Henry R. "Hank" Schrader is a fictional character in the AMC drama series Breaking Bad. He is portrayed by Dean Norris and was created by series creator Vince Gilligan. Hank is the brother-in-law of main character Walter White, and is a 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 take a toll on Hank's sanity as the series progresses, and eventually starts taking more extreme measures to find "Heisenberg" and arrest him. Hank's character development over the course of the series and Norris' performance has been critically acclaimed.
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.
Hank is first seen during Walt's fiftieth birthday party, where the attendees watch a news broadcast covering Hank's involvement in a local methamphetamine bust. Walt takes up Hank's offer to go on a ride along to another meth bust, and is allowed to inspect the meth lab's equipment. Hank's intended target, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), escapes before they can arrest him. Walt later makes Jesse his partner in a meth operation and enters the production side of Albuquerque's drug trade, using his scientific knowledge to cook meth of unprecedented purity.
As Walt establishes his product in the local drug scene, he begins using the pseudonym "Heisenberg". His signature "blue meth" soon gets the DEA's attention, and Hank begins investigating Heisenberg, completely unaware that he is actually searching for his own brother-in-law. He does discover that the equipment used to manufacture the meth came from a classroom at the high school where Walt teaches, but wrongly arrests the school's janitor.
In the first few episodes of the season, Hank frequently dominates and pokes fun at Walt. When Walt tells the family that he is suffering from inoperable lung cancer, however, 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 Walt goes missing after having been kidnapped by Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz), Hank, along with the rest of the family, attempts to find him. During his search process, he follows the evidence to Tuco's hideout, and kills him in a shootout. Unknown to him, Walt and Jesse had wounded Tuco moments before, and had barely escaped his detection. Hank believes that Tuco had ties to Heisenberg and questions Tuco's uncle, retired drug cartel boss Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis), but Hector refuses to help, defiantly defecating on the interrogation room floor. Hank also questions Jesse about Heisenberg, but is unable to find any conclusive evidence connecting the two.
Hank's heroics in killing Tuco earn him a promotion at the office and, eventually, a transfer to El Paso, Texas. Hank is at first excited about the opportunity, but the trauma of the shooting, and his own insecurity about the higher-risk job, triggers several panic attacks. While in El Paso, Hank joins a group of fellow DEA agents, preparing to meet an informant named Tortuga (Danny Trejo), when they find a tortoise with the informant's severed head atop its shell, the words "HOLA DEA" painted on it. This triggers one of Hank's panic attacks, and he flees to his car. Removing the informant's head from the tortoise shell triggers an explosive, killing and wounding the DEA agents and Mexican police officers who were nearby. Although physically unharmed, Hank is emotionally traumatized and passes up the promotion, going back into his home office in New Mexico.
When one of Jesse's dealers, Badger (Matt L. Jones), is arrested in a sting operation, Hank leans on him to set Heisenberg up. To throw the DEA off the trail, Walt's new attorney Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) hires a professional fall guy named James Edward "Jimmy In-N'-Out" Kilkelly to pose as Heisenberg and go to prison. Hank nearly discovers the truth when Badger botches the job by talking to the wrong man, but Walt uses his own car to temporarily block Hank's viewpoint under the pretense of innocently wandering onto his surveillance, buying Jesse enough time to fix the situation. The imposter is arrested, but Hank is convinced that the real Heisenberg is still at large.
Nagged by feelings of inadequacy, Hank becomes obsessed with the Heisenberg case, and overly aggressive on the job. He starts a fight with two men in a bar whom he suspects of dealing drugs, only avoiding being disciplined because Gomez covers for him. He begins trailing Jesse, and finds the recreational vehicle that he and Walt use to cook meth; he is unaware that Jesse and Walt are both inside. To throw Hank off the trail, Walt has Saul's secretary call Hank and tell him that Marie is in the hospital, giving Walt and Jesse extra time to get rid of the RV. Upon finding out that the call was a hoax, an enraged Hank goes to Jesse's house and assaults him. Jesse is hospitalized, and Hank is suspended without pay. Jesse plans to sue Hank and ruin his career, but ultimately decides to drop the charges after Walt lets him in on a lucrative deal cooking meth for cartel middle man Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito).
