⚠️ Spoilers ahead! Read the book, book review, and/or watch the limited series on Netflix.
Christmas 2004 opens up the fifth episode of From Scratch when the parents of Lino, played by Eugenio Mastrandrea, arrive in Los Angeles to care for their son who’s battling a rare soft-tissue cancer.
Amy, played by Zoë Saldaña, is standing at the end of the escalator with her mother Lynn, played by Kellita Smith, as they wait for Lino’s father Giacomo, played by Paride Benassai, and Lino’s mother Filomena, played by Lucia Sardo, to come down to their level in the airport. Amy has to run up the escalator to help them since they probably never used one before. Once they all arrive at the house, Lino becomes the focus.
Filomena rushes to her son, who’s bed-ridden, while Giacomo stops before the front door and remains in the garden. As a lifelong farmer, he sees myriad mistakes in the boxes where plants like garlic and parsley are growing. He stays outside to tend to the garden.
Inside, Filomena opens up her heavy suitcase to reveal glass jars of pastas, spices, herbs, and tomatoes. She cooks a hearty meal for Lino, but Amy has to tell her that Lino can’t eat that type of meal on his medications. Lino gets jealous others get to eat his mother’s cooking, so he stuffs his face. And, of course, he gets nauseous before his scheduled stay in the hospital.
The transportation of the food happens in the memoir by Tembi Locke as she tells the story of falling in love with her late husband Saro and moving through the stages of grief with her daughter in Saro’s homeland of Sicily.
“Bread and Brine” is the name of a chapter. With the book mostly focusing on Tembi’s time in Sicily after her husband dies, the chapter shows the relationship between Tembi and her mother-in-law Croce, who cooks as she grieves.
“She had never let me cook in her house. Never. Not even her chef son was allowed to,” Tembi writes. “No matter how many nights I slept under her roof, no matter how many times she washed my bras and ironed my underwear, I was her guest. Even if I was also family. She preferred to work alone, at her own pace; she didn’t want company while she cooked. In the past, I had just passed through, made small talk, but had never lingered from start to finish. She, like many women in town, saw their time at the stove as their domain. I was forbidden to even set the table.”
As Lino recovers from surgery, Giacomo finally comes to greet his son in the hospital bed. They have a small heart-to-heart when Lino says he would like a cup of coffee. This gives Giacomo a spring in his step as he walks around the hospital in search of coffee without knowing English. He finds a doctor who seems to know a bit of Italian who helps him use the coffee machine. He tells a story about seeing Lino in the hospital when he was a kid who had broken a bone, but now it’s different.
When he returns to the hospital room, he sees Amy’s father Hershel, played by Keith David, bonding with Lino. Standing by the door, he notices the connection between the two, blossoming over his absence from his son’s life at a time when he expanded his family.
Lino soon comes home, where his family and friends sit down to watch football, also known as soccer, on the Italian channels. Giacomo asks one of Lino’s friends about his son. As they talk about kids, Lino becomes increasingly irritated because the chemotherapy has threatened his reproductivity. He gets up and leaves with his crutch.
IT COULD GET WORSE
For a moment of escape, Amy runs to her and Lino’s mutual friend Preston, played by Rodney Gardiner, to drink scotch and talk. He welcomes the opportunity, especially when he’s just watching the Black Christmas classic Holiday Heart starring Ving Rhames as a drag queen helping a girl and her drug-addicted mother. Amy is upbeat about Lino’s surgery to remove the cancer. But Preston has other thoughts. He offers the possibility that Lino may never quite fully recover; the cancer can return.
The doctor tells Amy and Lino that the surgery was successful, but recurrence is possible. Lino describes cancer as “like a weed” to his parents, who learn they have to tame their excitement over the surgery.
Since the surgery was technically a success, Lino now qualifies for a clinical trial. He announces the news at dinner with the entire family. Then Amy’s sister Zora, played by Danielle Deadwyler, announces her engagement to her longtime boyfriend Ken, played by Terrell Carter. The family congratulates the happy couple. Even Giacomo stands up ready to give a toast. Lino is in disbelief. His own father who didn’t go to his wedding is happy an unrelated couple is getting married. The bright mood plummets.
Going back to the book, Tembi brings Saro and his parents to her native Texas to meet her family. Saro’s parents enjoy a Houston Texans football game and struggle to figure out the art of eating Texas Barbecue. Tembi catches her mother-in-law taking in the scene, looking at her son constantly until she turns to Tembi’s sister Attica Locke, who serves as the head of the Netflix series, to tell her her surprise about Saro being welcomed in America.
“And as I sat there with everyone eating—not just consuming food but sharing our dreams, our aspirations, our histories—I could see how the stakes, the specter of illness, had changed all our lives,” Tembi writes. “What was important had changed. We were far from the wedding in Florence, reading telegrams from the half of our family who had refused to come because of race and fear. That trip to Houston was the first time we didn’t have to wonder what it would have been like to have both parts of who we were together in the same room.”
The next morning on the show, Lino and Giacomo clear the air with a hug as Lino’s parents head out for their flight to Sicily. The cancer is gone, and the family is at peace until the next monumental changes come along.