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Breaking Bad's Skylar -- Victim or Bitch?

Sklar, Breaking Bad
Sklar, Breaking Bad

I've only finished the first half of Season 5 of Breaking Bad (streaming on Netflix) and am eagerly awaiting the rest. I've just read all of the hate articles about Walter's wife Skylar, where some viewers are actually criticizing the actress Anna Gunn who plays her. And yes, I have hated Skylar as I've watched the show, but to me, it just proves what a great actress Anna Gunn is. I hate Skylar because she represents the worst in what women can become: cold, judgmental, controlling, bitchy, hypocritical. She stays in a bad situation so long that in her mind her resentment then justifies her bad behavior. As a relationship therapist, I see this behavior quite often in many of the "wives" who come to see me.

In an article written by the actress Anna Gunn, she herself says that those devoted to hating her "has become a flash point for many people's feelings about strong, nonsubmissive, ill-treated women." She also asks, "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 suggests that people's hatred of her character Skylar has to do with their own perception of women and wives, inferring that misogynists are still very much alive. I don't believe that is the issue.

As I read many of the comments and do agree that criticizing her weight gain still seems somewhat sexist to me, I also believe that weight gain was a necessary part of the story about what happens to a woman who stays in an unhappy relationship, no matter what the reason is.

As a relationship therapist, watching the early episodes where Walter would not talk to Skylar about anything -- his cancer, where he had been, or any of his feelings -- I hated Walter and felt bad for Skylar. I believe Vince Gilligan did a great job of showing Skylar's resentment building up toward Walter. Skylar was conflicted, but finally made a decision not to divorce him, but to "grin and bear it" for the sake of the family, or the money, or both. She decided to stay even though by this point she hated Walter. This is a bad decision that many women make, and it is not what a "strong" woman does. This is instead "victim" behavior and what led to Skylar's inconsistent behavior in the future. Like many women in a situation where they resent their husbands but want to keep the family together, she would see no way out. Because she actually did not feel equal to Walt, she would get mean and more controlling, thinking that this would at least make her feel better.

And of course Skylar was not "standing by her man," but we need not be angry about that or pity her. She was instead "enduring" a bad situation -- by choice. Many people think it's strong to endure something to save the family, but all it does is cause intense resentment, which she displayed more and more of. Enduring a situation also enables each person's bad behavior.

My client Sammie did exactly the same thing. Her husband stopped talking to her as he built his business and a financial empire. She stayed in the relationship for her child and for the money. This is a common story. She, like Skylar, was possibly bi-polar to begin with, so as her anger and resentment built, her behavior became more and more bizarre. She would be self-righteous and bitchy one minute. Then she would feel bad that she wasn't trying, so she would spend a few days acting nice and supportive, only to go back to her bitchy behavior. As this would happen, her husband Joe would pull away more and more, confused by her behavior. Sammie would get more resentful and angry, continually nagging and harping at him, and trying to knock him off that high horse of success. She kept that judgmental, scolding look on her face at all times as she piled on the weight. They are now divorced, but still play out their dysfunction as they deal with their son.

Viewers of Breaking Bad seldom judge Walter's behavior in the relationship. He may have grown into a heavyweight in his drug business, but he remained weak when it came to Skylar. He let her throw him out of the house (and yes finally stood up and came back) and let her send the kids to Hank and Marie's. But he seldom stood up to her on any issues, even small ones, or ever communicated at all until he would finally blow up.

Both Skylar and Walter show what happens in a relationship when a couple stops communicating. It takes two to keep a bad relationship going. But viewers excused Walter's "weakness" with Skylar for the same reason they (myself included) excused his making meth since he was doing it all "for the family." As a relationship therapist, I was constantly appalled by his passivity with Skylar. He enabled her to become more and more of a bitch, silently acting as if he deserved the bad treatment. Again, this is common in relationships, but there seems to be little understanding from viewers as to how Walter helped create Skylar's cold, judgmental behavior. I hate Skylar too, but I know women just like her. I think she pushes a lot of buttons for both men and women. Men hope to never be with a woman like her and women hope to never become her. I believe Anna Gunn herself is hated because she plays this role too well.

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