Deputy Entertainment editor Chloe Barrett looks back at one of the greatest productions to ever grace television: Breaking Bad while attempting to unravel the constant hate thrown at the show’s main female character.
Breaking Bad is deemed as one of the greatest television series of all time. The universe, which features the prequel series Better Call Saul and a follow-up movie (El Camino) to the original show starring Jesse Pinkman is a global sensation. Vince Gilligan created a masterpiece and brought it to life with a brilliant cast including Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Dean Norris and Betsy Brandt. Now, I could genuinely write thousands of words concerning what is probably my favourite show, but today I’m going to be focusing on a certain character: Skyler White.
You might’ve noticed up above in my cast listing that I missed out on a major actress who plays the show’s main female character. That is none other than Anna Gunn. Unfortunately, she has not been treated well by ‘fans’ of the show, particularly male viewers, and she continues to be verbally abused online to this day for her portrayal of Walter White’s wife.
To offer a quick summary to those of you who are unfamiliar with the show, it focuses on chemistry teacher Walter White, who, after being diagnosed with cancer, enlists (he blackmails him, let’s be honest) former student Jesse Pinkman to assist him with making and distributing crystal meth. Like many men with power, it quickly rushes to his bald head, and he does not stop when his treatment costs are paid for, oh no. He reigns hell on Albuquerque, killing people, blowing up a nursing home, poisoning children, and the list goes on and on… all the while tearing his family apart. Skyler, his beloved wife, is in charge of holding down the fort, despite being heavily pregnant (later on she almost single-handedly raises the newborn), working, and caring for their eldest son. But after all of Walter White’s crimes, and being the antagonist of the series, Skyler White is still the most hated character. She faces a seemingly ceaseless parade of misogyny that does not relent. The internet mocks her appearance and weight gain, and they take delight in the moments when her intimidating, murderous husband stares her down and snarls abuse through his gritted teeth. Why? Because she’s a woman.
Throughout the five seasons of the award winning series, Skyler could do nothing right. After Walter missed the birth of their newborn daughter due to a drug deal that he had organised, Skyler begs him for a divorce and refuses to let him within the house. She soon discovers her husband’s crimes and promises to never speak a word about his upcoming drug empire if he would simply leave her and her children alone. A simple enough request, if you think about it. Walter, being the fierce chemistry teacher that he is, desperately tries to blackmail her, pleading that his family is the reason that he is doing all of his illegal business. After she doesn’t budge, on the basis of wanting her son and daughter to be safe, Walt forces his way back into the house. Just like the big bad wolf, his presence is threatening and he emits a dangerous aura, keeping his drug money stored in the walls of their house, metres away from where his infant baby slept.
Skyler’s act of rebellion against Walter’s manipulation was to sleep with her boss, Ted, a man who had harboured feelings for her in the past. Despite the fact that he flirted with her years ago, she constructed an extremely professional boundary between them both, her eyes set on her loving husband. However, she finally decides to embark on a physical relationship with Ted, a man who genuinely was attracted to her. For many watchers of the show, this pivotal moment declared what they were writing online for years: Skyler was an unsympathetic woman who, while her poor husband slaved over his chemistry instruments all day, decided to have an affair (they put it in less polite terms, believe me). The concept of Skyler seeking notice from another man was blasphemy, while Walter murdering men in cold blood was badass. She exercised the only agency she possessed, after everything else had been stolen from her by a man, in turn, she took what pleasure she could from another. In recent years, the question of whether Skyler actually had an affair has been posted online, and the results have gradually started moving in her favour. While she had sex with Ted, beforehand she had publicly announced, multiple times, that she no longer wanted to be Walt’s wife. She even had the divorce papers ready for him to sign and begged him for his signature, while he revelled in her misery. How can it be considered a relationship, let alone a marriage, when one of the adults no longer consents? If anything, while the show takes a stab at the failing American healthcare system, it also raises some queries regarding marriage.
Between the two of them, Walter is the abuser within the relationship. He is an insecure character who cannot even conceive the notion that what he is doing could potentially be wrong. Eventually, Skyler is emotionally beaten into submission and falls behind the drug lord, agreeing to launder money for him on the condition that their children remain oblivious and safe. She offers money to her sister and brother in law after he was severely injured and could not afford his hospital bills, unable to bear witness to anyone she loved struggling. Whenever a sliver of doubt crawled within her mind, Walter’s threats rang in her ears, and now that she had implicated herself, what could she do? Her character was once again berated by aggressive viewers for activities that were less harmful than Walter’s. If she had handed him in to the police, which she repeatedly attempted to convince herself to do, fans would be outraged. Their beloved fictional drug lord would be locked behind bars, nay a fedora atop his head. It would not be very masculine of him!
Like many women who unfortunately find themselves trapped in an abusive relationship, no option available to them is deemed as the correct one to choose. In Breaking Bad, Skyler and Walter’s situation is a bleeding red flag, and even though the nature of it is fictitious, if an overwhelming number of people side with the obvious abuser, what kind of message is being broadcasted? Especially to those in actual dangerous scenarios that may not be as apparent as a dramatised one. Walter is the image of toxic masculinity, violence and abuse, so when you see fanboys donning the infamous fedora, yelling his iconic slogan with glee that originated from a moment where he screams at his wife, what are women to think? An antagonist who was expertly written to not only be a horrible husband, and father, but also a murdering drug kingpin is praised worldwide for being easy to sympathise with and for being an excellent image of a powerful man. While a woman who rarely gets a grasp at power and attempts to hold her broken family together even if it kills her is the victim of countless online trolls and downright misogyny.
Anna Gunn wrote an incredible piece for the New York Times a few years ago in which she attempts to find the root of where the hatred for her stems from. It’s called ‘I Have a Character Issue’ and is an amazing read, I would highly implore you to check it out.