Fans of Breaking Bad viewed Bryan Cranston’s Walter White as the idyllic everyman. They applauded his seemingly meteoric rise from ill-fated loser to a wealthy and powerful drug lord who may have influenced The Book of Boba Fett. The critically acclaimed drama was rife with characters very much like Walt: while they had obvious flaws — and committed several misdeeds — their more positive qualities, and overall complexity, kept viewers coming back (and following them to spinoff Better Call Saul).
Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) was beloved for his good heart, quirky personality and capacity for love — despite aiding Walt in his meth-making endeavors. Walt’s brother-in-law Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), a racist cop who often abused his power, was predominantly viewed as a righteous and self-sacrificing family man. The only exception was Walt’s wife Skyler (Anna Gunn). While crushed under the weight of Walt’s illegal empire and desperate to protect her children, she was seen as a massive hypocrite — and many fans of the series treated the character with extreme malice.
Skyler Was Framed As Someone Who Bullied Walt
Online forums were flooded with hateful comments, tearing the character apart for everything from minor transgressions to her role as an antagonist to actress Anna Gunn’s appearance. But from the onset of Breaking Bad, Skyler was framed as someone who frequently emasculated her husband. When he arrived late to his own birthday party, she berated him. She seemed too focused on a trivial online auction to provide him with any real intimacy. She often nagged him about obtaining money for his presumed terminal cancer.
Skyler was quickly characterized as an antithesis to the supportive housewife archetype, placing herself in an adversarial role even before the start of any real conflict. Her strong personality and clearly illustrated desires clashed with Walt’s meek and listless demeanor in earlier seasons. When Walt asserted himself as a powerful kingpin in later ones, Skyler’s willingness to protect her family was viewed as yet another attempt to prevent her husband from thriving.
Skyler Embraces Her Darker Side and Gets Called a Hypocrite
When efforts to distance herself from Walt became fruitless, Skyler found herself seduced by the money and developing something akin to Stockholm Syndrome, leading her to be called a hypocrite. To some, Walter White remains one of the most celebrated anti-heroes in modern pop culture. And this left his wife — as Gunn noted in a New York Times piece — relegated to the role of “a drag, a shrew.” To viewers, Skyler was a whining, spoiled, perpetually unhappy woman worthy of unparalleled vitriol.
Where Walt plays into the gendered stereotype of the ideal American male — a ruthless and formidable provider — the strong-minded Skyler refuses to partake in the docile role apparently dictated by her gender (similar to the strong women in The 355). Despite this, 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 throughout the course of Breaking Bad. Yet Walt — filtered through a fun, triumphant, action movie-esque lens — is seen as the victim of his wife’s domineering nature. As YouTube essayist Jack Saint notes, this 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 home. Walt breaks 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. If they had taken a moment to examine the situation from Skyler’s perspective, they would’ve been abjectly terrified. Walt was an obvious danger to Skyler’s family, and every effort to protect them was met with at best indifference, and at worst, further sympathy for her tormenter. Contextualized any other way, this wouldn’t be out of place in a horror film.
The End of Breaking Bad Marked the Start of Skyler’s Redemption
Fortunately, while the sheer amount of hatred for Skyler hasn’t completely disappeared since the end of Breaking Bad, most viewers re-examined their viewpoint at the exact moment Walt became irredeemable. Season 5, Episode 14, “Ozymandias” saw Walt kidnap his daughter after the family refused to leave with him, prompting an increasingly anguished Skyler to plead for her return, falling to her knees in the middle of the street.
The episode finally allowed viewers to see the truth behind Walt’s actions. Breaking Bad was never a story about a poor, tyrannized man attaining great — though 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, fans realized this far too late.