Lessons in Chemistry Episode 8 (Series Finale): I think it is hilarious and no less frustrating that “Lessons in Chemistry” starts becoming more interesting to watch from the penultimate episode. Even in pockets of this episode, the show reveals plot threads that would have been fun to follow. A show doesn’t need to have its strength be drama all the time. The fact that the show explores all events of Elizabeth Zott’s life and all the characters involved in it as part of a cosmic science experiment where every coincidence is a result of “chemistry” is fascinating.
It truly manages to bring about the “easy way out” form of storytelling, where happy endings are holy, and give it an air of legitimacy. And sure, that works for some characters, especially with regards to Madeline Zott and her mother and closure for their father. The others, not really. The show suffers from the disease one would like to call “this would have been better as a feature film” because with creating a feature film comes a justification to build upon a story with a much clearer throughline and a consistent tone.
For most of “Lessons in Chemistry,” the tone is messy; the world feels fantastical and almost cartoony to a certain extent. And its emphasis on focusing on real issues like racism feels inconsistent with a reality that feels completely antithetical to what the rest of the show has been building itself up to.
Lessons in Chemistry Episode 8 (Series Finale) “Introduction to Chemistry” Recap:
The episode opens as a direct throughline from the previous, with Mad discovering a library card in a Remsen Foundation book with Evans’ name on it. It leads to both Elizabeth and Mad searching for more books in the library and finding out the ones whose library card had Evans’ name tagged. The show then flashes back to the time when the large Cadillac came to St. Luke’s home to search for Clavin Evans. I hadn’t realized it before, but the man who had come to look for Evans was Beau Bridges’ character Wilson, who we had last seen in the pilot episode of “Lessons in Chemistry” as being one of the higher-ups at Remsen Foundation.
What we see then is a revision of the events that had been recounted to Calvin the day before. The priest, perhaps realizing having Calvin Evans at St. Luke’s would help in the bootlegging business, lies to Wilson, stating that Calvin Evans had died of TB a year ago. Wilson leaves St. Luke’s heartbroken, and as we know, Evans had been lied to as well, being informed that the rich family didn’t want him.
Two things spring out in the immediate next scene, which is fascinating. The first one is Fran’s growing interest in Walter, which is mildly comical in the gender reversal of the man asking and expressing interest instead of the woman. But as Elizabeth puts it, if the man is shy and the woman is confident, the confident one needs to stand up. It is fascinating to see Fran being depicted as anything but a mildly annoying colleague in the first half of the season and later apparently friendly enough with Elizabeth to talk about her feelings with an individual.
It’s surprising because the friendship Elizabeth has with Walter is explored in greater depth. Sure, the prevalent argument could be that the book didn’t have any more interactions. However, adaptations do have the freedom to expand if necessary. Compared to Elizabeth’s discussion with Fran about this, her discussion with Walter later on in this episode feels more like a friend advising another that perhaps having companionship isn’t such a bad option to lead a life forward. That is because that relationship had some time to breathe through the performances of Larson and Sussman.
The conversation with Walter came at the tail end of their musing about the bombshell that Phil dropped on Elizabeth, Fran, and Walter’s heads. Elizabeth’s political support on Live Airlast is an extremely dicey one for the sponsors, so their sponsors are out. Not only that, Phil can’t convince other sponsors to sponsor the show, and he isn’t accommodating of Elizabeth’s barbs. So he issues an ultimatum: find a sponsor within two weeks, or Supper at Six is dead.
As Elizabeth muses later to Walter in her dressing room, she hadn’t thought this would be her career down the line. But now that it would be snatched away, she does feel a profound sadness for it. Nevertheless, you wouldn’t realize it considering how at ease Elizabeth is playing host and hosting Supper at Six, with her eccentricities as part of her image. As she manages to throw barbs at Phil’s expense in the middle of the show as well as congratulate “Dr. Fillis, open heart surgeon,” for getting herself into USC medical school and happily drudging through the learning process, one can see her being at peace with the show and with what the platform she has created represents.
After her conversation with Walter ends, post-show, she gets a call from presumably the Remsen Foundation, which Wilson had finally managed to return her calls to. But Wilson does get the shock of his life when, the next morning, both Elizabeth and Madeline appear at the offices of the Remsen Foundation and inform Wilson that Madeline is the daughter of Calvin Evans. The seeming wunderkind whom the Remsen Foundation had deigned to fund throughout his academic career, Wilson, in his happiness, could only croak out that “it is not his to explain” the connection between the foundation and Evans but for Avery Parker.
