|Breaking Bad / Better Call Saul character|
|Created by||Vince Gilligan|
|Portrayed by||Dean Norris|
|Full name||Henry R. Schrader|
|Occupation||DEA agent, Mineral Collector|
|Affiliation||Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)|
|Home||Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States|
|Date of birth||c. 1966|
Henry R. Schrader ASAC is a fictional character in the AMC drama series Breaking Bad and its spin-off series Better Call Saul. He is portrayed by Dean Norris and was created by series creator Vince Gilligan. Hank's character development over the course of the series and Norris' performance have been critically acclaimed.
Henry R. Schrader is the brother-in-law of main character Walter White, and is a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Throughout the series, he leads the investigation of the methamphetamine cook "Heisenberg" — unaware that the elusive drug kingpin is his own brother-in-law. Hank is also faced with numerous threats from the rival drug cartels which takes a toll on Hank's mental health as the series progresses, and eventually starts taking more extreme measures to find "Heisenberg" and arrest him.
Hank is a special agent with the DEA, where he rose 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) and SAC Ramey. He is married to Marie (Betsy Brandt), with whom he has no children. He is close to his family-by-marriage, the Whites: Walt, his wife (and Marie's sister) Skyler (Anna Gunn), and their son Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte). In contrast with the mild-mannered Walt, Hank is extroverted, ambitious and apparently fearless, eager to take on dangerous investigations to further his career. Beneath his tough, unflappable exterior, however, he struggles with some of his own vulnerabilities: he had cold feet when it came to marrying Marie, and despite his ambition he is afraid to move outside his comfort zone at work, primarily due to the effects of PTSD since killing Tuco Salamanca and subsequent bloody encounters during drug busts in El Paso.
Better Call Saul
When Domingo Molina (later to be known as "Krazy-8") is arrested on drug possession, he spends two days in jail then announces he is willing to inform to the DEA to make a deal with prosecutors. Hank and his partner Steven Gomez arrive to interrogate him. Just as Domingo is prepared to give out a list of dead drops that belong to Gus Fring's drug operation, Saul Goodman interrupts the meeting acting as Domingo's lawyer. Hank immediately is suspicious of this and believes there are no dead drops, but Saul's fast-talking leads to Hank accepting to release Domingo into his protection as a personal CI after getting and confirming Domingo's information on the dead drops. Hank and Steven leave, unaware this was a ruse by Saul, at Lalo Salamanca's command, not only to get Domingo out of jail before he could talk about the Salamanca drug operation, but to expose their competitors to the DEA. Though Nacho Varga warns Gus Fring about this, he is unable to act without alerting Lalo to the mole in his organization.
During Walt's fiftieth birthday party, Hank shows off a news report covering a meth bust that he had led. Later, Walt takes up Hank's offer to go on a ride-along. Based on a tip from Krazy-8, Hank's team raids a meth lab while Walt stays in the car, where he witnesses his former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) escaping the bust, but does not say anything to Hank. Secretly, Walt engages with Jesse to start to produce their own meth using chemistry equipment from the school Walt teaches at. Due to the precursors they used, the product gains a unique blue tint but has an extremely high purity. Walt takes the name "Heisenberg" as he and Jesse sell the blue meth to the local drug trade. The blue meth and "Heisenberg" quickly draw the attention of Hank and the DEA. Hank's initial lead traces back to Walt's school, but Hank wrongly arrests the school janitor.
Hank generally teases Walt through this period. However, when Walt tells the family that he is suffering from inoperable lung cancer, Hank promises to be there for him, and to take care of Walter Jr. and Walt's unborn daughter should he die. He also takes Walter Jr. under his wing, trying to "scare him straight" when he believes the boy is smoking marijuana. When Hank sees Walt interacting with Jesse, Walt explains that Jesse is supplying him with marijuana.