Unknown to Hank, Tuco's cousins Leonel and Marco Salamanca (Daniel and Luis Moncada) have been following Walt, planning to avenge Tuco's death. Gus needs Walt to cook meth, so he tells them to kill Hank instead. Gus then anonymously tips Hank off about the hit moments before Leonel and Marco attack. Leonel and Marco shoot Hank several times, but Hank still manages to kill Marco by shooting him in the head, and severely injures Leonel by crushing his legs with his car. Hank survives the shooting, but is unable to walk, and doctors tell Marie that he may be rendered a paraplegic. Marie, however, insists on putting Hank into expensive physical therapy. When told that insurance won't cover the treatment Hank needs, Skyler and Walt agree to pay for it without telling Hank. When Marie suggests taking care of Hank at home, Hank refuses, saying that he won't go home until he can walk again. Marie makes a bet that he can still get an erection, and if he does, he has to return home. She then proceeds to give him a hand job. The scene then cuts to Marie triumphantly wheeling Hank out of the hospital.
During his recovery, Hank begins collecting minerals to pass the time. He becomes uncharacteristically harsh towards Marie, feeling despondent at being so dependent on her. He is approached by the Albuquerque Police Department to offer his insights into Jesse's murder of Walt's lab assistant Gale Boetticher (David Costabile), including a review of the man's lab notebook. He eventually formulates a theory that Gale was Heisenberg, and turns the evidence back over to the APD. At a dinner with Walt and his family, Hank says that Gale must have been a genius; Walt drunkenly replies that he thinks Gale was merely copying the real Heisenberg's work.
Suspicious, Hank has APD Homicide send over the evidence once more. This time he notices that Gale, a vegan, had a napkin from Los Pollos Hermanos, the fast food chain Gus uses as a front for his drug operations, and questions why a vegan would eat fried chicken. He procures a fingerprint from Gus while eating with Walter Jr. at one of Gus' restaurants, and finds that it matches a fingerprint found in Gale's apartment. When asked about this, Gus comes up with an alibi, but Hank remains suspicious. He even has Walt drive him to the restaurant and, when there, tells his alarmed brother-in-law to place a tracking device on Gus' car, which Walt tips off Gus to. The tracking device reveals nothing about Gus' whereabouts, however. Hank comes to suspect that the cartel's meth is manufactured at a laundry facility owned by Madrigal Electromotive, Los Pollos Hermanos' parent company, and tells Walt that he wants to check it out. To deflect Hank's investigation, Walt intentionally drives into oncoming traffic on the way there, and the two receive minor injuries. Hank's plans to investigate are cut short when he is placed under DEA protective custody, after Walt places a tip off — via Saul — of Gus' intentions to kill him. Hank then pushes Gomez to search the laundry facility, which fails to uncover anything incriminating, despite a few minor intriguing details.
Hector offers to give Hank information on Gus, but during the meeting merely taunts and curses him. This turns out to be part of Walt's ultimately successful plan to draw Gus in and kill him, thus eliminating an enemy and drawing Hank's attention away from Heisenberg.
Following Gus' death, Hank is hailed as a hero for investigating him, and proceeds to pursue numerous leads in order to learn more about Gus' drug empire. He and Gomez search the decimated remains of the laundromat lab, and recover many pieces of evidence, including the security camera. He also recovers Gus' laptop in his office at the Albuquerque Los Pollos branch, but Walt and Jesse destroy it before he can uncover its contents. After sorting through various records and bank accounts associated with Gus, Hank becomes highly suspicious of Gus' enforcer Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks); Hank ultimately fails to get any information from him, however.
After Merkert is fired for mishandling the Fring leads, Hank is given his job. He and Marie celebrate with Walt and his family, and witness Skyler attempt to drown herself. Hank offers to let Walter Jr. and Walt's infant daughter Holly stay with him and Marie; he is unaware that Skyler had staged the suicide attempt to get the children away from Walt.
