Why Netflix’s Refreshingly Sex-Obsessed British Teen Show Had to End That Way

Left: Maeve played by Emma Mackey. Right: Otis played by Asa Butterfield.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Samuel Taylor/Netflix.

This post contains spoilers for the series finale of Sex Education

The final season of Netflix’s hit British teen show Sex Education—about Otis, the teenage son of a sex therapist, who creates a successful underground sex therapy clinic at his high school—has finally arrived, and with it, a long-awaited answer to one of the series’ biggest questions: Will Otis and Maeve finally end up together?

Sex Education sports an ensemble cast, but the will-they-won’t-they dynamic between the two classmates and clinic business partners has been the show’s driving relationship since the start. As a refresher, after three seasons of watching Otis, played by Asa Butterfield, pine after Emma Mackey’s Maeve, we finally saw Otis confess his long-harbored feelings at the end of Season 3. Maeve reciprocated, and for a brief, glorious moment, it seemed like the two lovebirds could finally get together … just in time for Maeve to leave for a prestigious writing program in America.

The newly released Season 4 sees Otis and Maeve attempting a long-distance relationship, which they struggle with, until a tragedy brings Maeve back home. When she does return, the tragedy rightfully occupying most of her mental space, the couple rarely get a moment alone. Their only date is hijacked by Otis’ drunk aunt, and then, when they pivot to trying to have sex in a closed pool, they get busted by the police. In the end, Maeve admits she loves her life abroad, while Otis knows they won’t make it long-term while living across the pond from each other. And so, in the series finale, they finally break up after having sex for the first time and saying “I love you” for the last.

It’s easy to see why audiences may feel cheated by this decision—after all, Otis and Maeve never really got a fair chance as a couple. But there’s a reason they never really happened: The truth is that Otis and Maeve, despite loving each other, are a horrible couple.

The pair tends to bring out the worst in each other. For example, Otis has a habit of blowing off everyone else he’s made promises to whenever Maeve asks for something. This becomes a point of tension between Otis and his best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) this season after Eric bitingly calls Otis’ attention to it. Being at Maeve’s beck and call has made Otis dick around a lot of people, namely his previous paramour Ruby (Mimi Keene), the It Girl in school with whom Otis breaks up in Season 3 after leading her on (something he sort of does again this season while Maeve is abroad). The stresses of Otis’ obsession with Maeve trigger his pattern of reverting to childish behavior and deflection when he’s frustrated or upset, resulting in tantrums that are often launched against his undeserving mother (Gillian Anderson), who, although at times emotionally bumbling, is well-meaning and supportive to the very end.

But if Otis deserves blame for perpetuating an unhealthy dynamic, then so does Maeve, who selfishly takes advantage of Otis’ fixation time and time again, failing to realize that he drops everything to respond to her every need. In Season 1, she mostly ignores her boyfriend in favor of setting up the sex therapy clinic and spending time with Otis. Later, Maeve asks Otis for help with something minor despite his persistent reminders that he promised to spend time with Eric for his birthday. Then, instead of properly communicating her feelings to Otis, she waits to tell him that she likes him until he has already tried to move on from her with someone new. Because she never let herself fight for Otis, she gives short shrift to every other potential love interest, at one point having to choose between Otis and her previous beau, Isaac (George Robinson). She is also unkind to Ruby in Season 4, when Otis was the one leading Ruby on, not the other way around. Overall, Maeve’s own special complex—wherein she believes that no one else can even understand her problems, let alone help her fix them—is exacerbated when she’s around Otis.

It would be a lie to say that the entire relationship is bad—Otis and Maeve are good to each other in fundamental ways. Otis wouldn’t have realized that he’s good at talking to people if Maeve hadn’t convinced him to set up the clinic. Maeve, in turn, finally found someone who would give her the much-needed reminder that she is smart, talented, and worth something—recognition that she didn’t get very often throughout her tumultuous childhood, as the daughter and younger sister of addicts. But that doesn’t change the fact that Otis and Maeve simply shouldn’t be together. Season 4 makes this clearer than ever. When given the chance to live apart, they grow. Otis is more attentive to others when hanging out with Ruby and Eric, while Maeve becomes more hopeful and open to the friendship and guidance of others while in the U.S.

By the show’s end, the choice seems obvious: Maeve and Otis have done all that they can do for each other. Instead of forcing them together for the sake of an easy narrative path or fan appeasement, the series lets the characters realize that and prioritize themselves. After all, it’s a show about growing up and into yourself—anything less would have been a betrayal of everything that makes Sex Education so wonderful.