Spoilers follow for the Netflix series One Day, including the ending.
“It’s just a day” is uttered more than once in One Day, the new Netflix romance based on David Nicholls’s best-selling 2009 tearjerker of a novel, which, yes, was also adapted into a weepy 2011 movie with a famously tragic ending, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. Spoiler: There’s no such thing as “just a day” in One Day. As we meet up with best friends sarcastic wannabe writer Emma Morley (Ambika Mod) and oblivious but kind rich boy Dexter Mayhew (Leo Woodall) on the same day over 20 years, it becomes clear that regardless of how meaningful or completely forgettable the events of that July 15 are, whether they’re having an argument that will forever change their relationship or we simply find them talking in the park, it’s still an important day. Every July 15 we visit, from the day Emma and Dex meet to the day, well, if you know, you know (and if you don’t know, you will find out because all of the details are here, you’ve been warned!) tells a little part of Emma and Dex’s winding, gorgeous, frustrating, and heart-wrenching love story. So, how exactly does Dexter and Emma’s romance play out? Let’s take a look at it, day by day.
How was Emma’s July 15? She’s just graduated from college at the top of her class. She spends the wee hours flirting with and bringing home Dexter Mayhew, the hottest guy at school whom she has a massive crush on, and he surprises her by totally being down to make out a little and talk about the future and fall asleep next to each other. Before they say good-bye, he asks for her info so they can stay in touch. Yeah, I’d say that’s a great day.
How was Dexter’s July 15? From day one, Dexter can’t quit Emma Morley, the most interesting woman he’s ever encountered. She’s a little mean at times (it’s a defense mechanism) but challenges him in a way no one ever has. Even after a night spent dancing, an early morning spent talking (and making out), and a sunny afternoon on Arthur’s Seat together, he races after her to make sure they’ll be able to stay in touch. He can’t help himself! That’s one unexpectedly good day — and unbeknownst to him then, a life-changing one to boot.
How was Emma’s July 15? Emma, so hopeful about the future on graduation night, kicks off the day by getting fingered by the pretentious director of her traveling theater troupe, who, yes, does use “stage right” and “stage left” while inside of her. So, that’s depressing! But she also decides she’s going to take her destiny into her own hands, and instead of doing what Mr. Stage Directions wants her to do (stay with him) or what her parents want her to do (move home to Leeds), she’s doing what she wants. Emma decides to move in with best friend Tilly in London and finally make a go of her writing dreams. So, ultimately, that’s a pretty productive day!
How was Dexter’s July 15? Dexter’s having a real “when in Rome” type of day, if the Romans, too, started their day with some vigorous sex (probably), had to listen to their mom make fun of their photojournalism dreams (probably not), and then realized their mom has cancer (switch “cancer” with “malaria” and, yeah, most likely). It’s not the best kind of day on which to end your yearlong vacation, but it is … a day?
How was Emma’s July 15? Any day in which you’re forced to wear A VISOR and dance to “La Cucaracha” four times every hour in public is a shitty one. Poor Em. Her dreams of becoming a successful writer are dead on arrival, her job at a terrible Mexican restaurant is killing her soul, and she is so embarrassed by it all that she lashes out at her best friend Dex (as is her M.O.). Yeah, the day ends with her cuddling with Dex in the park while he tells her things like, “You don’t bore me. You could never bore me. You’re one in a million,” with that face of his, but that is unhelpful at the moment. Like R&B icon Monica told us, sometimes “it’s just one of them days” — don’t take it personal. Okay, that song didn’t come out until 1995, but the sentiment stands! Emma just needs some time!
How was Dexter’s July 15? Let’s see, he’s going for a TV presenter gig, so that’s cool. But a few hours later, the person whose opinion he respects most in the world repeatedly rips him apart for wanting a job “in the media,” which is much less cool. While his mother’s health is clearly still weighing on him, he does get to spend a summer evening lying in the park with his best friend, telling her some hard truths about how she gives up on herself and reminding her why she’s so great. Dex, too, is probably like, I don’t know why this popped into my head, but this does feel like just one of them days that a girl (and also a privileged white man) goes through.
How was Emma’s July 15? Oh, did you think this July 15 was going to be the July 15 these two ding-dongs got their heads out of their asses and realized they both want each other and they should just go for it already? It makes sense. They are together on a vacation in Greece, after all. There is longing for 1988, sneak peeks during shower time, and a sexual-tension-fueled sunscreen application. Alas, no. Everything is ruined when Emma admits that she used to have a massive crush on Dexter and he kind of brushes it off. (He already knew that.) Dex tells her that he has a thing for her too, but says he “fancies everybody” and that he isn’t looking for anything serious. Emma realizes that she’s been letting Dexter string her along all this time. It’s a real eye-opening day for Em — and us!
