Netflix’s limited series From Scratch follows a couple affected by cancer, but after years of remission, they’re seeing cancer rear its ugly head again right when they feel like they’re back on track.
Amy, played by Zoë Saldaña, and Lino, played by Eugenio Mastrandrea, have just found out that Lino’s rare soft-tissue cancer has made a return after seven years in remission. Seven years ago, they weren’t parents to their adopted daughter, Idalia, played by Isla Colbert. They try to strategize how to talk to their young daughter about Lino’s cancer spreading to this lungs.
The family has a picnic at the park, where Idalia wants to share her ice cream cone with Lino. But Amy has to tell her that her father can’t have ice cream because he’s sick. Immediately, Idalia puts her ice cream cone down, as if she knows the history of the cancer and the possibility of its return.
Later, Amy cuts Lino’s hair in their home’s garden. It has become a sanctuary for them to grow the seeds of foods from Sicily that are necessary for Lino’s authentic Sicilian cooking. When Lino was first diagnosed with cancer in the “Bitter Almonds” episode, he cut his hair alone in the bathroom amid his chemotherapy treatments. But now Amy makes sure she’s present for Lino as he sacrifices a part of himself for his illness.
Amy’s mother Lynn, played by Kellita Smith, and Amy’s sister Zora, played by Danielle Deadwyler, takes turns sitting with Lino during his chemo treatments. On Zora’s shift, Lino gets a spiked fever. He’s rushed to the hospital as Zora calls Amy. The family is back in the hospital monitoring Lino. Amy learns that Lino was taking anti-anxiety meds that may have contributed to his fever.
Lino’s condition worsens. Nurses and doctors keep ignoring Amy’s pleas to find out what’s wrong with Lino. They tell Amy that they can only talk to family. Since Amy is Black and so are the family members in LA, the racism patients and their families experience in the hospital is on full display. Amy notifies the carousel of doctors that she is Lino’s wife and deserves straight answers, but she’s not getting any straight answers.
When the rest of Amy’s family arrives from Texas, Amy receives a call from Lino’s mother Filomena, played by Lucia Sardo. Filomena tells Amy that she had a dream of the Virgin Mary. The Lord is calling Lino home. Amy absorbs the heartbreaking premonition and leans into finding out why her husband is deteriorating.
Meanwhile, Lino is so sick that he’s considered infectious, so children are not allowed in the wing of the hospital where he’s receiving care. This adds more distress to Amy because Idalia cannot see her father. The family devises a way to sneak Idalia inside to spend time with her father. Idalia sits beside Lino as they read a book together. The touching moment inspires Amy to later have dinner alone with Lino while he’s propped up in his hospital bed. Lino asks Amy to go back to her life during his recovery. But they still don’t have answers on what the recovery will entail.
Lino is not getting better. Amy calls Lino’s oncologist about the hepatologist also treating Lino. The oncologist says Lino needs a liver transplant. Amy chases the hepatologist down in the parking garage, where the doctor tries to stay mum after hours but then reveals Lino’s liver is failing. After finally receiving a confirmation, Amy yells at the hepatologist for not being straight with her. None of the many specialists treating Lino seem to be communicating as Lino undergoes countless tests. As Lino’s condition worsens even under this magnitude of surveillance, Amy notices an advertisement for palliative care.
Amy and the palliative care specialist talk about giving Lino care as his body dies. He needs comfort at this point. Continuing medical care is pointless and expensive. Amy notifies Filomena about the decision. Lino leaves the hospital via ambulance as their home is prepared for his last days.
Within days, Lino requests a party to see family and friends at their home’s garden. Amy detects his burst of energy, but their family friend Preston, played by Rodney Gardiner, gives Amy the voice of reason that sometimes a burst of energy reinvigorates someone who is dying. The loved ones surround Lino in the garden.
The frustration of seeing a loved one suffer in their condition mirrors the book, where memoirist Tembi Locke describes her journey of falling in love with her husband to caring for him as he dies from a rare cancer. A parade of specialists go in and out of her late husband Saro’s hospital room.
“Suddenly we had descended into a medical landscape of dueling specialists, expert professionals each of whom saw one piece of the puzzle that was Saro’s body,” Tembi writes. “I was the only one looking at the whole of his life, his body, his heartfelt desires. I tried to humanize the patient behind the chart.”
The discrimination is another aspect. Tembi’s omnipresence in the hospital room is not enough for medical staff to understand she’s the main point of contact for her husband’s care.
“As the heads of hepatology, endocrinology, immunology, gastroenterology, and orthopedic surgery made their rounds, I succumbed to writing my name on the hospital room whiteboard: ‘CARING FAMILY: Tembi, wife. Black woman sitting in the corner.’ It was my response after two nurses had asked me if I was ‘the help.'”
Experiencing racism as a caretaker puts added stress on the situation. With some of the book’s elements changed for the screen, this is a situation that needed to be shown that even in a matter of illness, a person’s skin color can impact the information they receive to deal with the illness. It’s one of the several moments throughout the TV series and the book that shows an interracial couple receiving backlash for their union. Even when it’s a matter of life and death, medical care may be subpar. We see in the next episode that when the patient and their family take matters into their own hands, they can live the rest of their lives on their terms.