Breaking Bad: Hank Schrader – A Hero in an Antihero’s World

Breaking Bad: Hank Schrader – A Hero in an Antihero’s World


“I’m doing some actual good out here,
and all I get are these bullshit accusations!” Hank Schrader first appears to be
just a blowhard cop offering occasional comic relief. “I’m gonna be thinking
‘Operation Breathmint.'” “I’m thinking ‘Operation Breathmint’
each time you and me are out on a stakeout together,
all right? Breath could knock a buzzard
off a shitwagon.” But over the seasons
of Breaking Bad, Hank proves a complex,
troubled character, with heart and intelligence. “I want you to know that, uh… I’ll always take care of your family.” Hank’s macho persona gets ripped apart
and he endures test after test without losing his grip
on his core values. Thus — as critics of the time noted —
we start to realize that Hank is the true hero
of the show — it’s just that he’s living
in an antihero’s world. “Good guys never get ink
like the bad guys do.” Breaking Bad skillfully manipulates
our loyalty in getting us to root against the hero. But by the end, the show uses Hank’s transformation
to teach us some lessons about integrity, humility and what it means
to be a good man. “Sit your ass down! Comprendé? You too! Sit down! Sientate! I’m back, babe, what’s up?” Before we go on,
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for free. For all his overcompensating machismo,
Hank is a legitimately talented detective. He has the ability to notice
the tiniest incongruities and deduce character or motive from them,
Sherlock Holmes-style. “Lady Banjo Eyes
at the warehouse?” “In this world? No way. Too uptight. Too together.” “Maybe. She was wearing mismatched shoes. How together can she be?” In a classic detective story,
we would be seeing things from the detective’s perspective. Here, the detective set-up is flipped —
Hank doesn’t know who he is looking for, but we see
inside Walt’s mind. We’ve seen
this dynamic elsewhere — where the criminal protagonists give
the audience a privileged viewpoint law enforcement can’t access. The value of this setup is
to bias the audience, to compromise us, the show seduces us into accepting
the antihero’s POV, even rooting for
the side of crime. Every time Hank’s ignorance about
Walt’s situation is brought to light, “Nothing personal, Walt,
but you wouldn’t know a criminal if he was close enough
to check you for a hernia. [LAUGHS]” We share in Walt’s sense of gloating superiority
over his brother-in-law. “Oh my God, you threw away
an ace and a cowboy?” “What are you doing? Don’t.” “For a handful of nothing.” A series of close calls,
where Hank gets unbearably near the truth, get viewers to root for Hank’s
powers of detection to fail: like when Hank goes to
talk to Jesse’s mom; when he arrives at the scene
while Walt and Jesse are fighting Tuco; or when he helps Walt pack
what’s actually his meth-money into the car. “Jesus. What you got in there,
cinder blocks?” “Half a million in cash.” “[LAUGHS] That’s the spirit.” And when Hank traps Jesse and even,
unbeknownst to him, Walt, in the RV. “This is a private domicile
and I won’t be harassed.” “I give you three seconds
to get your ass out of here. One, two –” “This my own private domicile
and I will not be harassed.” Each time Walt outsmarts Hank,
this is more proof of Walt’s genius, the sense that he has found
his calling. “You’re a goddamned artist!” Yet what all this demonstrates most is
that audiences will identify with the character
we know best. You love what you know. We unfailingly root for the person whose point of view
we’ve shared the longest, whose character we’ve come to see,
for better or worse, as part of ourselves. By aligning us with Walt over Hank —
and then going on to reveal so much that’s redemptive
and compelling about Hank — Breaking Bad puts us in
the difficult position of facing, over time, that from a moral perspective
we’ve chosen the wrong horse. “He’s a monster.” It’s significant that the detective
chasing Walt’s tail comes from inside his own family home. Hank is set up as a foil for Walt
not only on the professional level but also on the personal one. And Hank’s and Walt’s opposition is
set up from the start along the axis of perceived notions
of “masculinity.” “Come on, take it.” “No, no, no. It’s just heavy.” “That’s why they hire men.” In their society’s eyes, Hank is
doing a good job of being a real man, and Walt isn’t measuring up. Walt is a teacher, which is traditionally
viewed as a common feminine occupation. Hank is in the DEA,
