Breaking Bad: Hank Isn’t “The Good Guy”

:::Please see my previous analysis of Breaking Bad before reading this follow-up:::

I’ve noticed a sentiment in the Breaking Bad community that Hank is considered “the good guy” by many viewers; or, at least, the goodest guy. I want to dispel that theory once and for all.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that Walt, at this stage in his transformation, is beyond the point of possible redemption. He’s too far gone, done too many horrific things, exploited too many people, and committed murder many times over, all in the selfish pursuit of wealth, power, and respect (His motivations are discussed at length in my previous piece). He truly has broken bad, never to return, and he’s well past the point where any moral observer should be able to root for him.

His most obvious foil on the show is Hank Schrader, his DEA agent his brother-in-law. It would be logical to assume that if we can’t root for Walt, then Hank, the agent trying to catch him, is who we should be pulling for. But that is not the case.

First of all, Hank is a hypocrite. While he makes his living busting people for using certain drugs, he’s totally comfortable smoking illegal Cuban cigars, brewing his own homemade beer, and serving as bartender at house parties, pouring everyone margaritas and doing shots of whiskey. His drugs are okay while other drugs aren’t.

Second of all, Hank is an officer of the Drug Enforcement Agency, which means that he is an agent of oppression. He’s a federal employee whose job it is to arrest people who produce, distribute, or use illegal drugs. Meanwhile, the government is in bed with the pharmaceutical companies, who push their legal yet just as potent, addictive, and dangerous drugs through the health care system. In essence, Hank’s job is to eliminate the corporate state’s competition.

And the police are in general an oppressive force designed first and foremost to protect the status quo and preserve the established order of society. In other words, their job is to safeguard the elite, and they oppress the masses in order to do so. The police are only necessary in our society because the system creates haves and have nots, and their job is to make sure the haves maintain their power over society. As a police officer Hank is part of the mechanism that enforces the class divide and fills the for-profit prison industrial complex with drug users, and everything he does is stained by that fact.

Finally, Hank has crossed the line too many times. Throughout the entire show he has bent the law, or flat out violated it, in order to pursue his leads. He breaks and enters without warrants, willfully ignores orders from his superiors, andĀ engages suspects without documented proof, on more than one occasion outright assaulting people without cause. His beating of Jesse was brutal and unforgivable, and he should have been fired. The only reason he wasn’t arrested was because Jesse didn’t press charges, and it should be noted that Jesse would have pressed charges if it weren’t for Walt’s manipulation of the situation.

The point I’m trying to make is that Walt and Hank are almost equally bad. Both are prone to breaking the law and committing acts of brutal violence, the only difference is that Hank is sanctioned by the system and Walt is not. Walt is a renegade capitalist-imperialist who exists outside the law while Hank serves the established system of capitalist-imperialism. They are mirrors of each other, and we can’t root for one to prevail over the other.

There are many ways Breaking Bad could end, but the worst possible ending would be one in which Hank emerges as a triumphant victor over Walt. Though it might be gratifying to see Walt get what he deserves after escaping justice for so long, Hank shouldn’t be the one to give it to him, because ultimately that would represent the oppressive establishment preserving itself, ridding itself of Walt’s anomaly, and the current order of haves and have nots lives on.

So, if we can’t pull for Walt or Hank, who can we root for? In my opinion: Jesse. While Jesse, like Walt, has done many terrible things, he hasn’t yet lost his moral compass. He still knows right from wrong, and he is therefore redeemable. Plus, you have to consider that a lot of his wrongdoing is the direct result of Walt’s manipulation, and if left to his own devices Jesse would have remained a small-time meth cook scraping together a living, more interested in partying with his boys than building a drug empire.

Personally, I hope both Walt and Hank get what they deserve in one way or another, and I hope that it’s Jesse who ultimately gives it to them, since he has cause to hate them both, and he, unlike them, still has time to redeem himself.

13 thoughts on “Breaking Bad: Hank Isn’t “The Good Guy”

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  2. This is a good article even though it includes a lot of personal opinion and bias. But thats the great benefit of being the author, you can shout your ideas, bias, etc. That being said, I agree, Hank isn’t that great of a man but COMPARED to Walter he is a saint.

    • Even when compared to Walter, I don’t think he’s a saint. DEA agents aren’t saints compared to anyone.

