Lessons in Chemistry Series Premiere Review: The Many Versions Of Elizabeth Zott

The new AppleTV+ series Lessons In Chemistry drops viewers into the action with the expectation we’re smart enough to understand what’s happening.

Lessons In Chemistry Season 1 Episode 1, “Little Miss Hastings,” looks at Elizabeth Zott’s present while delving into her past, never underestimating the viewer’s intelligence as most do for Elizabeth.

Lessons In Chemistry, a bright, nuanced new series, introduces itself with its best foot forward as Brie Larson’s Elizabeth captivates and intrigues the audience.

Using a non-linear timeline, Lessons In Chemistry grounds its viewers in the past while borrowing from the present, allowing several versions of Elizabeth to exist simultaneously.

The story-telling is sharp, the performances are nuanced, and the series leaves the viewer curious to know what happens next. Lessons In Chemistry’s premiere episodes are grounded, vibrant, and steeped in ’50s nostalgia.

The series introduces Elizabeth in 1958, as she’s about to begin a live taping of her daytime cooking series. A force to be reckoned with, Elizabeth is shown making last-minute calls with her producer. She agrees to do a paid sponsorship, much to his relief, before heading on stage.

Elizabeth has a routine for this. She moves with a certainty that makes it obvious she’s been in this position before.

She’s successful — we can tell by how the studio audience of made-up homemakers cheers for her as she enters the on-set kitchen. When Elizabeth Zott begins her live show, just seconds after she reaches the stage, we see her first act of rebellion, the first of many in the series opener.

Elizabeth, holding a can of soup, begins her product placement as planned, then lets her audience know the chemicals in the processed food will kill their loved ones. She offers to show them a recipe that won’t be quite so dangerous, much to her producers’ dismay.

We quickly flashback to 1951, where we meet a younger version of Elizabeth. Still steadfast, this Elizabeth is a quieter version of the woman we just saw on set.

Working as a lab technician at Hastings Lab, we quickly learn that Elizabeth isn’t like the other women in the office, and it’s something often used to her detriment.

Elizabeth has a Master’s in chemistry, but instead of conducting her research, she spends most of her time making coffee and stocking supplies.

Snubbed by the chemists in the Aminos lab and the secretaries who work throughout the rest of Hastings, Elizabeth struggles to find her place.

The exciting parts of her day appear to be her homecooked lunch, which she takes pride in perfecting, and the after-hours research she conducts without her boss’s permission.

Elizabeth’s main adversary, Fran Frask, is a secretary at Hastings who wants her to compete in the office-wide Little Miss Hastings pageant. Fran, who refuses to take no for an answer, is confounded by Elizabeth.

She chases her down and tries to get her to agree but only manages to do so after catching Elizabeth in the lab after hours and reporting it to her boss. As a punishment, Elizabeth is pushed into competing for the title.

During one of her after-hours lab sessions, Elizabeth sneaks into notable chemist Calvin Evans’ lab for a jar of ribose, which she needs for her experiment.

When Fran catches Elizabeth, Calvin catches wind that his lab has been tampered with. Stringent Calvin, who has some extreme allergies, is rightfully displeased.

The pair’s first meeting is tense, as Calvin undercuts Elizabeth by calling her a secretary. We see a shift in Calvin’s demeanor when he learns about her credentials.

Typically a recluse regarding social events, Calvin attends the Little Miss Hastings pageant to apologize to Elizabeth.

He has an extreme allergic reaction to a woman’s perfume before he can find her, but luckily, Elizabeth is walking out on the event while Calvin stumbles away.

The chemistry between Brie Larson and Lewis Pullman is quiet but exciting. There’s a level of tension in the characters that has a depth the audience can’t quite access yet, while their surface relationship is easier to identify.

Beneath their blunt barbs and direct questions, the pair seem to share a mutual understanding. They bond as Brie Larson‘s Elizabeth drives Calvin home from the pageant, and though the conversation is short, it’s impactful.

Elizabeth and Calvin grow closer throughout the first episodes, but an initial undercurrent of distance from Elizabeth grows more evident as they get closer.

