Monday, September 3, 2012

Hank Griffin: Underappreciated Badass

We promised you a post about how incredibly badass Hank is over the course of the show, and though this will by necessity not be everything, here's an overview!

Our first portrait of Hank isn't entirely flattering - he's a loyal partner, a good cop, but also it sounds like something of a womanizer. Best case, he's a serial monogamist with commitment issues. However, unlike a number of other shows where a cop's first characterization is cracking jokes about the number of his ex-wives, Hank is a good cop. He's not an asshole to the women he deals with on cases, he's senior to Nick and seems to confine his mentoring to his strengths, and he really, really loves his job.

(In many ways, for those of you familiar with Criminal Minds, Hank's ex-wives are passed off in much the same way Rossi's are: sure, the guy has issues in the romantic department, but so do a LOT of cops. Doesn't make him a bad person, just gives him a relatable flaw - that he compartmentalizes from his work. It's an impressive feat of characterization, and one both the writers and Hornsby pull off well.)

In the first few episodes, we see Hank being a solid, reliable cop. You can say what you want about how easily Nick distracted Hank from all the things going on with Grimm and Wesen stuff - that's because Hank trusts his partner, at base, and believes him when Nick says "oh, I'm going to go chase down a lead" or "I'm going to run this thing to this place." Probably this is aided by Nick actually doing those things he says he will, all the little odds and ends of procedural paperwork type crap? Those are the things the junior member of a partnership is expected to do more of and random gruntwork on the streets is exactly what Nick's role has probably consisted of in the past. Not least because Hank knows Nick has the ability to get people to talk to him, sometimes where Hank might not. And starting with BeeWare, we see how Hank is very chivalrous but also very careful of boundaries, with women being threatened on a case. Adalind is the one who has to make the first move, setting Hank up to "save her" from being stood up - a clever move on her part, given how it plays on his sense of being a protector.

(We're never told for sure, but I would lay good odds that Hank's the kind of cop who really did go into the job in order to protect people. He may have had a knack for certain kinds of police work - would have had to, in Renard's precinct, to get promoted to detective. But his first cause is to protect civilians; and we just saw him expand his definition of civilians as his understanding of the world he lives in expanded. It really, really makes me wonder what happened to him as a child or a young adult.)

Much of Hank's S1 plotline revolves around losing his sense of self. He's whammied by the coins in 1x13, and then by Adalind with the blood magic cookies. Let's start with the coins. It's very interesting that his worst instinct is to essentially become a bully. He's in a position of power over a suspect, and he's furious about the murder scene he's come from, and he will have answers by god. Fortunately Renard (and to a lesser extent Nick) stops him from brutalizing the suspect(s), but Hank's is a very direct, blunt approach. They won't talk? Well, he'll fix that. Might, in Hank's worst nature, makes right. Which suggests some other interesting things about why he might have become a cop - recognizing those tendencies in himself, he's put himself in a position where he can do good and has a number of external checks to his behavior - Renard and other superiors, Nick and other partners, and his fellow officers. I rather doubt this was a conscious decision, though perhaps it was nudged consciously by someone Hank respected as a teenager. But it's a very significant decision, to be in a position of power where in a best-case scenario he has other people to watch his back in multiple senses of the phrase.

We know from Game Ogre and Organ Grinder a couple of things, and I'm picking these eps because as Kitty gets caps together for finishing up the backlog of already-written posts those are prominently on my mind. One is that Hank's just as capable of holding a grudge as a Siegbarste. Two is that Hank has a pretty good memory for detail - even a horrific case like Stark's, some of those details would have fogged over for most people over five years. Not Hank. He's got excellent long-term data retrieval ability, a good trait in a cop. He takes extremely poorly to being told what to do when others are getting hurt and he believes he can stop it. He knows that some seriously weird shit is going down in Portland, but he doesn't know the extent and he doesn't know what it all means. He is, in short, a damn good detective who's choosing to keep his mouth shut about what he's seeing until he understands the patterns he's looking at.

(It should be no mystery why I like him. Ahem.)

Not long after Hank gets back on his feet after the weirdness of Organ Grinder and the mind-whammy of the coins, he then gets whammied by Adalind. I still don't fully understand what Renard hoped to accomplish by tying Hank to her with such a drastic personality change - breaking the spell would have consumed a great deal of Nick's energy. Unless the point was to have a more tractable partner assigned to Nick, possibly a Wesen one, so he didn't have to deal with... well, with what happened to Hank at the end of last season and the beginning of this one.

At any rate, Hank gets whammied, and there is an enormous personality change. I would bet you any sum you care to name that the reason Hank's previous marriages failed was because he was already married to the job. Suddenly, he's shoving work off on Nick so he can have dates with Adalind, taking personal calls in the middle of the day, and obsessing about what Adalind likes rather than the case. This is... not the Hank we've come to know. At all. And Nick knows it, too. Unfortunately, the actual backstory on Hank is incredibly thin (still is; that Convenient Coyotl Family was awfully convenient) and a great deal of his characterization has been subtle. We don't know what his relationship to his family is, we don't know if he's still in touch with any of his exes, if he has kids by them, if he wants kids someday... in short, other than the job we don't really know what makes Hank Griffin tick.