As we learn, when Avery Parker finally comes to meet Madeline and Elizabeth, she is Calvin Evans’ mother and Madeline’s grandmother. She is a wealthy philanthropist who had accidentally gotten pregnant when she was 16. Alas, since her decision was the least important one to be counted in such matters, her child was left at St. Luke’s Boys home. When she was 25 and finally got access to her trust fund, she, with the help of their family lawyer, Wilson, began searching for her son.
She started the Remsen Foundation by donating money to boys’ homes within a 300-mile radius. One day, she felt that the heavens had smiled at her when Wilson had finally located Calvin, only to have her hopes dashed to dust by Wilson informing her that Calvin had passed away. Decades later, when Wilson sees Calvin’s face on the cover of American Chemistry and informs her, she begins to feel hopeful again. It was a miracle for her, and she wrote letter after letter to him that had remained unopened.
Those are the same “fan letters” that Calvin would get flustered by and finally give to Harriet for a solution. The solution, hatched by Harriet, constitutes a cease-and-desist letter, which does stop the letters but also gives Parker the mistaken notion that her son hates her. She starts accepting it, and once she sees through the window of their house the two of them together, she slowly decides to move on.
As her story ends, being heard by an emotional mother-daughter duo, she reveals that if she had known, “they had a child,” leaving her sentence incomplete. Elizabeth shakily reveals to her that her son thought she was dead, to which she softly laments, “What a poor boy to believe that.” Then she asks Elizabeth, “What did I miss? Who was this man?” Elizabeth replies that he was brilliant, decent, and kind, while her daughter affectionately states, “He was a funny dancer.”
It is a strange and yet heartwarming moment, and Madeline’s response to her mother’s question that night about how she felt while being visited by her grandmother felt very apt: “I don’t know.” It’s understandable that a torrent of feelings towards an individual who she has never seen but who feels a connection vicariously through her mother and memories, and in a strange “chemistry,” has connected her to an extended family of her own, her grandmother. It was hilarious to both Elizabeth and the audience that Calvin had been named after John Calvin, a theologian (I think he would have blown a gasket at hearing that).
But as Madeline states, she thought the end of the mystery would provide her answers, but it only begets more questions. Countering her mother’s point that discoveries in science usually lead to more questions, the child states that she doesn’t want any more questions; she wants her father. But again, because the creation itself is a result of chemistry infused within biology, the intermixing of genes ensures that Calvin lives within Madeline, according to Elizabeth, through her crinkled brow when she is frustrated and her proclivity to read three books at once. Children become the mixed blueprints of their parents, having many permutations of their qualities or likings, like both Madeline and her dad sharing their love for Dickens’ Great Expectations.
The next morning, the two of them go to the school where Elizabeth is supposed to be the chief judge at a science fair for the sixth graders. Her natural intuitiveness and general curiosity regarding each student’s experiment made the precocious Madeline proclaim to her mother that she shouldn’t be on television anymore but rather in a laboratory. And while Elizabeth argues that she made a choice that she doesn’t regret, in her heart, she will always remain a chemist.
To which Mad makes a statement so stark in its simplicity that it could only come from the mouth of babies: “Chemists do chemistry.” There is also another family the Zotts have made with their neighbors, the Sloanes, as a result of Calvin’s friendship with Harriet, whom Elizabeth later carries the ball with. As the kids take care of Christmas decorations with Charlie, Harriet, and Elizabeth talk about Mad and her grandmother, with Elizabeth wondering how this new entity could fit into Mad’s life, where she is already loved and cared for by so many people.
But, as Harriet points out quite correctly, love isn’t finite. It wouldn’t hurt for more people to care for and love that little girl. The next congratulation that Elizabeth bestows upon Harriet comes from Harriet, who all but secured the final vote against building the California State Highway in tomorrow’s hearing. As she states, this is just one of many fights the community has to face throughout the country. But Harriet is a “one woman bullhorn,” and so is Elizabeth, even though she hasn’t found sponsors for her show yet, and time is running out.