the more stereotypically masculine profession. Hank is the better provider,
and a stronger masculine presence for Walt’s family. “You know, I figure his dad should be
the one doing this thing, don’t you think?” “Hank, he respects you.” So where Hank is loud,
brash and alpha, Walt is meek,
repressed and “beta.” “Walt! You got a brain the size of Wisconsin
but we’re not gonna hold that against you [LAUGHS].” But over the course
of the show, Hank’s and Walt’s transformations happen
along this same masculinity axis The show encourages viewers to approve of
beaten-down, emasculated Walt’s journey to becoming assertive
and successful. “You asked me if I was in
the meth business or the money business. Neither. I’m in the empire business.” Yet it ultimately shows the harm
in these traits that society applauds
and fosters in men. “Someone has to protect this family
from the man that protects this family.” With Hank, the process is reversed. A lot of Hank’s hyper-masculine persona
from early in the show is unpleasant — he’s inappropriate, “Get a big old raging hard-on
at the idea of catching this piece of shit.” casually racist, “I got 20 bucks
that says he’s a beaner.” and throws his weight around
too much. “I’m not here to get you in trouble,
but you need to tell me where this came from RIGHT NOW!” But then everything that constitutes
Hank’s tough guy persona is stripped away. After his shoot-out with Tuco,
he suffers a panic attack and experiences hallucinations
and paranoia suggestive of PTSD. “I can’t breathe… Just…I panic.” In some ways he feels like an update
to Tony Soprano, who also suffers panic attacks
that stem from suppressing emotions and seeing psychic distress
as weakness. Both are, ultimately,
hobbled by their own expectations of what a “real man” is. “Whatever happened to Gary Cooper? The strong, silent type?” “I’m just not the man
I thought I was.” Hank’s feelings of inadequacy lead to
outbursts of violence that get him in trouble at work. He gets more and more obsessed
with catching Heisenberg — crossing lines in his investigation
and eventually, attacking Jesse, which gets him suspended from duty
and disarmed. Then, after the cousins attack him,
Hank loses the use of his legs and becomes totally dependent
on Marie. So over the first three and a half seasons
Hank’s arc is losing everything that forms his original
macho identity — the bravado, confidence,
job, weapon, and then even the basic freedom
of using his legs. Yet it’s only at his darkest point —
and not coincidentally at the point of his peak emasculation — that Hank starts getting anywhere
in his pursuit of Gus Fring, and, by proxy, Heisenberg. “Can’t seem to wrap my mind
around this one little thing. That is, what Gustavo Fring’s fingerprints
were doing in Gale Boetticher’s apartment.” “Walter H. White,
a man of hidden talents.” By Season 4, Hank and Walt
have switched places. Walt is now the one wielding the gun,
while Hank is the helpless, emasculated one. Walt is even trying to get the same guy
Hank is after — Gus Fring. “What’s the play here, buddy? How do l get this guy?” “Yeah. How?” And Hank develops
an obsessive interest in geology, which is basically
chemistry’s cousin. “Blue corundum,
to be precise.” “Blue corundum. Well, it’s very pretty.” Why does it take Hank so long
to see something that is, geographically at least,
right under his nose the whole time — that Walt is Heisenberg? One part of the answer might be that the arrogance and inflated ego
of Season 1 Hank stopped him from seeing how a guy like Walter
could ever amount to anything significant. Hank’s mental and physical trials give him
the perspective he needs to move the investigation forward. Hank first connects Gus Fring
to the blue meth and then makes another huge step
by connecting Gale Boetticher to Pollos Hermanos and Gus. “Since when do vegans
eat fried chicken?” This kind of statement highlights
how good of a detective Hank really can be — and as Hank becomes humbler, his talents
as a detective really blossom. In a parallel process, Walt becomes more and more
arrogant, and careless. “He was a genius,
plain and simple.” When Walt’s ego just can’t stand Gale
getting credit for Heisenberg’s work, “This ‘genius’ of yours… Maybe he’s still out there.” It’s as though Walt wants
to be caught, just for the satisfaction of proving
how grossly his brother-in-law underestimated him. “W.W. [LAUGHS] I mean,
who do you figure that is, y’know? Woodrow Wilson? Willy Wonka? Walter White?” “You got me.” Strikingly,
for both Hank and Walt, macho arrogance and ego-boosting
