'Genius: Chapter One' episode recap – Einstein fails out of college
Did you miss the first episode of the National Geographic series? Catch up here with this instant recap.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
'Genius: Chapter One' / National Geographic Channel
Original airdate: 4.25.17 / Written by Noah Pink / Directed by Ron Howard
Episode grade: 4.5 stars out of 5
The highly anticipated NatGeo series "Genius," produced by Academy Award winners Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, debuted tonight. From the show's very first moments, it's easy to see how this 10-hour TV series devoted to the life of Albert Einstein is going to be a no-holds-barred look at the world's favorite genius.
The first words he utters in the series are: "I have a proposition to make. It is an unorthodox idea. But crazy thoughts of mine have worked in the past." The physicist is not working on a new scientific theory; he's referring to a liaison with his secretary.
After that opening scene, we move into the lecture hall where we see Einstein, in the 1920s, teaching about the meaning of time. "Time is not absolute," Einstein tells the students. "In fact, for us believing physicists, the distinction between the past, present and future is but a stubborn illusion." He leads his students on a thought experiment about the speed of light. It's in these scenes of scientific explanation that Geoffrey Rush's portrayal of Einstein truly comes to life.
The filmmakers use this discussion of time as an axis, to bounce back and forth between the 1890s and 1920s in Europe. We flash back now to a teenaged Einstein (played by actor Johnny Flynn). He's not an ideal student when it comes to standardized testing; his rebellious streak apparently started at an early age. After a confrontation with his father, he learns that his family is moving to Italy. Einstein, feeling abandoned, stays behind to concentrate on his studies. It's a lonely time for the budding scientist. He gets his doctor to make up a medical excuse so he can leave school and travel to Milan. He tells his dad that he wants to switch to the Zurich Polytechnic in Switzerland.
Not surprisingly, he passes his science and math exams with flying colors. But that's about it. He failed everything else. The headmaster rattles off a litany of topics Einstein didn't master on the test: literature, zoology, botany, French, politics and so on. Einstein retorts back: "That's quite a few subjects." But the headmaster takes pity on young Albert and helps him get into a smaller school in a nearby town, where he will study for a year and then try again to gain admission into the Zurich Polytechnic.
So in 1895, Einstein travels to Aarau, Switzerland, where he moves in with the Winteler family. The patriarch of the family welcomes Albert with open arms, complimenting the free-thinking Einstein as a "Disobedient son, perennial truant, unrepentant flouter of authority. I'm not chastising you. I'm congratulating you. We Wintelers respect a true rebel."
Einstein thrives in Aarau, enjoying the intellectual conversations around the Wintelers' dinner table and the free-wheeling scientific theories discussed in the classroom of his new school. It's here where he really starts to come into his own. Einstein is encouraged to explore his theories.
Whlie in Aarau, Albert receives a letter. He discovers that his application to renounce his German citizenship has been approved. "I'm proud of you Albert," says Professor Winteler. "Now you are a citizen of the world."
In short order, Einstein falls in love with Winteler's daughter, Marie. While the two are hanging out one day, Einstein gets a spark of an idea – the beginning of his theory of relativity. You can watch that scene in the video clip below:
While on break from school in 1896, Einstein travels to Milan to visit his family and help them fix some of the machines at their street light factory. His comfort outside the lecture hall – with wire cutters and other tools – would prove handy later in life when he built many inventions.
The family tries to convince Einstein to marry Marie and move to Milan. Einstein tells his dad that he has no intention of becoming an engineer. "I will become a professor. I will think for thinking's sake," he says. At only 17 years of age, Einstein passed the entrance exam and finally got admitted into the Zurich Polytechnic. He leaves Marie behind and tells her: "I'll find a formula to freeze time. You won't even know I'm gone."
A young Einstein starts school at the Zurich Polytechnic in 1896. On his first day, he meets a fellow physics student, Mileva Marić. She was the only student to score higher than Einstein on the math portion of the entrance exam. She would later become his wife.
The action now moves forward to an older Einstein in his prime. A close friend of his is assassinated in the buildup to World War II. His second wife Elsa (played by Emily Watson) tells him he needs to grieve. As for Einstein, he can't believe the violence that is happening around him. The police come to Einstein's home in Berlin and tell him that it's not safe for him there, that the assassins had a list of potential targets, and Einstein's name was on it.
Elsa wants to pack up the house and move immediately, while Einstein doesn't want to be intimidated. Nor does he want to leave his friends and his work in Germany. Ultimately though, Einstein decides Germany is no longer safe for him and tells Elsa it's time to leave.
The episode comes to a conclusion with Einstein and his wife attempting to leave Germany and head to the United States.
Episode's best cameo: Vincent Kartheiser, best known for his role in "Mad Men," makes a cameo appearance as a U.S. consulate officer.
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