The past, the present, and the future collide on Lessons in Chemistry this week.
Convictions and consequences
We begin with Elizabeth (Brie Larson) and her evangelical upbringing. We know in the future that she believes in science and science alone — she’s told Reverend Wakely (Patrick Walker) as much. But it’s her brother (Jackson Kelly) who initially sparks her love of science.
In the present — the show’s present, the early 1960s — Elizabeth carries the impact of family tragedies with her. A childhood full of deception and emotional repression has steeled her conviction for honesty at all times. Phil (Rainn Wilson) orders Elizabeth to promote an inferior cooking product on Supper at Six to drive ad revenue. When Elizabeth defies Phil, the consequences force her to consider the impact her actions have on others.
The future and the past
And speaking of conscious impact, Harriet (Aja Naomi King) gets her long-awaited moment to shine when she asks Elizabeth to promote an upcoming sit-in on the air. Harriet has rallied against gentrification since Episode 1, and needs as much support as she can for a sit-in protesting a freeway that will destroy her neighborhood. The future of her community depends on people speaking up.
Elizabeth’s daughter Mad (Alice Halsey) continues mining through the past to discover more about her deceased father (Lewis Pullman). “Poirot” derives its title from this plot line; Reverend Wakely uses an anecdote about Agatha Christie’s famous detective to empower her search. She’s inherited her parents’ unshakeable determination; even fifty-six dead-end phone calls won’t convince Mad to give up. Her mother may not want to dig up the past, but Mad wants to know where she came from.
Elements of good storytelling
“Poirot” expertly takes the threads we’ve seen in previous weeks and weaves them together beautifully. Mad’s genealogy quest began last week with some considerable airtime, but was dominated by Elizabeth’s unexpected stardom. Five episodes’ worth of Harriet’s fervor and ambitions come together at last as she takes a stand for what she believes in. King’s moving performance as Harriet has long been one of the best parts of Lessons in Chemistry. Her monologue calling Elizabeth to action is her best scene yet. It took too long to give Harriet the narrative attention she deserves, but now that we’re here, we can only hope for more.
“Poirot” also incorporates elements of Elizabeth’s inner life we haven’t seen before. Her reluctance to discuss the past has been covered — Mad’s investigation started because she won’t ask Elizabeth about the past. Here we see the culmination of a life before Elizabeth was a scientist. She weighs the choices that lie before someone in the spotlight. The sequences connecting her past and present are expertly done.
Taking on three major plotlines and still finding time for some backstory (and a new job for Stephanie Koenig’s Fran) without the runtime feeling overstuffed? Now that’s a science.
Lessons in Chemistry drops on AppleTV+ on Fridays through November 24.
Featured image courtesy of Apple TV+
'Lessons in Chemistry' 1x06 - 8/10