Breaking Bad has been over for a few years now, but there are some rumors that a new movie based off the critically-acclaimed series is on its way. Fans are looking forward to seeing their favorite meth-selling duo back on the screen, but it’s probably safe to say that not everyone is looking forward to seeing Skyler (played by Anna Gunn), Walter White’s wife, back. She was always a polarizing figure on the show, although it’s not totally clear why.
Skylar took a lot of heat for being stern, even though it was her husband who was literally cooking meth. In 2013, after the show ended, Gunn wrote an op-ed for The New York Times, talking about the hate she received.
I was unprepared for the vitriolic response [Skyler] inspired. Thousands of people have “liked” the Facebook page “I Hate Skyler White.” Tens of thousands have “liked” a similar Facebook page with a name that cannot be printed here. When people started telling me about the “hate boards” for Skyler on the Web site for AMC, the network that broadcasts the show, I knew it was probably best not to look, but I wanted to understand what was happening.
The consensus among the haters was clear: Skyler was a ball-and-chain, a drag, a shrew, an “annoying bitch wife.”
But as a human being, I’m concerned that so many people react to Skyler with such venom. 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?
It’s notable that viewers have expressed similar feelings about other complex TV wives — Carmela Soprano of “The Sopranos,” Betty Draper of “Mad Men.” Male characters don’t seem to inspire this kind of public venting and vitriol.
Six years later, Gunn is still grappling with how much people hated her character. In an interview with the London Evening Standard, Gunn admitted she wrote the op-ed because she felt the sexism she faced while on the show was “shocking.”
“I feel like I came to understand what it was, which was just the undercurrent of extreme sexism. The idea of gender roles being so deeply ingrained — it was shocking to me,” Gunn said. “But I’m not sorry it happened, because it put me out on the other side going, ‘Huh, that’s really interesting.’ And I felt compelled to say something, not necessarily for myself, but for my daughters and other women. The vehemence of it, and the fact that it was just allowed — it was the id gone wild.”
Even though she’s not on social media, the 50-year-old actress was stunned when people close to her informed her of what appeared to be a death threat.
“There was this college student who had just watched an episode where Skyler makes Walt take Walt Jr’s car back, and she was very upset about that,” Gunn recalled. “So she tweeted: ‘Can somebody tell me where I can find Anna Gunn so I can kill her?’ Which to me sounds like a death threat. So the police checked it out. And she said, ‘Oh, I just saw the episode, you know.’ And they said, ‘Well, you did use her actual name.’ And she said, ‘Oh, I know but … I guess there’s not free speech.’”
Gunn also pointed out that even when the show’s creator actively tried to make Walter White be hated, it didn’t work.
“Even when Vince Gilligan thought he was writing hard enough on Walt, the audience continued to side with him,” Gunn pointed out.
To end off her op-ed in 2013, Gunn said she wasn’t ready for all the criticism, but she’s glad the conversation happened.
But I finally realized that most people’s hatred of Skyler had little to do with me and a lot to do with their own perception of women and wives. Because Skyler didn’t conform to a comfortable ideal of the archetypical female, she had become a kind of Rorschach test for society, a measure of our attitudes toward gender.
I can’t say that I have enjoyed being the center of the storm of Skyler hate. But in the end, I’m glad that this discussion has happened, that it has taken place in public and that it has illuminated some of the dark and murky corners that we often ignore or pretend aren’t still there in our everyday lives.
I think Gunn brings up an interesting point, that we’re always quick to dismiss the behavior of male characters while looking at female characters through a harsher lens. That being said…I really didn’t like Skyler.