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Why People Hate Skyler White on <i>Breaking Bad</i> — 69 Comments

  1. Oh, Sky…….thank you for putting this out there for discussion. It really, REALLY speaks to disorder and how deeply enmeshed people can become in enabling and supporting disorder.

    I have a very hard time watching this series – I don’t give two sh*ts whether Walt enters the world of methamphetamine as an excuse to “provide” for his family when he’s gone. IMHO, such a character would have to have been high in spath traits, to begin with, to enter such a torrid, violent, and vicious world full of betrayal. Money? Sure. But, at what cost?

    I was particularly shocked at Walt’s near-rape of his wife, Skylar, when she was late in her pregnancy. Bob asked me what was wrong with Walt, and I could only surmise what I could personally identify with and respond, “The world that he’s in is ‘exciting’ and dramatic – perhaps, Walt is turned on by the level of deception and power that he’s involved in. I dunno….”

    I personally love the name, “Skylar,” and had no idea that there was a series character of the same name. It’s just a very pleasant name. 😉

    I don’t know if I can continue to watch this series because I cannot feel ANY pity for Walt’s character. Yeah, it’s terrible that anyone has terminal cancer, but it’s not a good enough excuse to dive into a world where violence and betrayal are character requirements.

    As a strict aside, I wonder if anyone had seen any news on the terrible marketing of the “Vicodan 77” t-shirts??? This was dreamed up by some designer that takes football jerseys and places the name of popular pain medications on the back with a player’s assigned number, like “Oxytocin 44.” People are righteously outraged and some groups are trying to have them taken off of the shelves. One doctor that was interviewed was so outraged at how flip and cavalier we have become, as a society and culture, to actually MARKET such garments. Nearly half of all overdose deaths are due to prescription painkillers. Gives one pause for thought, eh?


    • Oh, back on topic about the character of Skylar…………why WOULDN’T she leave Walt? More importantly, why SHOULDN’T she?

      This is what we’ve come down to: the viewers despising someone who takes a stand for themselves and family. We’ve become such an all-inclusive society that everyone MUST be accepted – everyone. And, I hope that Skylar’s character is painted as a hero rather than a villain for making a really tough decision.

      Okie dokie………..rant over………..

  2. Truthy,
    At first she has boundaries. That’s what makes her seem like a bitch and why I didn’t like her. Then she starts getting contaminated by the craziness and the violence.

    I still like the show and feel sorry for Walt as well as Skyler. It’s just a TV show though, it’s not like I really CARE what happens, but they do manage to manipulate my emotions and that’s what ART is for.

    It turns out that the most interesting thing about this art, is how the audience reacts to it. For some people it has actually blurred the lines between reality and art. The violence has escaped from the art and contaminated the viewers. How strange is that?

    Art imitates reality or does reality imitate art?

  3. Some good points to chew on skylar, yes, the psychopathic personality will try to drag the victim into doing things that are illegal/immoral.

    Sounds like the husband is using his terminal cancer as an excuse to do what he wanted to do to start with…kind of like how many people would take a bag of money they found if they KNEW 100% FOR SURE that NO one would ever find out? Probably the majority of folks would…so now this man knows he is going to die, so the CONSEQUENCES if he is found out versus the perceived BENEFIT to breaking the law he decides are worth it.

    Well, to me he is like the guy who finds the bag of money and since no one saw him decides to keep it instead of turn it in so the owner can get it back.

    It is the DO RIGHT rule…do what is right whether anyone else knows or not.

    Yes, he sucked her in, hooked her into being his “partner in crime” by getting her to launder the money etc. which in itself is a FELONY…

    Makes me wish I got cable, it would be a good show to watch.

  4. Oxy,
    I don’t have cable anymore, so I didn’t get to watch the show for a few seasons. Recently, I rented all the episodes from my local video rental. For a buck, I could rent 3 or 4 episodes at a time.

    It’s well written and very popular but I don’t usually participate in or even read forums for television shows, so I had no idea about the hate mob until I read the article by Anna Gunn in the NYTimes.

    While I can relate to liking or not liking a character, it’s amazing to me that some viewers actually treat the show as if it were REAL. Who DOES that?

    Further, I think it’s another example of how/why some people are drawn to criminals or inmates. The psychopath is so good at the pity ploy. I’m not even talking about the Skyler character being coerced into being complicit with the Walt character, I’m talking about the AUDIENCE!!!

    If you don’t know how manipulative psychopaths are, you would never even be aware that you are being manipulated.

