There isn’t much that Lessons in Chemistry can do wrong. In regards to the sixth episode, what was especially beautiful was the representation of choices when one strives to make feminism intersectional. Though presented with a light hand, there couldn’t have been a better representation of it. It never felt quite right that Harriet’s character was just shown as being a friend to Elizabeth. This show is a story about the hurdles in a woman’s journey to the life she wants to live. Whether we like it or not, our race and past are always a huge part of those hurdles, and when Elizabeth learned this, we all did as well. This is what happens, as presented in this recap.
What happened in Elizabeth’s past?
During the first two episodes, when Elizabeth and Calvin were just getting to know each other, Elizabeth told him about her family, saying that she did not speak to them and had wilfully cut them off. She also mentioned that her brother had passed away. The pieces come together in this episode. Elizabeth’s father was a pastor in the church, and he was also a well-respected member of the community. His son, John, used to help his father in his work with the occasional theatrics, like setting things on fire to signify God’s will or wrath and acting possessed when the need suited his father. Perhaps this was the reason that John did not believe in God, because in the tweaked words of Sheldon Cooper (yes, from The Big Bang Theory), ‘the notion of a deity that keeps a faith score is a little incomprehensible.’ Surprisingly, when Elizabeth was just a kid, she believed in God and everything her father used to say. That was the innocence of the child in contrast to her more logical brother, who was simply struggling to live his truth under the force of his homophobic father’s disapproval. He was the one who introduced Elizabeth to chemistry, and probably, he is the reason Elizabeth is such a stickler for truth, even at the cost of many social inconveniences. With time, John found it impossible to deal with his father’s tortures, which the latter no doubt thought were some form of course correction program for him. John took his own life one day, and that changed Elizabeth’s life.
Why does Elizabeth help Harriet?
When Elizabeth refuses to help endorse their sponsors, Phil decides to suspend her for three days to show her how things are run. In a way, we understand what he is saying. After all, the sponsors are where the money comes from, and Elizabeth’s morals, though correct, are misplaced here. After the suspension, Elizabeth is forced to listen when she realizes that her staff is also suspended along with her, and since they are not as financially well-off, it takes a toll on them. During this time, Elizabeth meets Fran Frask, and despite her backhanded compliments, she decides to hire her as the ‘Chief of Staff’ for her professionalism. Walter was probably the happiest person after Fran when she got the job because he clearly could not take his eyes off her.
Meanwhile, Harriet is protesting against the freeway once again, and she is in a difficult position due to the lack of success, considering the wave of crackdowns against Black protestors across the country. When Elizabeth calls her about how she successfully wore pants on the show, Harriet rolls her eyes. It may indeed have been a monumental moment for women on television, but it cannot be ignored that the black community and its women were literally struggling for survival. Despite the commonality of womanhood, one has to consider how race adds to the experience. Harriet agreed that wearing pants on television and encouraging a woman to pursue medicine was important, but in light of the possibility of her house being torn down, it wasn’t the biggest victory for her.
Harriet asks Elizabeth to help her by coming to the protest, but Elizabeth refuses because she doesn’t want to risk the suspension of herself and the other staff. However, this time, Harriet isn’t having it. She lets her know that they were never equals, which means that supporting each other will not look the same for them. Harriet can support Elizabeth by listening to her rants, but Elizabeth needs to support Harriet by extending her presence for causes that allow them to live an equitable life. Elizabeth sees her point. How could she not when she is a chemist and equity is what she deals with while measuring her ingredients, more than equality (organic chemistry)? This time, she uses her position for the better. She raises awareness of the protest while on her show, and though Phil is furious, he is outnumbered by Walter and Fran.
What does Madeline find out about Calvin?
When Phil is furious with Elizabeth and tries to suspend her again, she lets him know that he would be at a greater loss than her if he suspended her. The sponsors won’t be bringing in the money if she does not work, and that would make the network lose more money than her, which means that firing Elizabeth is not something that Phil can afford, especially since he has the sponsors to answer to. Elizabeth has finally used Phil’s moves on him. The thing about Elizabeth helping Harriet is that, by comparison, all Elizabeth had to lose was some money, whereas Harriet was at risk of losing her home and her entire life. This is what it means for the privileged to try to help others. They may lose something, but what does that mean in comparison to what they are fighting for?
The protest is peaceful, but the police do not refrain from using violence against the protestors. It is a terrible sight for everyone, and it cannot be missed that the police did not touch Elizabeth, the famous white woman in the protest, while they beat up everyone around her. That was another lesson for Elizabeth that day, one that told her to speak up about the uncomfortable things in life.
Throughout this time, Madeline has been keeping up her efforts to find Calvin. She has called every St. Luke’s in the country, but to no avail. The pastor tells her that she should not give up easily, and Madeline takes that advice and goes to the library to find out if there are any records about him. That yields results, but Harriet’s children, who were helping her, get caught, and Elizabeth comes to know what her daughter is doing. Harriet tells her that Madeline is doing this because Elizabeth has not been honest with her daughter and because she herself has not confronted how much she misses Calvin.
During the ending of “Lessons in Chemistry,” episode 6, Elizabeth talks to Madeline about John, and for once, the mother and daughter find common ground about missing a person. The next day, Madeline marches over to the pastor’s office and shows him a letter by Avery Parker, written to her father, and the pastor is shocked that Madeline’s father is Calvin Evans. What was he thinking this whole time?
It would be interesting to see how Elizabeth gained more power and authority through her cooking show. The first episode indicates that she eventually came to have a say with the sponsors, so how did she get to that point? Additionally, what does the pastor know about Calvin? It is going to be an interesting last two episodes of the show.