Forensic Scene Analysis: Breaking Bad’s ‘I Am the One Who Knocks’

In this series, we’ll take a look at great, well-known scenes from films and TV. We’ll analyse these scenes to figure out what makes them work so well, what they add to the overall piece, and why they prove so memorable. Today, we’re going to take a look at the Breaking Bad scene – ‘I am the one who knocks’ (also known as the ‘I am the danger’ scene).

Becoming ‘The Danger’

Walter White Chemistry Teacher

The character of Walter White has an iconic place in TV history. Whether it’s his shaven head & beard, character arc or pork pie hat and glasses, he’s a symbolic, iconic figure. When you hear ‘I am the danger’ and ‘I am the one who knocks’, you immediately think of Walter White.

This scene signifies perfectly how far Walt, as a character, has grown at this stage of the series.

First & foremost, what do we know prior to this scene?

  • To begin, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is a high school chemistry teacher. Additionally, Walt works at a car wash to support his family.
  • He is told he has lung cancer. Now he needs to support his family for the future as well.
  • Walt teams up with an ex-student of his, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Walt’s knowledge of chemistry combines with Jesse’s knowledge of drugs to produce crystal meth.
  • The early success of their business allows them to work for business owner/drug boss Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito).
  • During Walt’s criminal exploits he adopts the persona ‘Heisenberg’.

Alongside Walt’s rise, his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) learns about his new life. Subsequently, this begins the gradual decline in their marriage.

“I am not in danger, Skyler, I am the danger”

Walter White

Finding out he has lung cancer gives him a new lease on life. He makes a deal with the devil, realising he can make lots of money quickly… just with simple chemistry.

But why is the ‘I am the one who knocks’ scene so important?

The Chemistry Teacher in Over His Head

"I Am the Danger" | Cornered | Breaking Bad

In the scene, conflict stems right from the onset. Skyler talks down to Walt amid concerns for his safety. He objects, only for Skyler to raise a stern tone in return.

She digs into Walt, almost insulting him. But she is simply spelling out the reality, exposing his weakness. “You’re in over your head”. You’re not some hardened criminal, Walt”.

Walt doesn’t want to hear this.

He shakes his head, bewildered at her claims. Skyler continues, indicating everything Walt is – in over his head, desperate for money, roped into things.

Skyler: “That’s what we tell them, that’s the truth”

Walt: “That is not the truth”

He knows the truth, along with everything else he has done so far. We as the audience have seen it all unfold, but Skyler is blind to his.

Walt gets up, back turned, still allowing her to speak her piece. All until the use of a single word: Danger.

‘I Am the Danger’: Power or Pride?

Walter White - I am the danger/I am the one who knocks

It’s this exact moment, where the ‘I am the one who knocks’ scene reaches boiling point. Seeing that offended look on Walt’s face, we can see this is clearly the last straw.

Now is the moment where the audience sees the real Walter White. He’s power-mad, egotistical and stubborn. For his own wife to suggest he is in danger is a dent in his pride.

Furthermore, Skyler too refuses to concede Walt is a criminal. Even so, he is the danger…

Walt responds, “Who are you talking to right now?”. This showcases Walt’s delusions. Beginning to brag about how important he is and how much money he makes, Walt towers over Skyler.

“Do you know how much I make a year? I mean even if I told you, you wouldn’t believe it. You know what would happen if I suddenly decided to stop going into work? A business big enough that it could be listed on the Nasdaq goes belly-up, disappears, it ceases to exist without me.”

Walter White

The Pacing of the ‘I Am the One Who Knocks’ Scene

What makes the ‘I am the one who knocks’ scene so remarkable is the shift in power between Walt and Skyler.

The tension in this particular scene is built by Walt’s sudden change in character…

  • At the beginning of the scene, Walt is vulnerable, even doubtful. Skyler is concerned.
  • As she calls out Walt for what she thinks he really is, he refuses to look at her directly.
  • She continues to talk and Walt takes off his flannel shirt.
  • At that moment, he shifts from Walter White – a pushover, into Heisenberg – the real danger.
  • He takes back control of the situation. His demeanour is completely out of character from Sklyer’s point of view.
  • Now, Walt towers over her, talking downwards. The roles are reversed. He looks her right in the eye, unlike before.
  • Notice how before Skyler was in full view of the frame? By the end, Walt takes up the entire view.
  • All Skyler can do is listen to him, witnessing this transformation of strength.
  • Walt walks out, leaving a scared Skyler alone, exposing her own weakness.
  • The lack of music also gives the build-up of tension a worthy pay-off.