  5. Sky, remember the soap operas that ran for 30+ years, the people who watched them became so involved with those characters that they became “real people” to them, so this involvement of the viewers and the hate toward the actors/characters is very real…crazy, but real! For people who are themselves disordered or dysfunctional it becomes “mega real” (to coin a term)

  6. Great article Skylar! I, too, have watched this entire series (at least the one’s available on DVD). I have really enjoyed it, and have been interested in hearing what other people think is going on with Walt and all the characters.

    I think because I already knew about psychopathy, personality disorders, etc…, I didn’t root for Walt at all, and I felt frustrated with Skylar for not leaving him. I never hated her, I felt fear for her character, and frustration that she couldn’t hear me when I screamed at the TV for her to leave his sorry ass!!!!

    It is a brilliant depiction of psychopathic illusion.

    However, I am shocked that people hate this actress for the role she is playing. Not shocked about the abuse of the victim, and that people are responding to the character via that phenomenon, but that people could actually be affected enough to have direct and real feelings of hatred for the actual actress. That really surprised me.

    Ever since I started watching the series I have wondered how Walt White behaved pre-cancer. I have been a bit troubled by the implication that a psychopath could be ‘created’, in adulthood, by circumstance alone. That makes no sense to me. So, I always wonder how his personality disorder was manifesting itself before he got cancer.

    Anywhoo, thanks for this interesting article Skylar!


    • Keep in mind that many of the depictions of “psychopaths” on television are NOT CORRECT, remember too this is the popular media, entertainment, as it were. Plus the people writing the plots are definitely NOT experts in psychopathy.

      I watch Criminal Minds and The Good wife, in which psychopaths are frequently mentioned or demonstrated and Criminal minds usually gets it right, but not always. In the Good wife they don’t say the WORD psychopath but they sure act out the part. Her wife is a politician who is a psychopath and the law partners at her job many of them are high in the traits, back stabbing etc.

      • Understood Oxy. I see some pretty pathetic characterizations of spaths on TV, and they make me shake my head.

        My wondering if this character was disordered, pre-cancer, is based more on the fact that the character is portrayed SO well as a disordered person. He has all the traits and behaviors. So, to me, there is just NO way that the character could ‘suddenly’ become disordered by a cancer diagnosis, or any other adult acquired trauma. Not to the extent that this character is portrayed.

        He is off the charts a full blown psychopath. My sense is those are born, and that their disorder shows up much earlier than 50.

        So, that would be my only criticism of this portrayal. That it gives the impression he was a normal, likable, and reasonable guy, and then, BOOM!, faced with death he becomes totally morally bankrupt.

        I don’t remember the flash backs to his previous life (pre-cancer). Skylar alludes to them in a post further down. I remember him being Joe Regular.

        And now a psychopath of the first degree.

        As a ‘reason’ for his psychopathy, facing death is not convincing. Or accurate.

    • Dorothy,
      yep he really does have it. And he doesn’t want any pity from anyone. He won’t accept money from his wealthy friends to pay for treatment. He is too proud.

      But that’s the 180 rule, that’s how the writers get the audience to feel sorry for him while rooting for him to win. The audience hopes that he prevails against death and the cruel hand that fate has dealt him.

      If you don’t have netflix streaming, you can usually get it for 30 days free. So you can watch the whole series (except the current season) right away.

      • Skylar, I don’t have the internet connection for streaming anything. I can watch an occasional youtube thing but it eats up my allotted download amount of data……Not sure about the wording there! LOL
        I’m kind of in an internet black hole where I live and was limited to……..ready for this blast from the past??……..dial up!! before I got this mobil hot spot thing through my phone. It’s a huge improvement but it has it’s draw backs.

  7. Slim,
    Your reaction to Walt, goes to show how empowering it is to understand narcissism and psychopathology. Until I learned about psychopathic behavior, I would fall for the pity ploy EVERY TIME. I am the most susceptible person to that. Walt had all my sympathy. That is my nature, but it’s no longer my reaction.

    I’ll probably never stop feeling sorry for spaths and I don’t know if that’s right or wrong. I do know that I have to resist reacting to it. It’s not easy, it feels like I’m going against my instincts. That’s why I’ve spent so much time studying spath behavior AND my reaction to it, since I left the ex-spath.

    Some of the show’s flashbacks to Walt’s earlier years, do show a narcissistic streak in him. He seemed very full of himself. But yeah, it’s hard to understand how anyone can become SO psychopathic, suddenly, in his 50’s. The writers explain that through Walt’s sudden, close brush with his mortality through the cancer diagnosis and the subsequent chemotherapy.

