Going into Apple TV+’s Lessons in Chemistry with some knowledge of Bonnie Garmus’ bestselling book, I didn’t expect anything to catch me completely off guard. However, the novel definitely didn’t prepare me for the show presenting a dog story with as much of an emotional gut punch as A Dog’s Purpose.
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Six-Thirty is a big part of both the book and the limited series. He is a former stray dog taken in by Elizabeth Zott (Brie Larson), quickly becoming her closest confidant and most loyal pal. Meanwhile, he’s almost as intelligent as his chemistry whiz owner. At the beginning of the book, he knows about 100 words, but by the end, he has learned almost 1,000. Pieces of the story are actually told through his perspective, and it’s beyond cute reading the little guy doing his best to explain everything that’s happening. Meanwhile, it didn’t take him long to show up in Lessons in Chemistry, portrayed by a loveable little goldendoodle named Gus in real life.
I wasn’t sure if the show would even incorporate his internal narration. If it did, I figured it would be something brief to show off his cuteness and intelligence. However, I was not expecting him to narrate an episode about grief in a way that shattered my heart completely.
***SPOILER ALERT: This article spoils the events of episode 3, “Living Dead Things”.***
Lessons in Chemistry didn’t prepare me for Six-Thirty’s episode
In Lessons in Chemistry episode 3, “Living Dead Things,” Six-Thirty takes over the narration, voiced by B. J. Novak. As soon as I realized this was Six-Thirty’s episode, I started to suspect it would be difficult to get through, especially given how the show changed Calvin Evans’ (Lewis Pullman) death in the previous episode. In the book, Evans dies after being hit by a car while walking Six-Thirty at night, in an incident that was clearly the motorist’s fault. However, in episode 2, “Her and Him,” he is hit by a bus after accidentally stepping into the street because Six-Thirty is fighting against his leash. Of course, it’s still not Six-Thirty’s fault—he’s just a little dog. Still, putting him in the scene in a way that could be perceived as him contributing to the tragic sequence of events left me a little concerned.
The episode opens with Six-Thirty adorably telling his own story, starting with how he failed training to be a military dog due to his gentle spirit and decided to run away. He finally found meaning when he found Zott, who fed him delicious food and welcomed him into her life with Evans. We then see a recap of his life with the pair, brimming with happiness. Six-Thirty learned that his purpose wasn’t to be a military dog but to protect his owners—until he believed he failed. That was the first emotional gut punch. I was hoping so hard that he wouldn’t carry that weight, but he does blame himself, believing it’s his fault that Evans died.
His thoughts only get sadder as he reveals that Zott treats him differently, not taking him for walks or snuggling him as she’s lost in her own grief. It’s unclear if she actually blames him, but he believes she does, noting that she won’t even look at him. He spends his days watching cartoons on TV and barely lifts his head from his spot on the floor during mealtime. It is tough to watch while wanting nothing more than to reach through the TV screen and give that sweet doggy all the love in the world. Even when things get happier, they don’t get any less emotional. Six-Thirty reveals that he knew about Zott’s pregnancy before she did and that it actually fills him with a renewed sense of hope as he gets a second chance to protect his family. The episode ends with him running alongside Zott as they decide to keep pushing forward, even when it feels impossible.
I’m not exaggerating when I say the episode left me an emotional mess. I cried during every one of his monologue scenes, and I’m really not one to cry during shows or movies. Even with sad dog movies, I’m usually able to prepare myself emotionally, but I couldn’t do that. Suddenly, I was just left listening to the saddest monologue I’ve ever heard about a dog grieving and suffering from regret and feelings of failure while doing everything he could to be the goodest boy ever. I wanted to yell at Zott to get over there and love her dog already. Even when he does find his purpose, the selflessness of his desires and the resilience he shows reduces me to tears. Why isn’t he disillusioned by all he has been through? How is he better than a human at being so good when his life is so small and filled with so much loss?
Another reason it was so impactful was that it felt realistic. It just felt so normal to hear his thoughts and to believe that all animals have these thoughts and feelings about the world. Of course, that unleashes more heartbreak to think that they understand everything around them, grieve, and struggle to find a purpose just as humans do. They might even feel things more profoundly than humans since they clearly love so much more intensely. All I know is that as emotionally exhausting as it was to watch, it inspired me to hug my pets a little longer that night and made me hope Lessons in Chemistry inspired more love and understanding toward animals in other viewers.
This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the work being covered here wouldn’t exist.
(featured image: Apple TV+)
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