If you were to consider Walter White the most powerful male character on Breaking Bad, if you thought about it long enough, you’d have to conclude that Skyler White is at least his equal. Consider the fact that no one has yet managed to outsmart Walter White, at least in the long term. Two hundred and forty seven deaths can be directly or indirectly traced back to him. Everyone that has come directly up against him has been vanquished, including his second and third most formidable foes, Gus Fring and Mike Ehrmantraut. His most formidable foe? Skyler White, his wife, who at this point in the series has come to a stalemate, of sorts, with Walter, which is better than anyone else that has stepped directly in his path can say.
Indeed, Skyler White is taking a long approach. She won’t kill Walter White; she won’t risk losing her family. Neither will she turn him in, because she’s complicit in his activities. Her plan is to bide her time, to wait it out, to let nature — or another Walter White foe — take care of Walter for her. She’s going to wait for the cancer to return, and in the meantime, she’s checked Walter White. She has effectively taken Walter’s children from him, placed them under the care of Hank and Marie, and sacrificed herself by becoming a hostage in her own home.
If Walter White is the anti-hero of Breaking Bad turned full-blown villain, then Skyler White has supplanted Walter as the series’ anti-hero. You couldn’t call her a moral, idealistic, or virtuous person — she slept with Ted, she smoked while she was pregnant, she laundered Walter’s money and she enjoyed it — but if there’s anyone on this show — besides Jesse Pinkman — that we should be rooting for, it’s Skyler White. She has taken on Walter’s original role in the series: Protector of the family.
But she’s a bitch, you say? To you, I say: Go screw. Consider what Walter White has put her through over the course of four and a half seasons: He’s disappeared for long stretches of time. He refused to accept money for his treatment out of pride. He hid the fact that he was a meth manufacturer from her. He missed the birth of their daughter. He gets her brother in law shot and nearly killed. He was responsible for putting her entire family in witness protection. Most importantly, he put the lives of his family at risk. And yet, at each turn, Skyler tries to make it work. She launders his money. She saves him from the harebrained Saul Goodman schemes.
Without Skyler White, there would be no Heisenberg Empire.
But she also ends the affair with Ted. She doesn’t turn Walter in when she had the opportunity to do so. She doesn’t divorce him because she doesn’t want to testify against him. She protects him. More than that, she never ratted Walter out to her son. She did what Walter could never do: She swallowed her pride and allowed Walter Jr. to believe that she was the reason they were separated, that she was the reason Walter Jr. had to live with the Schraders.
So she lost it. Wouldn’t you? Can we also agree that Marie had that coming?
But why would she go to such lengths to protect her husband? Because she believed and trusted Walter as a father, and as a provider, and as a protector. Remember, after all, that only a little more than a year transpired between the time that the series began and the end of the fourth season: The man that Skyler used to know — the meek chemistry teacher weakened by cancer — is not that distant a memory. She had a glimmer of hope that there was something of Walter White remaining. However, once Walter killed Gus Fring, she understood that Walter White could no longer protect her family. He is the danger, not just to the Gus Frings of the world, but to her. To get her children out of Walter’s path of destruction, she orchestrated a suicide attempt, outflanking Walter White.
As Vince Gilligan said, in defense of Skyler White’s critics:
People are griping about Skyler White being too much of a killjoy to her meth-cooking, murdering husband? She’s telling him not to be a murderer and a guy who cooks drugs for kids. How could you have a problem with that?
Exactly. Skyler White may not be the most enjoyable character on the show to watch. She may not be terrifically GIFable, and she may not inspire a ton of Internet memes, but she stood up to Walter White, and while she hasn’t won, she hasn’t lost, either, which is more than can be said for everyone that’s stood up to Walter White. When all is said and done, Skyler White may be a buzzkill to Walter’s meth empire, but either she’s going to be the last one standing, or she will do what Walter couldn’t: Put aside her pride, admit her mistakes, and sacrifice herself for her family. You can bet that, if Heisbenberg dies at the end of the series, that you can trace it back to Skyler White.
That may make her a less interesting character to watch than Walter White, but it makes her one hell of a better, stronger person. As they say, behind every successful man, there is a strong, wise and hardworking woman ready to kill her husband if he f***s with her family.