The first two episodes of Lessons in Chemistry introduce Elizabeth Zott, a chemist who struggles to make a name for herself in a patriarchal society, and her relationship with a renowned scientist. The episodes are now streaming on Apple TV+.
Episode 1 recap: Little Miss Hastings
Elizabeth Zott is the star of a popular cooking show called Supper at Six. She has a lot of fans who tune in to watch her or come to see the show live. Elizabeth is outspoken and does not promote products that are harmful.
The scene shifts to Elizabeth’s life seven years ago. It is the year 1951, and Elizabeth is a lab tech at Hastings. She has a master’s degree in chemistry from UCLA, but because she is a woman, being a lab tech is the closest she can get to being a scientist.
Elizabeth uses the lab to work on her own research after hours. One day, when she does not get ribose in the lab, she breaks into Dr. Calvin Evans’s lab to use some of his. Calvin is a world-class scientist who is a shoo-in to win the Nobel Prize.
His boss, Dr. Donatti, tolerates his impertinence because Calvin is a genius and is expected to win the Remsen Foundation grant. On the other hand, Donatti does not even acknowledge that Elizabeth is a chemist and can handle the equipment.
When a secretary, Miss Frask, sees Elizabeth in Calvin’s lab, she reports her, and Elizabeth is forced to participate in a pageant to save her job. Calvin confronts Elizabeth and disrespects her but later regrets it when he comes to know that she was not lying about being a chemist.
Calvin attends the pageant show to apologize to Elizabeth and give her ribose. However, Elizabeth walks out of there because of the way women are treated by men. She then comes across a sick Calvin and drives him to his house.
Calvin apologizes to her for his behavior, and Elizabeth tells him what she truly thinks of him. She believes that he is an ungrateful, paranoid, and fragile man, even though he has all the resources and the respect of the scientific community.
Calvin thanks her for her honest opinion and gives her a bottle of ribose. He starts respecting Elizabeth and joining her for lunch. Elizabeth likes cooking, as she uses chemistry to make her food taste good.
Elizabeth and Calvin share and discuss ideas as well. When Elizabeth tells him that she is not allowed to work on her research because of sex discrimination, Calvin asks her to work with him in his lab.
He would tell Donatti that Elizabeth is working for him as a lab tech. However, he would treat her as his equal, and she would get to work on her independent research. Elizabeth agrees and starts working in Calvin’s lab.
Initially, the two of them struggle to adjust, as Calvin is not used to sharing his space. Calvin learns to compromise, and with time, they find their rhythm. One day, Calvin comes to discuss an idea with her and accidentally shuts the door.
Elizabeth cannot be in a room with a man when the door is shut because of a traumatic past incident. She panics and rushes out of the lab. She then tells Calvin that working with him was a mistake, and the flashback ends.
In the present, Elizabeth’s lasagne gets burned in the oven on live television. However, she understands that sometimes things do not go as planned and ends the episode with that lesson.
Episode 2 recap: Him and Her
In the past, when Elizabeth was a PhD candidate, her supervisor sexually assaulted her, which is why Elizabeth feels cornered when she is in a room with a man and the door is closed. Elizabeth stabbed her supervisor with a pencil in self-defense.
Instead of taking action against the supervisor, the department asked Elizabeth to submit a formal apology. Elizabeth refused, knowing that her PhD candidacy would be discontinued, and was never awarded a PhD.
In 1951, she asks Miss Frask to let her get back to her previous position. Miss Frask does not like Elizabeth because she thinks Elizabeth is a snob who looks down on everyone else. Miss Frask refuses to let her leave Calvin’s lab.
Elizabeth has no choice but to keep working in the same lab as Calvin, who does not understand what he did to upset her. She keeps her distance and does not talk to him about her past.
One day, Calvin leaves her a note apologizing to her. He does not even present his paper for the Remsen submission, which leads to Donatti’s boss setting a deadline. Donatti will get fired if he fails to get Calvin to present his paper by that date.
Donatti then threatens Elizabeth, as he thinks that she has been distracting Calvin. Donatti tells her that if they fail to get the grant, he will have to fire people, mainly the female support staff because men need to take care of their families.
Elizabeth decides to visit Calvin, who admits that he is out of ideas. When he used to work with her, he felt like they were building something together. Then one day, she stopped talking to him without giving him an explanation.
Elizabeth tells Calvin that it is hard for her to talk about certain things and explains why she needs the door open. Calvin agrees to keep the door open at all times, and even though it is hard for Elizabeth to trust their partnership, she decides to take a chance.
Calvin then teaches her how to row a boat. He confesses that he is developing feelings for her, and Elizabeth reciprocates his feelings, so they start dating. He gets so busy dating her and working with her that he forgets all about his friend and neighbor Harriet’s request.
The California Highway Commission has decided to build a freeway through their neighborhood, which is predominantly a Black neighborhood. Harriet had asked Calvin to come to the city hall on the day their case against the freeway would be presented.
Calvin had promised to show up, but he fails to keep his promise. As Calvin is a renowned scientist, his support would have made a huge difference. He apologizes to Harriet, but she is too disappointed to forgive him just yet.
Calvin finally gets an idea for his research and starts working on it with Elizabeth. After achieving a major breakthrough, they celebrate Christmas together, a festival that neither of them celebrates because Calvin does not have a family and Elizabeth does not speak to her estranged parents.
When Calvin asks Elizabeth to move in with her, she agrees. Soon after, Elizabeth and Calvin present their paper together, but due to a woman’s involvement, no one takes their presentation seriously.
Elizabeth is ready to remove her name from the paper, but Calvin refuses to do that. They confess their love to each other and decide to submit their paper for the grant on their own.
In the days that follow, Calvin and Elizabeth continue working together. They discuss their plans for the future. Elizabeth does not want to have children, as she wants to focus on her work, and Calvin respects her decision.
The happy life that they have built together comes to an end when Calvin goes running with Elizabeth’s dog and gets into a fatal accident.
- The first two episodes of Lessons in Chemistry take their time to tell Elizabeth and Calvin’s story. The ending of the second episode leaves the audience anxious and upset, which just means that the show successfully got them invested in the story.
- The episodes also depict Elizabeth’s struggles as a woman in the ‘50s. Be it hostile or benevolent sexism, there is plenty of it in the show. Elizabeth’s world is so different and yet so familiar.
- The show also depicts Elizabeth’s social alienation in a society where she seeks to accomplish something when women are not supposed to dream of that. Men do not consider her an equal, and women consider her arrogant for not toeing the line.
- Surprisingly, Calvin ends up being an adorable character. He is an eccentric genius, but he is also very sweet. Calvin and Elizabeth seem to be perfect for each other, which is what makes the end all the more tragic.
Lessons in Chemistry season 1 episodes 1 and 2 recaps and review
Sarah Adina Smith
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