Dean Norris's Hank Schrader has twice cheated death on "Breaking Bad," but as several million fans wondered in heartsick disbelief as last night's episode came to a calamitous end, could three be the charm? Both Hank and his steadfast DEA stalwart, Steven Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) -- one of only two genuine good guys on the series -- came under enough firepower to stop a tank.
Will it stop Hank?
Of all the speculation that has been swept up with these final episodes, and there are only three to go, little seems to have gone into the possibility that Hank would die before Walter; his odds for a premature departure have been considered slim if only because someone has to get Walt, and in a traditional setup, that role would be left to the guy wearing the white hat. Except ... this isn't a traditional show, which is I suppose where all of us professional speculators went wrong.
Maybe. Maybe not. Hank is a survivor, an adaptor, who learns -- usually under intense pressure -- who he is and what he has to do. Like all "Bad's" glorious characters, he has been buffeted by the power of transformation over these five seasons, but unlike Walter, usually for the better. Last night however, may have revealed that old Hank flaw -- a certain degree of hubris bordering on arrogance which blinkered him to the necessity of having back up in place before making that trip out to the desert.
Of course, we don't fully know that yet. We don't know fully anything yet.
We do know -- the only thing we know -- that Walter lives to his 52 birthday, arrives back in town from points unknown in that Caddy Coupe de Ville, goes back to his old house, and finds the capsule of Ricin.
That's all we know of the future. We know nothing of the present -- the "present" as defined by that shootout.
Would Hank's death be a terrible blow? Victor's also? Of course. We are in life as in pop culture conditioned to the idea that the good guy prevails except we also tend to forget that in westerns, that's not always the case, and not even often the case (didn't John Wayne die at the end of "Who Shot Liberty Valance?" Of course, Liberty didn't make out so well either.). That's one of the points of westerns -- the universe, as exemplified by those sere dry cliffs that rise into a blinding blue sky, is indifferent. Live, die. Whatever. The universe could care less.
But we do and Hank, we love. To lose Hank would be to lose a cherished friend, a boon companion, a soft touch with a good heart but a firm and unshakable belief in the power of right. He wasn't always right, and sometimes a bully, who battered Jesse into oblivion because he wore a badge and because he could. But he began "Bad" as a bumptious blowhard; he may end it in a coffin -- his work undone, Heisenberg cut loose. He was Walter's parallel in this narrative -- the man who knew nothing next to the man who knew everything, until he finally knew everything, too. His love for minerals, a passion indulged as he convalesced, was very nearly a mirror of Walter's passion (and genius). He was the uncle to Walter Jr. but in some sense, the father to Walt Jr. that Walt Jr. never quite had. When Walter called him "family," he meant it, literally.
Norris' work here has been brilliant -- a series standout when no one really was quite sure where he would go, except initially he seemed like the guy who would be, figuratively speaking, the setup for Walter's series of cosmic jokes (many of which were on him). Norris brought subtlety, intelligence, force -- a pure lifeforce -- to this wonderful character. He made him real and human, or as real and human as a character could be in the confines of the small screen. Norris's work was a joy to behold, and provided so many moments of undistilled heart and tension that his loss would be, and at this moment feels, depleting indeed.
But it's not over! The cavalry may be just over that rise. Except that it probably isn't.
Let's check out some great Hank moments -- while reminding ourselves that "Bad" rarely does what we expect it to do. Will it this time?