'Genius: Chapter 8' episode recap – Einstein heads to America
Did you miss the eighth episode of the NatGeo series about Albert Einstein? Catch up here with this 'Genius' instant recap.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
'Genius: Chapter Eight' / National Geographic Channel
Original airdate: 6.13.17 / Written by Angelina Burnett and Francesca Butler / Directed by Ken Biller
Episode grade: 4 out of 5 stars
While previous episodes have dealt a lot with Einstein's personal life and professional work, this is the first episode that focuses mostly on the political environment surrounding the genius. The hour is framed by a visit to the American embassy in Berlin. Albert and his wife Elsa are applying for a visa to travel to the United States so they can flee the increasing tumultuous political climate in Germany.
Actor Vincent Kartheiser, who memorably played Pete Campbell on "Mad Men," portrays U.S. Consul General Raymond Geist and is interviewing the Einsteins before their trip. He's seeking to determine if they are members of the Communist party. The questions have come directly from the FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover.
Geist: "Dr. Einstein, the United States has reason to believe that you are a member of the Communist party."
Einstein (laughing): "It's nonsense. It's like a monkey in a hat riding a dog to a donut factory."
Geist: "I'm concerned that neither of you are appreciating the gravity of this situation."
Einstein: "I guess I know a bit more about gravity than you, Mr. Geist. And a few other things besides."
As the interview goes on, we are treated to flashbacks which help fill in the gaps leading up to this point in Einstein's life. For example, this is not the first trip Einstein has made to the U.S.
A portion of the episode shows Albert and Elsa's trip to America with their friend Chaim Weizmann. Weizmann, a scientist who would later become the first president of Israel, is helping launch the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is traveling to the U.S. to help raise money for the new institution and asks Einstein to lend a hand. Einstein's celebrity status and academic bona fides help the cause to great end. Indeed, Einstein is credited with being a co-founder of the university and, in his last will and testament, bequeathed his estate and papers to the Israeli institution. (Here's what the archives look like.)
Meanwhile, the Nobel Prize continues to elude Einstein. "I must admit that I've been a little taken aback by the jeers, the snubs – particularly from the Nobel committee," Einstein confides to Weizmann. "It's an unpleasant sensation to be beloved, not for your ideas but for the image people have at you." But later in the episode, he seems to have matured in his outlook, saying, "How the world sees me, it's not important to me."
Professor Philipp Lenard, Einstein's arch nemesis, is trying to make a case. "Theoretical physicists are the purview of con artists," Lenard tells the Nobel committee. "They are like Cubist painters, unable to render form decently, convincing the world their scrawlings are high art."
Their response comes quickly: "Albert Einstein is the most famous scientist in the world. To deny him the Nobel again, well, some might say we are beginning to look like fools."
In this episode, Einstein receives word that he was won the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics – not for his theory of relativity, but for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect, a critical part of the evolution of quantum theory.
Another flashback that occurs: Albert's first wife Mileva tells him that their son Eduard has tried to commit suicide and now lives in an mental institution. Einstein, who has sometimes shirked his parental responsibilities to concentrate on his work, immediately travels to Zurich to visit his son. "I will do all that I can to help you feel well," Albert tells Eduard. "Then when you are feeling better, you can come to America and live with me. I should've been better to you; I know that now ... I do hope you know how so very loved you are. Perhaps you didn't."
Einstein plays the violin in Eduard's room. It's a powerful scene of a father trying desperately to find a way to communicate with his son. Eduard's eyes light up.
Back at the American embassy, Hoover calls Geist and tells him to deny the Einsteins their visas. Albert and Elsa take matters into their own hands and call a friend of theirs who works for The New York Times. The reporter pens a story with the headline "Einstein angered by political quiz."
Geist shows up to Einstein's apartment, where he's greeted by Albert in a robe.
"The State Department's switchboard has been overloaded by citizens incensed that their government is harassing the great Albert Einstein," Geist tells the scientist. "Congress has begun to receive calls. Quite a few important men have been left with egg on their faces."
The U.S. has agreed to give them their visas, on the condition that Einstein signs a declaration that he is not a member of the Communist party. "Please accept this compromise," Geist says. Einstein, who in previous episodes has prided himself on not signing political documents, says he cannot put his name on the paper.
Geist has grown close to, and admires, Einstein. So he bends the rules and stamps their visas anyway.
Einstein: "This will cost you your job."
Geist: "Probably ... but there are other ways to be of service."
Einstein: "Keep your job, Mr. Geist."
Einstein decides to sign the document at the last minute, but asks Geist for a favor in return: help others flee Germany as well. As the episode ends, a coda appears on the screen alerting viewers that thanks to Einstein's encouragement, Geist helped issue more than 50,000 life-saving visas in the run-up to World War II.
Episode's best cameo: Actor T.R. Knight (from "Grey's Anatomy") as J. Edgar Hoover.
Want more Einstein? Check out our treasure trove of stories related to the beloved genius.
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