‘Lessons in Chemistry’ Showrunner and Director Debated Where to Put That Calvin Cliffhanger ‘Ad Nauseam’ (Video)

“I remember experiencing it in the book and thinking like, well, what could possibly come next?” Lee Eisenberg tells TheWrap

The placement of a particular cliffhanger at the end of “Lessons in Chemistry’s” second episode was debated intensely by showrunner Lee Eisenberg, director Sarah Adina Smith and the show’s writers.

The second episode in the Apple TV+ series, adapted from the best-selling novel by Bonnie Garmus, ends on a tragic note with the death of the character Calvin Evans, portrayed by Lewis Pullman. The first two episodes premiered Friday.

“We spent the very first few weeks debating this [plot point] ad nauseam. We wanted the audience to invest as much as possible in this love story as much as we were,” Eisenberg told TheWrap. “Ultimately, we pulled that from the book and the book. I don’t remember what page or what percentage of the book we’re in, but it’s pretty early on that he dies. I remember experiencing it in the book and thinking like, well, what could possibly come next?”

Calvin takes Elizabeth’s (Brie Larson) dog Six Thirty for a run on a new leash that Elizabeth bought him. Unfortunately, the leash is what causes Calvin’s death when he attempts to cross the street but gets pulled back by Six Thirty, landing him in the path of a bus.

“That’s a little bit of what we want the audience to feel is, you’ve been completely invested in something and life doesn’t go the way that you plan it so often. These two people finally find each other and when we start them at the beginning of Episode 1, they’re really both lone wolves,” Eisenberg continued. “They exist in their own little silos in the world, and for various reasons, don’t want to let anybody else in and then they find each other through this mutual love and passion for chemistry, and then really see each other as soulmates. And ‘What happens when that’s pulled away from you? ‘How do you carry on?’ That was what we wanted to explore.”

Smith shared her own thoughts on the scene and what went into filming the bus crash and accident.

“There are a lot of different ways we could have filmed that scene. I wanted to do something that was really simple and really horribly shocking, but fast at the same time. At the end of the day, the series is not about Calvin’s death, it’s not even about grief. It’s about how you think life is gonna go one way and then all of a sudden, a bus comes out of nowhere and it takes you in a whole other direction,” she told TheWrap. “We really wanted to make that moment opening up the question that the series will eventually answer, which is that. ‘Can one stay open to life’s surprises and twists and turns even when it hurts?’ I think Elizabeth learns to open herself back up again over and over and eventually comes to understand that life is so much more rich and meaningful for having done so.”

The romance between Larson’s Zott and Pullman’s Evans seems push and pull at first, but their collision both literally and romantically soon reveals how compatible they are. The Zoom chemistry read between Larson and Pullman revealed how good their on-screen chemistry.

“There’s a world in which they could be quite unlikable characters at first blush and they have a lot of social awkwardness and they’re so kind of myopic in their focus and dedication to the pursuit of scientific knowledge, but both Brie and Lewis have this radiant warmth to them that you can’t help but fall for them,” Smith said. “Lewis was just such a fun discovery for us, he has this face that the camera absolutely loves where every tiny little part of his thought process flashes over his eyes or across his face. The combination of the two of them — it really felt like we were watching lightning on the day when we saw them on screen together. Everybody felt so alive after that table read because we could sense — even on Zoom — that there was something when it was scenes between the two of them in particular, you would say like the room went silent, but it’s like the Zoom went silent.” 

For Eisenberg, it was the scene after the pageant, where Evans vomits on Zott, that Pullman and Larson’s table read pointed to their casting. Zott takes Evans home and cares for him, which sparks the initial butterflies between the two intense scientists.

“I just was like, ‘Oh,’ my heart kind of skipped a beat. And I was like, ‘Well, if I’m feeling this, in this kind of medium, the least attractive medium that exists, then I think when we have this properly lit and the actors are more prepared, and they’re in costume and all of that this is really going to feel this is gonna be really special,’” he said.

As for Calvin’s death, Eisenberg saw it as the end to the story that Smith’s two episodes were telling. Each director got two episodes to direct out of the eight in the show’s first season.

“We talked about doing [Calvin’s death] later in the season, but we had so much more to tell that if you get it too late, it felt like the end of the show was going to struggle,” he said. “We looked at the first two episodes, which were Sarah’s, so brilliantly done. That’s the end of that story. And then we’re going on to the next few episodes.”

The first two episodes of “Lessons in Chemistry” are now available to stream on Apple TV+. New episodes are released weekly on the streamer on Fridays.


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