By Riley Dauber
Netflix’s original series “Sex Education” officially came to a close with the release of the fourth and final season on Sept. 21.
The British teen comedy, which first premiered in 2019, follows Otis Milbun (Asa Butterfield) as he starts a student-led sex clinic at his school with the help of outcast Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey). His mother Jean (Gillian Anderson) is a licensed sex therapist and often provides a foil to the teenage-centered plots.
Many of the show’s storylines focus on the ensemble cast’s relationships, and touch on themes of race, religion, sexuality, and gender identity and the roles they play in one’s sex life.
Seasons one and two were strong submissions into the large and oftentimes oversaturated teen drama genre. While the show relied on some beloved tropes, including the mean girl, her clique, and the awkward outcasts, “Sex Education” quickly established itself as a stand-out.
“Right from the start, ‘Sex Education’ didn’t pull any punches. It was dealing with some really full-on issues head on, but also with plenty of humor,” the show’s intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien said.
The characters are one of the show’s strongest elements. Even the antagonists, like season one’s bully Adam (Connor Swindells), grow and discover what they want. Head mean girl Ruby (Mimi Keene) has depth and financial struggles that separate her from previous iterations of the trope. Each character feels grounded in reality despite the over-the-top silliness of the sex scenes.
The show’s honest and humorous portrayal of sexual intimacy also encourages open conversations and normalizes awkward moments, both in and out of the bedroom.
“For its audience of young people, I can imagine this makes the prospect of sex — whether they’re having it or not — much less intimidating,” culture writer Lucy Ford said.
While the show’s format could lead to numerous seasons, the fourth season is its last, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Following the less-than-impressive season three, season four had the daunting task of concluding the major storylines and providing fan-favorite characters and relationships with satisfying endings.
This task proved difficult with the departure of many staple characters, including Lily (Tanya Reynolds), Ola (Patricia Allison), and Olivia (Simone Ashley). According to Radio Times, these actors left to either pursue new projects or make room for a “creative reset” that would focus on the current characters and their transition to a new school called Cavendish College.
At first, season four may seem overstuffed, with new characters and plotlines that struggle to wrap up by the show’s conclusion. The show introduces new characters, including Abbi (Anthony Lexa), Roman (Felix Mufti), and Aisha (Alexandra James), three students at Cavendish who seamlessly fit into the core group of characters — but it is a shame we only get to know them for eight episodes.
Other characters and plotlines feel out of place, including the introduction of Jean’s sister Joanna (Lisa McGrillis). While her character arc and reconnection with her older sister is heartwarming, the storyline feels rushed and random for the last season of the show.
However, the final season offers plenty of merit. Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and Aimee’s (Aimee Lou Wood) plotlines are arguably the strongest and most consistent. While Eric has struggled with his sexuality and religion throughout the entire show, his storyline naturally ended with him finding a new queer community at school and a better understanding of his faith.
Some viewers may find Eric’s troubles with Otis a bit repetitive, but it is natural that he feels left out of Otis’ girl-crazy life. The focus on religion and how it intersects with one’s sexuality is also a refreshing aspect, especially for a teen drama.
As for Aimee, she spends the majority of the season finding a creative outlet following her traumatic assault in season two. She embraces the infamous jeans from her assault and uses them in her photography.
Aimee’s sexual assault plotline, which began in season two and is present throughout the rest of the show, received critical praise. Wood even won a BAFTA for her performance, according to BBC Culture.
“In most shows, [the assault] would have been covered in one or two episodes max, but in ‘Sex Education,’ Aimee’s trauma doesn’t magically go away when the credits roll,” entertainment journalist David Opie said.
Maeve’s educational and familial troubles are also engaging, and Mackey proves why she is such an integral part of the show during an emotional scene at a funeral.
Regardless of the various storylines and character arcs, season four manages to conclude its overarching story. The ending is a satisfying call-back to the beginning of the season and Otis and Maeve’s relationship throughout the show.
Along with its charming characters, “Sex Education” is sure to be remembered for its positive portrayals of sexual relationships. Every topic feels welcome on the show, providing an educational experience for viewers. According to BBC Culture, “However ‘Sex Education’s’ legacy develops in the coming years, there is no doubt that it has meant a tremendous amount to viewers who may have learned something about their own sexuality from watching it.”
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Photo Caption: Gillian Anderson stars as Jean Milburn, a licensed sex therapist, in Netflix’s original series “Sex Education.”