NEW YORK — Over the weekend, Anna Gunn, who plays Skyler White on Breaking Bad, wrote an op-ed for The New York Times about the not-always-pleasant experience of other people experiencing her character. In Gunn's words, Skyler, the wife of murderous drug-dealer Water White, "has become a flash point for many people's feelings about strong, nonsubmissive, ill-treated women." Needless to say, those feelings have not been particularly positive.
In certain corners of the Internet, Skyler, Carmela Soprano and Betty Draper make up a distressing Worst Wives Club, female characters despised by some viewers because they keep getting in their amoral husbands' way, nagging the swaggy anti-hero as he goes about his shady business. Gunn has remarked on the misogynistic reaction to Skyler before, as have Breaking Bad's creator Vince Gilligan and some TV writers. In 2010, Vulture writer Emma Rosenblum told Gunn, "I know that some people, men especially, find Skyler to be an annoyance." At the time Gunn could still laugh about it: "Aw. It's so interesting, we've heard that a lot." She's heard it a lot more since, and her op-ed calls attention to viewers who dislike Skyler because she "won't suffer silently or 'stand by her man.'"
But how many people really hate Skyler White? When I interviewed Gunn last year, she told me no one had ever come up to her and said something disparaging. Gunn's op-ed is all about what it's like to be on television in the age of the Internet. In the past, if some audience members hated a TV character, they screamed at their TV and their friends — characters had to engender Brenda Walsh/Ally McBeal levels of disdain before distaste for them was an observable phenomenon. Now 9,000 people — that's 0.15 percent of Breaking Bad's audience — can start an "I Hate Skyler White" Facebook page, and we can all follow a link, as Gunn did, to a comment saying, "Could somebody tell me where I can find Anna Gunn so I can kill her?"
There is absolutely a misogynistic bent to much of the Skyler-hate, but message and comment boards are not perfectly representative sample populations. Skyler has some very vocal critics, but just because they are yelling louder than the people who feel something more positive or nuanced for Skyler doesn't mean there are really more of them. The cacophony is distorting: The legacy of Skyler White, a great, stoic character, is already getting reduced to "unfair object of knee-jerk misogyny." And that's a bummer for no one so much as Gunn, whose op-ed has a resigned, disappointed tone. The bright side of all of this, her piece concludes, is that at least Skyler is an object lesson — a crummy fate for a dynamic character if there ever was one.
During Breaking Bad's run, Skyler has proved herself to be the show's second-most morally complex personality. While Skyler worried for her children and couldn't convince some viewers she was likeable and Walter White poisoned a small child and couldn't convince some viewers he was unlikeable, the two became full partners. Skyler is currently standing by her man so hard that she's advising him to hold onto his money and letting him threaten her DEA brother-in-law. Now that's she's finally broken all the way bad, she might be palatable to all the people who hated Skyler for being a naggy shrew, but I know I wish she still was one.
9 p.m. Sundays on AMC