Breaking America

Anna Gunn recently discussed the hatred her character received during her time on Breaking Bad.

AMC had one hell of a run with Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead (a show that should have been put out of its misery seasons ago). In my view, all three of those shows shared a common theme: they centered on a white guy dealing with sudden changes. Don Draper was trying to lose himself in consumerism, and conceal his past, during the transitional decade of the 1960s. Walter White infamously made his descent from a meek high school teacher into drug overlord. And while less discussed, Rick Grimes too followed the Walter White arc into darkness by embracing the very evil he was initially fighting against. The Walking Dead is a bit more explicit in its appeal to white male/libertarian fantasy: it’s a world where society has collapsed and “might makes right”. This amoral sentiment is very much echoed in Breaking Bad, although viewers lost track of that during its initial run. (However TWD is nowhere near as an intelligent as BB, hence fans turned on Rick as where they embraced Walter White). This is why fans hated Skyler: she got in the way of her husbands nihilistic turn.

Out of all of those shows, Walter White best encapsulated that white male rage which would later turn mainstream during the 2016 elections. Don Draper was too high society and Rick’s concerns were too over-the-top to be relatable. White’s, however, were all too real: a cancer-stricken teacher that never lived the life he wanted.

It’s no wonder then why fans reacted so viscerally to Skyler (although she often played along with her husband’s deranged fantasies) She stood in the way of Walter’s fulfillment, of his entitlement. She symbolized what many white men feared: emasculation. In many ways, Gunn was perfectly cast. Her relatively similar height to Bryan Cranston likely contributed to audiences feeling intimidated by her. Much was made of the Walter/Jesse relationship, but it was Walter/Skyler relationship that also contributed to the show’s distinctiveness. Skyler was as much of an obstacle for Walter White to foil as all the other villains he came across. So she was a hindrance to his “entitlement”.

But he felt entitled to kill and manipulate. Despite the creators long losing sympathy for Walter, audiences overwhelmingly sided with him. Because Walter White was paralleling the projection that many American men were feeling.

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