It’s incredible. I literally feel like it’s only been a year or so since I last saw a Breaking Bad ad on the side of a bus. But today, I came across this piece by Morning Gloria marking the end of the show clear back in 2013 — yes! I checked! — by saying goodbye to all the toxic male Skyler White haters, who have all presumably gone on to become Rick and Morty fans.
One reason why some men hated Skyler was, of course, sheer misogyny. They couldn’t take some female intruding on “their” boy’s stories of meth-dealing crime. We saw the same hate directed towards Lori on Walking Dead; January Jones’ character on Mad Men; and Corrine Mackey on The Shield. All those shows shared an over-the-top machismo, and a lot of their fans would’ve loved nothing more than to see the female characters relegated to passive, voiceless objects, never getting in the way of the “real” (i.e. male) characters.
There’s another part to this. All of these characters also serve the role of the buzzkill. The moral prude. Skyler, more than any other character on Breaking Bad, represented an implacable (well, until she wasn’t) moral objection against Walter’s drug empire. She constantly interrupted the viewers’ fantasies of being a bloodthirsty criminal, never mind that bloodthirsty criminals are, well, bad. Corrine had a much weaker nature, but still served the same role for Vic Mackey. Betty Draper served as an insufferable drag on the booze-filled misadventures of Don and the boys, and so on.
Of course, misogyny is still the greater explanation of why people hated Skyler White. Nobody sits around hating Inspector Javert, after all. And whatever moralizing Lori was doing on Walking Dead, it could not hold a candle to the humorless, useless judging of fucking Dale. As I put it on a Tumblr post 4 years ago:
“…he was such an ineffective, weak, whiny character. He did nothing to actually try to help guide or command his compadres – heavens, no, that would actually take strength of character, or require decisions that might tarnish his unsullied moral self-image. No – all he ever did was stare, stare, and stare some more in mute horror whenever Rick or Shane took some decision that he judged morally unworthy, condemning them for their moral turpitude while never, ever offering a useful alternative solution. Sometimes he would offer some banal useless platitudes that wouldn’t even pass muster on an after-school special, but most of the time he would just stare. Stare, judge silently, and do nothing else.”
Seriously, fuck Dale.
Yet this clown never received an ounce of the abuse hurled Lori’s way. If it were Gail instead of Dale, though, the actor would probably be in witness protection.
Anti-hero or villain-protagonist shows often need one or more uncorruptable boy scouts to serve as a foil to the main characters. Some of the reporters trying to stop Frank Underwood, for instance. But the problem is that they all wind up being starched suits, about as fun as a rap on the knuckles with a ruler. Writers on these shows are really forced to portray their paragons of virtue as effete, whiny little rules lawyers, because there’s no other choice–
It turns out, it is possible for lawful good characters on these shows to still be badasses. No-excuses badasses at that, who have their own agendas beyond just being Mean Mom. Their conflicts with the main characters become dynamic battles of will instead of just hectoring and scolding. James Doakes, above, on Dexter. Captain Aceveda and Jon Kavanaugh on The Shield. The FBI guys on The Sopranos. Lieutenant Daniels on The Wire.
Notice anything they have in common?
All these anti-hero shows are written and run largely by men, and I’m wondering if it all comes down to a problem with the characterization of women that Doakes there was exempt from. I don’t mean to psychoanalyze Vince Gilligan, but how much of writers’ or showrunners’ mothers and wives are showing up in these female leads? Notice how there’s no equivalent in Shonda Rhimes shows?