WARNING: Vague spoilers through the most recent episode of Breaking Bad. Read at your own discretion.
Skyler is my favorite character on Breaking Bad. Seriously. This isn’t a new development: I’ve loved her from the beginning. But over the course of the past three seasons, she’s become the most sympathetic character. In my mind, she’s our point of identification, the sane person caught in the middle of Walt’s bullshit, trying to keep her head above water and protect her family. Skyler gets shit on the most and offends the least. She’s the victim in all of this.
These are my opinions, and I understand they’re contentious. You don’t have to love Skyler the way I do, of course, but hating her seems unjustified. Again, these things are subjective: I can’t help if there’s just something about Anna Gunn that rubs you the wrong way. But what has the character of Skyler really done to earn your hatred? How can you dismiss her as the show’s weakest link? (Especially when that position so clearly belongs to poor Walt Jr.)
Here is what bothers me about the Skyler hate: it’s the same misplaced hostility faced by countless TV wives in the past. And while you certainly can dislike a female character without being a misogynist, so much of the vitriol against Skyler uses the gendered language you might expect: She’s a bitch, she’s a cunt, she’s the shrew wife.
What it comes down to is that Skyler, the ol’ ball and chain, is a thorn in Walt’s side. She’s not submissive or even faithful. She questions his behavior and she challenges his plans. And somehow, that makes her a bitch.
Here’s what all of Skyler’s critics seem to forget — Walt is a fucking terrible person. Whatever noble causes he once had are gone. He’s a power-hungry egomaniac and a danger to those around him. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy Walt as a character, but I can’t fathom siding with him. Meth aside, this is a man who let his friend’s girlfriend choke to death on her own vomit, who poisoned a child just to spur his plan into action. Hating Skyler for the way she responds to Walt is absurd: she’s reacting out of fear and a desire to protect her loved ones.
But she’s a pain in the ass to our main character, and that makes it easy to dismiss her as a “bitch.” We see this often in sitcoms: the obnoxious manchild of a leading man gets a free pass on being an imbecile, while his wife — the one who calls him on his bad behavior — is a nag. In some ways, Malcolm in the Middle is a good example of this, and not only because of the Bryan Cranston connection. It’s not quite the same in that Lois is admittedly a nutball (this being the heightened reality of a sitcom), but I still think she is unfairly maligned. Look at her husband and her asshole kids — is it really any wonder she spent so much of the series losing her shit?
Skyler isn’t without fault: she’s been put into a situation that has forced her to do some terrible things. Which is not to say she’s justified, but rather that her mistakes are a product of her circumstance. There was a time when I would say the same about Walt, but it’s clear he’s no longer doing this for anyone but himself. Skyler’s transition from ignorant wife to scheming accomplice is about protecting her son, her baby, and herself. She’s not mad with power or rolling around in piles of meth money. She’s simply the only one holding it all together.
I’ve posed this question on Twitter and on Facebook, and now I ask it here: Why do you hate Skyler? Of all the characters, she really does strike me as the most blameless. Whether or not she’s a saint, she’s about the furthest thing from a villain. And it’s silly for me to get so worked up, but so much of the response I’ve seen does tend to stem from this anti-feminist conception of a “good wife,” which Skyler isn’t. She’s a bitch because she’s difficult. I can’t accept that.
There’s no denying that, at her most confrontational, Skyler makes things harder for Walt — but can you really argue that he doesn’t deserve it?