The moment Walt takes off that shirt, along with Skyler telling him to admit he is in danger, that is the calm before the storm. As soon as Walt turns around and speaks, he’s in total control, he could do anything to her, and Skyler notices this.

The moment he leaves the room, the audience is with Skyler as she trembles in fear. He is no longer the man she thought he was. It’s hard to distinguish who Walt actually is at this point. Is he still Walt? Or has he been consumed by his alter ego?

I am the one who knocks scene - Skyler and Walter

Character Development and Arcs

Even his own wife is now deemed unworthy to speak to him in such a way. At that moment, she no longer stares at Walt, but Heisenberg. Instantly, her concerns about Walt’s safety are flipped. Just in a brief moment of silence, & Skyler’s face, we see the realization. Clearly, she is now the one in danger.

Throughout Breaking Bad, characters are having to adapt to new situations and setbacks. It’s how they process these events that makes their development interesting to the audience.

When it comes to the series overall one can struggle to identify good guys from villains. This is perhaps the show’s primary agenda, to blur these lines. Aside from those completely outside of Walt’s operation (like Walt Junior), you could consider most of the key characters as villains, though all have some redeeming qualities.

When it comes to Walt and Skyler specifically, they’re both far from perfect at their core.

Taking a look back at the first episode, we see just that. A scared man in his underpants, about to end it all. At that point, he was everything Skyler said he was, ‘In over your head’. Now in S4 E6 (the episode of the ‘I am the one who knocks’ scene), he’s grown into something completely different, both personally & mentally. The worse aspects of himself have come to the fore.

Walt’s Character Arc

Breaking Bad Pilot - Walter White - Original Character

Without a doubt, Walter White is one of TV‘s greatest antiheroes. With each episode, his personality grows darker, not to mention more flawed.

According to creator & producer Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad is a southern expression meaning “to raise hell”. A perfect symbolisation of Walt’s character.

At this point, Walt’s ego has soared to the highest of hights. What Skyler doesn’t know is that Walt enjoys this lifestyle, the power it gives him. It’s an addiction.

  • At first, Walt’s character gains sympathy from the audience. We feel bad for him and want him to succeed.
  • Walt chooses to go into the drug business for moral reasons. He’s securing his family’s future for after his probable death.
  • Sacrifice is something most people with a family can relate to, doing whatever it might take for their security.
  • Clearly delusional, Walt always claims he does what he does for the good of his family. In actual fact, he is putting them in danger and instead, largely feeding his own ego.
  • He could give it all up if he truly wanted to. It’s the power that seduces him.
  • To Walt, power is strength. To abandon it would have made his work all for nothing.
  • In reality, Walt enjoys this way of life, he has worth to his benefactors, something he never had before.
  • From what he perceives as ignorance from Skyler, he refuses to hold back about who he really is.

“A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No, I am the one who knocks!”

Walter White

Walt’s Priorities

For a man claiming to be ‘the danger’, he’s found himself at the mercy of it several times. What makes Walt’s character beguiling and infuriating is the arrogance he possesses, along with the fact he is living on borrowed time.

It’s not about Skyler highlighting the possible danger imposed on their family that triggers him. It’s the claim that he’s in danger, which strikes a chord. Despite being adamant he is doing all of this for the family, doubts about their safety don’t seem to concern him.

Skyler’s doubts about his strength light the fire. It’s at this moment we know what Walt’s priorities really are. Power, strength, authority & money. All buried deep down to appease his fear of being weak and alone.

Skyler’s Character Arc

I am the danger scene - Skyler

Whilst Walt has written his own story with Heisenberg, Skyler is still writing her own. Throughout the series, her role is constantly changing.

  • In Season 1 – We are first introduced to Skyler as a housewife, kept in the dark by Walt as to his criminal activity, and cancer results.
  • In Season 2 – Skyler has become emotionally distant, unable to trust Walt. She also falls out with her sister, Marie, frustrated with her life. By the end, Skyler tells Walt to leave.
  • During Season 3 – With Skyler filing for divorce, her relationship with Walt has crumbled. When Walt forces his way back into the house, Skyler sleeps with her boss to spite him. Ironically, Skyler was at one point suspicious that Walt was cheating on her.
  • Skyler discovers Walt is a drug dealer but begins to help him manage the financial aspects of his business.
  • Finally, in Season 4 (where we find ourselves in this scene) – Skyler is beginning to enjoy life again, helping Walt launder his money. Their relationship also begins to improve. But before this scene, Skyler still doesn’t realise how dangerous Walt actually is.

