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|Breaking Bad character|
|Created by||Vince Gilligan|
|Portrayed by||Dean Norris|
|Significant other(s)||Marie Schrader (wife)|
|Relatives||Walter White (brother-in-law)|
Skyler White (sister-in-law)
Walter White Jr (nephew)
Holly White (niece)
|This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (September 2013)|
|Breaking Bad character|
|Created by||Vince Gilligan|
|Portrayed by||Dean Norris|
|Significant other(s)||Marie Schrader (wife)|
|Relatives||Walter White (brother-in-law)|
Skyler White (sister-in-law)
Walter White Jr (nephew)
Holly White (niece)
Hank was described as a jock in high school, and had a fixation on sport cars. His high energy and boisterous nature eventually led him to pursue a living in the DEA, where he would gradually work through the ranks to become the supervisor of all investigations handled by his Albuquerque office, under the watchful eye of ASAC George Merkert (Michael Shamus Wiles). Underneath his outward 'tough as nails' demeanor, he is shown to be struggling with some of his own vulnerabilities; he had cold feet when it came to marrying his wife, Marie, as well as suffering from PTSD and an explosive temper. He often attempts to hide these vulnerabilities, however, for fear of having his public image weakened.
He is shown to be a fiercely noble man, willing to risk everything if it means being morally correct. As a hobby, Hank home brews his own beer, which he calls Schraderbräu. He is also seen in several season four episodes collecting minerals, much to Marie's chagrin.
He is introduced as Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Skyler White's (Anna Gunn) boisterous brother-in-law and Marie Schrader's (Betsy Brandt) devoted husband. He is first seen during Walt's fiftieth birthday party, where the attendees watch a news report covering Hank's involvement in a local methamphetamine bust. Walt takes up Hank's offer to join another meth bust as a ride-a-long, and is allowed to inspect the meth lab's equipment. This enables Walt to enter the production side of Albuquerque's drug trade, using his scientific knowledge to cook meth of unprecedented purity.
As Walt establishes his product in the local drug scene, he begins using the pseudonym "Heisenberg". Hank begins investigating Heisenberg, completely unaware that he is actually searching for his own brother-in-law. Although loutish and obstreperous, he's shown to be competent at his job and cares about Walter and his family. He is protective of Walt's son, Walter White Jr. (RJ Mitte) when it was assumed the child was using drugs, taking it upon himself to try to convince his nephew of the dangers of it, and going so far as to tell the boy that he loves him.
When Walter goes missing after having been kidnapped by drug baron Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz), Hank along with the rest of the family attempts to find him. During his search process, he's ultimately (much to his own surprise) led to the hideout of Salamanca, and kills him in self-defense when the man opens fire. This later earns him a promotion at the office and, eventually, a transfer to El Paso where he would be working among higher ranked DEA agents within an area of higher danger. Having been used to his homebase New Mexico job for so long, he begins to struggle with his own insecurities, feeling inferior to his fellow co-workers and greatly missing the hominess of the original office. This begins to trigger several panic attacks, which Hank struggles to keep from affecting his work. While in El Paso, Hank is with a group of fellow DEA agents, preparing to meet an informant (Danny Trejo), when they find a tortoise with the informant's severed head atop its shell, the words "HOLA DEA" crudely painted on it. This triggers one of Hank's panic attacks, and results in him fleeing to his car to hide the embarrassment of his inner problems from his colleagues. Removing the informant's head from the tortoise shell triggers an explosive, killing and wounding the DEA agents and Mexican police officers who were nearby. Although physically unharmed, this previous incident leaves Hank massively traumatized and results in him giving up the promotion and convincing his superiors to move him back into his home office in New Mexico. He vows from then on out never to return to El Paso.
The promotion to El Paso ultimately ends up going to his close friend and partner, Steven Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada). Nagged by feelings of inadequacy, Hank becomes obsessed with the Heisenberg case, and overly aggressive on the job, starting a fight with two men in a bar whom he suspects of dealing drugs. A phone call from Saul's secretary telling him that Marie has been involved in a car accident forces him to abandon pursuit of Jesse Pinkman's (Aaron Paul) RV, a huge clue in the case, allowing Walter and Jesse extra time to get rid of the RV and reduce it to scrap metal. Upon finding out that the call was a hoax, Hank is furious, travels to Jesse's house and violently beats him senseless. This leads to Hank being put on unpaid suspension. Hank finally opens up to Marie and reveals his panic attacks, but Jesse ends up deciding to drop charges because Walter agrees to a 50-50 deal working in Gus Fring's (Giancarlo Esposito) mega-lab for $1.5 million each for three months.