After a drug deal goes bad, Walt and Jesse are kidnapped by the unstable Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz) and taken to a remote abode with his uncle, retired drug cartel boss Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis). Hank helps with efforts to find Walt, and traces him via Jesse to Tuco's abode. Just before Hank arrives, Walt and Jesse manage to escape, wounding Tuco in the process. Hank kills Tuco in a shootout and arrests Hector. Meanwhile, Walt and Jesse flee back to Albuquerque, where Walt explains his disappearance to Skyler as being in a fugue state. Hank questions Hector on the blue meth and Heisenberg, but Hector refuses to answer. Hank also questions Jesse, but Jesse provides no conclusive statements to provide leads to Heisenberg.
Hank is promoted and transferred to the El Paso, Texas DEA office for killing Tuco. Though initially happy, Hank starts having panic attacks. During a joint DEA/Mexican police operation, an informant is beheaded and their head used to hide an explosive, killing several DEA agents and officers; Hank escapes unharmed as he had fled on having a panic attack upon seeing the head of the informant. Hank develops symptoms of PTSD and transfers back to the Albuquerque office to continue his investigation into the blue meth.
Meanwhile, Walt and Jesse, having lost the Salamancas for selling meth, have engaged with Jesse's friends. One, Badger (Matt L. Jones), gets caught in a police sting, and Hank presses hard on Badger to reveal Heisenberg's identity. Walt gets help from the fast-talking lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) to get a fall guy to act as Heisenberg, but Badger fingers the wrong person while Hank and his team look on. Walt and Jesse rush in to obstruct Hank's view to correct Badger in time. While Saul's hired Heisenberg is arrested, Hank suspects the real Heisenberg remains at large.
Hank remains committed to finding the identity of Heisenberg, but his superiors start to believe the case is unsolvable and want him to move onto other investigations. He picks up a lead on the case after Jesse used some of the blue meth to pay for gas for the recreational vehicle he and Walt use to cook the product. Ultimately, he identifies Jesse as the RV's owner, and races to the junkyard where Jesse has been staying in the RV. Hank calls Walt on the news, giving Walt the opportunity to beat Hank there. Hiding in the RV with Jesse, Walt gives instructions to Jesse to prevent Hank from entering the RV legally, and gets Saul to lure Hank away from the junkyard by phoning him with a fake claim about his wife Marie being hospitalized. He abruptly leaves, allowing them to crush the RV in the meantime, destroying the evidence. After seeing the RV gone when he returns, an infuriated Hank goes to Jesse's home and assaults him. Jesse is hospitalized and threatens to sue, while Hank is suspended from the DEA without pay.
As Hank is leaving his disciplinary meeting, he receives an anonymous call from Gus Fring, warning him that he is about to be killed by Leonel and Marco Salamanca (Daniel and Luis Moncada) in revenge for killing Tuco; though Gus has told the brothers to target Hank instead of Walt, Gus realized that Walt would be unable to cook meth for him if Hank died. Hank is able to kill one brother and mortally wound the other, but he himself becomes temporarily paralyzed from the waist down after the gunfight, with the doctors fearing he may become paraplegic without physical therapy. Marie finds their insurance will not cover this, and Walt and Skyler agree to help cover the costs, unbeknown to Hank.
Hank struggles through his recovery due to his helplessness, harshly lashing out at Marie, and tries to collect minerals to pass the time. His interest is piqued when the Albuquerque Police Department ask him to help with looking over evidence from the murder of Gale Boetticher (David Costabile), who had been Walt's lab assistant at Gus' meth superlab under an industrial laundry. Among the evidence is a lab notebook with Gale's notes on the construction of the lab, the synthesis of meth, and other details that leads Hank to believe Gale was Heisenberg. During a shared dinner, Hank talks about Gale's notebook, and Walt drunkenly suggests Gale was merely copying the real Heisenberg's work.
