Lessons in Chemistry Finale: Why Bother

Brie Larson in "Lessons in Chemistry," on the "Supper at 6" set.
Brie Larson in Lessons in Chemistry, now streaming on Apple TV+.

The following review contains spoilers of Lessons in Chemistry Episode 7, “Book of Calvin” (written by Elissa Karasik and directed by Tara Miele), and Episode 8, “Introduction to Chemistry” (written by Lee Eisenberg and directed by Tara Miele).

I’m not sure how to feel. Lessons in Chemistry’s finale, “Introduction to Chemistry,” carried the heart and sentiment of the final chapters of Bonnie Garmus’s original novel, yet I still wasn’t delighted.

Last week’s Episode 7, “Book of Calvin,” guided us through the history of Calvin Evans (Lewis Pullman) and his tumultuous journey up to his final day. I felt a sense of closure enveloping that section of Lessons in Chemistry’s narrative.

Brie Larson and Alice Halsey in Lessons in Chemistry, at the Boy's home Calvin Evans attended
Brie Larson and Alice Halsey in Lessons in Chemistry, now streaming on Apple TV+.

However, as much as Elizabeth Zott (Brie Larson) and Madeline “Mad” Evans Zott (Alice Halsey) reach a point of resolution in the finale, there is still too much left unsaid, unaddressed and it’s sadly unfair to them and other characters

There are no consequences for the Boy’s home lying and harbouring Calvin Evans for greedy means. The research and discoveries stolen from Elizabeth and Calvin at Hastings, plagiarized by Dr. Robert Donatti (Derek Cecil) and Boryweitz (Thomas Mann), are never correctly attributed. Harriet Sloane’s (Aja Naomi King) campaign to stop the freeway through their predominantly Black neighbourhood is overruled by the all-white councilmen.

Elizabeth and Mad’s family may have expanded with Calvin’s mother, Avery Parker (Rosemarie DeWitt). Still, this adaptation of Lessons in Chemistry does not have a happy ending, not when justice has yet to be reached.

Aja Naomi King in Lessons in Chemistry, after the ruling over the freeway
Aja Naomi King in Lessons in Chemistry, now streaming on Apple TV+.

It’s funny; something similar happened with Amazon Prime’s adaptation of Daisy Jones and The Six. There, the writers’ room expanded Simone Jackson’s (Nabiyah Be) story just enough to make her stand out and pay homage to the Black and Queer mothers of Disco rather than let her waste away as Daisy Jones’ (Riley Keough) sidekick. Then, when it came to the finale and giving closure to this incredible story, it was sacrificed for the sake of the white leads.

Walter Pine (Kevin Sussman) and Fran Frask (Stephanie Koenig) get together, a win for the single father of Amanda Pine (Shoo Shoo Parsells), who desperately needs a mother. This small unit comes together with their happy ending. Elizabeth and Mad get their fairy godmother. Why did Harriet and Charlie Sloane (Paul James) have to get punished with the reality of racism in their final moments?

Lessons in Chemistry finale: Stephanie Koenig and Kevin Sussman together in the "Supper at 6" studio
Stephanie Koenig and Kevin Sussman in Lessons in Chemistry, now streaming on Apple TV+.

We’ve read the history books; we know it’s never been fair for minorities in the West, but why must fiction reflect that? Especially in this genre! I would be fine with the freeway blowing through the neighbourhood if we at least got reassurance that the Sloane family and friends would be cared for. Will the fairy godmother, Avery Parker, assist this community plagued by bigots? Is there a chance the decision can be reversed? Just something dedicated to their cause to reassure the audience that EVERYONE gets a win.

I’m frustrated. I liked what Lee Eisenberg was pointing to with his expansion and diversification of the material. It made Lessons in Chemistry better and more well-rounded. Yet, like Daisy Jones and The Six, they let their creativity falter and made their Black actors settle for mediocre endings—filled with lazy mistakes.

It feels a little like the writers changed things just to change them. In the novel by Bonnie Garmus, Avery Parker and her foundation buy Hastings Lab and essentially give it to Elizabeth with Fran Frask at the helm of personnel. It ousted both Dr. Robert Donatti and Boryweitz and exposed them as frauds. It was satisfying. It neatly gave Elizabeth the space and respect she deserved to conduct her research as a chemist—a real chemist.

Instead, we don’t know what happened to Donatti, Boryweitz, or the Hastings Lab. We don’t know if their actions had consequences. Frankly, that is not nearly as cathartic. This could have been addressed in plenty of ways, but instead, it was left behind and meant to be forgotten—a lazy mistake.

Brie Larson and Alice Halsey in Lessons in Chemistry, in the living room of their home
Brie Larson and Alice Halsey in Lessons in Chemistry, now streaming on Apple TV+.

Another lazy mistake in the finale: Dr. Leland Mason (Marc Evan Johnson), the doctor who delivered Mad and the rower who brought Elizabeth back to the lake, was at the dinner party, but… where was his wife? He’s mentioned her before, several times, yet she couldn’t make it to the dinner party at Elizabeth Zott’s house? Lazy. Do you know how easy casting an extra as his wife would have been? All they needed was a woman Marc Evan Johnson wrapped his arm around—the audience will infer the rest; it’s just that easy.

Brie Larson delivered. As did Alice Halsey. If only the material were better. Aja Naomi King wasn’t given a real chance to shine with how her character was treated, but she did her best. And I’m still angry for her. Apple TV+ had so many possibilities with Lessons in Chemistry: compelling characters and heartwarming stories of grief with hope. It went well for a while, and then they blew it up.

I’m not satisfied, I’m disappointed. I loved Bonnie Garmus’s novel, and I wanted this adaptation to triumph; I wanted to love it and watch it over and over until I was sick of Larson’s face. I gave it the benefit of the doubt right up to the end, and I’m sad to say that this series does not succeed.

Written by Isobel Grieve

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