Unknown to Hank, Tuco's cousins Leonel and Marco Salamanca (Daniel and Luis Moncada)—twin brothers and hitmen from Mexico—have been following Walter, planning to avenge Tuco's death. Gus tells them for now to kill Hank and let Walt alone. An anonymous caller (Gus, using an electric voice scrambler) then tips Hank about the hit one minute beforehand, just as he has returned to his car in a shopping center parking lot. Because Hank is suspended, he is unarmed. Though shot multiple times, Hank manages to kill Marco with a bullet to the head and severely injures Leonel by crushing his legs with his car. Hank and Leonel are both hospitalized. Gus then personally brings over a large order of fried chicken for every cop in the hospital, which turns out to be a distraction, during which Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) sneaks into Leonel's room and kills him by administering a lethal injection.
Hank is left unable to walk by the shooting and doctors are unsure if he will be left paraplegic. Marie, however, insists on putting Hank into expensive physical therapy. When told that insurance won't cover the doctors Marie chooses, Skyler and Walter agree to pay for it (unbeknownst to Hank). When Marie suggests taking care of Hank at home, Hank refuses, saying that he won't go home until he can walk again. Marie makes a bet that he can still get an erection, and if he does, he has to return home. She then proceeds to put her hand under his sheets and begins to give him a hand job. It's implied that she was successful, as the scene immediately cuts to Hank looking very annoyed as Marie triumphantly wheels him out of the hospital.
During his recovery, Hank takes up amateur geology and begins collecting minerals. He becomes uncharacteristically harsh towards Marie, feeling despondent at being so dependent on her. Recently, he has been approached by the Albuquerque Police Department to offer his insights into the shooting of Gale Boetticher (David Costabile), including a review of the man's lab notebook. He eventually formulates a theory that Gale was the elusive Heisenberg, and turns the evidence back over to the APD. However, at a celebratory dinner with Walter and his family congratulating their acquisition of a car wash, Hank discusses his conclusions about Gale being a cooking genius, which prompts a drunken Walter to arrogantly claim that he doubts that Gale was doing anything more than copying the work of a greater meth cook.
Suspicions aroused, Hank has APD Homicide send over the evidence once more. This time he notices that Gale, a vegan and consumer of organic food, had a napkin from Los Pollos Hermanos (Gus's fast food joint), and questions why a vegan would eat fried chicken. He procures a fingerprint from Gus while eating with Walt Jr. at one of Gus's restaurants and it matches a fingerprint found in Gale's apartment. When asked about this, Gus comes up with an alibi to explain being at Gale's place, but Hank remains suspicious. He even has Walt drive him to the restaurant and, when there, tells the alarmed Walt to place a tracking device on Gus's car (which Gus later removes). After the tracking device revealed nothing about the whereabouts of Gus, Hank comes up with a new plan. A few days later, Hank brings up that he knows about the laundry facility owned by the parent company of Pollos Hermanos, and wants to check it out. To deflect Hank's investigation, Walt intentionally gets them into a car crash on the way there, and the two receive minor injuries. Hank's later plans to investigate are cut short when he is placed under DEA protective custody, after Walt places a tip off — via Saul — of Gus's intentions to kill him. Hank then pushes Gomez to search the laundry facility, which fails to find anything majorly incriminating, despite a few minor intriguing details.
