Complex TV

p. 161-162: BREAKING BAD

However, Walt also sees himself as more of an aggressive leader than he really is, as typified by his conversation with Skyler in season 4’s “Cornered.” When Skyler expresses concern for his safety after hearing about Gale’s murder, saying, “You are not some hardened criminal, Walt. You are in over your head,” Walt responds with prideful indignation that shows her Heisenberg for the first time: “You clearly don’t know who you’re 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 shot, and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks!” While there is little doubt that Walt wants to believe in his own power, his assertions are contradicted by our serial memories of Walt being previously thwarted in his repeated attempts to kill Gus and manipulate Mike and Jesse, while he felt the need to sow doubts in Hank’s mind to avoid Gale getting credit for Walt’s meth-making prowess. Additionally, he was not the “one who knocked” on Gale’s door, but rather he forced Jesse to do it on his behalf. Walt’s assertions of Machiavellian prowess are often hollow attempts to puff himself up rather than insights into his own antiheroic capabilities, but these contradictions create layers of interpretive engagement for viewers to exert our own social intelligence, rooting out dimensions of deception and self-revelation as we construct these complex characters through our narrative engagements.

After Walt’s defiant proclamation to Skyler, he walks away, with his lips moving as if he has more to say, but turns into the bathroom, a strikingly ambiguous moment. The richness of Cranston’s performance opens up a wide range of different thoughts that we imagine he might be suppressing: he might want to apologize to Skyler for berating her, or he yearns to boast more of the dangerous havoc he has caused but stops to protect her, or he might be trying to convince himself that he is indeed the one who knocks, not the target of his adversaries’ danger. All of these are potential outcomes of reading Walt’s mind, but the program never tells us precisely what he is thinking, allowing for ludic hypothesizing across serialized gaps in the narrative. Such interplay between tight alignment and limited interior access into a highly layered and self- deluded character is one of the key pleasures of Walt as a transforming antihero, with his fascinating psychology keeping us attuned and interested in him, even as he grows more hideous.

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