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Unnecessary Gunn violence: A take on Skyler White

by Melissa Weller

August 28, 2013 | 4:15 pm

Actress Anna Gunn as Skyler White in "Breaking Bad"

Yesterday I asked a coworker, with whom I’ve participated in many a yay Skyler/nay Skyler conversation, to forget details for a minute and sum up in one general statement the first time he remembered filing Skyler White under the bitch column, and why. Coworker settled on Skyler’s early and obvious hobby of not letting Walt just do what he wants. He cited her cancer reaction, specifically her reaction to Walt’s cancer reaction, as the earliest example.

I later asked a second person (not a coworker) the same question. This person contributed to my market research survey with “because she wasn’t letting walter sell drugs and it’s like let walter sell these drugs.”

Truly inspired.

The vehement collective loathing of Skyler didn’t sit well with me from the beginning. Not because of my differing and increasingly unpopular opinion on the nature of Mrs. Walt, but because I genuinely couldn’t understand the drive behind such a widespread disdain. I pride myself on my ability to sympathize with a vast array of moral compasses, so the mental brick wall standing before me was annoying. So annoying in fact, that I shot right past asking for an explanation of the position and went straight to 24/7 defend Skyler warzone. As such, stockpiling my own arsenal of Team Skyler chants to unleash on the unsuspecting soul who dared speak her name within earshot began commanding more of my allotted Breaking Bad brain space than I care to admit. Discussions escalated from:

“You think Skyler shouldn’t have forced Walt into chemotherapy? It wasn’t her place, you say? By all means, let’s hear what you’d have done differently. Allow your husband, father of your son and unborn daughter, to sign his own death certificate just because he wants to feel he’s ‘the one deciding’? Good, he can pat himself on the back for his last six months. You and your children are more than willing to pay the financial and emotional consequences for the next several decades. Fair trade. When’s the last time you even called your mother?”

To:

“What’s ‘Skyler had on a white shirt’ supposed to mean? What’s wrong with a white shirt? Do you think it’s symbolic? You think it represents a white flag of defeat and surrender? Skyler’s been defeated and is now surrendering to Walt, like every woman should surrender to her husband? To any man, for that matter? You’re sexist, a misogynist. Skyler isn’t responsible for your failed relationship with your father, don’t take it out on her.”

So on and so forth. Eventually I resigned to the general public’s inferior analysis of the show/of everything as the answer to their misguided opinion of my Skylark. Vince, Anna and I would be just fine looking down from atop our mountain. But Anna Gunn’s recent piece in the New York Times offered a different take. She points to the existence of modern-day misogyny.

The op-ed titled “I Have a Character Issue” is a confessional of sorts, in which she shares her unrest at the vicious uproar spanning all five seasons against her character. The character feedback I cited earlier reflects opinions across the board, but is also fairly moderate in comparison. People seem to get personally offended just by seeing her on screen, an accomplishment not many actors can pull off. Gunn references Facebook pages dedicated to cataloguing fan hostility toward her. She admits receiving death threats, threats aimed at Anna Gunn, the actress, when Skyler White, the character, was found particularly unfavorable.

Really take stock here. King Joffrey can make his fiancé watch as he hacks off her dad’s head and beat two call girls to a bloody pulp all in time for lunch, but we appreciate the dynamic his presence brings to Game of Thrones – so no harm, no foul. Pulling the gender card is never a go-to for me, far from it.  But could the gender issue cloud, something so seemingly outdated and passé, really be the culprit in this anti-Skyler mania?

I took to the message boards. Here are the three big player haters.

“If she really were the pinnacle of morality she claims to be, she would have gone to the police. She is a hypocrite.”

Skyler, like all women, holds one agenda sacred above the rest. Ensuring the security and livelihood of her family. It’s an evolutionary truth that, for better or for worse, we’re all strapped with. Going to the police would have been in direct contradiction to this agenda. Turning her husband over to the police means the rest of his already limited days are spent rotting in jail and her children are saddled with a lifetime of disturbing and perpetual confusion, at best. Bitter resentment toward both mother and father would be unavoidable, and self-destructive tendencies are not uncommon among children thrown in such situations. Not to mention the very real possibility of her implication in the whole thing.

“She’s ungrateful for all that Walt is doing for his family to make sure they are financially secure and have a future when he’s gone.  She spends his hard-earned money, then cheats on him with a man who is also a criminal. She’s a hypocrite AND a slut.”

Walt is just as much in the empire business to help his family as Gus Fring was in the fast food business to sell chicken. She is resentful toward Walt for putting her in a position where her only viable choice is to be an accomplice. As she made clear to Walt and to everyone watching, in one of the most powerful scenes of the whole series, “I am your hostage.” As for her affair with Ted, she and Walt were separated at the time. The woman is human whose only shred of intimacy in months, maybe longer, has been with a wine bottle. True, she eventually starts laundering his money, but only as an attempt to temper the possibility of dire consequences.

“She is an annoying mega bitch.”

You would be, too.

These are not revolutionary responses; anyone who had thought about these accusations for half a second before plastering them on every Breaking Bad article comment section they could find would have reached the same conclusions. This is where the gender argument starts retaining more weight.

Skyler is a woman who stands in the way of a man, everyone’s favorite super anti-hero Walter White, who has proven steadily throughout the series to be an egomaniacal sociopath. Yet unlike Anna, Bryan Cranston’s character has only been judged by the rules of Breaking Bad fantasy entertainment, a land where the only thing bluer than his pills of methamphetamine decadence is the blood inside the bodies he’s buried. We love navigating the New Mexico drug labyrinth in his Chrysler 300 and the issue of morality has been a nonstarter.

Why? Why is Skyler burdened with a moral standard that Walt isn’t? Maybe because she’s proved to be an obstacle in Walt’s half paintball-half chess game, like an annoyingly placed pawn keeping his legion from ultimate takedown. We perpetually tune in to the almighty Next Week’s Episode for fantastic entertainment, for escape, and Skyler serves to take that escape from us. But if that were true, how do we answer for Hank? Does he not serve the same purpose? Sure, he’s not the most likeable character at times either, but he’s never bore the brunt of visceral hate the way she has.

TV writers far my superior point to a lack of care in writing Skyler’s character, suggesting a small failure on Vince Gilligan’s part in making her as interesting or dynamic as Walt. I don’t know, personally I think Skyler is one of television’s strongest, most dynamic and interesting characters to date.

Then again, I am a woman.

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