Following Gus' death, Hank is hailed as a hero for investigating him, and proceeds to pursue numerous leads in order to learn more about Gus' drug empire. He and Gomez search the decimated remains of the laundromat lab, and recover many pieces of evidence, including the security camera. He also recovers Gus' laptop in his office at the Albuquerque Los Pollos branch. After sorting through various records and bank accounts associated with Gus, he becomes highly suspicious of Mike Ehrmantraut; however, Hank ultimately fails at his interrogation attempt, seeking minor retribution later as he and his team are able to arrest an employee of Madrigal Electromotive. Due to Merkert's recent termination over his mishandling of the Fring leads, Hank is offered the promotion of ASAC, which he gladly accepts. He and Marie later volunteer to take care of Holly and Walter Jr following a (purposeful) incident caused by Skyler to get the kids out of her and Walt's house. When commanded by his superior to end his investigation of the blue meth, Hank gets a hunch to follow Dan Wachsberger (Chris Freihofer), who he realizes is the lawyer of the nine prisoners remaining silent, which allows Gomez to catch him in the process of paying them off. The DEA arrests Wachsberger. While the prisoners are now prepared to testify about Gus and Mike in exchange for legal leeway, Hank holds out for a better deal. When all of them are killed later on under Walt's direction, Hank's investigation is ruined and he begins to long for the simplicity of his summer job as a teenager.
After Walt gives up the meth business a few months later, the Whites and Schraders appear to be living peacefully. When using the toilet, Hank finds Gale Boetticher's copy of Leaves of Grass in Walt's bathroom. Thumbing through the book, he discovers a handwritten note from Gale to Walt that incriminates him. Hank is stunned as he finally realizes that Walt is Heisenberg. After Hank's realization, he leaves the White's house under the ruse of a stomach bug and suffers from a panic attack while driving home. Hank keeps up the ruse of a stomach bug so that he can further investigate Walt. After Walt realizes his copy of Leaves of Grass is missing, he finds a bug planted in his car, resembling the one Hank used to track Gus. Confronting Hank in his garage, Hank punches him in the face and further accuses him of being Heisenberg, which Walt neither denies nor confirms. Walt reveals to Hank that his cancer has returned so even if Hank were to prove anything, Walt would never live to stand trial and Hank will only hurt their family. When Hank orders Walt to have Skyler bring the children over to the Schrader house, Walt refuses; a shocked Hank tells him he does not know who he is talking to anymore, to which Walt replies "If you don't know who I am, then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly."
Assuming that Skyler was forced to keep Walt's secret, Hank meets her at a diner and wants her to divulge what she knows. When Skyler refuses to help, Hank tells Marie what he knows. Marie then confronts Skyler and is outraged to learn that Skyler knew of Walt before Hank was shot. After breaking up an argument between the sisters, Hank returns home with his wife. Marie urges him to "get" Walt, but Hank tells her that he has no concrete proof yet (his decision to steal "Leaves of Grass" renders it inadmissible as evidence) and can't go to the DEA, because his career will be finished once they know of Walt's crime (if they believe him). When he hears Jesse has been arrested throwing large sums of money out of his car window, Hank goes to see him in jail, hoping to turn Jesse against Walt. He attempts to talk Jesse into a deal, appealing to Jesse's manipulation at the hands of Walt. Jesse, however, refuses to help as he still hates Hank for brutally beating him in season 3.
Walt and Skyler arrange a meeting with the Schraders in which Walt maintains his innocence and insists that the kids stay with them. The Schraders refuse. Walt then gives Hank a "confession" DVD, in which Walt admits to producing meth but falsely implicates Hank as the mastermind behind the operation. In addition, Hank shockingly learns that Walt has paid for his medical bills after his shooting, and tells Marie that this is the "nail in the coffin". He later follows Jesse to Walt's house and stops him from burning it down. He convinces Jesse that they should work together. He brings Jesse back to his house and tapes Jesse's confession the following day. After Walt calls Jesse and asks to meet at the plaza, Hank plans to have Jesse wear a wire in order to record the conversation. Jesse reluctantly agrees even though he thinks it is a ruse for Walt to kill him. With Hank and Gomez monitoring nearby, Jesse proceeds to meet Walt. Jesse stops when he notices a suspicious man next to Walt, so instead he calls Walt from a payphone, threatening him that he is going to get him. When a furious Hank picks Jesse up, Jesse reveals that he has a better way to get Walt.
