Imagine Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables without the religious, and essentially Christian, elements of Hugo’s world view — without the forgiveness and charity of the Bishop Of Digne, which sets in motion Jean Valjean’s redemption, motivates his own life of sacrifice and charity. It would be a novel of overwhelming meanness and darkness, confined to Javert’s world of implacable, inescapable judgment . . . in short, the world of Breaking Bad.
As I recall, there are only a handful of explicit references to religion in Breaking Bad. At one point Walt argues to Jesse that, if there is a Hell, the two of them are already headed there, doomed by the monstrous sins they have previously committed.
A more interesting reference comes in a flashback (above) to a moment in their youth when Walt and his former lover Gretchen are discussing the composition of the human body, whose chemical constituents don’t quite add up. Gretchen suggests that perhaps the missing element is the soul. Walt says, “The soul? There’s nothing going on here but chemistry.”
Walt says this suggestively as he leans down towards Gretchen, apparently about to kiss her. This seems to depict the start of their physical relationship. It also seems to be the statement of a thematic element that is never articulated in the dialogue but is somehow implied in the tale. Has Walt lost his soul? Did he ever have one to begin with? Does anyone? Is life nothing but chemistry, change, inevitable transactions between impersonal forces?
Gretchen Schwartz (i. e. Gretchen Black) speaks for the existence of the soul, just about the only character in the show who ever does. Walter White dismisses the idea. The show doesn’t want to reduce things to such black and white alternatives — and yet in a way it does so, in this flashback.
We learned early on in the show that Walt walked out on Gretchen, ending their relationship without an explanation. I suspect that in the final episode we will be given that explanation, and that it will offer a deeper insight into Walt’s . . . well . . . soul — for want of a better term.
Click on the images to enlarge.