One Day is one of the best English language romantic shows on Netflix right now. The show is simple, old-school, and tragic—all the good stuff. Dexter Mayhew is what I’d like to call the vain and immature handsome bloke that everyone falls in love with based on appearance but never truly gets to understand. That’s the big difference between Emma and the rest. Emma is the first real friend Dexter’s had. She’s kind to him, a rare find, and instead of sleeping with him, she wants to talk and get to know him. For the most part, if you look like a Dexter, you’ve got nothing to worry about when it comes to finding lovers, but it also makes you the kind of person who is absolutely uninterested in finding a real match. If you’re treated like a trophy with no heart, I suppose that’s what you’ll end up becoming for real soon enough. With Emma, Dexter makes a real connection. She’s actually interested in knowing about him; the only other person in the world who has wanted to do that is his mom (yikes).
Between Emma and Dex, Emma’s the one with the plans, and Dex lives life spontaneously. It’s self-restraint vs. free will. Dex lives by the day, whereas Emma thinks about the future. I suppose this also comes from their different social classes, and this is also one reason they have many difficult encounters with each other, but that only makes them a stronger pairing. Dexter has it all—the looks, the money—and eventually he gets the fame bit too. However, he’s quite damaged by then. He’s got parental pressure. His mother thinks he’s wasting his life away, and his father’s completely given up on the guy. For most of his 20s, Dexter was the same person he was when he first met Emma. He never really changes or grows up in terms of becoming a mature, functioning adult. It’s when his mother falls ill that he gets a clearer picture of life. There’s a heartbreaking scene when he visits his mother, long after she’s started getting treatment for her cancer, and he’s unable to even look at her fragile state. He’s drunk off his head and can’t bear to see his mother in pain. He’s always seen her as glamorous, youthful, and flirtatious, all of his own attributes. I suppose that’s what frightens him the most, apart from losing her. He can’t imagine being in her position because that would mean he loses everything people love about him.
When his mother dies, Dex really doesn’t understand what to do with himself. He’s got fame, so he’s got the drugs and alcohol that come along with it, so he succumbs to his addiction and becomes a serial offender. He stops hanging out with the people who showed any interest in him and starts hopping from girl to girl like they’re the daily newspaper. It’s funny, because Dexter can be a pompous prick, but he’s unconfident and more insecure than your neighborhood tween. He tries to act all crude and straight-forward, but at the end of the day, he can only be that way with Emma because she knows what he’s really like. When the two of them go to Greece together, Dex admits to Emma that he always knew she had a crush on him a little while after college. He claims he liked her too and continues to do so, but he just wants to have “fun.” He’s not a “relationships” guy. Surely, this was one of Dex’s biggest regrets in life. I suppose Dex gets over this naive notion of “I don’t need love, while I have so many lovers.” When his mother dies and he feels truly alone, Emma has already moved on and is seeing someone who actually seems to care for her feelings. What’s really sad, though, is that Emma never really cared for Ian in the same way.
When Dex finds Sylvie, she transforms him. But it’s the fight between Emma and Dex that made him want to take that extra step and change himself. Sylvie teaches Dex to sober up and keeps him off the drugs and alcohol. He becomes serious about life for once. This is the same time his media career is going downhill, and he has no choice but to look for alternatives. I suppose once you’re off the drugs and drinks, you get a clearer picture of reality. Dex has other interests; he didn’t choose to be a game show host or a television heartthrob for 5 minutes of fame. It just happened somehow, and he went with it. Eventually, though, Dex does learn about his interests.
They say time heals all, and one day you’ll be able to see the brighter side of things, and we do see this change for Dex. After his mom dies, Emma cuts Dex out of her life, and when he’s at his lowest, he finds Sylvie, who helps him get out of his slump. It’s almost as if his life turns around completely as youth leaves him. Sylvie has Dex’s daughter and then cheats on him with his college friend, whom he happens to be working for. The things that Emma feared would’ve caused differences between her and Dex are what ended up happening to him with Sylvie. This is when Emma comes into the picture and helps Dex get back on his feet. Even then, the two of them are just friends because, at this point, Emma has her own plans. It’s almost like they switched positions. Eventually, though, they realize there’s no one else for the other. They’re meant to be together, and nothing or no one can stop them now. Or so they think.
When David Nicholls wrote One Day, he probably thought this would be too much of a happy ending, so let’s just mess things up and make it a tragedy. Does time heal all? I don’t know. When Emma dies, Dex is back in the dark abyss where he was left when his mother died. His father reminds him that he’s been dealing with her loss for nine years now, so it will get better for Dex too. Ian is kind enough to tell Dex not to give up because something will come his way. At the end of the series, Dex imagines Emma talking him through the pain. He pretends she’s by his side because that’s the only way he can get through it. There’s no one else in the world who understands him the way she does. In the end, I believe he imagines what life would’ve been like for the two of them if he had given up his immature ideas and just picked Emma on the day after graduation. Maybe they would’ve spent much more time together, loving each other, or maybe they would’ve fought and never gotten to know each other for real. We’ll never know. But what we do know is that Emma’s voice will always be at the back of Dex’s head, helping him through the pain.