Jesse suggests that they should get Walt through his drug money. Hank visits Huell and manipulates him into talking by having him believe that Walt has put a hit on him (by showing a staged photo of Jesse shot in the head). Huell confesses that he and Kuby helped move the money from a storage unit with a rental van, but that he does not know where Walt hid it. Hank tells Huell not to answer any calls or leave for his safety. Hank then checks with the rental company to learn that the van no longer has GPS. Hoping to learn the money's whereabouts, Hank and Jesse devise a plan to trick Walt. Jesse calls Walt claiming that he has found the money and threatens to burn it if he doesn't show up. Hank and Jesse follow Walt to the money's location via the cell phone signal. Upon seeing that nobody is there, Walt realizes that Jesse has tricked him and asks Todd's uncle Jack's crew to come and kill Jesse, but then calls it off when he sees Hank and Gomez are accompanying him. Walt gives himself up and lets Hank arrest him. Jack's crew then arrive to confront Hank and Gomez, as a panicked Walt attempts to defuse the situation to no avail. In the ensuing gunfight, during which Jesse and Walt cower in their cars, Gomez is killed and Hank is wounded. Walt begs Jack to spare Hank, offering him his buried $80 million in exchange for his brother-in-law's life. Hank, knowing he is about to be killed, defiantly identifies himself by his hard-won DEA title, ASAC Schrader, and asks how such an intelligent man as Walt could be too naive to see that Jack's decision was already made. Hank then tells Jack to do what he's got to do, at which point Jack shoots him through the head, killing him. Walt collapses to the ground, sobbing. Jack's men then locate Walt's fortune and dig Walt's barrels full of money out of the ground. They then use the hole that Walt dug to bury his money as a makeshift grave for Hank and Gomez.
When Walter calls Skyler, he implies Hank has died at his hands, devastating Marie and the rest of the family. "You'll never see Hank again," he snarls. Walt later sneaks into Skyler's home, informing her that the gang had actually murdered Hank and Gomez. He leaves the coordinates of their graves with Skyler so that she can use them as leverage for striking a deal with the prosecutors, before avenging Hank's death by killing Jack's gang and personally shooting Jack in the head with his own gun.
Dean Norris had a history of being typecast as law enforcement and military type characters. Norris reasons "I guess you have a certain look, it's kind of an authoritative law enforcement-type look, and that look is certainly the first thing that people cast you with before you get a chance to do some acting." Vince Gilligan had talked to an actual DEA agent about creating Hank's character.
Critics have commented on the character's development.
Mary Kaye Schilling of Vulture opines "It's thanks to [Norris] that Breaking Bad 's Hank Schrader has gone from a cliché-spewing booya DEA agent — essentially comic relief — to a savvy, vulnerable mensch who could be the show's ultimate hero." Dean Norris notes the realism of Hank's "tough cop" and "cliché machine" persona, comparing his mannerisms to his best friend growing up, also a cop. Norris explains that people with jobs in law enforcement have to put on a bravado facade because they have to deal with unscrupulous people all day. The only other option would be to get eaten up by the job, and thus they wouldn't be good cops.
Gilligan says Hank was supposed to be a "hail fellow well met and a figure of worship for Walt, Jr.," but developed him when he realized how "smart, sensitive, and well educated" Norris was. Norris and Gilligan both wanted Hank to be smart and capable; Norris says "Otherwise he’s just a doofus and you'll dismiss him." Norris notes that Hank was more mean to Walt in the pilot and the first season. His racism, especially toward his DEA partner Steven Gomez, was also more prominent earlier in the series. However, his racist jokes toward Gomez were toned down as the series progressed and were turned into good-natured ribbing.
Sean Collins of Rolling Stone considered pilot-era Hank an "obnoxious blowhard." Show creator Vince Gilligan had not considered the character as much more than a foil to Walt at first. However, as Gilligan got to know Norris, Hank began to grow into a "more nuanced and complex character" who has dealt with both "personal and professional growth."
Frazier Moore of The Associated Press writes of Hank's introduction in the pilot; "Hank seemed a potentially problematic character. With his cocky, macho style, he was perilously close to a stereotype"; however, he has said "Norris has brought depth and nuance to his character, emerging as fully the equal of his fine fellow cast mates [...] as he displayed not just braggadocio but also emotional trauma." Norris and Gilligan admitted that Hank began as a "mechanical construct" whose main purpose was to provide comic relief.