The next day, perhaps inspired by Harriet, Elizabeth makes a multi-pronged play. She first comes late to the show, carrying a carton of items that she instructs to be put beneath all the seats of the live audience. Next, when the show begins, she announces that Swift and Crisp will no longer be sponsoring Supper at Six, and she openly bashes Swift and Crisp while apologizing in her deadpan voice, forever sponsoring their product for her viewers. But then Phil, already bludgeoned with Elizabeth’s opening salvo, is hit with a double whammy when she informs us that Tampax will be sponsoring her show.
Confused as to when this happened, Phil asks Walter, who is similarly in the dark but is also pleased with the direction of the show. While the women in the audience are enjoying getting free samples of Tampax, Elizabeth explains menstruation to the “men sitting at home who haven’t bothered to ask about menstruation.” It’s a pretty satisfying moment for a show that has always been about the empowerment of women; however, hackneyed the narrative it takes to get there.
The big bombshell that drops is the final one, where Elizabeth reveals that not only had she explained the reasoning for Tampax being their head sponsor and that he had agreed with her, but she had also decided that she would step down in live television, as it would be great television and provide a healthy audience. However, according to Elizabeth, who had voiced all these concerns to Kenneth, the head of the network, she had agreed to do so only under the condition that changes would be made.
The first change that Kenneth makes almost immediately is to fire Phil and hand over the reins of the show to Walter. As a coda to her announcement, Elizabeth reveals that, like her statement ordering the children to set the table as her mother needs a moment to herself, Elizabeth, too, felt the need to reassess and take a moment to herself. She also announces that the next host of this show will be someone new, someone from the audience watching the show.
Thus, she announces that auditions will be held effectively. She asks viewers who feel that they have a voice that isn’t being heard to come forward. Again, as much as I criticize the show for being extremely slight in terms of its storytelling, its messaging carries a form of stark, saccharine simplicity that works. As the show then resumes its “regularly scheduled programming,” Fran asks Walter out on a date to discuss her feelings for him. Flustered, surprised, but also heartily pleased, Walter accepts. There is such good chemistry between the two of them that you want to see more of that odd couple’s energy.
Lessons in Chemistry Episode 8 (Series Finale) “Introduction to Chemistry” Ending Explained:
The show ends with a tragic but inevitable end to Harriet’s legal fight against the building of the West California/Sugar Hill Highway. As expected, the man whose votes they had expected to be in their favor turns against them at the last minute, putting all in favor of the building of the highway as a sign of progress. It shocks Harriet, and she chooses to drown her sorrow by sharing beers with Elizabeth and crying. That’s all good, I suppose, but wouldn’t the building of the highway entail displacement of the communities, including the Sloanes themselves? The show doesn’t answer that, of course. Optimistically, one would expect a second season. The real answer might be that there isn’t one.
As for further progression in the world of “Lessons in Chemistry,” we see Elizabeth now has a four-member rowing team of her own, where she is training women in the art of rowing. After the rowing, Elizabeth walks the knoll with her guest, Avery Parker, and they talk about the mutual interests of their lives. Then Avery reveals that she caught Elizabeth’s show, where she announced her decision to quit.
To that end, Elizabeth reveals that she would want to get back into science, and Avery informs her of the foundation she specifically has. In response to Elizabeth’s rebuttal of her marital status being a hindrance to the foundation, Avery reveals that she would change all that. And she would like to help Elizabeth with whatever interests she has in pursuing, even though Eizabeth might be reticent about asking for help. Though the last few years have taught Elizabeth that help is actually a gift.
The show ends with Elizabeth having joined the university to teach “Introduction to Chemistry,” and as she starts teaching the basics of chemistry, the building blocks of atoms, and the random nature of the formation of molecules, she consolidates that randomness with creation, as told by Charles Darwin and held in high regard by Calvin Evans. Where each and every event has a meaning, it is all connected, whether it doesn’t make sense at that precise moment or rather works in the big picture. As the big picture is revealed, it shows the dinner party last night of Elizabeth and all the supporting cast of the show, who helped her in micro and macro ways. And as she finally makes a tour of the house, she sees Calvin Evans watching over her and smiling at her.
Hokey ending? Sure. But hey, sometimes we need those. This 5-hour long sojourn could have easily worked better as a film, a mid-budget drama light on its feet, without the uniquely weird asides. But as it exists in its form, it is a decent watch with a good, non-subtle, and perfectly well-produced message-oriented show. Thus existing perfectly in that ensconced space of prestige streaming television.