Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Breaking Bad: Ozymandias

Spoilers to follow...

It's been a few days and I'm still trying to wrap my head around everything that happened in this incredible episode. You've probably read a bunch of recaps and analysis elsewhere (I have). So I won't be repetitive in that sense. What I did want to talk about a bit was Hank, whose fate I probably had the strongest reaction to. I wrote about Hank and how his sense of masculinity had big effects on his actions. In that post I also linked to this post from Pajiba talking about how masculinity affects everyone on the show.

Hank's macho personality made him a bit ridiculous, funny and kind of annoying in the early part of the show. And as I said in my post linked above, it almost gets him killed in the middle seasons. But we don't see the same Hank as we did in the first season or so after he is almost killed by the cartel twins. I'm not sure if that experience was a symbolic way of killing off that hyper-masculinity or if it just served to grind it down and make it extremely focused on his quest to catch Heisenberg. My guess is that it's a bit of a combination, but with it being more of the former.

Hank no longer walks around the office making ridiculous remarks. He doesn't have the same bro-like relationship with Walt and Walt Jr. He's still kind of a jerk with Marie. But even with her and Skyler, he doesn't joke around with her and the rest of his family. So at least the outward projection of Hank's masculinity is gone. Emotionally, he is consumed with Heisenberg. I watched the last few seasons in marathon form. So I could be missing things. But since the hyper-masculine behavior is gone, I'm going to assume those norms that were driving him before aren't the main force driving him in his quest to get Heisenberg. I think it's more a matter of who Hank is at his core, which is a law enforcement officer who cares deeply about justice.

Hank even says in the beginning of this last season when him and Walt stand in his garage, having found out Walt is Heisenberg, that he doesn't care about family anymore. He doesn't care what the ramifications will be on Skyler, the kids and Marie. Contrast that with Walt who just tried to justify his actions to Hank based on helping his family. Walt is still driven by that gendered norm that a man has to be the one to provide for his family. He even pleads to Todd's uncle for Hank's life by invoking the fact that Hank is family. But Hank knows they are beyond that. He dies having rejected Walt's deeply twisted understanding of what it means to be a man and provide for his family. That's why Hank has been the most interesting character to me. He is driven by what is objectionably right, not by what might be best for his family or even his own career. While that would eventually lead to his death, he never broke bad.

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