Hank begins showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder in "Breakage" after his shoot-out with and subsequent killing of Tuco Salamanca in "Grilled," the first deconstruction of his tough cop persona. Norris attributed the PTSD to the fact that it is actually very rare for law enforcement officers to draw their weapons, let alone kill someone in a combat situation. Mary Kaye Schilling praised the way the writers handled the PTSD and how they waited to explain the cause of it for a season. Noel Murray of The A.V. Club compared season 1-era Hank to a "veiled (and unacknowledged) Vic Mackey parody," but praised his development which began with his acquiring PTSD. Seth Amitin of IGN acknowledged that Hank's PTSD surprisingly humanized the character, as Amitin thought of him as an "emotional rock" who is usually unfazed. However, Amitin thought that Hank's humanization and inner struggle fit in with the other character's arcs and the series' themes.
Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker writes of Hank's fight with Walt, the series "placed Hank, once a minor, comic character on the show, dead center in the role of hero." Graeme Virtue of The Guardian writes Norris "evolved his character Hank Schrader from cocksure DEA meathead to the closest thing the show has to a moral center."
Hank would go through significant character development and self-doubt in the third season episode, "One Minute." Norris felt that Hank's self-realization in "One Minute" was the turning point to becoming a more moral and better man and for his decisions later in the series, citing Marie as a sort of positive motivation to better himself. Norris opines that "Hank wants a clean soul." During a speech the character had in the episode, Norris kept tearing up while filming it, though the director kept telling him not to. Norris was eventually filmed from the side to obscure the fact that he was crying.
In the early fourth season episodes, Hank is bedridden after being shot multiple times in the chest by Tuco Salamanca's cousins, and is increasingly hostile toward Marie while she tries to take care of him. Gilligan and the writers liked the idea of Hank not acting heroically or noble in his suffering. The writers felt this character arc would be most true to Hank's character.
When asked about how Hank could have not known his brother-in-law was Heisenberg, Dean Norris said that Walt was a blind spot; Hank had this preconceived notion of a drug kingpin in his head and it did not coincide with what he perceived as a meek and oblivious old man. After Hank finally discovers Walt's identity, Norris had to balance betrayal with rage, citing the hurt of Walt's betrayal of his trust as his most significant emotion. Norris admitted of Hank that in "Blood Money," his emotions took over.
Norris has said that he thinks Hank's moral code is concretely defined in "One Minute," when he accepted the consequences for assaulting Jesse even though he could have gotten away with it. In an interview during the first half of season 5, Norris expressed his puzzlement at viewers who "don't know who to root for," and that he sees Walt as a straightforward villain.
Norris asked Vince Gilligan to kill Hank off midway through the fifth season, as Norris had already booked a comedy pilot before he knew AMC would stretch the fifth into two years. Gilligan declined his request as Hank's arc was integral to the series' final episodes.
Critics were wary of Hank's character at first; seemingly only a stereotypical buffoon, but grew to praise the character as he grew. Dean Norris's portrayal of the character has also garnered praise.
Frank Girardot of Pasadena Star-News, an old friend of Norris, says that he watched Norris grow into the role, and praised "Dean Norris is also a damn good actor. Certainly the best on TV right now."
Dean Norris' acting in "Blood Money", especially the climactic scene where he and Walt confront each other about Walt's identity as Heisenberg, was highly praised. James Poniewozik of TIME wrote "Norris and Cranston are both eye magnets here, and the force just arcs between them as your attention is drawn irresistibly to both at once." Cinema Blend 's Kelly West said Walt and Hank's conversation might have been the "most heated and emotional moments of the series," praising Cranston and Norris. David Berry of National Post and Scott Meslow of The Week also praised Norris. Steve Marsi of TV Fanatic wrote of the climax "Dean Norris' expressions conveyed how dismayed, distraught, vengeful and stunned he was at the same time." TVLine named Dean Norris the "Performer of the Week" for his work in "Blood Money."
Ross Douthat of The New York Times called Hank the hero of Breaking Bad and wrote that "one of the show’s most impressive and important achievements has been the construction of a compelling, interesting, entertaining good person, capable of competing with Walter White, the anti-hero, for the audience’s attention and interest and affection."