    Kinda reminds me of Lance Armstrong’s story. LOL….speaking of spaths…

    • Oh, yea, the pity ploy HOOKED ME EVERY TIME…LOL Not so much empathy any more, I look at things a bit differently. Not quite so easy to hook me now. LOL

      • OxD, I’m also one who was invariably “hooked” by the pity-ploy-lure. Not today. I still feel “pity” and compassion, but I work feverishly to govern my level of empathy.

        Skylar, I find it very difficult and triggering to watch Breaking Bad. The character of “Walt” had to have been disordered, BEFORE a terminal diagnosis, in order to leap into the world of methamphetamine production and sales – the world of illegal drugs is, at the very least, desperate and pitiable, and lethal, at the worst. There is nothing glamorous, alluring, or positive about the illegal drug trade OR prescribed drug markets – it’s all designed to generate addicts, and there are two ways out: rehab and recovery; or, death.

        Drug kingpins do not live their lives “well,” if that makes any sense. There is a constant environment of deception, betrayal, paranoia, and danger – there is no peace for these people and they typically die at the hands of another human being.

        That the character of “Skylar” is so reviled is a pathetic statement to our culture and society. Susan Lucci experienced the same level of hatred based upon her character on “All My Children,” and was frequently accosted if someone recognized her, on the street.

        What I find most disturbing and fascinating is that each one of us has experienced our own “Breaking Bad” series of real-life events. Each one of us has either been a “Skylar White” or “Walt” or any other character portrayed in this gritty and raw series. However, when we attempted to express how our life’s events unfolded, we were met with disbelief, dismissal, and victim-blame. Viewers of Breaking Bad have NO PROBLEM acknowledging that the whole thing is horrible and that Walt is a “bad guy” that “meant well.” Yet, these same people refuse – literally refuse – to believe that our experiences were anything more than misunderstandings or personal invitations to be destroyed by another human being.

        Yep………..the character of “Walt” was disordered, before. The diagnosis of a terminal illness was just the excuse that he needed to pretend that He Would Be A Different Type Of Kingpin. Oddly, very close to real-life sociopathic traits, right?

      • Truthy,
        well with Susan Lucci, I can understand… LOL, just kidding! She sure did play an evil character for a long time. I grew up watching her role as Erica Cane during summer vacations. You’d think –with all those years of watching a diabolical scheming manipulator on TV– I would have recognized the spath when he walked into my life. The problem was, I guess, that I DID draw a boundary between real life and TV. I really never believed that such a shallow depiction of a character on TV, COULD REALLY EXIST!!

        But they do. They are just as shallow and they are just as mythological.

        This is exactly Rene Girard’s message. It’s also why he has a problem with Joseph Campbell’s interpretation of mythology. Rene Girard says that the myths of ancient cultures are NOT just stories. He says they are stories about things that ACTUALLY HAPPENED. These stories have been changed, just enough to where they are unrecognizable as a true event and also, they are flipped around so that the character (victim) who dies, deserved to die. Girard recognizes these myths as having the same quality as the stories that an abuser tells. The stories make us sympathize with the abuser, rather than the victim.

        In fact, it’s uncanny how my spath told the story of the day that the crazy-husband-stealing neighbor called me in as a missing person. Twice. He conveniently left out the part about being behind the entire scheme. In this story, HE was the victim OF EVERYBODY. In his story, I victimized him, the neighbor victimized him, the sheriff victimized him. Poor little victim spath, manipulated everyone into playing their roles. Except that time, I didn’t go along.

        I can only be grateful that I got to see the whole thing go down because I wouldn’t have believed it otherwise. Also, it was even better that I got to RECORD him working his angle with me.

        • Dorothy,
          I had to go back and watch the first season to figure that out.

          There is only one episode where the phrase is mentioned.

          In the scene, Walter is trying to convince Jesse, (a young, loser, meth dealer) to become his partner. Jesse had been a student in Walter’s high school chemistry class and he believes Walter is too straight-laced to ever become a drug dealer, he doesn’t know Walt has cancer. He says something like, “I’m supposed to believe, that an old guy like you, is suddenly going to break bad?”

          So I guess it means to turn against society or turn into a criminal.

          • Skylar……..weird!nI forgot to mention this after watching the Good Will Hunting movie! Another Skylar! It’s the Skylar trifecta this week. I think it’s interesting that Skylar wrote about Skylar in Breaking Bad and that I choose to watch a movie with another Skylar in it! Im always seeing these coincidences and probably pay WAY too much attention to them! LOL

    • I hear you Skylar, I feel sorry (compassion) too. But now it is disconnected from the compulsion I used to have to ‘help’ and ‘fix’. That compulsion really got a big ole light shined on it the last go round, and I could see how I played my part in not protecting myself.

