An ode to Skyler White on the 10th anniversary of “Breaking Bad”

Breaking Bad celebrates its 10th anniversary this month, with its original AMC premiere on January 20th, 2008. The award-winning drama follows the perils of anti-hero Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a high school chemistry teacher who starts cooking meth after learning he has terminal cancer. While Breaking Bad was lauded as one of television’s greatest shows (Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul displayed illuminating character evolutions), it also exposed our culture’s problem with women.

Initially arising through multiple “I Hate Skyler White” online groups, sexist discourse dismissed Skyler White, the character, as the controlling bitch-wife who wouldn’t adhere to her murderous, drug-dealing husband. Actress Anna Gunn, who portrayed Skyler, addressed these issues in a searing 2013 New York Times op-ed titled “I Have a Character Issue.”

In response to the intense fan hate, Gunn wrote:

“…I’m concerned that so many people react to Skyler with such venom. Could it be that they can’t stand a woman who won’t suffer silently or ‘stand by her man’? That they despise her because she won’t back down or give up? Or because she is, in fact, Walter’s equal?"

She concludes, “I finally realized that most people’s hatred of Skyler had little to do with me and a lot to do with their own perception of women and wives. 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."

Gunn’s op-ed recalls a male-dominated culture that doesn’t favor strong, complex, and non-submissive women. The unfortunate 2008 timeframe of Breaking Bad’s arrival certainly inhibited recognition of Skyler White as one of the best female characters on TV. Her complexities made her fiercely human, and everything she did was in the best interest of her family.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Breaking Bad, below are some of Skyler White’s most chilling moments (since she never got the recognition she deserved).

Marital sexual assault

During Skyler’s second pregnancy, there’s an unsettling scene where Walt essentially rapes her. Outlined in Huffington Post’s “The Forgotten Rape of Skyler White,” this foreshadows Walt’s character evolution to anti-hero. Skyler’s in a bathrobe and face mask in the kitchen when he initiates sex — continually ignoring her refusals in the form of “let me wash off my face first,” “Walter Jr.’s going to be home any minute,” and flat-out direct “stop it” and “enough.” This doesn’t stop him from shoving her against the fridge and assaulting her. It’s a widely-forgotten scene reflective of fan’s baseless hostility toward Skyler.

Bright blue water 

In one of the series’ best scenes, an entranced Skyler gazes into the bright blue water of their swimming pool during Walt’s mundane dialogue with Hank and Marie. This is a powerful moment that shows Skyler’s breaking point with her sociopathic husband; she intentionally does this to get Walter Jr. and Holly away from Walt (the children stay with Hank and Marie for some time after). Gunn is absolutely illuminating in this scene.

“Waiting for the cancer to come back”

Following the pool incident, Walt berates a frazzled Skyler over her grand plan to keep their children away from him: “What are you gonna do? Are you gonna run off to France, close the curtains, change the locks?” Skyler responds with a series of terrified “I don’t knows” until she delivers her most cutting line about waiting “for the cancer to come back,” which stuns Walt to silence. We should all aspire to this level of savagery with shitty men, TBH.

Baby Holly’s kidnapping

In one of the most chilling scenes, Skyler pulls a kitchen knife on Walt and threatens him after realizing he may have been responsible for Hank’s death. Frantically trying to get his family to pack up and leave town, Walt’s attempts are halted when Walter Jr. calls the cops after his parents wrestle for the knife. When Walter grabs Holly and drives off, a distressed Skyler (in the most powerful scene of the series) chases after him only to collapse on the street.

On Breaking Bad’s 10th anniversary, we’re raising a wine glass to Skyler White and strong, complex, badass women everywhere.

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