‘Breaking Bad’ season 5: Anna Gunn sparks debate in op-ed over Skyler, gender perception

The path ahead -Why is it that Skyler White is such an unpopular character of “Breaking Bad” for many fans? This is really a question that was worth debate long before Anna Gunn ever spoke out about it.

It feels strange to almost shorten the actress’ points in an op-ed in the New York Times this weekend to just a few quotes, which is why we posted the link in case you want to read her full argument, but basically the Emmy nominee makes the point that there is a correlation between her character’s gender, and the negative reaction and backlash that she receives from many fans:

“Male characters don’t seem to inspire this kind of public venting and vitriol … As an actress, I realize that viewers are entitled to have whatever feelings they want about the characters they watch. But as a human being, I’m concerned that so many people react to Skyler with such venom. 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.”

There is a case to agree that Skyler is not an archetype, but neither is Walt or almost any other character on the show. They are all layered and nuanced in their own way. But if there was a male character in Skyler’s place who was so reactive to Walt’s own actions, and not necessarily proactive in terms of coming up with proper defenses, would the reaction be the same? The answer to this question is both “yes” and “no.” There is a certain amount of truth in Gunn’s claims, judging from the notion that many Skyler criticisms are followed with the use of such words as “b**ch” (and not the Jesse Pinkman fun kind) and other sexist language. Some misogynistic viewers likely felt the same way about other iconic TV characters over the years; they just did not have the same platform that we do today in Twitter.

But at the end of the day, the public disdain of Skyler save for some outliers is due more to the writing than any particular discussion of gender roles. She was never meant to be a fully sympathetic character; if she was, Walt would not be able to be the “bad-but-also-cool” antihero that convinced so many to watch and become invested in his story. Walt is the one who is going to get the support from many simply because he is the proactive one, and the captain steering the ship. It’s almost art imitating life; Skyler has to be to an extent sacrificed to justify why some viewers want to root for Walt, someone who is at his core a much more awful and terrifying person than she will ever be.

Personally, we’ve always felt that Gunn gives a great performance in the role, but it’s a difficult part to like via circumstance. She’s a prisoner who goes out of her way at times to defend him, acting based on her own fear. She acts based on how many would in her situation, and yet, we hold her to ideals because she is on television. If there was a female character within “Breaking Bad” who was kicking butt and taking names, and also acting fearlessly, we would follow that up with just one word: Awesome. The closest thing we have to that right now is Lydia, and she’s more survivalist than kingpin.

What do you make of Gunn’s reaction to the reaction of her role? Be sure to click here to get a preview at Sunday night’s new episode.

Photo: AMC

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