Like Walt, she gets a taste for crime and enjoys its benefits. One of the elements that makes Skyler such a well-written character is the fact she is somewhat of a hypocrite. Unlike Walter, who grows into Heisenberg, Skyler shifts throughout the seasons.

By the end of the ‘I am the one who knocks’ scene, Skyler realises who Walt really is, a hardened criminal – the very thing she said he wasn’t moments before. What the writer does so well is face Skyler with a choice, stay or run?

What Makes the ‘I Am the One Who Knocks’ Scene So Memorable?

Breaking Bad: Bryan Cranston Talks Iconic "I Am The One Who Knocks" Scene | People

This ‘I am the one who knocks’/’I am the danger’ scene is memorable for a number of reasons…

  • The slickness of the two standout lines. A cold-hearted metaphor of how dangerous Walt perceives himself to be.
  • Walt confesses to Skyler that he is a killer, stepping out of the shadows as Heisenberg. From here on, Walter White barely exists.
  • For the first time, Skyler is no longer looking at Walt, her husband, but Heisenberg. This is the first time she truly meets his alter-ego.
  • A relatively small scene captures the characters’ personalities and character development perfectly.
  • Everything we see from Walter in a short moment showcases who he really is, and what he really craves – power, fear and authority. It’s no longer just about protecting his family.
  • Walt’s behaviour confirms Skyler’s worst fears, that Walter is a murdering criminal, capable of anything. It hooks the viewer into wondering what will happen next. Where will Walt go from here?

The ‘I am the one who knocks’ scene is one of the standout moments in Breaking Bad overall. Walt has roamed far from the man we were introduced to in the very first episode.

In this scene, the journey of the series is not only completed but summed up. All the characterisation that has led Walt to this point is on display here.

It is no longer Walter White we see, but Heisenberg.

This article was written by Sam Lyne and edited by IS Staff.

Love Breaking Bad? The show’s producer, Karen Moore, is a judge of the 2021 TITAN Screenwriting Contest. Submit your TV show or movie script today for a chance to ensure Karen reads your script personally.

karen moore producer breaking bad
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5 thoughts on “Forensic Scene Analysis: Breaking Bad’s ‘I Am the One Who Knocks’”

  1. Just like a Lie isn’t a Lie unless the person speaking Knows it’s a Lie…

    …Boasting isn’t Boasting if it’s True – then it’s just stating What Is.

    Dragging through all the mud and the blood is one thing – a man can bear that quietly and soldier-on…

    …Tell that same man that he *hasn’t done it* ? No – that just will not fly.

    Reply
  2. who are you talking to right now? who is it you think you see right now? do you know how much i make a year? i mean, even if i told you, you wouldnt believe it. no, you CLEARLY dont know who your talking to so let me clue you in. i am not in danger, skyler, i AM the DANGER. a guy opens his door and gets fricked so hard he starts crying and you think that of me? no. i AM the one who KNOCKS!

    Reply
  3. I’ve always seen this scene a bit differently. Specially the moment Walt says “I am the danger” to Skylar (his wife).
    In Walt’s mind, yes, he’s dangerous. Yes, he’s at the top of the food chain, the world’s his oyster. He’s the man with a billion dollar business.
    But at the end of the day, he’s also an inexperienced kid boasting, saying “I’m a big guy now”.
    And Skylar sees through it.
    Walt may have changed. He’s a different man now, yes.
    But he’s still the boy saying “I can throw the ball farther than you!”.
    And that resonates a lot too.
    Because here is a man who in the past, though labeled a loser, he knew who he was.
    Now, he’s a guy who need his ego massaged, who needs to boast to his wife that “he’s the danger” (read it in a kid’s mocking voice).
    All that money, all those guns, and he has even less than before.

    Reply
    • I agree. To me the focus in this scene is largely in how he is overstepping his family, dismissing his wife entirely as an equal. Ignoring family concerns and refusing to talk of them. He gets triggered childishly over pride and fully abandons his role as a father in this scene. He uses power over Skyler, and the disappointment is all over her face, but he ignores it and feels no shame.

