Endings: Lessons in Chemistry (2023)

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Released last year on Apple TV, “Lessons in Chemistry” is described as “in the 1950s, Elizabeth Zott’s dream of being a chemist is put on hold when she finds herself pregnant, alone, and fired from her lab.” It tackles the challenges of a 1950s female chemist in a male-dominated world.

It’s a strong, 8-episode mini-series. Brie Larson (of Captain Marvel fame) delivers a strong lead performance, and the cast is rounded out with a string of A-list faces you’d recognize. The writing is excellent, flowing naturally (mostly) and flexing as the narrator changes from episode to episode, including substantial and delightful narration from the family dog at one point. bow WOW!

Thematically, this show’s twin foci are sexism and racism, and I believe the dialogue portraying these issues.

Until we get to the ending.

Within the space of about an episode and a half, miracles occur that defy belief. I can’t blame the showrunners; I imagine they just wanted a happy, neat ending, and on that premise they deliver in spades. Every plotline you care about is wrapped up nicely. However, the show moves beyond the bounds of reality in the name of “girl power” as a series of increasingly unlikely events occur.

It’s not that any of the single events is impossible, or even a bad story choice on its own. You’ve got the woman who transitions from a housewife in a cooking show’s audience to being a medical school student within the course of a month. Maybe she already had a relevant undergrad and she’d recently become an empty-nester. Or discovering your child’s grandmother, previously presumed dead, is, in fact, alive, rich, and a patron of the very field (chemistry) you’ve dedicated your life to. That’s the kind of deus ex machina moment that can brilliantly wrap up a story, a cute twist. My problem is the cumulative layering on the “girl wins, guy loses” sub-plot after sub-plot had my eyes rolling by the credits. Maybe it’s a bit much, but it does aim to leave you smiling.

Overall, I still enjoyed it, and can appreciate that women have art like this to boost their confidence and spark inner greatness. I’m sure that was one intent of the fiction, and in the context of the show, a very marketable and profitable intent. I suspect the oft-mentioned pendulum is now swinging back, however, and we’ll start to see more balanced work, once the momentum of all the projects started under peak wokeness are subsumed.

Twists: 5/10
Execution: 8/10
Satisfaction: 6/10

Bottom Line: Anyone should be able to enjoy the first 75% of the series, with a well-spun yarn about overcoming the odds, but some may find the ending sacrifices a little reality for the sake of women’s empowerment.

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