Hate is a very harsh word.
To hate someone, you have to give yourself permission to put aside all you know about mature and rational behavior. You must lose perspective and pity.
You must have been insulted, or personally embarrassed, or publicly rebuked by the object of your scorn.
Or else you’ve got an emotional connection with something, or someone, who may be threatened by the person you hate; say, the bank foreclosing on your best friend’s home–
Or the wife of a fascinating if flawed television character starring in one of the best written shows on television.
Like Walter White, in Breaking Bad.
My husband, son and I began watching the AMC Network show, Breaking Bad, only this year. When the first episode was originally televised, we turned it off within the first five minutes. We found no appeal in seeing a middle-aged man, dressed in tighty-whities, ditch an RV in the middle of a hot desert.
Five seasons later, we finally broke down to see why it merited all the buzz.
Now it’s our TV crack. We watch via Netflix, sometimes two a night Netflix, in the hope that we can catch up to the rest of you Baddies.
To know Walt is not to love him. At first you can’t help but feel sympathy for a man — a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher, about to turn fifty — who gets the diagnosis of inoperable lung cancer. His wife, Skyler, is pregnant with their second child, and his adorable and adoring teen son, Walt Junior (also known as Flynn), is handicapped.
To top it off, Walt walked away from a lucrative high tech job at a company which he co-founded, and now his former partners (one who was his lover) millionaires. And as the case with the American health insurance system, his care will also bankrupt his family, especially if he goes out of network with a doctor who has the best treatment regiment and success rate.
Walt’s solution: produce and sell methamphetamine with a former slacker student, who knows the ropes–sort of: Jesse Pinkman.
We feel for Walt. He is a man who wants to provide for his family, despite being dealt a lousy hand. His new career choice means lying to his wife, Skyer, about his whereabouts and how he is paying for his treatment, both to keep her from suffering the legal repercussions, and because he knows she would never approve .
But as viewers progress through the series, their loyalty to this former hero is sorely tested. Or as creator/producer Vince Gilligan puts it, “As the series has progressed, he’s going from being a protagonist to an antagonist. We want to make people question who they’re pulling for, and why.”
My viewing regimen has reached the middle of the third season, and I know why I no longer empathize with Walt: With his cancer in remission, and his medical bills paid up, he should be able to walk away from his moral dilemma, right?
Staring into the jaws of death, he had nothing to lose, and a lot to gain. Working outside the law gave him an emotional rush he never had before.
And besides, he’s good at it. Great at it, in fact. His product is primo.
This is the last season, and the last episode is almost upon us. Will there be redemption for a man who shuns it?
My guess is no. Or as we read in the Bible. Pride goeth before the fall.
His cancer bound Walt and Skyle in his darkest hour. But now that they’ve come out the other end, and having learned what he’s done, she can’t condone or forgive.
Instead, she has an affair.
Even before this turn of events, viewers were grousing about Skyler. There is a part of her that is sanctimonious, yes. But in hindsight, looking back on her actions in light of her husband’s, why can’t viewers cut her some slack?
There are “I Hate Skyler” groups on Facebook. The show’s fans mock her constantly, as if holding her accountable for Walt’s choices —
Despite the fact that he never consulted her on them.
Aye, there’s the rub. Why didn’t he ask? Was he afraid she’d say no, for all the right reasons?
Would her input have changed his trajectory into a life a crime?
There have been so many bad-ass drug dealers and druggies on the show that you’d think they’d be the show’s most obvious villains but no. And all the death and destroyed lives that caused by Walt’s actions have had a Teflon effect. I’d go so far as to say viewers dismay has boomeranged onto his greatest dissenter, his moral compass:
The venom directed at Anna Gunn, the superb actress who plays her, has curdled the sweetness of Breaking Bad‘s success. In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, she writes, “I finally realized that most people’s hatred of Skyler had little to do with me and a lot to do with their own perception of women and wives.”
Yes, I can see that.
Good writing evokes emotions from readers. Every author I know personally has received a few emails about a character the readers didn’t like, or a twist in a plot that dismayed them.
As for me, if venom spews off the screen at me, I know my characters — and I — have touched some nerve, some unresolved emotion. I don’t take it personally because my fiction may be someone else’s reality. A few are even candid enough to say so. Even if sometimes my readers don’t see themselves in it, they project their own fears onto my characters and the choices they make.
As for you who live vicariously through my characters or just enjoy the story, I see your appreciation in your enthusiastic reviews. Thanks for coming along for the ride.
Am I the only one who respects Skyler?
If you watch Breaking Bad, tell me:
are you a Sklyer fan, or do you love to hate her?