How was Dexter’s July 15? If you can’t get vulnerable with your best friend while skinny-dipping in the Aegean Sea, when can you, Dex? For Dexter, this will be a day full of regrets. For us, it is one of those days where you want to pull out your hair because how many times can you watch one human self-sabotage because they’re scared? Probably, like, twice.
How was Emma’s July 15? Emma has made some real progress since cutting the “pining for Dexter Mayhew” cord post-Greece, and on July 15, 1992, we find her thriving. She has her own place, is on her way to being a teacher, and has forged her own life outside of Dexter. Do I dare say it’s a bit of an easy, breezy day? In fact, on this very day, she has a lovely date with former co-worker Ian, who is a little dorky but tells her things like how he always thought Dexter took her for granted. Little does Ian know how horned up that gets her. But he eventually finds out.
How was Dexter’s July 15? What does one call a day in which you show up drunk, high, and late to your dying mother’s last birthday? Is there a word for a day in which you face her imminent death by carrying her up the stairs to her bedroom, sleep through her dinner, and then have to sit there while she tells you the TV show you host is shit? What sums up your mom saying she thinks that while you have the potential to be a great person, at the moment you are a terrible one? From top to bottom, that is one tragically wasted day when there aren’t many left with your mom, my man!
How was Emma’s July 15? Aside from the creepy headmaster at her school definitely hitting on her, it’s one bang-up day for ol’ Em. Teaching may not have been the dream, but she’s good at it. Not only does she give a pretty top-notch pep talk to a student, but she gets a rousing standing ovation for her directorial debut — a one-night-only high-school production of Oliver! — and her boyfriend Ian remains obsessed with her.
How was Dexter’s July 15? Where is love, indeed! Teenage girls across England may call famous TV presenter Dexter Mayhew “Sexy Dexy,” but on the day of his first big live prime-time show, critics all agree that Dexter might just be “the most odious man on television.” The reviews break Dexter, who is already pretty broken over his mother’s recent death, and he resorts to getting absolutely shit-faced before going live. The show is such a complete disaster that it’s hard to watch. The impulse to drink yourself into oblivion is understandable because that is one wildly embarrassing day on a massive public scale. Better luck next year, Dex!
How was Emma’s July 15? What did 1994 ever do for us, huh? Give us the Lillehammer Olympics? The premiere of Friends? You can keep it! This day sucks the big one. Look at Emma! Her writing is going nowhere, she’s living with Ian but clearly is not in love with him, and the one ray of hope to salvage what seems to be the latest bad day in a string of bad days — dinner with her best friend — quickly turns into the biggest dumpster fire of them all. Emma is so excited to see Dexter, but since we saw him last, he has really embraced that “most odious man” moniker. Pretentious and condescending, more worried about getting high and being seen than his friendship, Dexter turns cruel. When the two finally get into it, Emma tells Dexter that, before, he made her feel good about herself, but now he makes her “feel like shit.” By the time he goes on about how Emma is judgmental and patronizing, Emma realizes they are at an impasse, and she walks off.
How was Dexter’s July 15? The saddest part about the entire blow-up is that you can see in Dexter’s face he knows exactly what he’s doing — you can see the moment of hesitation — but he pushes and pushes. It’s more than self-sabotage; it’s self-flagellation. This is one legitimately heartbreaking day — somebody save this guy from himself!
How was Emma’s July 15? Emma realizes that her affair with the creepy — and married! — headmaster (yep, that one) is actually gross and she would like to be excluded from that narrative; she has an emotional conversation with a very drunk Ian in which he finally accepts that Emma dumped his ass; and she FINALLY feels inspired enough to sit down at her computer and start that novel in earnest — is anyone else getting some real “One Day More” vibes from 1995? Things feel like they’re changing! A revolution is afoot! The anticipation of what’s to come might be laced with fear, but there is also hope. Sure, Les Miserables didn’t exactly work out well for most of those people, but at least when it’s “One Day More” time, anything feels possible.
How was Dexter’s July 15? Unclear, since we never run into him in 1995. However, Ian does mention that he read about Dexter and Suki, his former co-presenter turned superstar, breaking up. Has the guy hit rock bottom yet? Is he working on himself at all? We can only hope.
How was Emma’s July 15? We don’t know! Let’s assume she spent it writing.
