s right to die from cancer, in preference to suffering the discomfort of treatment.
However, bizarrely, Skyler’s bullying streak has since been forgotten by Anna Gunn, and others, who want to emphasize she is ill-treated. I would agree that Skyler is ill-treated by the end of the final season. But the Walter White who mistreats her in season 5 is not the meek and hen-pecked Walter White who submitted to her wishes in season 1. So there is a problem in justifying Skyler’s recurring faults as being provoked solely by Walter.
In many respects, Skyler becomes a much more interesting, and much less annoying character during the final season. In this, I see the hands of the show’s creators. Maybe they were sensitive to the need to do a better job, after seeing the hostility provoked by their repetitive use of Skyler as the anti-Walt shrew. I also suspect that, as Walt became more dominant, they found it easier to place a greater variety of opposing forces against him. In the beginning, Walt is oppressed by his wife, his bosses, and the kids he teaches at school. His life contains so little joy that he would prefer to die, rather than fight his cancer. All he has left are a few tiny shreds of pride, and he feels that even these are being wrestled away from him. By the end of the show, Walt is a different man. He is powerful, and resourceful. He learns not just to fight, but to win. In so doing, he is constantly challenged by an ever-larger army of opposing forces. There is the DEA and his brother-in-law, his volatile former drug-cooking partner, and a truly vast array of criminals. In such circumstances, the creative brains behind Breaking Bad could relieve Skyler from the need to provide as much resistance to Walt. But by then, the die was cast. Unlike Walt’s descent into evil, Skyler’s transformation from nagging housewife into genuinely interesting character is never explained by any events on screen. She just becomes more interesting toward the end of the final season, and the audience is forced to imagine that they are now seeing what she was ‘really’ like all along, even though that side of her personality had never been presented on screen before.
Anna Gunn is right, in a sense, that the character can become a test showing the prejudices people have about gender. Her mistake is that Ms Gunn reveals her own irrational prejudices, not mine. Breaking Bad never went to sufficient trouble to show that Skyler White is strong, or that she is ill-treated. The negative aspects of her character were established before their supposed justification, and the strength she finds in the final season is contradictory, because it appears like magic, from nowhere. If the audience believes Skyler White is consistently strong, and ill-treated, that is because of the prejudices they bring to the show, from outside the show. Or they have simply forgotten how the character behaved in earlier seasons. I expect that many who detected misogyny amidst the antipathy to Skyler White only started to watch the show in order to see what made the Skyler-haters so angry. If so, they arrived too late.
In short, there is not enough in the show to justify Gunn’s description of her own character. Skyler White simply does not do enough, and does not suffer enough, to be credibly summarized as a strong character, or an ill-treated character.
Of course, it is possible to over-analyse. Some writers have ‘tics’ and ‘tells’, like poker players. Their mannerisms can be repeated too often. The writers of Breaking Bad used the phrase “I need you to…” with preposterous regularity, though that tic also calmed down in later seasons. If you break down the scripts carefully, I believe everybody would agree with me. That particular phrase featured too often, and was sometimes used by other characters too. The tic reveals that a fiction is just an illusion – that creative people make facsimiles of real life, and their creations may be flawed. The phrase was used as a quick way to force emotional intensity. Hence, Skyler used it a lot. It was overused, in this series. If the tic was pointed out to the writers, they may have revised Skyler’s dialogue, to give her greater variety. However, the audience must judge a character based on what is actually presented on the screen, not on how we want characters to be presented. And as presented, Skyler White is mostly a grinding, nagging wife who keeps talking about her wants, needs and fears and rarely shows much interest in anyone else’s. It would be wrong to ‘infer’ some inner psychological activity that is not manifest in the words or the actor’s performance. So if Anna Gunn did not act something, she has no right to be upset that people see less in her character than she wanted them to see.