      • This is exactly the bias that I was thinking of when I made my first comment. What makes you qualified to judge any agents, their daily activities, or their moral aptitude?

        • It’s not a question of individual cops, it’s a matter of defining the role that the police as a whole plays in society. Their role as a whole is to enforce the divide between the haves and the have nots.

  3. I loved your analysis put eloquently into words.

    The sad thing is that most people that view the series are perpetuators of the corrupt system and hold their family above the world itself (which the family also needs to survive). It’s like the classic scenario: “Your ‘loved ones’ or the world.” “Well, I choose my loved ones.” “But your loved ones are on that world, you idiot.” “It’s OK, they’ll go straight to Heaven, because I gave the most money at church because I make the most money.” “What?!” “Ameeeeerikaaaaaaaaa”.

    Anyway, that’s why these series are important. Informing through entertainment. That’s what its all about: Sending a message. But you can tell people flat out what that message is and a lot of viewers will refuse it because they are the problem the story is illuminating. They just see a badass motherfucker becoming a badder ass motherfucker and they love it and hope to be him someday.

    But it will dawn on a few people and hopefully they can change. And if you can change and I can change, then we can all change.

  4. A narrative challenge: why is Hank’s beating of Jesse “brutal and unforgivable” while Jesse’s execution of Gale Boetticher isn’t?

    A philosophical challenge: You appeal to the notion of a “moral compass” and maintain that actions “should” have certain consequences. But you disapprove of law and family, the best means human beings have for developing and generalizing moral awareness and binding actions to consequences. Without law, you’re left relying on a barbaric logic of vengeance to provide justice. One advantage of law is that justice is abstracted from the one who “has cause to hate” and handed over to a (more or less) impartial executive. I say more or less to acknowledge that no man is ever completely disinterested. But if you had to choose between an officer with some maverick inclinations and a free agent consumed by vengeful fury (what you’d see if Jesse found out about Jane and Brock), I don’t think there’d be any question about which you’d rather face.

    • A few points: I don’t disapprove of the law and of family in a general sense. I agree that we need laws to govern society and I don’t have a problem with the concept of the family either. What I disagree with are laws that discriminate and reinforce oppression, and I disagree with the “traditional” patriarchal family unit. Laws that support freedom and prevent oppression are a positive thing, as is an expanded view of family in the “it takes a village” sense.

      To get to your first question, Hank is not only an agent of oppression by trade, he’s a renegade agent of oppression. His beating of Jesse is totally outside the bounds of the law, is based on no proof, and he very nearly killed him. Hank is only after Jesse in the first place because his role is to preserve the established order of society by oppressing the masses, and even while the system punishes him for his actions, he’s ultimately welcomed back into the fold of law enforcement despite his reckless brutality. Hank is already in a morally indefensible profession, given the system we live under, the system he reinforces, and his beating of Jesse puts him well past the point of forgiveness.

      Jesse’s murder of Gale is indeed a bad thing. Murder can never be totally written off and brushed aside. But that being said, Gale was himself part of the drug trade, so he was assuming a great deal of risk, and Jesse was ultimately manipulated into the act by Walt. Jesse didn’t really want to do it, and he struggled over it both before and afterwards, and he did it just to protect Walt, who was pulling the strings behind the scenes. That’s not to say that people shouldn’t be accountable for their own actions, but even despite his murder of Gale, Jesse doesn’t lose his sense of right and wrong. He never accepts it as being good or right. He hates himself for it. Jesse still has a chance to redeem himself because, unlike Walt, he never accepts himself in the role of the bad guy. Ultimately Jesse wants out, while Walt just wants to keep getting further in.

    • I think the difference is that Hank did not ask for forgiveness. He recognized that what he did was wrong, and was prepared to accept the consequences, even when all those around him were quietly urging him to lie so that the incident could be swept under the rug. “What I did to Pinkman… that’s not who I’m supposed to be.”

      He is no paragon, but in that moment is what makes him a “good man.” Not because he always does the right thing, but because he recognizes when he does the wrong thing and attempts to improve himself. That’s where we see the difference between people like Walt and people like Hank and Jesse.

      • I think Hank was on the right track when he accepted his punishment and started to come to the realization that maybe he shouldn’t be a cop anymore. But he blew it when he ultimately came back into the fold of law enforcement. If he would have truly quit the force for good and really tried to atone for his crimes, then that might be one thing, but he didn’t.

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