How was Dexter’s July 15? On the plus side, he’s sober. Unfortunately, he’s currently stuck in a day in which one could seriously use a drink. His career is in the shitter — even the producers of video-game-review show Game On! don’t want him back for a second season, something he learns while meeting his girlfriend Sylvie’s horror show of a family in the Cotswolds. He’s defeated and lacking confidence, and he lets Sylvie’s snotty family treat him like crap. He doesn’t do himself any favors when, during a game of “Are You There, Moriarity?” he almost breaks Sylvie’s nose, but she eventually forgives him. He tells her he loves her, and they seem happy. And yet! When thinking about this monstrous experience, all Dex wants to do is tell Emma about it. Okay, 1996 is coming in hot with some interesting developments.
How was Emma’s July 15? Bless you, 1997! And bless you, sweet Tilly for getting married and forcing Emma and Dexter to be in the same room together. Emma is truly living life to the fullest here. She is getting her novel published and was somehow inexplicably given a large enough advance that she can quit teaching; she looks hot as hell; and she crushes the wedding toast. When she and Dexter get time alone, they pick up right where they left off (with the good stuff, not the screaming at each other in the street stuff). There’s forgiveness, joking around, and admissions that they both truly miss each other. When Dex tells her that he’s getting married and Sylvie is pregnant, she’s genuinely happy but worried she’ll lose him all over again. He promises that won’t happen. It’s a bittersweet symphony, sure, but hey, that’s life. (Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony” came out in 1997, thank you very much.) Overall, it’s an emotionally charged day, full of joy and agony.
How was Dexter’s July 15? WAIT. I haven’t even told you about THE KISS. That’s right. After the wedding and baby and promises to always be friends stuff, Dexter and Emma lean into one another and softly, sweetly kiss before backing away, never saying another word about it. I imagine Dexter lying in bed that night next to Sylvie, thinking, Well, what a confusing day that was, and he doesn’t mean the line dance he stumbled through!
How was Emma’s July 15? Things are going great for Emma Morley: She’s running off to marketing meetings for her novel, her friendship with Dex is back on track, and she even gets to hold Tilly’s cute baby. Still, when we see her looking a bit wistfully at Tilly and Graham being loving partners, you know she’s thinking about what she might be missing. Even with all of her success, it feels like something is missing from this day.
How was Dexter’s July 15? Honestly, it’s a pretty decent day. Sure, Dex took the job offer from his old pal Callum, which turned out to be running the register at his coffee-and-sandwich shop, but he doesn’t seem too bothered by it. Nor is he too bothered when Sylvie, at her wit’s end with the baby and house renovations and incessant questioning from her parents about Dex’s work situation, bites his head off. He spends a lovely evening with his daughter, Jasmine, while Sylvie goes to a hen party. In fact, when she calls to check in, Dex gives her this whole speech about how he’s trying to be better for her, and he is very sincere about it! Unfortunately for Dex, she’s making that call in a hotel room after just having been railed by his friend/boss, Callum. So, uh, there might be a pretty awful day in the near future.
How was Emma and Dexter’s July 15? As preeminent philosopher Prince once demanded: “Everybody party like it’s 1999.” And party we shall because, friends, huge news: Emma and Dexter finally get together!! Sure, it was inevitable, but IT IS HAPPENING. In Paris! Dex arrives angry about his ex-wife and sad about what his divorce has done to his relationship with his daughter, but mostly he wants to talk to Emma about the sex they had a few months ago before she fled to Paris for “research.” He hasn’t stopped thinking about it or how they should be together. But, sacre bleu! Emma has a French boyfriend! Dexter is so upset at the news he bails on their dinner plans. But then! So does Emma! And they look at each other and they know, and they have insanely romantic sex! Emma makes him promise never to hurt her, and he tells her he will never do that. It is one of the greatest days ever. For all of us. Throughout history.
How was Emma’s July 15? She wakes up in bed with the person she loves most in this world, and he asks her to move in with him because he is utterly, hopelessly in love with her. Oh, baby, we’re on top of the world today! Nothing can stop us!
How was Dexter’s July 15? He wakes up in bed with the person he loves most in the world, and she stays by his side while he convinces his dad that he is using the money his mom left him to buy an old fish market and turn it into a café. Dex’s dad trusts Emma, and Emma 100 percent believes in Dex, so it is a resounding yes all around. Oh, and Emma agrees to move in. This day is brimming with optimism! I don’t think there is one thing that could ruin this for us, right? It’s total joy from here on out, RIGHT?