To be fair to Anna Gunn, she will not be the only person who projects themselves into a fictional character. But this is nothing new, or unique to the character of Skyler White. Is there any actor so naive that they think audiences do not project their personal emotions into the fictional scenes that are presented to them? People side with underdogs because they feel themselves to be underdogs, and they side with heroes because people want to imagine themselves doing good.
Even more peculiarly, Anna Gunn was surprised that some people confuse the character with the actor. This has happened for as long as actors have acted. It is to the benefit of some, who play loveable characters. They may receive free drinks, smiles, or pats on the back. Other actors suffer as a result. Those who play villains and ‘hardmen’ may face rudeness, abuse, and even violence. Anna Gunn conflates the specific reasons why people dislike Skyler White with the general observation that some audience members cannot differentiate between actors and characters. I am sorry for her if some foolish people transpose their dislike of Skyler White into a false antipathy to the actor. But this human failing does not justify wild claims about societal antipathy towards all women. Drawing such conclusions is reckless and unwarranted. They are no more justified than suggesting an incident where a soap actor gets punched in his face signals that society must hate attractive young men.
Having recently watched all the episodes, I can recall many occasions where the character Skyler White behaves in ways that are loathsome. Consider the following:
- As a birthday ‘treat’, she masturbates her husband whilst browsing the internet.
- When her husband is diagnosed with cancer, and expresses a wish to die instead of suffering the discomfort of treatment, Skyler arranges an ‘intervention’ for Walt, with the assistance of her sister and brother-in-law. The ground rules of the intervention, as set by Skyler, is that everybody be allowed to speak their mind, in turn, with Walt forced to wait until last. When Walt argues persuasively that he should be allowed to die in peace, leading his in-laws to sympathize with his point of view, Skyler unilaterally dismisses the intervention. The next day, Walt changes his mind, but there is never any on-screen suggestion that Skyler is grateful that Walt will undergo treatment.
- Walt becomes distant and secretive, and Skyler fears he is having an affair. Skyler starts a new job, and seeks comfort from the boss. She reveals that she feels guilty for not feeling happier about the positive results from Walt’s cancer treatment. The following day, she deliberately knocks her pens on the floor, in order to get the boss’ attention and draw him into her office. She then suggestively impersonates Marilyn Monroe, sexually flirting with her new boss in front of all his other employees. Whilst knowing her boss is a fraudster, Skyler eagerly starts an affair with him. Walt tries to make amends for his failings as a husband, saying, “honesty is good – don’t you think?”, to which Skyler bitterly responds, “I fucked Ted,” as punishment.
- Skyler calls the police and tries to have her husband thrown out of the family home. She is frustrated in doing so because Walt has not actually done anything to Skyler that would justify police intervention.
- Skyler threatened Walt by saying she will hurt herself in order to make it appear that he was violent to her.
- She goes against Walt’s wishes, and refuses to allow her son to have an expensive car, on the basis that it will ruin the family’s ‘cover story’. However, this same ‘cover story’ – which she invented unilaterally – is sufficient to explain how they bought a business with $800,000 in cash. In other words, she acts like spending $800,000 is plausible, but goes into melodramatic overdrive about spending $850,000.
- After much resistance, Walt agreed to divorce Skyler and signed the papers. Skyler then arbitrarily changed her mind, and dismissed the opportunity to split with her husband.
- Instead of divorcing her husband, when she had the chance, she tells him to his face how she is waiting for him to die.
A foolish person might put forward the following counter-argument: Walt does worse. But that is not the point. Walt does terrible things and is an interesting character. Skyler does awful things and is a boring character. There is no intrinsic battle of the sexes here. Both could be fascinating characters, or both could be dull. It is hard to watch Skyler not because she is a woman, but because nobody enjoys seeing a character who is tediously unpleasant, and goes on being tediously unpleasant.
