Hank Schrader: The 'Bad' Behind the Badge

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The recent multi-week marathon of AMC's Breaking Bad ended the other night, but I could not bring myself to watch the ending again, not yet anyways. I am still heartbroken from the first time I watched it.

The entire series leaves me laughing and lamenting; feeling torn and twisted, amused and awestruck; unsure what to think from one scene to the next, and humanely woeful for all the parties involved. 

Pretty much how I used to feel at the end of a day of taking down the record in legal proceedings. I think that is one reason I enjoy Breaking Bad as much as I do; the dynamics of the characters parallel what I have seen played out in real life.

When it comes to not knowing what to think, it seems as if the total no-brainer of the series is that Walter White is the baddest of the bad, the cruelest of the cruel, and the horror of all horrors. Walter is no saint, I give him that. However, is Walter the only bad character on the show? Not by a long shot.

There is book-cooking Skyler, kleptomaniac Marie, and lying Lydia, just to name a few of my favorite bad girls; not to mention the countless characters throughout the series who carry out the orders of whoever is paying them, no matter how bad the order is.

But then there is the archvillain of Walter; the unsung hero, in the eyes of many who live in a land ruled by arbitrary laws and are guarded by a devious henchman of laws, called a DEA agent. That's right, Hank Schrader, the baddest of all bads -- a dirty law enforcement officer. Okay, maybe not super dirty, but dirty enough to be just as bad as, and maybe in some respects worse than, Walter White.

Just like Walter, Hank is no saint, but one major difference I see in the two characters is that Hank, as a law enforcement officer with the Drug Enforcement Administration, has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America as a requirement of performing his basic job duties; whereas Walter being a high school chemistry teacher, to my understanding, is not charged with the same responsibility to uphold the Constitution in his work capacity.

That alone sets the two fictitious characters apart in levels of badness that are easy to overlook in a society where a good-sized consensus hold the blind belief that law enforcement officers can do no wrong.

Hank does plenty wrong. In fact, I cannot help but wonder: Had Hank listened to his superiors early on and never pursued the cases as he was told, would he have lived? As it plays out, Hank is a bad boy and does not follow orders, and as such he does not live. Oh, such fate-ridden heartache, I just love it!, especially since it is fiction.

As well, Hank bails his wife Marie out of her kleptomaniac problems time and again, to the point where he jokes about her robbing a bank when a colleague stops by to visit.

Think about that: How good is it of Hank, as a law enforcement officer, to not do right by his charge and turn in Marie? Instead he uses his position of power to pull strings and get her out of hot water; and if a law enforcement officer is not willing to do that for everyone else, is that right of him to do it at all?

Granted, this is only a television program and not real life, but it is a program that triggers my mind like nothing else on the boob tube because the fictional scenarios and character dynamics have strong similarities to matters I have witnessed firsthand. Thus, I wanted to share my thoughts about the ethical dilemmas and questions I see being presented should others not see them as I do. It is a dirty job, but someone has to dissent.

Click Here to Dissent

Don't get me wrong, when it comes to Hank not turning Marie in that is a loving thing for Hank to do, because he understandably does not want something to happen to Marie (and possibly his career), so it benefits him overall to help her when she needs it. 

Just like Walter, Hank is willing to do much for his family when it comes to protecting Marie from herself. Still, it does not look good in my dissenting eyes when sorting through the 'good' and the 'bad,' yet at the same time I totally get why Hank does it. Oh, such delicious dynamics!

Next, there is the entire way in which Hank goes about gathering evidence on many of his cases, which is not always within his work guidelines or the bounds of the Constitution, and that is made crystal clear in the very first episodes of the series by the revealing dialogue between the characters.

Hank, as a law enforcement officer throughout the series, does not tell people the full truth in order to get the information he is seeking and as such encourages his underlings to work in the same way; nor does he care if anything happens to people in police custody since they are all scumbags in his eyes.

So, how does that make Hank into a good person? It does not, not in the slightest to me. All it makes Hank look like is a dirty dick-ass cop who only cares about himself and solving his cases no matter who is harmed. And how is that any different than Walter, who will do whatever it takes to protect himself and his family?

Hank and Walter are mirror opposites in that they have the same good intentions for what they do and they both leave trails of victims in their wake, whether intentionally or not. The only difference is that one has a badge to do it legally as a law enforcement officer and is therefore automatically, without question, viewed as 'good' because of it. I love it!

Hank obviously has no regard for the Constitution, none whatsoever unless it is serving him, and neither does Marie as it stands out in my recollection of her poo-pooing the document a couple times in the series due to it keeping Hank from getting his perps. Now that is scary.

Of course Walter is scary too, no doubt about that, but law enforcement officers who do not respect their legal bounds are scarier to me because they seem more prevalent in modern America than mild-mannered chemistry teachers turned mad-minded meth chefs who take down international drug kingpins with the magic of science. Between the two, which have you read about most in the news?


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Enbrethiliel said…

This is really interesting! I wasn't crazy about Hank from the beginning, but he eventually became my favourite Breaking Bad character. When I draw parallels between him and Walt, I start by pointing out that both men feel a little insecure at the start of the series and feel that they have to prove that they measure up--though Hank has more of a chip on his shoulder. But eventually, everyone comes up against a challenge they can't swagger their way through, and for Hank, that's El Paso. He goes in with good intentions and high hopes, and is shocked to see how outclassed he is. This is the reverse of what Walt must have felt as part of the high school faculty, where he would have outclassed everyone else in the school--though the humiliation seems to be the same. But while Walt just swallowed it for years before breaking bad on the sly, Hank's style is taking out his frustrations--and attempting to prove his masculinity--in open conflict. The good thing about this is that it brings his flaws out in the open, where even he can see them; and so he is the first to admit, after he is disciplined for beating up Jesse, "I'm not the man I thought I was." And I really love that moment in the series, because it is when Hank sees that he hasn't actually been a hero, that he becomes the hero!

I hadn't seen, however, what you point out here: that even while he becomes a more virtuous character and gets the moral high ground over Walt, he continues to shelter Marie! It was not an obvious connection to me--and that's why I wonder whether it was also not an obvious connection to him. At least I don't think he ever lost sleep over it! At the same time, it's another version of the relationship that he has with Walt, because it makes him choose between a family member and the law. In one case, he chooses Marie and doesn't even have to think about it; in the other, he goes head to head with Walt, although he's sorry to do so.

Having given it a bit of thought, however, I don't think that Hank's protection of Marie is "bad" as much as it's hypocritical. In fact, I'd say that another Breaking Bad question that you asked earlier--"How far would you go to protect your family?"--applies more to Hank than to Walt! Even after Hank tricks and arrests Walt, his decision to call Marie first instead of his fellow DEA agents shows where his priorities are . . . and they cost him his life.


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