In the United Kingdom, where Netflix’s beloved Sex Education takes place, “college” is not the same as it is in the States. College is a stage of adolescent life in between high school and university. These colleges still have separate focuses and specialties, but feel somewhat like high school, considering the overall vibe of the studies and campus. With that in mind, Sex Education’s fourth and final season—which takes place at one of these U.K. colleges—feels a wee bit trapped in that limbo in between teenagerhood and adulthood.
This isn’t to say Sex Education’s final season is bad. Most of the storylines are as buoyant and exciting as the past seasons. But in losing popular folks like Lily (Tanya Reynolds) and Ola (Patricia Allison), as well as taking the kids out of the classic Moordale High, the show teeters for a few episodes before finding its footing. Still, any fan of Sex Education will enjoy the final season, as sad as it is to bid farewell to lovable personalities like Maeve (Emma Mackey), Otis (Asa Butterfield), Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), and Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood).
Sex Education works hard to replace the handful of main stars it’s lost, and around half of the time the show is successful at finding compelling new characters. Otis and Eric take a new bike path over to Cavendish College, a quirky arts school that feels like a utopian society. Here, the queer kids are popular and the traditional “popular” kids are outcasts. Eric is immediately accepted as the new leader of the pack. Otis, on the other hand, is relegated to the other castaways—like Ruby (Mimi Keene), who used to be the Queen Bee at Moordale.
The new populars are fun, a band of Eric, Aisha (Alexandra James), Abbi (Anthony Lexa), and Roman (Felix Mufti), who have a “gossip jar” to penalize negative chitchat, an easy way for tension to skyrocket in their ivory tower for cool kids. Otis losing Eric isn’t the worst part of Cavendish, though. O (Thaddea Graham) becomes his villain, a rivaling sex therapist who hosts a podcast with Otis’ mom Jean (Gillian Anderson). When Otis attempts to reestablish his sex clinic on campus, he realizes that all of his potential clients are headed O’s way instead. What’s a teenage boy to do without his beloved sex clinic?! All of this, and Maeve is thousands of miles away completing her coursework in America.
The loss of beloved characters from previous seasons does allow the show to give more time to folks we always wanted to see more of—like, for example, Cal (Dua Saleh), who struggles with body dysmorphia as they come out as trans. We get to see more of Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) and Viv (Chinenye Ezeudu) as well, a strong duo that rivals the closeness of Otis and Eric’s friendship. The best breakthrough character, though, has to be Ruby, who earns a backstory, a love triangle, and total main character status. Ruby became a fan favorite last season after having a fling with Otis; Sex Education saw our demands to see more of the bratty diva and gave us exactly what we wanted. Ruby is a true gem—no pun intended.
But at the same time, some characters fall off the deep end. Jean’s struggles with new motherhood and podcasting are dull in comparison to her fling with Jakob (Mikael Persbrandt, who is also absent this season) and storylines with Otis. Sex Education also seems to never know what to do with Adam (Connor Swindells), Eric’s bully-turned-love-interest, who spends the whole season picking up horseback riding. If the Sex Education fandom was upset seeing Eric fall for the man who terrorized him, they’re going to have an even harder time finding any interest in Adam’s new crush on a horse girl.
Some things will never change with Sex Education—the best characters retain their high quality in Season 4. Although she’s separated from the cast for most of the season, spunky Maeve conquers all her demons, including a villainous Dan Levy, in America. Cheerful Aimee does what she does best: smile, but also shine a light on recovering from traumatic experiences. And Sex Education’s very best character, the marvelous Eric Effiong, has a bounty of storylines—from Christianity to popularity to friendship hilarity—that suit him so well.
But Sex Education began with sex therapy, and so, it also needs to end on sex therapy. Otis’ clinic is always at the center of the story. It’s always been a bit confusing why Otis, a straight cis white man who has a total of one sexual partner, feels empowered to be the sole voice of reason in hundreds of kids’ sex lives. For Otis to meet his match in O, a queer woman of color, is a brilliant note for Sex Education to end on—in fact, it almost feels as if the show was always building to this moment. Otis needs everyone else (Maeve, Eric, Ruby, the list goes on) to help him; O does it all on her own. But teenagerhood, which can be so dominated by discovering one’s sexuality and understanding a growing body, is a team effort. Maybe Otis has it right.
While Sex Education does stumble with a lot of changes in its fourth season, the show does, eventually, hit its stride near the end. Isn’t that what teenagerhood is all about too—figuring life out after big changes? The final installment is the weakest of the series, but at the same time, the worst episode of Sex Education is still wonderful. The kids—and even the parents and teachers—have come of age. Good thing they have all that sexpertise as they head into their fruitful years of uni.
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