Some viewers might still want to sympathize with Skyler, suggesting her character faults are all somewhat excused by blaming Walt. But there comes a point where a character has to be the character they are, without justifying every action as a reaction to others. I find I have most antipathy to characters who are needlessly unpleasant, nasty or vicious to other characters who have never caused them harm. The epitome of Skyler’s negativity is found in an episode called ‘Buyout’, which was the 6th episode in the final season. Skyler returns home late, to find Jesse, Walt’s accomplice, talking with Walt. Jesse is a stranger to her; they have never met. Jesse is sorry for intruding on Skyler’s home life. He immediately states he will leave, appears uncomfortable, and he shows no desire to upset Skyler. Walt insists on Jesse’s staying. As instructed by Walt, Skyler prepares a meal, and then all three sit at the table. When taking her seat, Skyler holds a bottle of wine closely, and pours herself a very large measure. She barely touches her meal, and drinks from the glass whilst holding it in both hands. Jesse is visibly very uncomfortable, and he seeks to change the mood at the table. He makes polite conversation, complementing Skyler for the meal she has cooked. Skyler responds by being atrociously rude, making Jesse feel even more unwelcome. Is Skyler’s behaviour indicative of a good-natured and well-mannered human being, or is this the hallmark of someone who is rude and self-important? Whatever Skyler’s justification for being horrid to her husband, she is not entitled to have any opinion about Jesse, a man she really knows nothing about. And yet, Skyler is childish and uncouth, revelling in an opportunity to drag a stranger into her fight with her husband.
Contrary to all the awful things that Skyler does, Anna Gunn claims there are some good aspects to Skyler’s personality. She wrote that:
I enjoy taking on complex, difficult characters and have always striven to capture the truth of those people, whether or not it’s popular. Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad, wanted Skyler to be a woman with a backbone of steel who would stand up to whatever came her way, who wouldn’t just collapse in the corner or wring her hands in despair. He and the show’s writers made Skyler multilayered and, in her own way, morally compromised.
Speaking as an audience member, if the creators, writers, and actors of Breaking Bad wanted Skyler White to have a ‘backbone of steel’ and to be ‘multilayered’, then they failed. Allow me to briefly list some steely women, drawn from real life and fiction: Angela Merkel, German Chancellor; Christine Lagarde, boss of the IMF; Hilary Clinton, future President of the USA; Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility; Alice from Alice in Wonderland; Ellen Ripley from Alien; and Catwoman from The Dark Knight Rises. I cannot imagine any of them attending a birthday party, and then walking into a cold swimming pool as part of some ridiculous pseudo-suicide bid in order to get attention. I cannot imagine them making idle threats. They would not go out of their way to be rude to a total stranger, just to punish somebody else. They would not foolishly hand $600k to their lover, only to become flustered when he spent money on a new car instead of paying his tax bills. And they would not strenuously demand a divorce, then casually change their mind when the signed papers are handed to them. Skyler White did all those things, and did them all with the same facial expression that she does almost everything: a wide-eyed stare of hyperbolic intensity. If this is meant to be ‘steely’ and ‘multilayered’, I am forced to laugh at the incompetence of the writers and the actor. Their combined artistic failure best explains their defensiveness. It is understandable that they are upset that their creation provokes criticism. But their failure does not entitle them to brandish their critics as misogynists, any more than an audience that finds fault with a black character must be racist, or an audience that finds fault with a foreign character must be xenophobes.
Let me point out one particular detail which annoyed me more than others. Skyler is rarely seen as being competent at doing anything other than a mother’s tasks. She can give birth, feed the baby, argue with her teenage son, and cook breakfast. Whoop-de-doo for women’s liberation. But we are told she is also a bookkeeper. And, from the pompous way Skyler behaves, she seems to believe she is a good bookkeeper. But she is not a good bookkeeper. In the only scene in the entire series where we might seriously examine her abilities as a bookkeeper, she comes across as totally incompetent.
