Breaking Bad’s Skyler White falls into the same category as Carmela Soprano on The Sopranos and Betty Draper on Mad Men: fiercely unpopular wives of antihero protagonists, hated by a vocal section of fans that view these female characters as badass inhibitors. To this contingent, they’re little more than giant buzzkills keeping their villainous men from getting away with everything fun. And now, with the pile-on mentality of social media driving all that vitriol hatred directly at Skyler’s portrayer, Anna Gunn, the actress has responded with an editorial for The New York Times digging into the negative fan reaction to her character over the last five seasons.
"As the one character who consistently opposes Walter and calls him on his lies, Skyler is, in a sense, his antagonist. So from the beginning, I was aware that she might not be the show’s most popular character,” Gunn writes. Noting that this hatred then extended to herself, Gunn offers a personal account of discovering just how much a misguided portion of viewers can conflate an actual person with a fictional character they hate. She also expresses concern that viewers seem to hate Skyler for having a “backbone of steel, who would stand up to whatever came her way, who wouldn’t just collapse in the corner or wring her hands in despair,” as her creator Vince Gilligan intended, yet detest in her the same qualities they delight in when it comes to her husband. “At the end of the day, she hasn’t been judged by the same set of standards as Walter,” Gunn says.
While Gunn’s essay argues that the reaction toward Skyler has “a lot to do with their own perception of women and wives” (“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,” she writes), The Huffington Post’s Maureen Ryan also puts some of the blame on the show—and all TV writers rooms.
“Yes, part of the reaction to her is straight-up sexist bullshit,” Ryan says, but also acknowledges that some of these negative reactions were pretty reasonable, considering the way Skyler was written in early seasons, and the way female supporting characters on prestige dramas are presented in general. “Too often, women are around to assist the lead guy, to sexually service him or to perform some mundane plot-driven function,” Ryan writes of the often-overlooked negative aspect of this male antihero-driven, “Golden Age” of television. Yet Ryan also expresses cautious optimism for the future, and remains encouraged by the fact Gunn has started the conversation.