Lessons in Chemistry – Episode 5 “CH3COOH” Recap & Review


In Lessons in Chemistry Episode 5, Elizabeth is now selling Tupperware to support herself and Madeline, but she’d rather be in a lab. She gets to the final round of Phillips Laboratory’s prospective employees, but she won’t get her hopes up.

Needing a reference, she goes to Hastings to see Dr. Donatti, but he no longer works there. Boryweitz does, however, in Donatti’s old position. Refusing to write her a recommendation, he instead asks Elizabeth to return to Hastings as a junior chemist in their DNA department. He’d give her second author if they published together, after himself. Realizing Boryweitz hasn’t changed at all, Elizabeth leaves.

Madeline gets in trouble during class because it’s not challenging enough for her. Her teacher suggests Elizabeth enroll her in a more advanced private school, and Elizabeth thinks that might not be such a bad idea when she learns that Mad hates school.

Later, Walter picks up Amanda from Elizabeth’s house, where she’s been playing with Madeline. He says he thought she’d be a TV star because she respects her “audience.” He tells her she could have her own show, being fully in charge of it. This being the first time she’s been given that kind of leeway, and because she needs money for Madeline’s private school, she gives in.

When Walter shows her the kitchen set, she calls it “revolting,” but he urges her to think of this show as an exciting new experiment. So, Elizabeth starts studying TV the two weeks before her own show airs.

When Elizabeth runs through her first dress rehearsal, Phil, the station owner, isn’t impressed with her unconventional approach. Walter tells him he thought she could give housewives something to aspire to, but Phil thinks they should be trying to appeal to the male gaze. 

While Elizabeth works, Mad is left home alone and gets into her dad’s study, her curiosity having been sparked by a family tree assignment. She meets Reverend Wakely when she accompanies Linda to her choir practice and tells him about her family tree and how she misses her dad despite having never met him. When she shows him papers she took from her dad’s office, Wakely helps her discover that he went to a school called St. Luke’s.

When Walter tells Elizabeth Phil hated the show, she sees him going back on his promise that Supper at Six would be her show, but he insists she can still make it hers. He just needs to see her be her–not just a scientist.

As soon as Elizabeth goes on the air for the first time, she talks about how people don’t appreciate the work women do. But tonight, they will make supper, and it will matter.

Phil gets feedback on the show from a focus group largely made up of men, who say the show was boring and that Elizabeth needed to smile more. But he didn’t account for women calling in to share their excitement for how Elizabeth made them feel capable. Supper at Six is going to be hit, just not with the audience Phil cared about.

The episode ends with Elizabeth returning home after a long day at work. The show has been doing well for a while, which has brought her a measure of fame. But it’s also taken her away from her daughter, and Mad is not dealing well with all these changes.

The Episode Review

It hurt my spirit a little bit to see accomplished chemist Elizabeth Zott in so much shock to hear a man offer her coffee that she assumes he’s asking her to prepare some. But what a moment for her to finally see some respect for her talents!

This episode shows that a woman can be doing everything in her power to take care of her child and pursue a career–and it’s still not enough. I wonder if the show will poke some holes in the “women-can-have-it-all” vein of feminism and instead look at what it is that keeps women from having it all. Lessons in Chemistry seems to be heading in that direction. It’s refreshing for a 50s-set feminist drama, since we tend to have our blinders on when we look to the past, portraying the goals of feminism only as simply as women being able to work.

I believe the show will treat Elizabeth’s life more complexly than that; I just hope it doesn’t make out the right thing for Elizabeth to do for Mad be giving up her own passions. Better yet to hold accountable the systems that have held her back (I’m looking at you, Hastings).

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