Breaking bad: The Victimization of Skyler White

The new season of Breaking Bad has hit our screens with great excitement. Watching Walt’s speedy decent into the criminal world has been both disturbing and exhilarating. However, what has really hit a nerve thus far in the latest season for me is, surprisingly, Skyler. I’ve always admired Skyler, played by Anna Gunn, for her strength of character, but all of a sudden, it seems the strain has become too much and suddenly Skyler has become a suffering and terrified victim.

Skyler starts off the series with her usual resilience as she visits her boss and former lover, Ted Beneke, in the hospital  and utilises Walt’s threatening power to keep him silent about the incident which put him into hospital. Her quick thinking and unquestioning use of such power makes you think – is she totally involving herself in Walt’s dirty business now, using any means necessary in order to keep her family safe? However, once Walt moves back into their house unannounced – and passive aggressively asserts his dominance over her and her reclamation of their space, Skyler quickly descends into an mental breakdown as she realises that her culpability in the entire fiasco has also meant her inability to escape from the demands of a man who is clearly a dangerous sociopath who unhesitantly poisons children and murders the most powerful of drug lords.

Now Skyler becomes a victim as she is mentally tortured by her inability to maintain a safe distance from Walt. Thus, Skyler breaks down in front of Marie, screaming “shut up” repeatedly at her. 

It’s an interesting comment on domestic abuse because it differs from any stories that we would typically read about or hear about in the media. This representation of domestic abuse, far from being a negative portrayal, reveals the complicated and insistent character of it. Skyler’s breakdown is a rare look at the power of psychological abuse of a passive aggressive partner. Normally the intangibility of this sort of abuse means that it is extremely difficult to depict in the media so, while Skyler’s breakdown is difficult to watch, it is refreshing to see a normally very discreet form of abuse being depicted so overtly.

Now, in saying this, more recently in the series Skyler has begun to cope with her situation – however, by cope, I do not mean discover a way out of the abusive relationship, I mean that she simply adapts to it and becomes equally as heartless and cold towards Walt. Thus, she is almost indoctrined into his way of life – becoming the accessory that he so needed and desired, and in doing so, losing her morals and her children. What is especially interesting about her martyrdom is that it also allows for her to continue to be the voice of resistance in Walt’s domestic life – thus, not allowing him the peace and happiness that he had originally desired.

Naively, I considered Skyler’s moral voice to be something positive in the show, something that allowed for the audience to judge the consequences of Walt’s actions with a better understanding. Unfortunately, what Skyler has appeared to become to modern audiences is the mob boss’s version of a nagging wife. Insert the “Fuck Skyler White” Facebook page here. Now, I don’t know about you, but Skyler’s complaints generally seem justified – She doesn’t want her kids to be killed by some criminals, nor does she want them spoiled by money that neither of them earned, she doesn’t want to go to jail, nor does she want to be married to this stranger, who used to be her quiet and content chemistry teacher husband, and is now a heartless, cruel killer and drug dealer. How, then, can you justify hating her? Unless, of course, you’re one of those people who hate others for protecting their families and being afraid of sociopaths. God Skyler, you’re so irrational.  

I have been encountering this frame of mind repeatedly recently. When a woman complains, even if it is a justified complaint, she is immediately considered a nag. Recently on holiday we were lost on our way to the beach, and when we finally found the correct area, we could not locate any parking lots. Me, being in the back seat and able to properly look out for a space to park, realized that the car-parks were located near to the hotels’ so they were difficult to see. I therefore informed the driver, my boyfriend, that this was the case, only to receive a rude comment from my friend’s partner about me being a “backseat driver”. I get it, it’s a joke so lets not worry about it, right? Wrong. These kind of comments are always thrown at women. We are supposed to sit in the back and shut up. To be seen and not heard. Even when we are justified, or just being helpful, we are supposed to play stupid and when we refuse to do so, we are criticized and shamed. I feel no shame in standing up for myself, for speaking my mind or for having initiative. I feel no shame for having opinions or morals, and neither does Skyler. Such a reception of Skyler by modern audiences only validates the idea that our culture is one that discreetly harbors sexism at its core.

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