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Netflix's 'One Day': Slow-burn romance or slow-burn heartbreak?

Before we proceed, spoiler alert: if you haven’t watched Netflix’s new original yet, the following will contain bits and bobs you might not want to hear. However, if I were you, I’d avoid the show altogether. Save yourself the heartache, or stick a knife in your gut for similar effect.


TikTok has been buzzing of late about the new TV show based on the David Nicholls book ‘One Day’, and although I’m wary of TikTok obsessions and the mediocre content they sometimes promote, this one sparked my curiosity instantly; I love a good tragedy more than the next girl. ‘One Day’ follows the lives of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, two former University of Edinburgh students that happened to cross paths at their college graduation party on July 15th, 1988. By chronicling the next 20 years of their lives, the series grapples with the idea of fate and forces us to watch these two come so close to ending up together, time and time again, before fizzling away even quicker than before. That is, at least up until the bittersweet end, when the former playboy finally cleans up his act and gets the girl. It’s a combination of various popular tropes ranging from ‘best friends to lovers’ to ‘popular boy/ nerdy girl’ to ‘right person wrong timing’, so gives you just a little bit of everything. The show is filled with heartbreak, angst, excitement, rage, and almost every terrifying emotion tied to the process of falling in love. That being said, I’d like to think the majority of us have it easier than these two.


I’ll admit, I watched the film adaptation starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess years ago, so I knew I wouldn’t be walking out a happy camper, but as all versions vary, I didn’t know what to expect before I pressed play on my screen. Either this show would fill the ancient hole in my chest carved by a movie that came out more than a decade ago, or delay the inevitable heartbreak I anticipated with fourteen episodes. The problem with TV shows as opposed to movies is that they give you just enough time to fall in love with the characters. Sympathizing with the character is one thing, but relating to them is another thing altogether, and I certainly did. I could see myself in both characters, in very contradictory ways. From Emma’s brown skin to her naivety, her quick wit to her lingering search for purpose – I was her. From Dexter’s dependence to his indifference, his sense of care to his hedonistic tendencies - I was him. This meant that I was rooting for them because if they could navigate their romantic and professional life, overcoming hurdles along the way, so could I.


The chemistry between Emma and Dexter was undeniable and piping hot throughout the show. I was intrigued by how their love story began, quite literally bumping into each other and almost sleeping together the same night. Hence, it was acknowledged off-the-bat that they were attracted to each other; so, with that out of the way, the binge was a process of repeatedly asking myself ‘are they going to be together now’? You’d think that a romantic love story wouldn’t start off so sexually, but I liked the idea that there is no ‘right’ or conventional way to meet your romantic partner. From there onwards, we watched the beginning of a beautiful - if not complicated - friendship and romance blossom. For the record, the show isn’t a sign that the boy you slightly fancy on your course might just be the great big love of your life, nor that the best love stories start with friendship, because if I’m being honest there were points in the series where I wondered if the pair should be together at all. I mean, shouldn’t love be easy? In fact, the show reiterates an already popular message of living passionately and appreciating what you have before its gone. It highlights the fickle nature of life – which can bring just as much darkness as it can light.


We’ve seen this ending before. The one where ‘they almost make it’. The one where everything falls together before it falls apart. The one where you want to scream at the writers and hurl your laptop towards the wall. Think ‘La La Land’ or ‘How I met your mother’, ‘Dear John’ or ‘Normal People’, basically any movie or tv show where the writers had a vendetta against their audience. Let’s call this phenomenon the ‘terrible thing’ for the sake of anyone yet to watch the show. So, we know towards the end of One Day we have the ‘terrible thing’ take place – rather cruelly and abruptly, I might add. With their wedding around the corner and the prospect of starting a family on the table, it felt savage for the writers to do what they did. Unnecessary even – why not let the two get their happily-ever-after and ride off into the sunset after all those years of waiting? But then you realize that not everyone gets it. Having twenty years of significant build-up does not entitle you to a happy love story because life just doesn’t work that way.


Not to sound masochistic but I do enjoy tragic endings. I’m not saying that watching ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ didn’t absolutely destroy my soul, but it forced me to think. Whilst a happy ending does provide narrative closure and let you drift off to sleep with a smile on your face, it’s the sad endings that really stick with you.  It puts things into perspective, and gently reminds you that, as cliché as it is to hear, you need to make the most of your life and appreciate the people in it whilst you can. So, if you haven’t given your mum a ring in a while, give her a call. You know she wants to hear your voice.


I’m not cynical of the reality of happy endings existing, I just like the acknowledgement that they’re not the only endings we get. Maybe it’s a coping strategy to prepare myself incase things don’t go my way. I tend to forget to appreciate my own life and the people in it until I watch something that forces me to realise how lucky I am. So, make the most of the little moments. Hold onto the pockets of happiness you get from mundane activities and cherish the feeling. Get rip-roaringly drunk and laugh about it with your friends tomorrow. Make that charcuterie board that you’ll never finish but get cute pictures of for your Instagram story. Buy that skirt in your basket you’re hesitant to purchase because it feels out of character. Fall in love with every cute stranger you meet that you’ll probably never see again. Fall in love with being alive.


Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew may not have gotten their happy ending, but the story doesn’t end there. As the credits roll, although we are left with a feeling of sorrow, we also leave comforted by the fact that not only did they bring happiness and fulfilment into each other’s lives, but they grew better because of it. As Dexter talks to his young daughter about Emma, we know that he’ll shower her with the same love Emma taught him to give. So, watch movies that make you happy, shows that bring you to the edge of your seat but also watch the ones that make you want to cry – they might just be the most important.

Words by Dyuksha Rai she/her


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