Before I analyse the particular scene, let me make one simple observation about language. We all know what ‘over’ means. And we know what ‘under’ means. An ‘overestimate’ is an estimate which is higher than the value in real life. An ‘undercooked’ meal has been cooked less than it should. An ‘overheated’ engine has a temperature which is higher than it should be, and so on. So even somebody who knows nothing about bookkeeping knows what ‘over’ and ‘under’ mean. Now let me point out the only significant scene where Skyler’s (in)competence as a bookkeeper is strongly evidenced. The scene is from ‘Mandala’, episode 11 of the second season. I will use red for the important bits.
Skyler: Look, it’s all kinda little dribs and drabs, but right here – take Keller for instance – a couple of hundred dollars here, a few thousand there…
Ted: Dribs and drabs
Skyler: You add it all up though, and with Keller, the revenues were almost 10 percent less than was actually received. This is every quarter for the last two years. When I saw it I got worried, so I checked accounts receivable for other customers. I found six other instances, revenues being under-reported. And I’ve only just started to look into it.
Ted: We have requirement contracts with all these companies. They have to anticipate their needs for their next quarter, and most of the time they over-estimate. So I just let them roll their overages into the next order, and if I don’t, they’ll go elsewhere. Obviously we’ve got… we didn’t go back and adjust the revenue entries. I know it’s wrong from an accounting standpoint, but you can see the money is coming in eventually, you can see.
Skyler: Right, right, but, ahem… I got the old bills of sale and order forms out of storage and to try and sort this out, and most of the time there’s no backup for the reported revenues at all. In a few cases, I found xerox copies with the dates changed.
Ted: Alright, you’ve got me.
Skyler: We’re talking nearly a million dollars of undocumented revenue. What are you thinking?
I know what I am thinking. I am thinking I hope they did a better job of writing dialogue about chemistry then this garbage about accounting. And I am thinking that any half-competent bookkeeper would not be so confused about what is happening here.
‘Revenues are less than actually received’. What does this mean? The only possible meaning is that the company received cash, but reported a lower revenue. That makes sense, if the goal is to commit fraud by reducing the tax bill. Keeping cash off the books would lower profits, lower taxes, and so allow the owner to keep more of the money. And this fits with Skyler saying that revenues are ‘under-reported’, i.e. the number reported in the books is lower than the number that should have been reported. Ted’s reply then makes no sense, and Skyler would know this if she was a real, competent, bookkeeper. Ted says ‘the cash comes in eventually’. That implies the revenue is being reported before the cash is received, although Skyler has just outlined a problem where cash is received and the revenue was not reported.
What is Skyler’s response to Ted’s nonsensical answer? Does she say: “huh?” No. She says: “most of the time there is no backup for the reported revenues at all”. What an idiot Skyler would have to be. She is now accusing Ted of over-reporting revenues. She simultaneously claims to have found under-reporting and over-reporting of revenues. And yet, she is incompetent to distinguish these two different, opposing frauds.
If this woman was a real book-keeper, I would fire her. She is not a real woman; she is a work of fiction, so we should blame the people who are really responsible for this goof. The writers bungled this scene. Skyler started by complaining that cash was being received (real cash! from real customers!) but that revenues were not being reported. Then she ends up complaining that revenues are being reported, but nothing supports the revenues. Well, forgive me for being pedantic, but hard cash is the best possible evidence of revenues from somewhere (which is why money laundering takes dirty money and makes it seem like the cash was generated by an honest business). So why is Skyler finding no contradiction whilst simultaneously accusing Ted of over-reporting and under-reporting revenues? Why would he under-report real revenues (because he received the actual cash) whilst simultaneously fabricating paperwork to over-report the fake revenues from other customers? And why do this in the same set of books?
Either Ted wants to over-report revenues (to make the bank think the business is doing better than it really is, so they do not call in their loans) or he wants to under-report revenues (to fool the taxman into levying less tax). He might even, conceivably, have engaged in a complicated scam where there are the real books, the books to please the bank (with over-reported revenues) and the books to fool the taxman (with under-reported revenues). Yet dumbo Skyler has identified unders and overs whilst looking at a single set of books. Which means she thinks Ted conspired to lose some paperwork here, invent some paperwork there, and so cancel out his parallel frauds, getting him back to the right overall answer!