Hank is curious at this comment, and reviewing the evidence again, makes a connection between Gale and Gus. Hank, only just starting to physically recover, leans on Walt to help him investigate Gus' activities, the Los Pollos Hermanos' restaurant chain and its parent company, Madrigal Electromotive, and properties they own in Albuquerque, including the industrial laundry. Walt panics knowing that this not only may lead Hank to discover that he is Heisenberg, but may lead to Gus taking deadly action to end Hank's investigation, since Walt and Jesse were already on thin ice for killing Gale. Walt has Saul fake a threat on Hank's life, and the DEA arrange for around-the-clock protection for Hank's and Walt's families, temporarily halting Hank's investigation. This also allows Walt to operate without interference to take out Gus by working with Hector after learning he and Gus are nemeses. Hector claims to want to talk to the DEA, and Hank is brought under protection to help with the interview, but Hector then refuses to cooperate and is returned to the nursing home. This was part of Walt's plan as Gus, learning of Hector's interview, goes to see Hector, upon which Hector triggers a pipe bomb Walt had planted on his wheelchair, killing them both. Walt and Jesse subsequently destroy the superlab.
The destruction of the superlab leads to evidence directly tying to Gus and the drug trade, and Hank is heralded as a hero. They secure a laptop from Gus' office and put it into police evidence. On learning of this, Walt and Jesse with help from Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) use a giant electromagnet to try to wipe the laptop, making a mess of the evidence room. The police find nothing on the laptop but from a picture frame broken in the destruction, the numbers to several accounts of Gus' that point to Mike's informants that have been helping to keep the drug trade secret. By this point, Hank's superiors have concluded that Gus was Heisenberg and tell Hank to drop the case, but Hank still believes there is more, and want to pursue the informants tied to the accounts. Walt is forced to kill Mike to get the informants' names and arrange for their murders before they can be questioned.
Several months pass, in which Walt has accumulated over $70 million and has left the drug trade. With no blue meth on streets and no leads, Hank has given up his investigation and moved on. At a dinner at the Whites, Hank goes to the bathroom and while there, pages through a copy of Leaves of Grass that Gale had given Walter. He recognizes the writing from Gale's notebook, and from Gale's dedication to Walt, is shocked to conclude that Walt is Heisenberg.
Hank feigns a stomach bug to leave early, taking the copy of Leaves of Grass with him, and suffers another panic attack. Later, he sneaks a GPS onto Walt's car. Walt discovers the copy of the book missing and the GPS device, similar to the one used to track Gus, and confronts Hank. Hank asserts Walt is Heisenberg, but Walt neither confirms or denies, only that his cancer has returned and by the time Hank can prove anything, he will be dead. Hank demands Walt to tell Skyler and the children to stay with him, but Walt refuses. Hank tries to talk to Skyler, but she stays silent on what she knows. Marie learns some details through Skyler, but Hank still has insufficient evidence to go forward against Walt.
Jesse is arrested and Hank tries to convince Jesse to speak out against Walt, but Jesse refuses, still angered over Hank's prior assault. Walt crafts a DVD that appears to be a self-confession from Hank that he is Heisenberg, threatening to release it if Hank does not stop trying to interfere with his family. Hank also realizes that his post-shooting physical therapy was paid with Walt's drug money, making him an accessory after the fact. Hank once again approaches Jesse and finally convinces they need to work together to stop Walt. Hank initially tries to have Jesse meet with Walt while wearing a wire tap, but Jesse backs out at the last minute, fearing Walt will kill him. Instead, Jesse suggests they target Walt's money, which they know has been hidden as cash somewhere locally. After trying to locate it on their own, Hank has Jesse call Walt pretending to have found the money and preparing to destroy it. Walt takes off to the money, buried on the Tohajiilee Indian Reservation, and when he finds it intact, realizes Jesse has fooled him, and orders a hit on Jesse through Jack Welker (Michael Bowen). Jesse soon arrives with Hank and Gomez, and Walt tries to call off the hit, preparing to surrender himself to Hank. However, Jack's men arrive before then, and a firefight breaks out, which kills Gomez and critically wounds Hank. Walt pleads to Jack to spare Hank's life, offering his entire fortune to Jack. Hank refuses to beg for his life and asks Walt how such an intelligent man could be too naive to see that Jack had already made his decision. Hank then tells Jack to do what he has to do and Jack kills him with a shot to the head.
