“Breaking Bad” star Anna Gunn broke the fourth wall to write an op-ed in Saturday’s New York Times about why she thinks so many people hate her character, Skyler White, with a sometimes vicious passion. Her answer: misogyny.
“My character … has become a flash point for many people’s feelings about strong, nonsubmissive, ill-treated women,” she writes.
There is no doubt that there is a great deal of truth in this assessment. But as a strong, nonsubmissive woman myself, it caught me off guard. That’s because I really don’t like the character of Skyler White, either. Hate is a strong word, but at times as I have watched her sit ashen-faced and angry across from Walt at the dinner table, I have wished that her character would just disappear.
Needless to say, Gunn’s assertion sent me into a navel-gazing tailspin about my feelings. Am I secretly a woman who reviles strong women? Is my negative reaction to Skyler the result of social programming that I’m not even aware of? After sweating these questions for a day or so, I have decided that, no, that’s not the case.
I don’t like Skyler White because she’s no fun as a foil to Walt’s wickedness. Her hatred for Walt has become one-dimensional. I love the writing on “Breaking Bad,” which Gunn rightly points out “made Skyler multilayered and, in her own way, morally compromised.” But I would argue that that's just not the case anymore.
It’s not that fans resent her character’s strength. It’s that they resent the singular note of disdain that Gunn now strikes in her opposition to Walt.
People have fallen in love with “Breaking Bad” because it’s a fun show to watch, no matter how harrowing its deadly serious themes. And in fictional worlds, the best villains — a villain is essentially what Skyler has become as she has ascended to the level of being Walt’s arch-nemesis — are good fun. No matter how bad they are, they are just so rich to watch.
Skyler, by contrast, is singularly bitter in a way that has become boring, to me at least. And that very well might be in the writing. I’d love to see her given a really juicy way to oppose Walt that doesn’t involve taking a lover or drinking too much wine while clouded in an icy veil of condescension at the dinner table. I want her to be stronger than that.
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