We Were All Wrong: Skyler White is a Feminist Icon

When I watched Breaking Bad for the first time, I was as struck by my hatred of Skyler White as I was by my love of Jesse Pinkman, and I was not alone. Everytime I brought up the show to those around me, one of the first things they would say was invariably: “His wife is a bitch.” And at the time, I couldn’t agree more. Any cool, morally grey plan Walt had, she was opposed to it, knowingly or unknowingly. She tripped up our cool anti-hero, she judged him, and she did not find him charming. These things brought her into opposition with us, the sympathetic audience. No matter what Walt did, no matter how deep into Heisenberg he got, we knew why. We had sympathy. Skyler was not privy to the information we had.

Skyler played the antagonist to Walter’s protagonist pretty frequently, and that must have something to do with my initial negative to her. However, even when it became undeniable that Walt was the bad guy, it did not occur to me to reevaluate her relative morality. I hated her because she smoked while pregnant, endangering the health and safety of her daughter, and for sleeping with Ted and rubbing it in Walt’s face. More importantly, I hated her for being a buzzkill. She made such a big deal out of Walt smoking pot that it made her seem like a ridiculous fool, especially because denying a cancer patient weed seems evil. Skyler was often cold to the point of emasculating Walt, or that’s how it seemed upon the first viewing.

The second time I watched Breaking Bad, I was a bit older. I had endured the realization of my internalized misogyny. I made a conscious effort to question my mental and emotional reactions to female characters. This time around, I found Skyler unlikeable, but ultimately sympathetic. She wanted to protect her family. Smoking while pregnant is unconscionable, but sleeping with Ted seemed much more logical this time around. Walt was holding her hostage. That isn’t a relationship. Walt’s behavior didn’t come from a place of love, but of the desire for power (like most of his choices.) Her behavior didn’t come from a place of hatred, but of desperation; a reclaiming of power she had lost over her own life. When she said “I fucked Ted,” she also said “You won’t let me leave, but you can’t make me stay.” She was a killjoy, but Walt was a flat out killer. And I was angrier with her than him? She could be cold, but Walt was outrageously abusive, especially of Jesse. And I found her to be more unlikeable than him? What did this say about me?

The third time I watched the show, I realized that she was the best of all the characters, in a certain way. She was Lawful Good, but I was rooting for Chaotic Evil because it was more fun to watch. I was furious with her for smoking while pregnant, but not furious with Walt for consistently putting his loved ones into danger because of his drug empire. While Walt was making every choice based on his ego and having a great time doing it, Skyler was making every choice based on her moral beliefs and love for her family and having a terrible time. Although it is always easy to root against a killjoy, it is especially easy to root against a female killjoy. She never bent easily to the will of the male antagonist, and in that way she is someone to be admired despite our social programming which leads us to demand female characters’ compliance to male characters’ ego. Skyler White was right and I was wrong.