      He has a life of his own now that is independent of any concerns his wife might have. He is practically leaving his family. Yet he doesn’t see it, because he is blind to his own addiction to power. He is risking his family. Skyler had already filed a divorce, but he kept going. He had a place and a value as a father that could have been enough for his life’s fulfilment and self esteem, but it wasn’t. Skyler sees this. He doesn’t.

      Through the series Skyler is constantly there, a piece that doesn’t match the game, an annoyance, a hindrance, past life still present, the wife he married for life but who is now in the way of Heisenberg. It is easy forget he has a baby and a teenager at home, as they fade away from Walter’s life.

      When the camera leaves Skyler, Walter leaves her too and gets consumed by his alter ego. It’s all about him now. Him and his game.

      Reply
      • I think it’s important to add that the show also make sit pretty clear that people around Walt constantly underestimating him, his own family especially, are at least partially responsible for the creation of Heisenberg. Of course they don’t deserve all the responsibility; he can choose a different path at any given time. We all can. I think that’s what Better Call Saul shows as a contrast to BB… and I’ll leave it at that to avoid spoilers. There are a few times where characters in BCS go the other way when given a choice… the characters in BB do not.

        However… there are many, many moments early on in BB where one less joke at Walt’s expense… one more pat on the back… one gesture of genuine appreciation for his intelligence and what he does as a teacher and a father might have caused Walt to choose a different path. There’s an accumulation of humiliation and defeat at play that isn’t meant to be ignored.

        In Season 1, maybe even the pilot, Skyler asks Walt what he plans on doing over the weekend… he talks about visiting a new museum in Los Alamos. He’s sharing what he still cares about, is great at, and understands: science. And she doesn’t care. She wants him to paint the baby’s room. Is she wrong? No… but the look of disappointment and feeling cut down for sharing what he cares about, that lack of connection on Walt’s face? That happens over and over and over again in the early going. He’s treated like a piece of furniture at home and at work and then he faces an existential crisis he doesn’t even feel comfortable sharing. He begins to see through the very thin veil of b.s. that props up daily life. Transgressions like smoking pot, that his wife blows out of proportion (and seem even more ridiculous with the years that have passed), are seen to him as trivialities in the game of life and death.

        Then it’s Hank at Walt’s birthday party and the jokes at his expense; seeing Hank connect better with his own son who Walt, Jr., quite clearly sees as a better father figure than Walt. Why? Cause Hank is a man who knows his way around guns and danger.

        There’s a stronger undercurrent early on in the show that indicts dog-eat-dog capitalism, the war on drugs, and toxic masculinity as elements in the match that ignite Heisenberg just as much as his own ego or pride do. Walt doesn’t exist in a vacuum. He’s at least partially a result of his environment and the isolation he feels at home and at work. Remember, the main premise of Mr. Rogers needing to sell meth and become Tony Montana TO PAY HIS MEDICAL BILLS does not work in the majority of the world. It’s an almost uniquely AMERICAN tragedy. So there’s elements of toxic masculinity, ego, capitalism, and the feeling that we’re all in a zero sum game but just don’t realize it… they all play into Walt becoming “the one who knocks”.

        At a certain point, Walt’s ego has taken control of his actions and this moment seems to be it. It’s the point of no return for him. He even appears to shrink back into being the sheepish old “Walt” at the very last moment as the realization about what he’s just done hits him: he’s lifted the curtain and revealed Heisenberg to one of the few people who still genuinely care about his well-being. And there’s no going back. She will never see plain old “Walt” again.

        I’ve always felt that Walt’s ego and need for external validation are undeniably the cause for his demise and the path of destruction he leaves behind. But I also think there’s something to be said for Walt as a mirror to the toxicity in the society around him. Nobody wants to look in that mirror; they prefer to live in the delusion and enjoy their own lack of awareness. Ignorance is bliss, but that’s exactly what allows Walt to constantly get the better of people far more powerful than him, even a man as meticulous as Gus Fring. Walt outsmarts them all, in some way, always staying one step ahead until the very end, which even that seems planned on his part… and perhaps he stays ahead because he sees the fragility and the facade of it all.

        I feel like it was not a throw-away line that when Jesse first sees Walt with the shaved head, he says he looks like Lex Luthor. Because that’s exactly what he becomes.

        Reply

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