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The 'One Day' Finale Paints Grief as an Ongoing Journey

one day on netflix
'One Day' Paints a Deep Portrait of Love and GriefNetflix

Spoilers below.

Netflix’s One Day is the second adaptation of the 2009 David Nicholls novel of the same name, this time in the form of a limited series starring Ambika Mod and Leo Woodall. Over 14 half-hour episodes, the series charts the friendship and underlying romance between best friends Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew over 20 years, and is by and large a much richer and more engrossing version of the story than the 2011 film that starred Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess.

A large part of the series’ success is the deep connections that we’ve formed with the characters—both the main duo and the many people who inhabit the world around them—because each episode, taking place a year apart on the same day, is given space to breathe. The penultimate episode leaves us with an unconscious Emma on the ground after she’s hit by a car while riding her bike, and the finale picks up a year later in 2003. “Episode 14” breaks from the format by following three years of Dexter’s life with the occasional flashback to when he and Emma first met in 1988, showing Dexter’s ongoing journey with grief and acceptance.

In 2003, Dexter is not doing well. He’s back to drinking excessively, even showing up to his daughter Jasmine’s school function intoxicated. It’s hard for him to keep it together, and who can blame him? After dropping Jasmine off at ex-wife Sylvie’s apartment, Dexter makes a turn from bad to worse. He stumbles from bar to bar, drinking like there’s no tomorrow (likely because his depression makes him question whether he even wants a tomorrow), and instigating unnecessary fights. The final straw comes when he begins to open up to a stripper about missing Emma. When he notices that she’s texting while he’s spilling his heart out, he attempts to knock the phone out of her hand for which he’s thrown out of the bar.

Dex shows up bloody and wasted at Sylvie's front door. After all that went down between the two of them, there’s a genuine and familial love between them now. She cleans him up without question before getting into a fight with Callum, Dex’s schoolmate whom she cheated with. Dex is then shuttled over to his father’s place. The man has shown up for his son in small ways over the years despite his gruff exterior; now both widowers, he tries to impart some advice that Dex might not be quite ready to hear yet: “The best thing you can do is try and live your life as though she were still alive. What do you think I’ve been doing for the last ten years?”

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Leo Woodall as Dexter.Netflix

The sentiment lingers with Dex and being at his parents’ home only reminds him of the first Christmas he and Emma spent here in 1988. One Day breaks format again here by showing us a day other than July 15, but it’s a welcome departure. Emma, still on her high horse, has gifted Dex a book that he will never read. The passage she reads aloud is a little on the nose, discussing the idea of a “death day” that the victim will never see coming. Dex listens intently but, of course, hasn’t gotten her anything except a kiss on the cheek in return, though he can’t help but be enamored by her. He sneaks a bottle of wine from his parents’ collection but she’s already asleep when he comes back. Thinking about this memory makes him cry himself to sleep.

When the series jumps to 2004, Dexter is already in a much better place. Following the events of the previous year, Emma’s best friend Tilly has gathered the troops to make sure he doesn’t have to spend the day alone again. Tilly and her family, Sylvie and Jasmine, Dexter’s father, and Emma’s ex-boyfriend Ian all arrive unannounced on his doorstep, with the group eventually making awkward small talk in the living room. Dex excuses himself for air and he’s followed out by Ian, who makes amends by telling him that he made Emma really happy and she made him decent.

It’s a wildly different interaction than the film version, as Ian admits he’s taken a three-hour train away from his wife and kids to be here today. They’re not quite friends, but Ian wants to acknowledge his grief as well and communicate to Dex that he’s not alone. Before he departs, Ian says that he never thought a family was in the cards for him—a roundabout way of telling Dex not to give up on the next phase of life. Even though Dex doesn’t know exactly what to do or say, it’s clear the gesture is meaningful to him.

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Jonny Weldon as Ian.Netflix

Back inside, Dex’s father has ushered everyone out the door, sensing that he’d want some alone time. We find out that Sylvie and Callum have separated, but that doesn’t mean that Dex and Sylvie are going to run back to one another; their relationship as it is now is perfect. Once the last of them are out the door, Dex turns to the bottle. He hallucinates Emma, who perfectly chides him for drinking, quipping that “at least this year you can pass out on your own carpet.” His imagined version of her—playful, serene, and wise—is exactly what he needs in this moment. She tells him that the only thing that will free him from feeling this way will be time, however long and cruel the journey to that point may be, and her voice in his head is the only thing giving him hope that everything will be okay.

The last chapter of the story takes us to the University of Edinburgh, Emma and Dexter’s old stomping grounds, in 2005. It’s a bit like deja vu as Dex shows Jasmine all of these different milestones from the first night and day he spent with Emma. They walk up Arthur’s Seat, and Jasmine’s jokes about him walking too slow sound extremely similar to Emma’s jabs. He teaches her about St. Swithin’s Day and points out the exact hill that he and Emma sat on during their first “date.”

one day on netlfix
Dexter with his daughter Jasmine (Billie Gadsdon).Netflix

The literal walk down memory lane twists with Dex’s memories from 1988, revealing portions of that day from “Episode 1” that we didn’t see. Shielding herself from heartbreak at the bottom of the hill, Emma proclaims that she doesn’t want to be a footnote in Dex’s life; she’d rather be his friend than some Northern girl that he slept with on graduation. In this, they agree to be friends. But after they parted ways, Dex remembers chasing her down on some outdoor stairs hoping to get her contact information. Thick with sexual tension, he finally grabs her and brings her in for a kiss: the indelible image of the series that will be etched in his heart forever.

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