Calvin, who begins to understand the blatant sexism within the lab and the world of science itself, fights for Elizabeth to be able to join his lab and work as his equal.

While it’s advocacy at its finest, Elizabeth and Calvin’s relationship grows into something less professional each day.

Nervous about the stigma that could be cast over them, several colleagues in the Hastings lab warn both not to push their boundaries.

Instead of listening to their peers, Calvin and Elizabeth grow closer each day. However, several moments of the Lessons In Chemistry Season 1 premiere find Elizabeth fearful about their relationship.

In Lessons In Chemistry Season 1 Episode 2, we find out that Elizabeth’s PhD was nearly complete before her advisor sexually assaulted her.

While Elizabeth could’ve finished her studies, she would’ve had to apologize for the assault formally. Choosing her integrity, Elizabeth left the PhD program instead of taking the blame.

The incident is revisited several times throughout Lessons In Chemistry’s premiere episodes, first as snippets, then as a whole scene.

Understanding Elizabeth’s trauma pushes the audience to see why she’s struggling to accept her relationship with Calvin, ultimately bringing the pair to a moment of separation.

In a wonderfully nuanced moment from Larson, Elizabeth’s conflicted emotions take the front seat and push her away from the logic of her work.

It’s a striking moment for the premiere, which does its best to map out all the points where logic and emotion converge in such a stoic, detached setting as the Hastings lab.

Elizabeth realizes that her feelings for Calvin, both in their working and personal relationships, are too much to ignore. After unexpectedly adopting a dog, she makes the first move with Calvin.

She extends the olive branch, and he takes it well. Calvin and Elizabeth admit their feelings for one another, and their personal lives converge with their work inextricably.

The pair build their bond quickly, getting to know each other briefly throughout Lessons In Chemistry Season 1 Episode 2, “Him And Her” before they go all in on each other.

It’s throughout Lessons In Chemistry Season 1 Episode 2 that Elizabeth and Calvin’s relationship truly shines.

Showcasing how the couple works together with a solid, sweet respect for one another, they face issues of a personal and professional nature head-on.

Calvin seems to grasp that Elizabeth is everything he wants in his life, while Elizabeth remains focused on work in the face of her daunting feelings for Calvin.

The pair choose to work through the Christmas holiday, making a breakthrough that leads to a sweet celebration.

During their Christmas together, Elizabeth asks Calvin to be the co-owner of her dog, Six-Thirty, while Calvin asks Elizabeth to move in with him permanently.

We reconvene with the couple once they’ve moved in together. They’re discussing what they want from life, and Elizabeth has a candid moment with Calvin.

She shares that she doesn’t want to get married or have children and understands if that’s a dealbreaker. Elizabeth doesn’t want to have to make the classic decision a woman has to, choosing her work or her family.

Calvin says he’s happy as long as he has her. If it seems too good to be true, Lessons In Chemistry wants you to know it is.

Later, Calvin heads out for a run with Six-Thirty, leaving Elizabeth cooking. Something feels off, but the audience can’t imagine what.

Dread settles in as Six-Thirty tugs on his leash to pull Calvin back to the curb. A bus abruptly mows Calvin down as the dog watches in terror from the sidewalk.

The shock value of the moment hits hard, though there’s been a lingering curiosity as to what will go wrong throughout Lessons In Chemistry Season 1 Episode 2.

A perfect encapsulation of relationship building, Larson and Pullman’s distinct chemistry ripples throughout the episodes and pulls the audience in.

This is the right relationship for both of them, which meant it couldn’t last.

At home, Elizabeth is none-the-wiser as she continues to prepare a scientifically perfect meal.

When the audience is brought back to the present of 1958 in the premiere of Lessons In Chemistry, Elizabeth has finished making her lasagna recipe for the audience.

She opens the oven to find it burnt, shocking herself, her crew, and her audience.

Instead of panicking, Elizabeth takes the lasagna out of the oven and delivers a self-aware message straight to the camera.

She explains that things can still go awry no matter how often one tries to control every factor.

Speaking directly to an audience of mothers who are trying to feed their families, Elizabeth’s sentiments are strong, noble, and lasting. Much like her character on Lessons In Chemistry, her message will leave an impression.

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