The Guilty Ending, Explained

Image Credit: Netflix

‘The Guilty’ on Netflix is a thriller drama set within the confines of an LAPD 911 response call center. It follows officer Joe Baylor who answers a call from a kidnapping victim and then frantically attempts to save her while unable to leave his workstation. The film follows the central character almost exclusively, leaving the rest of the narrative to unfold through phone calls between Joe and various characters.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua, the film combines a tense central crime with a broader story of Joe’s own dark past and search for redemption. The twisting plot likely left some of you with questions about the fates of the characters. So let’s dive into the ending of ‘The Guilty’ and make sure we got everything straight. SPOILERS AHEAD.

The Guilty Plot Synopsis

The film opens at an LAPD communications center on a chaotic night of forest fire emergencies and multiple crimes occurring simultaneously. Officer Joe Baylor mans the phones but is bored and brushes off most callers with verbal reassurances and mild chastizing. We soon find out that he is to attend a court hearing the next morning. The hearing is for an as yet unknown misdeed that Joe has committed, which has resulted in the officer being relegated to the call center. On calls with his colleagues, there are reassurances of getting him “back on the streets” soon.

When Joe gets a call from a distressed woman named Emily Lighton, who claims to be calling from the vehicle in which she is being kidnapped, he springs into action. Frantically coordinating efforts with the highway patrol and calling in favors from old colleagues, the police officer is able to narrow down the woman’s location. He also learns that she has two young children. However, when a police team reaches Emily’s home, they find that her infant son has been stabbed.

The Guilty Ending: Is Emily Lighton Alive or Dead?

All attempts to find the van in which Emily is being transported fail. In one of their conversations, to Joe’s horror, Emily reveals that it was her that stabbed Oliver. Soon after, she is able to escape her captor, who turns out to be her former husband and Oliver’s father. Emily is finally discovered on the edge of an overpass and subsequently rescued by the highway patrol. Relieved, Joe calls his old accomplice Rick and tells him to reveal the truth at the upcoming court hearing. The film then closes with news voiceovers announcing Joe pleading guilty to manslaughter and being convicted.

Joe’s big change of heart comes from his interaction with Emily Lighton, who nearly commits suicide after realizing she’s stabbed her son Oliver. Initially under the impression that she was helping her child by cutting his stomach open to let out the “snakes,” the mentally disturbed mother begins to become aware of what she’s done after noticing her hands and clothes drenched in blood.

Emily subsequently climbs onto the edge of a freeway, which is the last that Joe hears on his call with her. However, a little while later, he gets a call from the highway patrol saying that Emily agreed to step away from the edge and is now in custody. Therefore, Emily survives in the end.

Is Emily’s Son Oliver Alive or Dead?

The police team that goes to Emily’s house finds her and Henry’s two children Abbie and Oliver. To their horror, they discover Oliver has been stabbed. Joe initially suspects Henry (who has a criminal record) to have stabbed the child. However, it is later revealed that Emily suffered a mental breakdown and subsequently stabbed her child, thinking she was helping him.

Oliver is thought to be dead until nearly the end of the film. However, soon after he gets word of Emily’s survival, Joe is told by a colleague that Oliver is in the ICU at a hospital. The colleague also tells him the child is stable. This is especially significant for Joe since he is deeply attached to his own daughter, who lives away from him with her mother. The police officer seems to have taken on Emily’s case as a journey to redemption for his misdeeds. After being informed of Oliver’s survival, he finally gets up from his workstation and walks away.

Why Did Henry Fisher Kidnap Emily Lighton?

Henry, who has a criminal past and has lost his visitation rights, is initially suspected of having violently kidnapped Emily at knifepoint. Therefore, when Oliver is found stabbed, Joe naturally suspects Henry. However, when Emily finally reveals that it was her that stabbed Oliver, the whole scenario gets flipped upside down.

The next time Joe speaks to Henry, he finally listens to what the alleged kidnapper says. Henry explains that Emily, who has a history of mental illness, had a mental breakdown because of not taking her medicines and subsequently stabbed their infant son. Therefore, Henry is on the way to the psychiatric hospital to have Emily committed before she can harm someone else or herself. When asked why he didn’t call the police, Henry claims that no one ever helped the couple before, so he doesn’t have faith in the police and decided to take matters into his own hands.

Who Did Joe Kill? Is He Going to Jail?

After Emily reveals her incident with Oliver, Joe opens up about his dark past. A few months ago, he fatally shot a 19-year old named Joseph. As Joe tries to remember the details of the incident, he cannot recollect whether his victim was even armed or not. Therefore, the reason for Joe’s court hearing then becomes apparent. It is also clear that his colleagues who will serve as witnesses have fabricated their testimonies to help prove Joe innocent, which is why they keep mentioning getting him “back on the street.”

The film closes with Joe begging Rick to tell the truth in court, essentially telling him to go against his statement and help indict Joe. It is not revealed whether Rick changes his testimony, however, that does not matter. Joe himself pleads guilty to manslaughter, and as seen in the closing scenes, becomes one of the few police officers to be convicted. Considering the crime and the seemingly low-threat victim, Joe is going to prison for a few years at the very least.

Read More: Who Voices Emily and Henry in The Guilty?