For all their rave reviews and passionate fan support, AMC’s three flagship dramas have struggled with one key challenge: viewership dislike for key female characters.
On “Mad Men,” Don Draper’s wife (now-ex wife) Betty, played by January Jones, has not only failed to win the show’s audience over but has actually served as a repeated target for mockery.
On “The Walking Dead,” Sarah Wayne Callies’ Lori Grimes was the constant source of viewer vitriol. When she died in season three, Andrea, played by Laurie Holden, absorbed the burden of carrying that disgust until she, too, passed away in the show’s finale.
Characterization for the three aforementioned characters was not identical, but the audience’s proclivity to align against them was quite consistent.
Home to the most-celebrated individual performances on AMC, “Breaking Bad” has nonetheless failed to find immunization to this critical reality. Its own Skyler White, wife of central character Walter White, has attracted aggressive dislike from an audience that seems to otherwise live and breathe “Breaking Bad.”
In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, the Emmy-nominated Anna Gunn, who plays Skyler, reacts to the hatred, noting that the intense negativity towards her character has created a journey “I never would have imagined.”
Because well-written and well-acted Walt functions as show’s protagonist, Gunn recognizes that by being the one to question and even oppose his behavior and thought processes (however flawed and even malicious), Skyler was never going to be the show’s most popular character.
“But I was unprepared for the vitriolic response she inspired,” explains Gunn. “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.”
That a character she plays in unpopular, Gunn assures, is not the issue.
“As an actress, I realize that viewers are entitled to have whatever feelings they want about the characters they watch,” asserts Gunn.
Her issue instead focuses on the societal explanations–of ramifications–of hatred towards the Skyler White character.
Her character is not without shortcomings and even moral compromises, but Gunn believes that the multi-layered Skyler is best defined by her “backbone of steel.”
With Skyler, Gunn notes, “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan created a female lead “who would stand up to whatever came her way [and] who wouldn’t just collapse in the corner or wring her hands in despair.”
Given that characterization, Gunn, therefore, cannot help but consider whether the venomous reaction to Skyler stems from a societal double-standard towards women.
She wonders, “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?”
And that concern–that Skyler is hated because she “didn’t conform to a comfortable ideal of the archetypical female”–is the one of most significance to Gunn. Yes, that hatred towards Skyler White, the character, transitioned into malice and threats against Anna Gunn, the actress, is alarming, but at the end of the day, the biggest takeaway is that disapproval of the Skyler character could be illuminating the way society feels towards the role of the wife.
Because of that potential unmasking, Gunn is able to see the upside in debate about the value and likability of Skyler White.
She concludes, “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.