      Heck, I barely registered that I had a worthwhile self to protect. Everything was always about everybody else.

      Truthy…yeah, when it is REAL life- people can barely choke it down. It doesn’t ‘compute’ for them. The ‘math’ is off. On TV shows they get to fabricate some silly reason ‘why’ the psychopath does what he does (he has cancer, she was abused as a kid….).

      People can relate to these reasons, and then accept that THIS character really loses their s***, because of xyz. TV people make up stupid reasons why spaths act apathy. The news does too. They are trying to figure something out, from a normal perspective. 1+1=2. With spaths 1+1= something unexpected.

      In my opinion:

      In real life there is no context or reason. Not really. I mean they do want to win. They want our money. They want sex, a place to live, RESOURCES. And, most people can’t believe that someone would behave SO despicably for any of those reasons. And I tend to agree. But I think that it’s not what they want that is the motivator for them. It doesn’t seem like it to me. Even destroying other’s and taking away other’s lives, doesn’t seem like an actual ‘motivation’.

      I see them as more internally driven by primitive brain/neurological functions, that are multifactorial in creation. This is an extremely unpopular view. Sorry. I don’t mean to excuse them. I do not excuse them, in any way. I hold them 100% accountable for their offenses.

      But, for me, it’s the only explanation that makes sense for WHY they do what they do. They do what they do BECAUSE they are (however they got that way) severely and permanently disordered. Their brains are broken, and they cannot learn to be nice people. Only act, temporarily.

      They are abusers, liars, deceivers, destroyers. That is what they are. They are good at it. They do it. They only ‘refrain’ from doing it, in order to continue to do it. So, they are always doing it.

      Hope I am not offending anyone here…..just expressing my ideas


      • Slim, WHat about the gaminess of all of it though? the twisted cruelty? Creation doesn’t require that. Cut throat survival instincts and behavior are one thing but there is absolutely NO necessity to what they do. Don’t forget that some of these are serial killers. A snake doesn’t do the things these losers do to it’s prey, it kills it and eats it. Cats on the other hand are a little Spathy with their prey…………

        • Hey Dorothy,

          I agree. There is no obvious necessity to what they do, and how far they go to do it. I don’t
          ‘get it’, either. Truthspeak wrote farther down on this thread that she believes these types will always be part of the human species. Could be she is right, and they are just what they are……predators that like to ‘play’ with their ‘kills’.

      • Slim, Dr. simon was saying something the other day…….All the speculation is a natural response in attempt to alleviate the cognitive dissonance. I see they it’s an attempt to try to fit a square peg into a round hole. an unconscious attempt to find SOMEthing that makes sense (now this is what I see in myself) so my brain can let go of it and heal. It really is human nature to try to figure out things we don’t understand, that is what science IS! BUT, is it necessary? or is acceptance of the way things ARE vs why they are the way they are, the ability to do that, isn’t that what Buddhism all about? Learning to over ride human nature (the mind’s endless activity) and just be?
        I don’t mean that we are to accept Spaths into our lives but accept that they are different, foreign, and dangerous.

      • Slim, there is another blog that discusses psychopaths and sociopaths that tends to lean more on the drama/trauma than it does on actual healing and recovery, but the point is that someone once mentioned that there was A Reason for sociopaths. Many bloggers were OUTRAGED by this viewpoint and were beyond feeling offended.

        My feeling and belief is that spaths have always existed, and will forever exist as part of the Human Condition. I may not LIKE this fact, but it is a fact, nonetheless. And, my personal options are a) accept this fact, or b) pretend otherwise. I’ve spent a lifetime of pretending that I was okay, that others were okay, and that everything was just OKAY, and I prefer the World Of Reality, these days. It’s a colder, quieter world, to be sure, but there’s a distinct absence of rampant fear.

        Yepper………spaths are of a species that I cannot identify with. Any effort that I make to try to “understand” what creates them makes my brain hurt.

  8. Slim,
    Please don’t apologize for expressing your very valid viewpoint.

    Part of my fascination with the show is out of curiosity about what Vince Gilligan is trying to say about spaths. As you said, it’s improbable that a 50 year old would suddenly — to quote Jesse — “break bad”.

    Personally, all the spaths I’ve known emerged that way from childhood, or before. They all had ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) as kids, with the exception of my little spath sister. She has always been selfish and manipulative but not really rebellious against authority. She was 14 when she had a serious head injury and something changed in her. Everyone noticed it but nobody knew what it was. She just seemed very stupid, suddenly. She became very obviously shallow, as if she couldn’t understand anything that wasn’t delineated in black and white. She also has mild epilepsy now.

