Even Heisenberg Prays: The Power of Answered Prayer

bbpBy Brandon Logan

As this is the internet, all discussions must inevitably touch on Breaking Bad—even those on religion. For a show that so effectively dealt with a diverse range of aspects within the human condition, religion, surprisingly, was never really something the show dwelled upon. Questions of ethics and morality were obviously a central component to the show but rarely anything explicitly religious. One notable exception being in the opening of season three and the introduction of the cartel hit-men, the brothers Salamanca, who join a small crowd in crawling prostrate towards a shrine dedicated to Santa Muerte—an unsanctioned folk saint venerated in Mexico and parts of the United States as a personification of death and a protector towards those who are seen as living outside the traditional boundaries of society. But the scene appears to be more about establishing the other-worldliness of the twin assassins than any sort of religious commentary. However, the final episode of the series contains a brief but crucial scene that finally deals in more obviously spiritual matters.

Huddled down in a newly discovered unlocked car and hiding from searching police, Walt appears to actually pray, uttering with hopeful conviction “just get me home. I’ll do the rest.” The man who seemed to delight in nothing more than outwitting or defeating the fate set in store for him by the universe seems to now actually be submitting himself to it in hopes of favor. It’s not clear what sort of higher power Walt is praying to, likely he does not even know himself, but when the police pull away and the keys to the car fall from the visor—appropriately enough—above him, he is emboldened by this answered prayer.

It is a powerful experience to talk to some sort of higher power and perceive it as actually talking back. Some academics, such as Stanford anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann, have theorized that one of the factors in the growing popularity of certain religious traditions, namely particular branches of Evangelical Christianity and Neo-Paganism, is that these faiths facilitate having this experience through a combination of worldview and learned practice. These external confirmations reinforce not only one’s faith in the supernatural but also the individual’s importance within it. An answer understood to be in the affirmative can be taken as a blessing from a higher power, that one’s desires and path have received divine approval. Walt certainly seems to interpret his sudden good fortune in this manner, as any hand wringing over his chosen course of action is notably absent throughout the rest of the episode.

Cliché, yet still often genuine, is the idea that everyone sees themselves as the hero of their own story. With Walt this happens to literally be the case but answered prayer can allow one to believe, even if just temporarily, that this just might be true for them as well. Hopefully, others just use this dynamic influence for more altruistic purposes than reasserting dominance over a methamphetamine empire.

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