How was Emma’s July 15? She’s working on her fourth novel, she’s excited about her upcoming wedding (!!), and after a bike and a swim, she spends the evening with Dexter and Jasmine and it makes her realize that she is ready — and really wants — to have a baby with Dexter. Yep, Em and Dex are still riding that happy, hopeful train today. It feels so good!
How was Dexter’s July 15? His café is open but slow to catch on in the neighborhood. Still, back at home, Dexter spends a perfect and perfectly normal evening with his daughter and fiancée, who tells him that she wants to have a baby — something he’s been waiting to hear her say. (Whenever she was ready. He’s actually such a gentleman.) With respects to July 15, 1999, is this actually the greatest day of all time?
How was Emma’s July 15? Ah! No! This is the worst. I take back everything I said before. Emma picks a fight with Dexter because she got her period even though they’ve been trying to have a baby for a year. He tries to comfort her with talks of the house they’re going to go look at later, but she’s pretty down about the whole thing. She spends the rest of the day writing and then hops on her bike to take a swim. She leaves Dexter a message apologizing for snapping at him and telling him she loves him and that she’ll see him in five minutes. And then she gets hit by a car and dies there in the street. That’s not a typo, folks: Emma’s life is cut tragically short. Let me go ahead and check my super-scientific Day Rating Scale — yep, that’s the World’s Worst Day.
How was Dexter’s July 15? Not to be, like, flippant about Pearl Harbor or anything, but July 15, 2002, is also a day that will live in infamy. Because, to paraphrase FDR: WHAT THE FUCK. It’s especially brutal because we only follow Dexter before he finds out that the love of his life is dead. Up until then, my dude is having a pretty normal day! His café is bustling, he’s trying to remind his wife that they have time to figure out the baby stuff, and he’s excited to show her a great house. He leaves her a message telling her he loves her and he listens to a similar one from her. When we leave him, all is well. ALL WAS WELL.
How was Emma’s July 15? Well, she’s dead, so you tell me!
How was Dexter’s July 15? The first anniversary of his wife, his soul mate, his best friend’s death is one never-ending train wreck: Drunk at a little kid’s birthday party; even drunker at a bar; so drunk at a strip club that he gets beat up and kicked out. Bruised and bloodied, in all senses of the word, he winds up throwing up and passing out on Sylvie’s floor. She does her best to clean him up, but eventually it is his dad who picks him up and takes him home, and he winds up sobbing uncontrollably in his childhood bed. What could be worse than this day? A day when your eyes are peeled open A Clockwork Orange style, but here you’re forced to watch that Sarah McLachlan dog commercial on a loop for 24 hours?
How was my day? It was awful, thank you for asking. I’m honestly taking this really hard.
How was Emma’s July 15? WELL, SHE’S DEAD, SO YOU TELL ME.
How was Dexter’s July 15? I mean, it’s better than 2003, but that’s relative. Don’t get me wrong: It’s still a day that makes you want to slide down a wall into a puddle of your own tears. But, at least this year, there’s no vomit or blood. There are, however, still tears. Sure, Dex puts on a brave face when the people closest to him spend the day at his place to make sure he’s okay, but once they leave — oh, buddy. Finally alone, Dexter proceeds to get drunk, sit in the room where he’s storing all of Emma’s things, and imagine her there beside him. Ghost Emma tells him he won’t always feel like this. Tears roll down his face. It’s gorgeous and completely shattering all at once. WE’RE ALL SAD ARE YOU HAPPY, ONE DAY??
How was Emma’s July 15? Incomprehensible sobbing.
How was Dexter’s July 15? On this day, Dexter decides to take his daughter and father to Edinburgh — where he visits all of the places he and Emma went to on that very first day. He goes to the lawn where they bumped into each other dancing. He stops outside of her old apartment where they talked until dawn. He and Jasmine walk up to Arthur’s Seat, and he trails behind her the same way he did Emma. When he’s on those steps again, we learn that he didn’t just ask for Emma’s information and say good-bye — he planted a big, passionate kiss on her; one in a not-long-enough line of passionate kisses. Dexter still carries a heaviness with him, but now the memories don’t completely unmoor him. It’s bittersweet. It’s nice to see that Dex is dealing with his grief and that Ghost Emma was right — but what about us, Ghost Emma? We don’t get years to move through our grief, we get … an episode? That’s simply not enough episodes. And it’s definitely not enough days. Maybe there are never enough days. Maybe that’s the point. Or, maybe the point is to make human adults snot-sob into their shirts over fictional characters. I don’t know for sure! But I am leaning toward the latter. Either way, what a day, am I right?