    So maybe Vince Gilligan is trying to convey a different message about spaths. A message that requires the protagonist to become evil instead of being born that way. This is so that the audience can relate to and sympathize with an evil anti-hero. And I think that maybe the message is more about how easily a spath can elicit “sympathy for the devil”. But maybe I’m wrong.

    I’ve also recently rented and watched most of Dexter another show about a spath. Dexter is a serial killer but he’s very likable. Of all the characters in the show, he seems the LEAST narcissistic. LOL! Riiiiight. Talk about improbable! But again, I think that this Dexter show also has an ulterior motive, which is to portray how all the “normal” people justify their own violence. Just about every time someone gets killed, everyone agrees that the victim deserved it because he/she was bad.

    Girard’s theories have really changed the way I watch TV.

    • Skylar, I knew someone who had metastasized brain cancer, multiple lesions. It had gone from somewhere in his body to his brain and he changed pretty radically, pretty quickly. but I wouldn’t call him a spath, not him anyhow…..it wasn’t a tv show though.

      • Dorothy,
        from what I’ve read, the spath’s inability to feel empathy can be seen in a functional MRI. It shows less activity in the left pre-frontal cortex.

        Automobile head injuries, often occur to the front of the head. My sister and I were not wearing seat belts. She flew forward and broke the top of the windshield with her head. She also had amnesia for about a month.

        It’s possible that your acquaintance didn’t have lesions in this part of his head. It’s also possible that my sister was predisposed to what she became because of something else.

        I only mention her case as someone whose personality has changed permanently from a head injury.

        Edit: I just remembered that she took a tumble down a flight of stairs as an infant too. But I think she was sort of spathy from birth anyway. 😛

        • Skylar, his accident went down like this……he was in his truck on the side of the road on his lunch break (second shift? it was dark) and he got plowed into by a big delivery truck from the rear. He ended up in the back “seat” of his truck and his head impacted and dented the metal interior of the truck. This guy……..OMG…..he is a walking disaster area! He got his left eye “put out” (it’s still there but the nerve in it is damaged) as a kid when someone threw a ping pong paddle, got his front teeth knocked out when someone threw a baseball bat, he has severely crashed on motorcycles, the truck accident, that’s just off the top of my head! he’s an interesting study…..I’ve never known exactly WHAT to think of him! He is a mix, that’s for sure! VERY interesting life and background. I’d say he’s one of the strangest/ most interesting people i know. VERY hard to pigeon hole! I think a therapist would have a field day!
          But right off the bat,,,he’s adopted and even though his adoptive parents are “good people” (lol), his original parents adopted these three kids within three years! and then they split up! long story, plenty of drama and intrigue.
          One thing about him that makes me think he’s not a Spath is that he has always been very responsible, independent and a very hard worker. But of course, one messed up relationship after another, three kids, two mothers…….
          People are FAScinating!

          • Dorothy,
            I thought you said he had metastasized brain cancer?
            Or are you speaking of a different acquaintance?

            Yes, as Jill has mentioned previously, they do come in all shapes and sizes. That’s why the average person doesn’t recognize them. In addition, they all wear masks but some masks are better than others.

            Rene Girard was studying what the great classic novels have in common. Usually it’s the spath activity. He found that it was always about mimetic desire when it was boiled down to its common denominator.

    • Sky, I’m “addicted” to one series, in particular: Walking Dead. The whole post-apocalyptic series is so outrageously improbable that it takes the “reality” out of the equation – “Dexter” and “Breaking Bad” are both “possible” in the Real World. Unless people are using “bath salts” as a recreational drug and end up eating the faces of fellow users, a zombie apocalypse is unlikely. (snicker, snort, wheeze)

      The character studies in these three programs, “Breaking Bad,” “Dexter,” and “Walking Dead” are pretty powerful and well-written. But, there was an episode in Walking Dead that ended with behavior that was almost 100% unlikely by a violent psychopath character, that Bob and I still have debates about whether or not there was “good” in that character, at all.

      I agree that watching programs or movies can speak louder than “real life” does, frequently. Because it’s fiction, we are better able to process events – of course, there are some who take the characters so seriously that they make them real in their own minds! LOL

      I remember the expression of our family doctor when I was sobbing in his office after the exspath left, forever. His eyes were the size of dinner plates, his mouth hung open, and he just shook his head in disbelief as I explained what I had discovered, and what had eventually taken place. At one point, he stared at the bag containing the exspath’s ………. interests ………… and said, “In my entire life, I’ve never met someone that this really happened to.” Truth is always stranger than fiction…………and, fiction has to come from SOMEwhere, right?

      Excellent discussion.

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