I do not expect the average viewer to analyse the dialogue in this detail, although I spotted this problem straight away, and I found it very difficult to tolerate the character of Skyler from that moment on. Every time I saw her arrogance about her skill at money laundering (a simple job, involving tallying up fake sales supported by real cash) I was reminded of the basic incompetence manifest in that scene. And I would expect the average viewer would suspect something was amiss with the skew-whiff dialogue in that scene. It does not take an expert to smell the suspicious odour surrounding that scene, or with much of what Skyler says and does in her ‘professional’ capacity.
There are other screw-ups too. In a later episode, Skyler negotiates to buy the car wash. She arrogantly elaborates how she calculated the cashflows of the business. That would be a whole lot more impressive if she had not stated that depreciation was included in the calculation. Depreciation is an accounting cost that has no impact on cashflows. Later still, Skyler helps Ted to fool the taxman, by pretending there is more paperwork than the taxman has already seen. And yet, Ted’s company is already full of phoney paperwork, which has inflated revenues, and so increased his tax bill. If Skyler wanted to help Ted, she should have told Ted to shred the phoney paperwork and stop inflating his revenues. So where others claim to see a ‘strong’ woman, I see a cartoonish character who clearly has never spent a day being the diligent, methodical book-keeper she pretends to be. And who is to blame? Not Skyler White. The writers and the actor are to blame, though they might defend themselves by saying they had no clue about the dialogue they wrote, and spoke, respectively. Even so, this is not a sign of artistic quality and commitment, and the audience is justified in disliking such a shoddily-constructed and poorly-researched character.
Again, there is extent to which is pointless to over-analyse. Skyler is no more to blame for her incompetence with accounts than Walt would be to blame if he made basic errors in chemistry. The fault is with the writers. Even so, an audience can only analyse what is presented to them, not the writer’s real intention. The writers intended for Skyler to come across as a competent bookkeeper. She actually came across as a dunderhead who confused some of the most basic concepts in record-keeping. Maybe some of the audience did not notice. But I would contend that, even if they did not consciously notice the awful mistakes that Skyler made, the relevant scenes did not help the audience to form the impression that the writers intended. In short, the writers screwed up various attempts to show Skyler is a competent person, aside from being a wife and mother.
And I will go further. I would have very much liked for Skyler White to be steely and multilayered. I want women characters to be steely and multilayered, for the same reasons I enjoy those properties in male characters. I hate Skyler White because she is neither steely, nor multilayered. Taken across all five seasons, Skyler White is usually a pathetic woman, huffing and puffing but with no substance to her. She talks a lot, but does little. Far from being a role model for strong women, she is detestable because she is so utterly unable to do anything to control her destiny except by complaining to Walt.
What kind of feminist would think that loathing Skyler White must be an example of misogyny? Feminists should despise Skyler’s weakness and vulgarity as much as anyone. Maybe they should dislike Skyler even more, because she is a stereotype. She is the misogynist’s favourite cliche: an unpleasant, overbearing, stupid, nagging wife. We should blame the stereotype on the people who lazily recycled it, not the people who hate what it represents.
The problem with Skyler White is that the character is clearly intended to balance audience figures in a show which, some may argue, is better designed to appeal to men. Organized crime + nerdy science = content that supposedly favours men. I do not encourage this sexism. Why should a woman enjoy nerdy science less than men? Why should the interests of women viewers be fixated on raising kids, and sustaining marriages, instead of running a drug cartel or laundering money? These are not my values, but these are the values that the makers of Breaking Bad subscribed to, when constructing the character of Skyler White. In my opinion, if you are only throwing in a female character in the hopes of giving something for female viewers to latch on to, whilst the men of the house genuinely enjoy the television program, then you are treating your audience with contempt. The tactic may lead to higher ratings, but it evidences neither artistic nor moral backbone. If they wanted a major woman character, they should have given the audience a major woman character, instead of pouring so much screentime into an insipid, flat, dull, non-entity of a pseudo-woman.
