Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mid season 3 of Breaking Bad:
The Passion of Hank Schrader

What follows is a discussion of the most current three episodes of season 3 of Breaking Bad. Spoilers and plot points will be discussed below the lolz of Hank Schrader, the DEA agent and brother-in-law of the main character of the show, Walter White.

I remain of the opinion that Breaking Bad continues to improve as time goes on. While the actions of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and partner in crime Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) continue to be the engine that moves the plot forward, other characters have their time in the spotlight as well, and for the past three episodes, the story of Hank Schrader, brilliantly portrayed by Dean Norris, has been the main character. Offered a great chance at career advancement by sharing time between the El Paso office and the show's home base of Albuquerque, Hank passes up the promotion to chase the trail of the new producer of crystal meth, the criminal known by the code name Heisenberg. He has no idea that Heisenberg is his brother-in-law Walter White, but he does have Jesse Pinkman in his sights, and he continues the investigation without a partner when the rest of the Albuquerque office thinks the trail has gone cold. In episode 6, he looks to have Jesse cornered in the Winnebago meth lab. Walt is meeting with Jesse inside, unbeknownst to Hank, but the criminals give him the slip by getting someone to call and tell him his wife is in critical condition in the hospital. By the time he figures out it was a ruse, the Winnebago has been destroyed.

At the beginning of Episode 7, Hank beats Jesse senseless, enraged that the criminal used his wife to get to him. The Cousins, two assassins from Mexico intent on killing Walt, are given the okay to kill Hank instead, since he is the one who actually killed their cousin Tuco in a shootout. Whereas the episode begins with Hank beating a defenseless Jesse, it ends with Hank, without his gun while the investigation into his misconduct is held, being set upon by the Cousins, and barely escaping with his life.

In Episode 8, Hank is always there, though Dean Norris is not to be seen on screen. The family holds a vigil in the hospital where Hank has been brought after the shootout. One of the Cousins is dead and the other is also in the hospital trying to recover from the wounds Hank inflicted on him. Ever since The Sopranos, the hospital vigil scene has been done so often that it's very nearly a cliche, but the quality of this episode convinces me that Vince Gilligan and his writers continue to produce the best weekly drama series on TV that doesn't air on HBO.

When the show started several years ago, Hank felt like a plot device, the gregarious jock of the family sent to torture the introspective nerd. But Hank's character has grown so much in the past few years, and we see him as a man with virtues and flaws and goals of his own. The writing has a lot to do with that, and so does the note perfect performance of Dean Norris as Hank. There are echoes of Javert and Jean Valjean in Hank's relentless pursuit of Heisenberg, but two and a half seasons in, we know that Hank really is the good guy and Walter White, for all his good intentions, is not a misunderstood hero but sinking instead into villainy with every bad decision.

Vince Gilligan isn't certain how long the show will last. He has talked about a four to five season arc to tell all of Walt's story. That might change over time, but I do want to see where the trail will end.

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