And I know that there's a lot to cram into a single episode, let alone a first season. I've just been quietly annoyed at how criminally underutilized Hornsby's acting ability is - because believe me, I've watched some of his other stuff. He HAS the ability to do a lot with limited material, and I hope that as the writers relax into having a second season that they start giving him some more that isn't just cop exposition. Mostly I just wish that there had been a little more in the way of anchor points for Hank in the first half of S1, so that when he got whammied by Adalind it was more emotionally gutwrenching and a little less "oh EW that's rapetastic." Which it was, of course. Not that Hank will ever outright use the r-word, because he is a Manly Cop who's good at his job, though he did at least mention another word in passing: roofies. Still, given Hank's previous behavior, it's a safe bet that he engaged in all kinds of self-blame as a result of Adalind's whammying.

So he's teetering on the brink of some serious mental instability before he ever see the Wildermann and gets run over by a blutbaded-out Monroe. And DESPITE all of this, he's taken no leave of absence that we know of. Hank simply does his job, and will continue to do so until he is literally incapable of it. You would think that several days (weeks?) of insomnia and high pressure cases would lead to that, but you would be wrong. Because, you see, Hank Griffin is just that badass. He doesn't get an aunt whispering deathbed confessions, or a trailer full of esoteric journals and weaponry. All he gets to handle the increasing insanity of his daily life with are his wits, his gun, and his badge.

We interrupt this broadcast for another episode of NICK YOU ARE AN IDIOT. Because really, the man is so, so bad at asking questions. When he asks Monroe about what happens to people who see a Wesen in game face, does he ask what happens if a Grimm helps them believe they're not going crazy, that they really saw something? HE DOES NOT. No, no, he just keeps running around lying to Hank (and to Juliette) and not thinking about what this does to them. About whether or not this person who's his partner, who's been his partner for, what, several years now? And is a cop, can learn to protect himself from the supernatural boogeymen. About whether or not his partner and his girlfriend have a right to try to protect themselves, especially after Hank starts going crazy. No, no, he just blithely assumes that eventually Hank will give it up and, I dunno, regain sanity somehow. Nick? You're a moron.

Fortunately, the powers that be force the issue when Hank has a Wesen friend turn up looking for help. I really don't know when Nick would've gotten around to it otherwise, but I will give him marginal credit for taking advantage of the opportunity that drops in his lap. Yes, these people aren't human. No, that doesn't make them not worth protecting. Except Hank barely even needs that reassurance; mostly what he needs is someone to stand between him and his own jittery, sleep-deprived reflexes. And as Carly morphs back to human-seeming, Hank very obviously pulls himself together and remembers that this is a terrified young woman, that he knows her father well, and that like anyone cornered and terrified she reacted instinctively. These are all things Hank can relate to, both on a personal level and with his more detached cop instincts.

And on top of that, he can tell that whatever Nick was hiding, he's not trying to hide it anymore. Oh, Hank may not believe he's not going crazy yet (if he ever will; time will tell), and he may not know the details of the new world that's just opened up before his eyes. But his partner believes him, and his friends who apparently aren't human aren't Coyotl-ing out on him and trying to take chunks out of his arm, so at least that much is going right. It's probably also an enormous source of relief that he can talk to Nick now, ask questions, and stop going to the shrink. (Who is, I suspect, a shrink outside of the usual police psychiatrists, due to her unfamiliarity with Hank in general and her absolute stupidity in touching him when he wasn't all there in specific.) He is by nature fairly insular, preferring cop life to civilian life. While this precinct culture is a little more self-aware of the mental dangers as well as the physical, compared to other cop shops on TV, it's still cop culture, with all the posturing and fake-it-till-you-make-it that that implies. And because of these things, Hank would have hated having to go to an outside mental health professional. Hated it enough that at the beginning of the ep he was talking about giving up his badge.

And this, Nick, is why you're a dumbass, because you could've had your partner firmly at your back for ages if you'd just bothered to try and explain the new weird to him. Because Hank is loyal, and trusting, and willing to give his partner room to do what he needs to, and enough of a badass to put all of this together and temporarily accept that Nick's insane too. I'm hoping tonight we get to see Hank figuring out that he's not actually crazy at all, in fact!


  1. I am so happy about Hank finally knowing the deal. They really should have done it in the first season. Instead they pretty much shoved Russell Hornsby to one side. I like his character a lot. Now that he can be part of the main storyline (instead of playing the unwitting pawn), I'm pretty sure things will be a lot more enjoyable. I enjoy looking at Nick but, among the characters, he's pretty much the one with the least charisma. I mean I quite like him but, seriously, when he's in a scene with any one of the other main characters (with the possible exception of Juliette), whatever shine he has sort of dulls.

    I love this post. Thank you!

    1. I am THRILLED about this. As I mentioned in the post, Hornsby's a damn good actor and it's a shame they didn't use him much in the first season. I kind of suspect that's because they didn't know they were going to get the back 13 eps, and therefore opted to drag that plotline out a little longer in favor of cramming more metaplot in. But now? Hank and Monroe can join forces to snark at Nick. All is right with the world!

      And yeah, Nick... I don't know. I know he's the everyman, but you have to give your everyman enough quirks to make him interesting to me. Even if they're not MY quirks, making him a little less bland would let me identify with him more. And I'm incredibly disappointed they didn't continue with the Nick-as-profiler thing from the pilot where he pegged Adalind's various issues in ten seconds or less. I mean, really? He should still be able to do that for humans, and I would expect somewhat for Wesen by now, and it was such a GOOD way to play the latent Grimm heritage.

      (On the other hand, Juliette was apparently a baker in the pilot, and her being a veterinarian means that if Nick ever stops LYING TO HER she could be part of the Scooby gang too. So I mostly blame that on pilot wobbles. It just irritates me.)

      Anyway! You're quite welcome. We'd like to get more Hank analysis up in the three weeks before the next ep, but we've got a terrifying backlog to write first, so no promises.