Screen Shot 2021-01-25 at 5.38.21 pm.png
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) in Breaking Bad (Sony Pictures Television, 2011)
Stories & Ideas

Tue 01 Dec 2020

Matt Millikan
Matt Millikan

Senior Writer & Editor

And we're the ones who answered.

When Vince Gilligan decided to turn Mr Chips into Scarface, he inevitably set course for creating one of the most memorable TV shows and characters of all time. When Breaking Bad premiered during the Hollywood writers' strike of 2007, it went largely unnoticed among the turmoil. The promise was there though, and subsequent seasons developed a fervent, cult following. By the season four episode “Cornered” in 2011, Breaking Bad was a pop culture phenomenon and this episode exemplifies the zenith of Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) character arc. When White delivers the infamous “I am the one who knocks” monologue, the chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin is far closer to Scarface than Mr Chips.

By this point in the series, Walt has murdered enough people to gain the bonafides necessary to oversee a ruthless meth empire, so when his wife Skylar tells him “you’re not some hardened criminal Walt, you’re in over your head”, then lists a litany of reasons why, he wheels on her and demands to know, “Who are you talking to right now?” While Skylar still believe it’s the schoolteacher with cancer desperate for money – Walt in his Mr Chips incarnation – it’s clear that he sees himself as someone else entirely – Scarface. The old Walt is gone, in his place Heisenberg, his murderous alter-ego, who growls one of TV most memorable monologues.

“You clearly don’t know who you’re talking to, so let me clue you in, I am not in danger Skylar, I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks.”

While Skylar sits there stunned, Walt continues his morning routine and takes a shower. Admitting to killing is water off a duck’s back for this once mild-mannered suburban dad. The line is so iconic, Cranston is often asked about it in interviews, Samuel L Jackson recorded his own version, as did countless other YouTube users, while different translations have also been cut together for a multinational menace.

Over on SoundCloud, various versions of the monologue have been remixed into songs, while on Twitter, users regularly share the GIF and meme versions of the moment, with even official accounts like Netflix simply tweeting it because it’s so memorable. Of course, such an iconic line lends itself to countless meme versions, with various versions juxtaposing Walter White with other characters like Hodor from Game of Thrones or reimagining the iconic line in the idiosyncratic language of Ned Flanders.

This essay was written for Edit Line

The Edit Line at ACMI (image credit: Gareth Sobey)

Create your own iconic film and TV moments in real time with Edit Line, an interactive experience in The Story of the Moving Image exhibition at ACMI.

Move physical blocks around to create a story from selected clips. Save your mini masterpiece with your Lens device and take it home with you.

You might also like