Our first thought when watching Lessons in Chemistry is that the characters, Elizabeth and Calvin, are very autism-coded. They present different manifestations of neurodivergence, but the signs are present in them. We don’t know if this was intended by the author of the book that the show is based on or if it was just another neurotypical interpretation of setting someone apart from the others. Either way, the first episode of Lessons in Chemistry was a breeze. The story is everything you expect it to be, and even though we tire of the predictability, we enjoyed the easy flow of it. Here is the recap.
What are Elizabeth Zott’s troubles in Hastings?
The troubles can be summed up in one line, which is that Elizabeth Zott is a woman in a man’s world. Saying more would be emotionally draining for us, so we would stop by pointing out how she is constantly referred to as ‘honey’ and ‘sweetheart’ instead of just being called by her name. The only one who addresses her as ‘Zott’ is Dr. Powers, and she generously helps him whenever she can.
Elizabeth has a Masters in Chemistry, and she wants to research abiogenesis, but she is not being granted the money or the equipment for it since she is just a lab technician. Elizabeth is adamant that she is just as smart as the others, but the head, Dr. Robert, refuses to see past two things. The first is that she is a woman, and the second is that she doesn’t have a PhD, unlike the others in his lab. To add insult to injury, Robert insists that Elizabeth participate in the pageant being organized by the women of Hastings. Elizabeth is not interested in that, but Robert is ruthless about a culture of compliance among everyone. The only one who he tolerates crossing the line is Calvin Evans, because it is his work that keeps the funds coming into the organization.
What happens at the pageant?
Calvin had previously run into Elizabeth and been furious at her for taking something from his lab. As everybody else, he considered that she was just fooling around since it did not even occur to him that she could be something other than a secretary. But once he found out that she had a Masters in Chemistry and was a lab tech, he was immediately regretful.
At the pageant, Elizabeth certainly doesn’t want to be there, and she feels completely out of place. There is no ignoring the sexism of the entire event, but that was normal for that time, and nobody could protest it. But Calvin is immediately taken in by Elizabeth. He is surprised to see her participating, and it is clear that, like her, even he can sense that she doesn’t fit in. He also finds it funny when she answers that she doesn’t intend on getting married. However, we doubt he was able to see beyond the humor to what her reasons could have been.
Elizabeth leaves the pageant midway after Robert says a few inappropriate things to her. Calvin also leaves because he is allergic to Nancy Donatti’s perfume. Elizabeth drops him off at his place, and he apologizes to her for his behavior. It is really a meeting of the minds because she doesn’t accept his apology, and her reasons are what Calvin himself would have stated had their situations been reversed. The man is already in love. The chemicals have been produced, and they now need to be explored and coded into formulas.
Why Does Elizabeth Zott Leave Calvin’s Lab?
Calvin has a reputation for never speaking to anyone at work, but he starts talking to Elizabeth at lunchtime. We are not sure whether Elizabeth likes him, but she certainly enjoys the conversations. That is why she starts putting in extra effort in her cooking so that she can have Calvin’s time and attention and be able to hold the conversation that she wants. It is a classic case of reaching his heart through his stomach, though we doubt that Elizabeth was aware of what she was doing. Over time, Calvin realizes that his field of study is compatible with Elizabeth’s research, and he wants to combine their work. Elizabeth is against it, as she believes that this would just lead to everyone giving him credit for her work. It takes Calvin a second to understand what she is saying, but he proposes that they work together anyway, and the naysayers could be silenced when the paper is published with Elizabeth’s name as the lead scientist.
While Elizabeth agrees to this, there are some warnings from all sides. Dr. Robert is not thrilled with the idea, and even Fran Frask believes that Calvin must have some unprofessional intentions behind this collaboration. Nevertheless, the two start working together, and reaching a compromise with their working styles and environment proves to be far easier than they could have imagined. It is primarily because there is a foundation of respect between them, and Elizabeth is warming up to Calvin with time as she realizes that she can trust him. However, one day, a wrench is thrown into this relationship due to a simple mistake.
Due to an incident in Elizabeth’s past, she is scared of closed doors, and when Calvin closes the door of his lab, excited to tell Elizabeth about the breakthrough he has had, she gets scared and runs out, calling their partnership a mistake. We suppose they can get past this, but that would require Elizabeth to be willing to be vulnerable and for Calvin to have the emotional maturity to handle that. Maybe that will happen, and maybe it won’t, but the scene at the end of Lessons in Chemistry Episode 1, seems to suggest that it was messy. It is seven years later when Elizabeth is hosting a cooking show, and the recipe gets burned because of some miscalculations on her part. Maybe that signifies a misstep in her own relationship with Calvin.
We called Elizabeth Zott’s story predictable because we already know the kinds of things she would have to fight against going forward in the story. But the story is still going at a smooth pace, and it remains enjoyable. Lessons in Chemistry will undoubtedly get heavier as the episodes go by, but for now, it remains a great watch.