don’t help anything — they only get in the way of
Hank’s investigation and Walt’s would-be empire. So long before
“toxic masculinity” was a buzzword, Breaking Bad pointed out through these characters
that the notion of acting like a “man” actually means being rather disagreeable,
fragile and, ultimately, ineffective. Still, despite all the progress
Hank makes in his detection, the moment of finally cracking
the Heisenberg case is handed to him through dumb luck —
while he’s sitting on the toilet. One overarching rule
that governs the show is that human genius and will are
no match for the will of the universe. Hank, getting Heisenberg handed to him
through no effort of his own underlines yet again the fallibility
and limitedness of all our wits, compared to what’s dictated
by biology or God or whatever you want to
call the forces that govern us. So there’s a kind of cosmic humor
to Gilligan’s choice of divine intervention handing over this big revelation
to Hank on the can. But that doesn’t mean this moment is
necessarily totally random or out of nowhere. Maybe Hank had to be transformed
into this more humble self in order to be ready in this moment
to receive his dumb luck. “I swear to God, Marie,
I think the universe is… trying to tell me something,
and I’m finally…ready to listen.” If the first reason for Hank’s
inability to see Heisenberg was the flaw of his macho bias,
the second reason for this failure may stem from his goodness
as a human being. Hank trusts his family —
and he can’t imagine someone he loves is capable
of such evil. “But your heart’s in the right place, man. Your heart’s in the right place.” Hank is a caring person. Just think of the way
he tries to help Marie in every way possible
with her shoplifting “We gotta support
the shit out of her.” Many have argued that Hank is
the real hero of Breaking Bad. He endures many trials, and —
unlike the other characters in this show — comes out a bigger, better man
for all that he’s suffered. So if Hank is the closest thing
the Breaking Bad world has to a hero, it’s fitting that the episode
in which he breathes his last breath — “Ozymandias” — is, effectively,
the real finale of the show. And that’s because it’s the episode
that shows the final and irrevocable fall of Walt’s empire. The episode dismantles everything
Walt has become bit by bit. Family was the one thing he told himself
he was doing all this for, but in the episode,
he see his family member Hank killed before his eyes. Hank dies and Walt falls to the ground
like the fallen statue of the king Ozymandias. “Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies.” And as Ross Douthat wrote in
The New York Times, here Walter’s “world collapses,
inevitably and absolutely, when he kills the hero
of his own story.” “You’re never gonna see Hank again.” Everything else Walt had is lost
in that episode. “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands
stretch far away.” Before Hank dies, Walt desperately tries
to rectify the situation. Always believing in
his own will and brains, he tries to convince Hank that if he just says
the right thing to Jack, his life will be spared. “Hank, listen to me. You gotta tell him. You gotta tell him now
that we can work this out. Please. Please.” But Hank’s very last words show that,
unlike Walt, he understands the laws of the world
they inhabit. “You’re the smartest guy
I ever met. And you’re too stupid to see…
he made up his mind ten minutes ago. Do what you’re gonna –” Hank pinpoints
Walt ’s fatal flaw — that Walt is a man unable to resign himself
to the will of the world, that he has the arrogance,
like King Ozymandias, to think that his might will last,
that he can make the universe obey. “It’s like they say, you know,
man plans and God laughs.” “That is such bullshit.” But no amount of greatness,
talent or brains is enough to mess with the very building blocks
the world is made of — its chemical elements. And Hank knows this. He understands that,
in the face of a mighty universe that’s declared your time has come,
the only great thing you can do is protect the integrity of
who you really are, and die defending the values
you believe in. “My name is A.S.A.C. Schrader,
and you can go [BLEEP] yourself.” This is Matty Brown. Matty is a cinematographer
and editor who’s nominated for an Emmy
for a short film, The Piano. He also holds the record
for most Vimeo Staff Picks. And Matty teaches a class
on low budget filmmaking on Skillshare. “I think you need to understand
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Author:

