With this week’s series finale, Lessons in Chemistry concludes this wonderful show on a heartwarming and fitting note.
This review contains spoilers for the series finale of of Apple TV+’s Lessons in Chemistry.
In the series finale of Lessons in Chemistry, we hear the protagonist say “I will always be a chemist.” While the second half of the season has very much moved its focus to the TV setting rather than the science lab we first saw her in, this episode brings back the chemistry focus that started the entire series and is even present in the very title of the show. The entire series finale, in general, feels very much like a circular episode with various full-circle moments that bring us back to the very beginning of Lessons in Chemistry.
The series finale of Lessons in Chemistry opens exactly on the same scene that finished the previous episode, as Elizabeth (Brie Larson) and her daughter Mad (Alice Halsey) keep looking for clues about Calvin’s (Lewis Pullman) life. As the episode goes on, the mystery of Calvin’s birth and upbringing is uncovered as we find out more from his birth mother. The TV show Elizabeth works on also faces some challenges as they lose their sponsor while Elizabeth is reminded by her daughter of her love for chemistry. We also follow the other characters who face their own challenges, Harriet (Aja Naomi King) as she approaches the end of her fight against the highway in their neighbourhood and Fran (Stephanie Koenig) who has to face her feelings for Walter (Kevin Sussman).
During the episode 8, we get an even deeper look into Elizabeth’s friendships with her colleagues Fran and Walter. The former is particularly sweet, as getting along with Fran did not seem in the cards for Elizabeth initially, but it is the latter that positively surprised me the most. As mentioned last week, I am so glad to see Elizabeth genuinely having a deep friendship with other male characters, such as Walter or Curtis (Patrick Walker), without necessarily forcing any romantic or sexual undertones in the interactions between characters of the opposite sex. While this may not seem groundbreaking, it is still incredibly rare to see it on the screen in the way Lessons in Chemistry portrays it.
Similarly, Lessons in Chemistry makes the bold choice of portraying a female character’s happy ending without finding her a romantic partner in the season finale of the Apple TV+ show. The final scene of the series is a testament to this, where we see Elizabeth entirely happy and fulfilled around the people she loves under Calvin’s watchful gaze. This last frame of the season finale is an ode to the found family that Elizabeth has built for herself and her daughter as she embraces the people that have come into her life. This stands in particular contrast to who her character was at the beginning of the show, thus underlining the incredible character development the protagonist has gone through in the past eight episodes.
The season finale of Lessons in Chemistry unfolds the mystery the show has been hinting at in the past few episodes, delivering a thrilling conclusion of twists and turns that take us to the roots of Calvin’s history. Episode eight excelled at building tension in this regard before all secrets are revealed and it is incredibly satisfying when we, and the characters, finally learn the whole truth. But it is also heartbreaking to know that Calvin spent his whole life thinking that he had been abandoned by his biological family and died before even knowing the truth about his family.
Once again, episode 8 of Lessons in Chemistry brings the focus back to the topic of womanhood, one of the main themes analysed by the show from its very beginning. But this time, the series approached the topic from another angle and through another character, Calvin’s biological mother. Despite only seeing her in this last episode, her story makes an impact on the entire plot of the show as it portrays a different example of single motherhood compared to Elizabeth’s. Similarly, her story also draws attention to the condition of women at the time: her struggles and suffering may be different from the protagonist’s but, in the end, they are not so dissimilar in their nature.
The season finale of Lessons in Chemistry also touches on one of the key themes of the show: its reflection on the TV industry. The stakes in episode eight feel particularly high as “Supper at Six” loses its sponsor after Elizabeth promoted Harriet’s peaceful march in the previous episode because, as her producer does not fail to remind her, “politics does not belong in the kitchen.” But it takes a lot more to stop Elizabeth and her programme, even if most sponsors may be unwilling to endorse her, something that rings incredibly true in today’s entertainment industry. Eventually, she finds perhaps the most appropriate one for her show, a product that is made for women by women and has probably not been shown nor spoken about on television before.
The choice of sponsor, along with the events that unfold in the second half of this week’s episode of Lessons in Chemistry, shows Elizabeth reclaiming her narrative once and forever. While she has been doing so from the very beginning of the show, this is the pivotal moment in which we see her making choices exclusively for herself. Much of her branding as a television character in “Supper at Six” has been to encourage women to follow their ambitions but, as Lessons in Chemistry, is about to end, Elizabeth realizes that this also applies to her.
However, this is not entirely a happy ending or, rather, it is not so for every character in the show. If Lessons in Chemistry has done an excellent job at showing different examples of womanhood and different sets of struggles the characters go through, its season finale reminds us that in real life, happy endings are not easy to obtain, if they even exist. Elizabeth and Harriet are both doing life-changing work in their respective films but the latter seems to constantly have more challenges to encounter as her battle against the building of a highway in their neighbourhood does not go exactly as hoped.
Perhaps that is why the season finale of Lessons in Chemistry does not entirely feel conclusive. While a lot of the major plot points are addressed and concluded, there is a lot more we could still see from these characters. In this episode, Elizabeth tells her daughter, that “in science, discoveries lead to more questions”, and this is true in the very plot of the show too as there are still some loose elements and loose ends to be revealed in Calvin’s story. After having seen Lessons in Chemistry for the past eight weeks, I can only hope that there is time and space to explore this in the future of the show after this season finale.
Episode 8 of Lessons in Chemistry is now available to watch on Apple TV+.