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.

8 thoughts on “LES MISÉRABLES

  1. It’s interesting that in last night’s episode, Gretchen implies that whatever soul Walter may have had is no longer there [if indeed, he ever did have one. I’m in the camp that thinks that Walt has always been Heisenberg at his core].

    Along with denying the existence of a soul, Walt also denies art and beauty. In Season 1, during their first cook, Walt makes what Jesse calls glass grade meth and is struck by how beautiful it looks. He calls it art and names Walt an artist, but Walt dismisses it as “only chemistry.” And in Sunday’s episode, at the NH cabin, the Vacuum Repair Guy says: “If you look around, it’s kind of beautiful.” But the minute he leaves, Walt is into his barrel of money and putting on the Heisenberg hat, intent on getting away from it immediately.

    Jesse most definitey has a soul, and his suffering, his tortured conscience expresses itself constantly. Is this part of the complexity of the Mr. White-Jess dyad?

    • I know that Vince Gilligan no longer sympathizes with Walt, and is not inclined to justify his acts in any way — but I think he may have one last thing to tell us about how Walt lost his soul. If so, it will not be something that allows us to forgive Walt, or excuse Walt — just to understand him a little better.

      But I could be completely wrong about this.

      • Ha! I know what you mean:
        “Whatever you think is supposed to happen– I’m telling you, the exact reverse opposite of that is gonna happen, okay?”

        • No kidding. Trying to second guess the “Breaking Bad” writers is like playing poker with a pro. You don’t just want to know what he’s holding, you want to know what he thinks you think he’s holding, so you can predict what he’s going to do to convince you that what you think he thinks you think he’s holding is not what he’s holding.

          • Glad that you are getting to experience this with the rest of us. Long ago, I gave up trying to figure it out. Vince Gilligan and his writers are never to be doubted in my view. They know what they are doing.

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