The Breaking Bad Forums are filled with Skyler White haters and that hatred has even transferred to actress Anna Gunn, the actress who plays Skyler, as viewers begin to confuse the world of reality with the world of television drama.
I started watching the AMC TV show Breaking Bad from the first season in 2008. It wasn’t long before I too, hated Skyler White. Before I say why, I should give some background.
Breaking Bad premiered in January 2008. It’s a story about a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher, Walter White, who’s diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and decides to “break bad” by cooking methamphetamine so he can provide for his wife and children after he’s gone. He enters the world of crime and pits himself against murderous Cartel gangsters and the DEA. He manages to win most rounds because of his intellect and his expertise in chemistry but also because of his tenacity and audacity.
The season started a year before I left my psychopathic ex. A few times, we watched it together and I remember saying, “Spath, can you believe how Skyler treats Walt? I mean, he has CANCER, he’s going to die! What part of cancer does she not GET?”
Spath replied, “Yeaaahhh! He has CANCER!”
I hated Skyler because she didn’t feel sorry for Walt’s impending death. Not sorry enough to let him break the rules — even though he had a good excuse, he has CANCER!
Walt seemed like the downtrodden hero. He reminded me of my spath, who flies below the radar and above the rules, he does what he wants. Yet he can explain to you exactly why it makes sense and why he’s a special case and it should be this way — he’s the underdog! Crying was sometimes involved in making me see this point.
A year later, after I ran from the ex-spath, my eyes began to open and I started reading about narcissistic personality disorders and psychopathic red flags. It took a few months, but what I learned is that this is called the PITY PLOY and there is always a reason why the psychopath is “special” and shouldn’t need to follow the rules.
Vince Gilligan, creator and producer of the award winning series, is the reason people hate Skyler White. He created Walt’s character as the victim-hero, the anti-hero everyone is rooting for. When Walt breaks the law or endangers Skyler, she persecutes him. So now she is the victim’s persecutor. She is the bad guy. The genius in Vince Gilligan’s script, is that it reflects the truth about abusers.
Abusers, narcissists and psychopaths DO commonly present themselves as entitled to break the law because they were victimized. Then they trade places with the real victim and the real victim is perceived as the persecutor. For a perfect example in real life, read this story of a 14 year old girl who was raped by her teacher, then committed suicide after being bullied by her classmates. In a 180 twist, the victim is blamed for BEING victimized and the judge feels sorry for the rapist teacher.
Although Skyler tries to rise above it by leaving Walt, the audience doesn’t want to. They stay in the same place as I was, feeling sorry for the anti-hero. That is human nature, it’s part of the scapegoat mechanism.
The fact that the haters in the audience also hate the actress, Anna Gunn (some want to kill her), tells us how powerful the scapegoat mechanism is and just how HIDDEN it is. Even when we KNOW that the Anna Gunn and Bryan Cranston (Walter White) are just acting, some people believe that their feelings are more real than reality. So they hate the actress as much as the character.
As is typical for an abused victim, Skyler does get drawn back into Walt’s web –abusers don’t let their victims go so easily. She becomes an enabler: She keeps Walt’s drug dealing a secret; She accepts the blame when her son hates her for breaking up the marriage; She takes responsibility for laundering the drug money. Most enablers try to “fix” things and they take responsibility. She even has an affair, which makes her look even more guilty. I haven’t seen the last season, but from what has happened so far, she has now become an abused wife. Her only ability is to manipulate when she can. She’s moved into a world of lies and manipulations to keep the facade of a normal life together.
Skyler is afraid of Walt but she can’t seem to leave him. She isn’t a strong woman as Anna Gunn describes her character, in the NYTimes OP-Ed. She’s a victim of a psychopathic personality, exactly like I was. It’s only because of my personal experience with psychopaths that I can see things from a wider perspective now. I “get” the personal dynamics between characters in stories because spaths are all the same. I also “get” that some people need to scapegoat in order to relieve themselves of some personal drama. The abused victim is the perfect scapegoat. That’s what’s Walter White is doing to Skyler and the TV audience is emulating him because they can relate to his tragedy. Although this reaction from the audience speaks to the brilliance of the writers and the actors, it also says something about the audience itself. They are like I used to be. They don’t know what abuse looks like. They don’t understand the scapegoat mechanism or the 180 rule.
People might think I chose my blog name because I identified with Skyler White. Not really, when I picked it, I didn’t understand very much of this. I just liked the name and when I looked up the meaning, I found, “Protection through knowledge”. It fit both of us. As the story progresses though, it does start to have more in common with my own spath relationshit. I wonder how it will end. Will she be left holding the bag?