Tread lightly: there are NO finale spoilers here, but there are links and references to overall series arcs. One of the most disturbing aspects of AMC’s groundbreaking series “Breaking Bad” has taken place offscreen. Drug manufacturer and former science teacher Walter White’s wife Skyler, portrayed by Emmy award-winning actress Anna Gunn, was an accomplice to his murderous quest for notoriety as a chemist that crafted a legendary meth empire. More than merely critiquing her character, fans have taken to hating Skyler with sadly sickeningly and revealing reflection of our society’s relentless misogyny and fractured collective psyche.
“My character, to judge from the popularity of Web sites and Facebook pages devoted to hating her,” Gunn herself summed up in a New York Times op-ed “has become a flash point for many people’s feelings about strong, nonsubmissive, ill-treated women.”
“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.” ~ Anna Gunn wrote in The New York Times
“…. 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?” Gunn called Skyler a Rorschach test for society.
She couldn’t have known how right she was. One blogger literally found herself using her (now ex) boyfriend’s heinous reaction to an emotional “Breaking Bad” scene as an accidental litmus test. She couldn’t ignore what was lurking beneath the surface when he joined the masses and snarled at what a b*tch Skyler was after a harrowing incident she’d suffered. “This man had just watched the same series of events we had, and that’s how he perceived it?” she reflected in a chilling post.
From a storytelling standpoint, without Skyler Walter, White’s story would be much less engrossing. Without conflicts from his moral compass wife, her steadfast devotion turned into fear and revulsion, the crumbling of their once enduring marriage that eased into a reluctant partnership, seeing what he was willing to put her through and put up with from her– there is a lot we wouldn’t have learned about Walt. Entertainment is about balance. Without The Joker, what would Batman be?
But hero-worshiping Heisenberg means marveling at how cool his (male) meth manufacturing competitors and (male) gangster opponents are, but shrieking in horror when his shrew, b*tch wife is his adversary. If she were a super-heroine or Joss Whedon pouty-lipped super hottie, she might have dodged death threats and insults. Skyler was just an everyday woman though, with strength that many ordinary people can, and do, summon when they’re in extraordinary circumstances.
And that’s a bigger picture problem that has less to do with sexism but more to do with society. We should appreciate Walter White without applauding him and tearing down his victims. Fans can, and should, celebrate the constructs of Vince Gilligan’s Walt character– the way that one might admire an athlete and their trainers. When a star athlete rapes a one-night-stand or beats his wife though, there are a faction of reasonable people who can still acknowledge his skills while not supporting his sick actions. And then there are those who are appalled that a victimized woman would dare jeopardize a player’s career (like Stuebenville high school football team rapists) or sully his reputation. What does it say about our culture that looks up to athletes, celebrities, and characters that rape, kill, do and distribute drugs, beat women and children, and vocally condemns the victims who summon the courage to stand up to them? — Casandra Armour