And that is why I hate Skyler White. It has nothing to do with how I feel about women. The actor who played Skyler White was unable to save the character from its faults. She was not responsible for the difficulty of her task, though she was foolish to blame the audience for her own failure. Unlike Walter White’s crystal meth, Skyler White was a sub-standard product. The people who are responsible for that product are not women in general, nor the people who disliked Skyler White. The people responsible are the makers of Breaking Bad. The people who most failed with Skyler White are the show’s directors, and its writers. And most of them are men.
You beautiful, beautiful man. Thank you.
I loooved this piece. Very insightful and well written. Oh and also, I hate Skyler! I’m rewatching the show and all I can think about while watching is how much of a nag she is. Thank you.
Late to the party (and the show I guess) but I am here cause I wanted some insight on why I started to fast forward the Skyler scenes and came across Anna Gunns article.
It made me furious. How dare she be calling me a misogynist for disliking that character? I love women – I am one and date one and love finding the strengths and individual talents in them.
Skyler White isn’t talented, or strong. Thinking that would mean confusing self-absobedness with strength.
To be honest, minus the son every character in this show is an asshole, and Skyler is no exception. But in addition she is boring af. She is an ass from the very start, where she is no liitle bit mistreated. She does NOT make the best decisions for her kids or even herself, but makes dickhead moves out of spite or however she feels like it. She loves to PLAY the mistreated woman, but she isn’t.
Woman goes and steps over the wishes of her dying husband, and then some more when he takes time for himself. Hell you know if my partner was dying and needed some space I’d give it to her, and if I had questions I’d ask nicely. I’d offer, but not nag, pester, make sure everything goes my way and play the “victim” of a fucking dying person.
I have seen people like that and can’t stand them. This part, IMHO, is brilliantly written, and you can’t blame the audience for disliking a character that has been set up to not be liked…
And then call the misogyny card? Seriously woman. I am an actress myself, and I know we tend to get in our characters minds and try to defend them, at least as long as we are on stage or on set. But sometimes it might help to take a step away from the job and consider, if all these people you accuse of hating strong women in reality just see a different picture of your fictional character.
Thanks Anna, this is a great comment! I really appreciate your insights as an actress and as a lover of women.
Thank you Eric 🙂
I wasn’t expecting I’d get an answer, I just wanted to steam off a bit somewhere – about a 6 year old article, how silly 😉
Sorry for any language mistakes, English is not my native language…
As I said I know how it is to play a character, and she has been Skyler for quite a few years. But it is also true that she needs to find ways to kind of explain her character to herself in a way to almost justify them, if she wants to do it right. And in this case, in addition to hate she as herself got (which, let’s face it, is really not the nicest nor smartest thing of people to do, but with so many people being fans there will always be a few stupid apples) I guess the “stepping back” from being in the characters head did not work out as well as it should have… Just a guess though.
Keep writing such interesting articles 🙂
Hey Anna, I don’t think it is silly to vent steam about something that happened years ago – I do it all the time! Thanks again for your insights. The best drama shows the audience why a character does what they do, without expecting the audience to believe the character’s rationalizations of their own behaviour. That is why Walter White is such an interesting character, testing the audience’s limits as he transitions from a weak and decent man into a kind of monster. Anna Gunn lost perspective by identifying with Skyler White so much that she thought of her character as being strong, when that is not one of Skyler’s qualities.
Thanks for your encouragement. I have not had time to write anything new for a while, so it is good to know someone wants more of my silly rants!
Hey Eric, I just wanted to second Annas sugestion that you should keep writing interesting articles, this one exhausted all possible questions i had why Skylar is such an awfull character. Great piece!
Thank you Andreas! It is wonderful to receive feedback like this. I hope that one day my schedule will calm down and I will find the time to write on a regular basis again.