100 thoughts on “Breaking Bad: Hank Schrader – A Hero in an Antihero’s World”

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  • This comment is late, but early on I have one critique. I never saw Walter as a anti-hero until the end. Besides being the victim in the beginning, Walter was villain the moment he decided to cook the most powerful and pure form of meth to sell. It became more a journey of just how delusional, power hungry and self serving of a villain he could be developed into while making him the protagonist of the story. He became an anti-hero in the end, but everything else was Hank living as a hero in a world of a Villain.

  • I liked Hank, but for me he was far from the hero. He started out as one but as the series progressed he compromised all of his ethics and morals for his own selfish ego.

  • Hank wasn't a hero. He was driven by pure ego, just like LITERALLY everyone else in the series. His ego lead him to his own death, which is why he accepted it when the moment came. He knew he got himself there and he knew what was going to happen.

    A little known fact about BB (that everyone seems to miss) is that every single main character is egotistical to the point of their own demise. Only a few good people are mixed into a whole bunch of egotistical selfish crooks. BB was pure writing/acting/production genius. It's the Abbey Road, Houses of the Holy, Aja, Superunknown, Blood Sugar Sex Magik of cinema — and it was on television. BB was insanity and it will never happen again. Can't wait for the movie!

  • Hank was dutiful but dumb – overlooked the obvious.
    Hank should've applied Occam's Razor.
    His hubris obviously brought his demise.
    He NEVER should have gone out on his own with ONLY his partner – when they needed a Army of Law Enforcement, to go against those evil White Supremacist Nazis!
    In the real world of Police – that's WHY there are so many Cops out there in Real Situations like that!

  • I feel like they only analyze hank's attitude during the climax, particularly the shootout, and that's why it's easy to see him as a sympathetic character. If you look at his actions leading up to the climax he's actually really flawed. He's extremely manipulative of Jessie, who he physically and unlawfully abused in the past, and still has no regard for Jesse's well being in the final season. He also has a selfish desire to slap the cuffs on Heisenberg himself, without even trying to understand why Walter committed those crimes. It was mostly him just being bitter and insecure about Walter outsmarting him. Yes Walter's escapades led to several people's deaths, but these are people Hank openly despises or makes fun of such as Gale and Gus. Hank's desire to slap the cuffs on Walt comes across as more self-fulfilling than anything else

  • Hank is the worst kind of guy. He is such a fucking smartass. He loud caps Walt in front of all of his family and friends during the surprise party. And that shit about Walt not knowing if a criminal was next to him or not. Well he gets outsmarted by Walter White so many times that it’s painful to watch. Fuck his loud guy steez!!! He gets what he asked for. He should’ve known when to give it a rest. He bit off more than he could chew. Bye 👋🏽 Bye👋🏽 Mr. Hank

  • How does Walt trying to convince Jack is because of his arrogant ego? It was his hail mary attempt to save Hank. What the hell am i listening to.

  • I knew there would be something against masculinity after seeing your Gus "analysis" focusing on an anti-capitalist narrative. Ladies, you can retire now.

  • Panic! At The Impala says:

    I love how I love breaking bad and dexter and how they're so similar when its boiled down to the basic plot, that's probably why I love them both

  • This show was & always will be the greatest. Remember watching Hank die when that episode 1st aired, it felt like someone I knew died, you know that sunken feeling you get when you hear that news. What other show can make a person feel this way except Breaking Bad!? 10/10 4 Stars, nothing or ever will be better

  • Why does half of the video talk about masculinity and how all negative personality traits are associated with it? F**k off with this bs.

  • It just that Walt was humiliated at the beginning of the series which made you feel sympathy for him. Being in absolute no control of his life, people making fun of him and being a joke of mediocrity. Not to forget that he sold his share of Grey Matter for $5,000 while the company went to be a billion dollar enterprise. He lived in total shame. Where he breaks bad is where we feel a sort of rebellious outbreak that resonates with us, a cheerful fist pump in the air to go out with a bang even though he destroyed everyone’s life at the end, a good hearted man to turned into the most evil manipulative drug kingpin in America

  • kylertinkles dada says:

    I think walt said hes done but he wasnt hince he kept his mementos the book. And Vince is saying unless u drop all aspects of your evil life itll stay with u. and ultimately be your downfall.

