If you remained unfamiliar with One Day—either David Nicholls' 2009 novel or the 2011 film adaptation with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess—before watching the new Netflix miniseries, then the final moments of Emma Morley (Ambika Mod) and Dexter Mayhew's (Leo Woodall) romance are a gut punch. The fourteen-episode series depicts the decades-spanning friendship and will-they-won't-they romance between the unlikely pair, from their chance meeting on the night they graduate university to their final days together. The end of Em and Dex's story is even more devastating coming after viewers have spent hours getting to know the pair and all of their loved ones, but we know there are some who would rather get straight to the point of knowing whether the couple receives a happy ending. (Not that the ugly tears won't come, but it's nice to have a bit of warning.) For those interested, let's break down the ending of One Day, including the cast and crew's thoughts on staying loyal to the novel's ending.
When do Emma and Dexter get together?
It takes eleven St. Swithin's Days for Emma and Dexter to finally get together. In the time between (a full eleven episodes) they've almost hooked up, been friends, met professional highs and lows, had a blow-up fight that briefly ended their friendship, and reconciled, sharing a brief kiss before deciding to not speak of it again. Emma has found herself on steady ground with a successful teaching and writing career, while Dex has sort of gotten his life together after a failed career as a television presenter and a broken-up marriage; he also has a daughter, named Jasmine.
Episode 12 takes place on July 15, 1999, while Emma and Dex spend a day in Paris. Emma has spent the past two months living in the City of Love on a research trip, while Dex is sorting through his divorce from Sylvie, which has put a strain on his relationship with Jasmine. After the best friends reunite, Dex quickly brings up their night together before Emma left London, but she would rather wait to discuss it. Still, she's his supportive friend, listening to his concerns about Jasmine and suggesting new jobs he could try. When Dex tries to kiss her, Emma admits that she's dating someone, and that's when they finally sit down and talk about the night they slept together(!) before she left. Em says that they were both drunk and he was angry and they just needed to feel better, but Dex hasn't stopped thinking about her since then. Still, Emma feels like the consolation prize, not like it just took Dex years to realize she was the one.
When Emma offers to take Dex out to dinner, along with her new boyfriend Jean-Pierre, he feigns a cold so Em and the Frenchman will go out without him. It seems like the chapter is finally closed on their flirtation...but then Emma comes back by herself. They finally, passionately hook up, and at the end Emma warns Dex that if he leads her on, or lets her down, or goes back to any of his other self-destructive behavior, she will murder him. He promises he won't, and when he says that she can't get rid of him, it's nothing but the truth.
How does Emma die?
Episode 13 goes through three monumental years of Emma and Dex together. In 2000, Dex and Emma are a united team making plans to open a Parisian café, and they agree to move in together. In 2001, they're engaged and preparing for a wedding, when Emma tells Dex that she wants to have a baby. By 2002, the blissful haze has gone away and real life has begun to settle in. Emma picks a fight after she tells him that she's gotten her period, even though they've been trying for a baby for a year. Once they resolve it, and partake in a bit of reminiscing about their early 20s, they have a quite normal day. Emma spends it writing, chats with her bestie Tilly, and goes swimming, while Dex is busy at the cafe. They exchange voicemails about meeting up to see a house for sale, and both the messages are loving and normal. Everything's mundane, just a day like several others. The boring yet meaningful parts of a life together. Which is why it's all the more shocking when, while riding her bike in the rain, Emma's hit by a car and dies.
This twist is a heartbreaking yet essential part of One Day, and even though showrunner Nicole Taylor considered other endings, she ultimately felt that changing it would "undermine the overall impact" of this adaptation of Nicholls' book, even though "everyone who read the book remembers how they felt when that happened. You just want to throw the book out the window."
“There was a lot of thought," Taylor told TheWrap of the tragic ending. "I went into this, wanting to reflect on and sort of interrogate whether that was still the ending that we wanted. I thought that was a reasonable thing to do. I was thinking about other endings, but fundamentally, that ending is stitched into the work as a whole. The story kind of has its own thematic integrity, it has its own structural integrity. I feel like the overall meaning of the piece requires that, and I felt like any changing of the ending would be gratuitous and undermine the overall impact of the piece so I think it was the right thing to have a good think about it, question it and not just take it as given.”
How does 'One Day' end?
The final episode of One Day opens on another July 15, with Dex's life mid-spiral in 2003. He's obviously drunk at a birthday party with his daughter Jasmine, before he gets refused service at a bar and cobbles together a drink with the dregs of finished beers (ew). Finally, he tells a poor stripper named Barbara that it's been a year to the day since Emma died, and after he's kicked out the bar, he ends up passed out on ex Sylvie's door. He ends the night with a chat with his dad, Stephen. The elder Mayhew reminds Dex that the best thing he can do is to live life as if Emma were still there, a lesson learned from the past ten years since Dex's mum's passing.
A year later, Dex seems to be in better shape. His entire support system—from his dad, Sylvie, and Jasmine, to Tilly and Emma's ex Ian—surprises him at his new flat, to spend the day together. Among the grief-ladden awkwardness, Dex and Ian actually have a heart-to-heart, where Ian tells Dex not to give up on the next phase of life. Perhaps in the echoes of that, after everyone leaves, Dex imagines Emma in the flat with him, telling him that it's alright to throw out her old things, except the photos. She also says that he'll hurt less with time, that he will keep feeling horrible, until one day, he won't.
The final day in One Day is in 2007, as Dex returns to the University of Edinburgh. The entire finale has been threaded with flashbacks of Emma, but this segment includes the most, as he walks where they once walked and relives every moment of the first day they met. After revisiting the site of the graduation party and the old flat, he even climbs back up Arthur's Seat, this time accompanying Jasmine as she walks ahead of him. In one flash, he recalls more of their first day together, which we didn't see in the premiere. Emma brushes off the past night as a nothing fluke, as Dex will eventually learn is one of her coping mechanisms, and she tells him that they'll go their separate ways with the night as a fond memory, and just share a chat if they ever see each other again. "I'm not being a footnote...in the story of your life," she says.
The episode ends the same way as the premiere did. As Dex and Jasmine walk up those Edinburgh steps in the present day, we see Dex catch up to Emma again. They exchange numbers, but after "see you around," Dex turns around and gives her one more kiss goodbye. Every other kiss they exchange in the show, flashing backward from the end to the beginning, is shown before that one kiss that guaranteed the story of Emma and Dexter wouldn't be left at just one night.