Breaking Bad actress Anna Gunn has written a New York Times op-ed on the vitriol frequently directed at her character, Walter White’s wife, Skyler. Gunn writes that while she knew from the beginning that Skyler might become unpopular with viewers because she is the “one character who consistently opposes Walter and calls him on his lies,” she was surprised by the extreme Skyler hate she found on AMC message boards, personal websites, and Facebook pages such as “I Hate Skyler White,” among others. Gunn writes, “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 points out that other “complex TV wives” of immoral husbands, such as Carmela Soprano and Betty Draper, have also been harshly criticized, while, “Male characters don’t seem to inspire this kind of public venting and vitriol.” However, the most disturbing element of Gunn’s piece is her description of the personal threats she’s received, including one commenter’s scary request: “Could somebody tell me where I can find Anna Gunn so I can kill her?” The actress writes, “Besides being frightened (and taking steps to ensure my safety), I was also astonished: how had disliking a character spiraled into homicidal rage at the actress playing her?” Gunn’s conclusion is that “most people’s hatred of Skyler had little to do with me and a lot to do with their own perception of women and wives…she had become a kind of Rorschach test for society, a measure of our attitudes toward gender.”
Gunn writes that, despite the negative reactions, she has enjoyed playing her “complex, difficult character.” She even sees some good in the anti-Skyler sentiment, which has “illuminated some of the dark and murky corners that we often ignore or pretend aren’t still there in our everyday lives.” Throughout the show, the long-suffering Mrs. White has been Heisenberg’s most telling opponent, yet even the most reasonable of Breaking Bad fans has found themselves occasionally annoyed with her for calling their beloved anti-hero out on his bad behavior. When that happens, we should ask ourselves why exactly we we want her to keep quiet.