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What comes to mind when you think of Albert Einstein? Maybe E = mc2? His crazy hair? Perhaps his theories on special and general relativity? Einstein the physicist is recognized across the world. But Albert the man is understood by few.
National Geographic’s first scripted series, Genius, offers audiences an unfiltered look at the individual behind the science. Based on Walter Isaacson’s book Einstein: His Life and Universe, the series follows Albert from his time as a young student through two World Wars and his twilight years. What makes Genius unique is that it balances his professional achievements with his volatile personal relationships, crafting a holistic portrait of an extraordinary man.
Genuis, starring Johnny Flynn as a young Albert and Geoffrey Rush as an older Albert, has already aired eight episodes. We’ve rounded up the best moments (so far) from the show, so you can catch up on the highlights before the final two episodes air on Tuesday, June 20th.
We’ve also teamed up with National Geographic to bring you a giveaway with Genius swag (enter to win here)!
Within the first five minutes of episode 1, Albert asks this loaded question of his secretary, with whom he is having an affair. Her response frames the rest of the show, revealing that Albert’s emotional intelligence does not match his astounding intellect: “For a man who is an expert on the universe, you don’t know the first thing about people, do you?”
Johnny Flynn as Albert Einstein in Genius.
Episode 1 also boasts a powerful scene in which Albert’s strained relationship with his father takes center stage. What begins as a pleasant family dinner in the Einstein household quickly escalates, with Albert and his father hurling insults at one another before Albert grabs a suitcase and storms out. But what makes the moment truly great is that beyond witnessing Albert’s pain, we also see the effect his genius—and his tendency to unconsciously belittle those around him—has on those he loves.
Episode 1’s final gift to the audience is the introduction of Mileva Maric, Albert’s fellow university classmate, intellectual equal and future wife. After Albert assumes she’s not a fellow student because she’s a woman, it’s refreshing to see Mileva school him in physics. Finally, Albert has met his match.
Mileva’s childhood is highlighted in episode 2, including multiple scenes in which her father champions her education. But the most gripping moment finds her father defending Mileva’s future to her own mother, who questions the wisdom in raising a female genius in a man’s world. “Do you think the world will clear a path for her simply because you will it?” Mileva’s mother asks.
“Not because I will it,” her father says. “Because I fight for her out there.”
Samantha Colley as Mileva Maric in Genius.
Episode 2 also explores Mileva’s experience as a university student—and her relationship with Albert. As he requires more and more of her time, asking for her help proving his scientific theories, Mileva begins skipping classes. In a climactic scene, she realizes that not only is he failing to support her studies, but he never ended his relationship with another woman. “How could you be so careless with my heart?” Mileva sobs. And through her anguish, Albert is forced to recognize his flawed humanity.
When Pierre Curie learns in episode 4 that he will be awarded the Nobel Prize for research on radiation, he immediately asks if his wife and scientific partner will also be recognized. “Pierre, we all know Madame Curie has been a valuable assistant, but it is the tools you invented that are responsible for discovering radium,” a Nobel Committee member says.
“No, tools don’t make discoveries,” Pierre responds. “People do. Madame Curie and I are partners. Please inform the Nobel Committee I will not accept the prize if they do not honor my wife beside me.” Pierre’s refusal to disregard Marie’s achievements is made all the more significant when juxtaposed with the following scene, in which Albert does not thank Mileva for her help in a published scientific paper. His response, “I suppose it never occurred to me,” once again reveals his self-absorbed nature. Despite not having malicious intent, Albert fails to support the support the most important woman in his life…and it will cost him.
Klara Issova as Marie Curie and Johnny Flynn as Albert Einstein in Genius.
Episode 5 features the 1911 Solvay Conference in Brussels, where some of the greatest scientific minds at the time gathered. But great minds don’t equal compassionate people, and the men refuse to speak to Marie Curie after rumors of her personal life are made public. A scientist tells Albert, “Haven’t you heard? She’s been cavorting around Paris with a married man…it’s a terrible disgrace to her late husband.”
Albert may struggle to understand people, but his response shows that he values inclusion in the scientific community. “I’ve heard some gossip about you,” he says to Marie. “The rumor is you’re going to win another Nobel Prize.” And with that, he shuts down his judgmental colleagues.
Albert sends an astronomer and two assistants to Russia in episode 6, and their assignment is to take photographs during a solar eclipse that will confirm Albert’s theory of general relativity. But the German Kaiser declares war on Russia as the men cross into the country, leading them to be arrested on suspicion of espionage. The episode’s most stunning scene features no dialogue, instead focusing on the astronomer’s face as he watches the eclipse through the barred window of his prison cell.
So begins Albert’s speech in New York to raise money for a Hebrew University. Episode 8 reveals a more mature Albert who, despite placing science above all else, chooses to take time away from his research to support his friend’s efforts in the Jewish community. His speech offers a rare and moving look into his personal views beyond the scientific realm:
“Some people think it is dangerous defining ourselves as different. Blend in they say. Do not stand out. Do not ask questions of authority. To me, they sound suspiciously like my stuffy old professors. We deserve to be accepted, our heritage, our faith, our traditions and history. Why must we assimilate? There is no justice in that, only loss. Our people have sacrificed enough.”
The best scene of the series to date showcases an interaction between Albert and Raymond Geist, the American Consul General in Berlin. Albert and his second wife, Elsa, are shown applying for U.S. visas in 1932, as anti-Semitism grows in Hitler’s Germany. But FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover is reluctant to let Albert into the country, fearing that Albert will spread communist and socialist ideologies. Throughout episode 8, Raymond is tasked with conducting a visa interview (i.e. grilling Albert about politics), and Hoover ultimately denies the Einsteins’ their visas. But public pressure forces him to reconsider, with one condition: Albert must sign a paper saying he is not a member of the Communist Party. “Please accept this compromise,” Raymond says.
“Your nation, Mr. Geist, is a miracle,” Albert responds. “The beautiful myth of it. Scrappy revolutionaries rejecting monarchy for self-government, built from shared values, common purpose. I can understand why a man might want to serve a nation that tells itself a story like that. And I also understand how painful it can be when the myth does not quite fit with the reality. I cannot sign this.”
And yet, Raymond stamps the visas anyway. “These were not your instructions,” a stunned Albert says. “This will cost you your job.”
“Probably,” Raymond says. “But there are other ways to be of service.”
Albert then chooses to sign the paper anyway, saying, “Keep your job, Mr. Geist. But promise me that Elsa and I will not be the only Jews you help find their way to America’s shores.”
This is the most compelling example of how the people orbiting Albert, whether geniuses or not, can make just as much of an impact. In Raymond’s case, he issued life-saving visas for more than 50,000 German Jews before the start of World War 2.
Paste has teamed up with National Geographic to offer fans an exclusive Genius prize package, which includes: a copy of the book Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson, a Genius tote bag, a Genius hat, a National Geographic notebook and a National Geographic lanyard. The giveaway will run from June 14—June 23, and we’ll choose 10 winners.
Enter here for your chance to win, and check out the prize pack below.