Hank's superiors eventually order him to drop the Heisenberg case. Undeterred, Hank tells Gomez to lean on Mike's nine recently incarcerated dealers and their lawyer for information on Heisenberg and his connection to Madrigal. When the dealers and the lawyer are murdered (at Walt's direction), however, the investigation is ruined. After Walt quits the meth business, the blue meth disappears from the streets, and Hank begins to believe that Heisenberg has eluded him for good. During a family dinner, however, Hank finds Gale's copy of Leaves of Grass in Walt's bathroom. Thumbing through the book, he discovers a handwritten note from Gale to Walt, and finally realizes that Walt is Heisenberg.
After Hank's realization, he leaves the Whites' house under the ruse of a stomach bug and suffers from a panic attack while driving home. After Walt realizes his copy of Leaves of Grass is missing, he finds a GPS tracking device planted on his car, resembling the one Hank used to track Gus. Walt confronts Hank in his garage, and Hank punches him in the face and accuses him of being Heisenberg, which Walt neither confirms nor denies. Walt reveals to Hank that his cancer has returned and that, even if Hank were to prove anything, Walt would never live to stand trial. When Hank demands that Walt have Skyler bring the children over to the Schrader house, Walt refuses, and tells him to "tread lightly".
Assuming that Walt forced Skyler to keep his secret, Hank meets her at a diner and asks her to divulge what she knows. When Skyler refuses to help, Hank tells Marie what is going on. Marie then confronts Skyler and is outraged to learn that Skyler knew what Walt was doing before Hank was shot. After breaking up an argument between the sisters, Hank returns home with his wife. Marie urges him to "get" Walt, but Hank tells her that he has no concrete proof yet (his theft of Leaves of Grass renders it inadmissible as evidence) and can't go to the DEA, because his career will be ruined once they find out that Heisenberg was right under his nose for more than a year. When he hears Jesse has been arrested, Hank goes to see him in jail, hoping to turn him against Walt. He attempts to talk Jesse into a deal, appealing to Jesse's resentment of his onetime partner. Jesse hates Hank more than he does Walt, however, and refuses to help.
Walt and Skyler arrange a meeting with the Schraders in which Walt maintains his innocence and insists that the kids stay with them. The Schraders refuse. Walt then gives Hank a DVD, in which Walt falsely implicates Hank as the mastermind behind the meth empire. In addition, Hank learns that Walt has paid for his medical bills after his shooting, which makes him an accessory after the fact. He later follows Jesse to Walt's house and stops him from burning it down. He convinces Jesse that they should work together. He brings Jesse back to his house and tapes Jesse's confession the following day. After Walt calls Jesse and asks to meet in downtown Albuquerque, Hank plans to have Jesse wear a wire tap in order to record the conversation. Jesse reluctantly agrees, even though he thinks that Walt will kill him during the meeting. Jesse abruptly backs out of the meeting, however, and tells Hank that he has a better way to get Walt: through his drug money.
Hank visits Saul's bodyguard Huell (Lavell Crawford) and manipulates him into believing that Walt has put a hit on him. Huell confesses that he and his partner Kuby (Bill Burr) helped move Walt's money from a storage unit with a rental van, but that he does not know where Walt hid it. Hank then checks with the rental company to learn that the van no longer has GPS. Hoping to learn the money's whereabouts, Hank and Jesse devise a plan to trick Walt. Jesse calls Walt claiming that he has found the money and threatens to burn it if he doesn't meet with him. Hank and Jesse follow Walt to the money's location via the cell phone signal. Upon seeing that nobody is there, Walt realizes that Jesse has tricked him and calls his associate Jack Welker (Michael Bowen), telling him to bring his gang of neo-Nazis to kill Jesse. He calls off the hit when he sees Hank and Gomez are accompanying Jesse. Walt gives himself up and lets Hank arrest him. When Jack's crew arrive, a gunfight erupts in which Gomez is killed and Hank is wounded. Walt begs Jack to spare Hank, offering him $80 million in exchange for his brother-in-law's life. Hank refuses to beg for his life, however, and asks how such an intelligent man as Walt could be too naive to see that Jack had already made his decision. Hank then tells Jack to do what he has to do, at which point Jack shoots him in the head, killing him.
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.
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 would go 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.
Hank's development as a character and Norris' performance have both received critical acclaim.
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."
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."