It has long been a dream of mine to throw a party where everyone has to come dressed as an unpopular wife from a prestigious drama on cable television and treat each other with respect the entire night. I would dearly love to see just one day on TV where all the fancy, brutal male protagonists have to act like their loathed spouses, where the viewing public took a twentieth of the love they bear for Tami Taylor and spread it around to the rest of the fictional Mrses.
Actress Anna Gunn, who plays Skyler White on Breaking Bad, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times this weekend, has given full expression to this wish of mine:
[A]s a human being, I’m concerned that so many people react to Skyler with such venom. Could it be that they can’t stand a woman who won’t suffer silently or “stand by her man”? That they despise her because she won’t back down or give up? Or because she is, in fact, Walter’s equal?
It’s notable that viewers have expressed similar feelings about other complex TV wives — Carmela Soprano of “The Sopranos,” Betty Draper of “Mad Men.” Male characters don’t seem to inspire this kind of public venting and vitriol.
What would it look like, if they did?
The Sopranos: Tony Soprano drives into New York City to bring Meadow a plate of braciole, stops at A.J.’s orthodontist on the way back, and then successfully convinces their housekeeper not to quit just because Carmela called her a “Polack bitch” and threw a phone at her head for asking if she could launder her robe. Afterwards, he drops a ricotta pie at Carmela’s mother’s nursing home. Carmela’s mother hurls invectives at him for not remembering she prefers pineapple in hers. Tony reminds her she is always welcome to come live with them. He then meets with their local priest to pray that Carmela accept Jesus into her heart. When Carmela arrives home at two am, reeking of perfume, claiming to have been at her waste-management facility sorting out a worker dispute, Tony is mildly chilly to her, but gets up to make her a sandwich just the same. Coming back with the sandwich, Tony stares briefly at the closed bedroom door, shrugs his shoulders with resignation, and goes inside.
Mad Men: Don spends the entire morning staring at the wall-mounted clock in the kitchen and smoking cigarettes after both Megan and Betty forget his birthday. Later that day, he goes to the grocery store and shoplifts a carton of eggs. When the stock boy tries to stop him just before the door, he kisses him, then drops the carton and sprints for the car. When picking the kids up from school, instead of ignoring Sally, he criticizes her shoes. Megan spends the entire afternoon eating oysters and comparing French prostitutes with French-Canadian prostitutes with Roger, then brings a package of matches and cocktail olives home from the bar when she realizes in a sudden panic that it’s Don’s birthday just before closing time. Don eats almost half of his birthday cake alone in the bathtub, stubbing out his cigarettes in the chunks he can’t finish.
Breaking Bad: Walter White works at a car wash all day, then makes dinner for his children without being congratulated for doing so.
Game of Thrones: Cersei and Sansa ride horses and confer authoritatively with their quartermasters, while back at King’s Landing Jaime and Tyrion get drunk and undermine each other sexually. Later that night, Sansa climbs into Joffrey’s bedchambers and whispers horrific threats into his ears, promising to personally slice off his nipples and eat them in front of him unless he marries Margaery Tyrell. North of the Wall, Sam and the rest of the Night’s Watchman discover an ancient and ramshackle cabin full of incredibly vicious pregnant virgins. Walder Frey is once again bullied by his numerous wives and daughters into putting on a Spring Fling ball for the entire Riverrun region, where Brienne of Tarth is voted Queen of the Fling. Tywin Lannister leaves early and cries in an alley after overhearing two bodyguards calling him “the ugliest man…at the dance.”
Sons of Anarchy: Jax spends an entire afternoon telling anyone at the bar who will listen that “there are no lengths I won’t go to to protect my family. My family is my life. I’ll do anything for my family,” after his pregnant wife leaves him to move into the clubhouse. Meanwhile, his girlfriend Tara breaks him up with, convinced that her nomadic lifestyle and violent ways are ruining his chances at a better life.
The Walking Dead: After her husband is nearly raped by a drunk and depressed Shane, Lori becomes even more withdrawn and taciturn. Rick’s chaotic and hormonal behavior during her pregnancy leads her to doubt his ability to withstand the pressures of parenthood, and finds herself strangely relieved when he dies from the effects of gangrene shortly after she gives birth. She continues to be plagued by strange dreams of a headless Rick, whose body she later finds partially consumed by a grotesquely swollen walker. After Rick’s death, which severs what few remaining ties Lori had to her past and to civilized behavior, she is finally free to take her place as leader of the survivors.
Artwork: Jen Hickman is a comic artist and illustrator with a penchant for drawing luxurious hair, arguments, arguments in the rain, and small spats between minor background characters.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.