Jack's men bury Hank's and Gomez's bodies in the hole Walt had stored his money. Six months later, after Walt had fled the state with a new identity, he returns to make his amends, and gives Skyler the location of the bodies, knowing it will help her to plea bargain her case. Hank and Gomez are avenged that same night when Walt kills Jack, Todd, Lydia and their crew, resulting in his own death.
Casting and creation
Prior to being cast in Breaking Bad, 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. NPR writes of his character's evolution "Hank Schrader has evolved from a knuckleheaded jock into a complex, sympathetic and even heroic counterpoint to the show's anti-hero, [...] Walter White." 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." 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 let the job affect them personally, which would compromise their effectiveness.
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; "Otherwise," Norris said, "he’s just a doofus and you'll dismiss him." Norris notes that Hank bullies Walt in the pilot and the first season, and makes racist jokes about his DEA partner Steven Gomez. 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 Hank in the pilot to be an "obnoxious blowhard". Gilligan had not considered the character as much more than a foil to Walt at first. However, as Gilligan got to know Norris, he developed Hank into a "more nuanced and complex character" who makes 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 killing 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 an entire season to explain the cause of it. 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 suffering PTSD. Seth Amitin of IGN noted that Hank's PTSD 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 went through significant character development in the third season episode, "One Minute". Norris felt that Hank's self-realization in the episode was the turning point toward his becoming a better man, and set the stage for his decisions later in the series; Norris opined that "Hank wants a clean soul." Norris kept tearing up while filming a particularly dramatic speech, 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 arc would be most true to Hank's character.
When asked about how Hank could have not known his brother-in-law was Heisenberg, Norris said that Walt was Hank's blind spot; Hank had this preconceived notion of a drug kingpin in his head and it did not coincide with his image of Walt as meek and oblivious. After Hank finally discovers that Walt is Heisenberg, Norris had to balance betrayal with rage, citing the hurt of Walt's betrayal of his trust as his most significant emotion. Norris said that, in the episode "Blood Money," Hank's emotions finally take over.
Norris has said that he thinks Hank's moral code is concretely defined in "One Minute," when he accepts 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 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. When the spin-off Better Call Saul was first announced, Norris initially stated that he wasn't interested in appearing, saying that he felt the Breaking Bad story was complete and that a spin-off would be unnecessary.
Peter Gould was initially hesitant to include Hank in Better Call Saul since the character had primarily been developed and written by Gilligan, who despite serving as co-executive producer had not been in the writers room for the show since Season 3.[better source needed] Despite his earlier lukewarm reception to the spin-off Dean Norris himself however welcomed playing the version of Hank before he became afflicted with PTSD and depression. He particularly enjoyed the on-screen reunion with Steve Gomez actor Steven Michael Quezada.
Hank's development as a character and Norris' performance have both received critical acclaim. Frank Girardot of Pasadena Star-News, an old friend of Norris', says that he watched Norris grow into the role, and praised him as "a damn good actor. Certainly the best on TV right now."
Dean Norris' acting in "Blood Money", especially the climactic scene where Hank confronts Walt over the latter's identity as Heisenberg, was lauded by critics. 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." In doing so, TVLine highlighted Hank's development over the course of the series, citing the character's evolution from "an unapologetic blowhard" in the pilot to "someone you truly want to see win."
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."
- "Sunset". Breaking Bad. Season 3. Episode 6. April 25, 2010. AMC.
- Gross, Terry (July 19, 2013). "Breaking Bad "Blood Money" Review "Hello, Carol."". NPR. Retrieved August 22, 2013.
- "'Breaking Bad': Dean Norris Asked Vince Gilligan To Kill Hank Off So He Could Do A Comedy Pilot". Huffington Post. February 4, 2013. Retrieved August 22, 2013.
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- Insider Podcast
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- Hank Schrader at AMC.com