This week on Lessons in Chemistry, Elizabeth (Brie Larson) discovers that there’s a different kind of science to entertainment. Combine interesting subject matter, an appealing host, and Elizabeth’s refusal to bend to other people’s wills, and what do you have? A hit tv series.
An unlikely star
Supper at Six, the television success first hinted at in Episode 1, launches in “CH3COOH.” Elizabeth needs enough money to send her daughter, Mad (Alice Halsey) to a more academically stimulating school. Television producer Walter (Kevin Sussman), who we first saw last week, has airtime to fill. Elizabeth’s cooking won Walter over in the last episode — surely, she can win over America. Who cares if Elizabeth has no experience with the entertainment industry, let alone barely watches TV?
Elizabeth has to win over the network first (Rainn Wilson appears as the station’s sexist owner), but, as we know, Supper at Six is a runaway hit. However, it comes at the expense of Elizabeth’s reason for doing the show in the first place: Mad.
Mad’s family tree
If losing her mother to television stardom wasn’t enough, Mad is having a difficult time filling out a family tree at school. Her father, the deceased Calvin (Lewis Pullman), was raised in a boys’ home, and Elizabeth is estranged from her family. Mad enlists Reverend Wakely (Patrick Walker) to aid her genealogical investigation. If it seems odd that a seven-year-old is this resourceful, keep in mind that she has two brilliant scientists for parents. Never mind that by going to a clergyman for help, Mad’s defying her mother’s atheism, promising an interesting conflict ahead. The attention to Mad in this episode distinguishes her as a character beyond ‘child of the protagonist.’ She’s inherited her mother’s tenacity and curiosity.
A step backward
Mad feels cast aside for Elizabeth’s career, but the real sidelining in “CH3COOH” happens to Harriet (Aja Naomi King). We’ve seen Harriet battle gentrification and empower Elizabeth, but here, Harriet’s little more than one of Elizabeth’s dedicated viewers. It’s disappointing to be over halfway through the series and find that one of its most intriguing characters has yet to have her moment to shine. It’s ironic, given that Harriet has spoken before about marriage and parenthood postponing her goal of becoming a lawyer.
The series has taken a definitive turn in the way women are depicted; earlier episodes highlighted misogynistic barriers to Elizabeth and Harriet’s goals. Elizabeth finds success here, but Harriet’s minimal screen time feels like a creative oversight with only three episodes left. She’s empowered Elizabeth in the past. Now that Elizabeth’s in America’s spotlight, isn’t it time Harriet has her own shining moment? It’s a disappointing element in an otherwise enjoyable equation, dulling the impact of an otherwise charming episode.
Lessons in Chemistry drops on AppleTV+ on Fridays through November 24.
Featured image courtesy of Apple TV+
'Lessons in Chemistry' 1x05 - 6/10