When Walter blasted Skyler as an emasculating shrew, an obstructionist, a “bitch,” he absolutely meant it. When he spat poison at poor, late Hank, he meant it. That on some level he means it in no way contradicts the notion that he felt horrible about Hank’s death, and perhaps equally horrible about mistreating Skyler all this time, and about bringing death and shame on other people he theoretically loves, including Walt Jr., who dropped a dime on him to protect his mother and himself.
But remember what happened a few minutes after Walter’s silent scream/cry over Hank: He had Jesse dragged out of hiding and sent on to imprisonment and torture and probable death, and twisted the knife by telling him something he didn’t know: that he watched Jesse’s beloved girlfriend Jane choke to death on her own vomit.
Walter is a sad, misguided, good man. Walter is a hateful, vindictive monster. Neither statement excludes the other.
These contradictory emotions and readings are all present, all essential, all of a piece. People are more than one thing simultaneously, always. There are lies in truth and truths within lies, in life, and in art.
Breaking Bad gets this. The phone call scene totally gets this. That’s what makes it art.
If you seek to deny or minimize the parts of art that don’t fit your reductive interpretation of Walt as a basically decent man, or a man who moves with a purpose and is somehow “badass,” as opposed to the complex monster the show has actually presented over five seasons, you are in fact, as Nussbaum wrote in her piece on the scene, watching the show wrong. In fact, you’re trying to turn a smart show into a stupid one. And you really should ask yourself why.
Why is it so important to you to believe that Walt doesn’t really hate or resent Skyler or Hank? Why is it so important to believe that equally intense elements of love and hatred, protectiveness and resentment, purposefulness and chaos, cannot exist in the same scene? Why must the scene be made simpler than it is? Why must it be made dumber than it is? Why do you need it to be so?