  • SaneCrazy Gaming says:

    I’m so happy that the parallel between Hank and Tony Soprano, I thought I was the only one who saw the collapse of their stereotypically masculine psyches

  • metamorphicorder says:

    As a character, i might be able to agree, to some extent.
    But conceptually, this level of law enforcement is not heroic. Its demonstrably the entire cause of the problem that it purports to exist to stop. If drugs were not totally illegal and persecuted and violently pursued, the people dealing in them would have no need to take most of the measures that they do.
    Its kinda hard to consider someone a hero who for their own gain uses violence to cause a problem that they then claim to solve by that same violence. They can certainly be brave in that life. But not heroic.

  • yeah theres a huge misconception on what masculinity is, don’t be on the false side. Spiritual masculinity is what us souls need to focus on.

  • I will always stand by the thought that Jesse is the real hero/protagonist. Hank is too flawed in my perspective. Jesse is a good person who found himself on a continuously bad path.

  • Avdhoot Bhatwadekar says:

    I actually watched the series for third time , and yet I always have had these 2 questions, if Whites don't have enough money fir Walter's treatment , why didn't they sell house ir cars ? And wtf happened to Huel

  • Just finished watching breaking bad a second time and my hate for Walter and respect for Hank were much higher than my first watch.

  • i would've completely agree with you guys on hanks character change but in the last episode or second to last episode hank and Gomez and talking about sending Jesse to wiretap Walt and when Jesse walks away Gomez says Jesse is right and it could be a trap and hank says then he's taking out two birds with one stone. That to me shows he isn't moral anymore just learned from Walt how to manipulate the situation (being nice to pinkman for his own gain, not telling the dea so he can get the bust and not be fired, etc.

  • Arroobadooba Durkhahakh says:

    Why does it always have to be about the death of masculinity? Such a pathetic ideology. Seriously, can you imagine cops walking the beat in fucking makeup and high heels? Hank never lost his “macho”. He dropped everything and raced to the hospital because he was concerned for his wife’s well being, he defeated 2 experienced cartel hitmen with no gun (his own) and multiple bullets in his body, he worked his ass off to regain his ability to walk, he retained his values even when it meant going up against his own family, he got shot while vastly outgunned by a bunch of neo-nazis and rather than crying and begging, he faced his death like a true tough guy. Enough of this delusion that masculinity is somehow toxic; it isn’t! Immasculation is not something to be celebrated. Immasculation is how civilizations become stagnant and weak and eventually destroyed. People need to grow up and stop feeling fear in the presence of masculine men. Modern feminism is truly toxic to civilization.

  • Arroobadooba Durkhahakh says:

    Oh and Steve Gomez was in on the “racist” jokes too. That’s all it was: HUMOUR! Not every “person of color”, as you actual racists like to say these days (remember when “colored” was used the same way as n****r?), has to conform to the trendy victim culture. You can’t immasculate all men, so stop trying!

  • I love Breaking Bad and the character of Hank… BUT…. having said that there are a few things about Hank that makes him anything but a hero. I am unable to gloss over his childish racism. I would hate to be arrested by a cop like him recall his unneeded nastiness to the hooker "Wendy". And don't forget that even while he pretends to be concerned about Jesse to get to Walt he states that it would be okay for Walt to kill Jesse as long as it is on camera. My standards for what constitutes a hero is higher than that.

  • Just noticed something cool, when Walt shoots Jack in the final episode he actually cuts him off mid sentence just like how Jack cut off Hank. Poetic

  • That wasn't toxic masculinity that was pure arrogance he just couldn't see a simple cancer ridden man as a drug dealer
    And stop seeing man as violent animal

  • Dr. King Schultz says:

    Actual hero is fucking Walter White. He produced quality meth over those junk meth. Imagine all the other mafia has died off because of his meth including killing Gus. Break some eggs to make an omelette. Hank was selfish and obsessed with dopamine that comes with catching a criminal.

  • heroes dont beat the shit out of suspects. heroes dont laugh at dead people. he was a douchebag and a meathead, i didnt like Hank.

  • LOL They recognize "toxic masculinity" is just a buzzword/label, yet dedicate multiple videos to trying to convince others of it.

  • Hank is the best character. He starts off as the macho counterpart to Walter. He goes through cowardly twists and heroic turns, but he always remained the professional. At the dead end of the road that nearly left him paralyzed, he wanted to put his brother-in-law in jail, unblinking while he did it. Gunfights with assassins couldn't stop him. Justified plot armor could.

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