This Sunday, AMC’s Breaking Bad begins a final run of eight episodes, bringing the tale of Walter White to its inexorable conclusion. The show has become one of the great running masterpieces of the last half-decade of television, bringing the post-Sopranos model of anti-heroic TV drama to new critical highs (and terrifying new moral lows). What makes it even more impressive is that — in an era defined by ever-more-gigantic ensembles — Breaking Bad has unfurled its epic American tale with a relatively small cast of characters. While other shows opt for cast breadth, Bad has explored each character’s depth, sending them on fascinating byzantine journeys into the interior of their souls. This week, we’ll be taking a close look at all the show’s main characters and presenting a suggested viewing list for the five episodes that best define their arc. Today: Hank Schrader, Walter White’s alpha-male brother-in-law, who — as played by great character actor Dean Norris — has become the show’s moral compass.
“A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal”: Hank was a tertiary character in Bad‘s first season. Or, to be more honest: He was kind of a meathead. Introduced as a jocky law enforcement douchebag, he came off like the kind of successful doofus whose popularity would drive quiet, cerebral Walt crazy. Hank’s role as a DEA agent was mostly played for inadvertent laughs. But in the middle of the first season finale, Hank and Walt have a conversation which looks, retroactively, like the moment that defined their intriguing dichotomy. At Skyler’s baby shower, Hank proudly shares some Cuban cigars with Walt. That leads Walt into a conversation about drugs, and legality. Walt argues that the morality of drugs is arbitrary. Hank responds: “You ought to visit lockup. You hear a lot of guys talking like that.” At the time, Hank still looked like a bit of a simpleton, but as we’ve seen the two characters evolve, this looks like the moment when Hank began to assert moral authority over Walt.
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