It’s the right time for Sex Education to climax. The cast are unmistakably adults and they’re becoming international stars in their own right. The variations on the premise have dried up, the emphasis weighing more on the Education than the Sex. And with the series’ insistence on adding more and more characters to each season, the main players are at risk of becoming lost in the iridescent forestry of Moordale – especially when you enlist famous names like Hannah Gadsby and Dan Levy.
At the same time, how are we supposed to cope without it? Sex Education was ever-changing, almost amorphous, as episodes hop across a vast buffet of socio-political hot potatoes that many shows would barely touch. It’s more than a teen sitcom: it’s a public service that everyone deserves.
This concluding season pushes harder into trans issues, ableism, religion, post-natal depression, emotional abuse, religion and grief – mostly within the new, glowed-up setting of Cavendish College. A paradise for liberal, inclusive zoomers, Cavendish provides yoga, computer tablets and reusable bottles for every student.
Mimi Keene and Asa Butterfield as Ruby and Otis. Photo: Netflix
Moordale Secondary has lost funding and students are scattered. It’s a good set-up to casually explain why regulars like Tanya Reynolds, Patricia Allison and Simone Ashley have disappeared. But 17-year-old sex therapist Otis (Asa Butterfield) and his ‘effervescent’ best friend Eric (Gatwa) remain in the series, entering Cavendish alongside the well-evolved Ruby (Mimi Keene).
Isaac (George Robinson) also attends, but he despises the college’s faulty lift and his hatred builds to a beautiful protest about accessibility and ableist exclusion. He grows closer to the ditzy but infectiously loveable Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood), who finds a new creative spark beyond baking vulva cakes.
Mr Groff (Alistair Petrie), former Moordale headmaster, now subs at Cavendish and tries to make things right with his son Adam (Connor Swindells), who’s found a new passion at the local stables. Cal (Dua Saleh) tries to further embrace their non-binary identity by applying testosterone gel, which ignites a second puberty. Maeve (Emma Mackey at the top of her game) is no longer in the country, taking a writing course in the US with the stern and pompous lecturer Thomas Molloy (Levy) while maintaining a long-distance relationship with Otis.
Emma Mackey as Maeve. Photo: Netflix
There are too many characters to describe here, the multiplicity an occasional flaw. The series manages to juggle the favourites and the newbies with adequate and often heartwarming balance. But the end is in sight and, as nuanced and fascinating as the side stories are, you crave more time with the originals.
Otis competes with Cavendish’s designated sex therapist O (Thaddea Graham), while Eric hangs out with a popular LGBT+ clique – causing a division between the two friends. It’s curious and probably necessary to see them on different wavelengths; their dynamic was in danger of becoming repetitive. But their disconnect is unsatisfying as they spend much of the series’ final hoorah in passive-aggressive moods.
At least it allows them to grow on their own. Eric becomes ambivalent about his church, trying to bridge the gap between religion and homosexuality. The scenario isn't perfectly constructed, but it's a respectable effort. And despite still being adorable, Otis has never been more annoying. He becomes a jealous boyfriend and continues insulting his mother Jean (Gillian Anderson) like she didn't just give birth and almost die in the process.
Thaddea Graham as O. Photo: Netflix
Season four is the weakest, but it's still an addictive, eight-and-a-half-hour experience that only Sex Education can provide. There are at least two episodes that are among the best of the entire series, punctuated with scenes that washed this critic’s face with tears (especially during a poignant U2 moment). These kids are growing up, facing the darkness of the world with colour, acceptance and optimism.
Some of the character arcs close without complete satisfaction, and the final shot rises with a pinch of disappointment (the social media outrage is easy to picture). But there’s a profound honesty about it. Their journeys haven’t ended; they’re only just beginning to learn, to live. Either that or creator Laurie Nunn has a spinoff in mind (Aimee deserves one, for sure). If not, we have to deal with the death of Sex Education. It needs to end, but it’s hard to say goodbye.
Sex Education season 4 is available on Netflix from Thursday 21 September.
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21 Sep 23 – 21 Sep 24, ON NETFLIX
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