Tuned In

How Walter White Became the One Who Knocks

I watched Breaking Bad's most iconic line being shot. But it didn't start out the way you remember it now

  • Share
  • Read Later

So here’s a little Breaking Bad memory: I was reporting on the set in Albuquerque when they shot the “I am the one who knocks” scene in March 2011. It climaxed a tense scene between Walt and Skyler, and as usual they shot several takes, varying wording, tone, body language. Bryan Cranston played some takes more imperious, some more defensive, some more tentative. Again, nothing unusual in that.

But it was different from the scene you saw. After he built to “I am the one who knocks!” Walt paused, and added: “…So to speak.”

(MORE: Breaking Bad Writer: Why It Has to End)

At the time it looked like a fine scene, but nothing iconic. That last bit made Walt seem sheepish, hedging. I mentioned the scene in the feature I wrote before season 4, but only in passing — and without Walt’s now-signature line.

Only when the episode came out did I see how powerful it was. One big reason, of course, being that the “…So to speak” qualifier was gone. There was no self-deprecation to deflate Walt’s aggrandizement.

I asked Vince Gilligan about this later. He didn’t recall exactly when the line was cut, or why. But clearly at some point in editing, it was evident that by now Walt fully believed in his power, no nebbishy qualifiers attached. Much as people may believe a story is “mapped out” from the beginning, sometimes you don’t know where a character is until after you’ve written a episode, shot it, written some more, and seen it laid out before you in the editing room.

My point, I guess: a great character like Walt is not made solely by one actor, writer or director. It takes a whole crew to cook him.

MORE: Why You’re Hooked on Breaking Bad