Sex Education season 3 review: Sensational Netflix show delivers its most stimulating season yet
Sex Education season 3Creator - Laurie NunnCast - Asa Butterfield, Emma Mackey, Ncuti Gatwa, Connor Swindells, Aimee Lou Wood, Gillian Anderson
It’s really remarkable how drastically the central characters in Netflix’s Sex Education have evolved over the course of three spectacular seasons. Otis, who used to be such an introvert, has come into his own (socks). His mother, Dr Jean Milburn, is no longer defined by character traits, and is now a fully-fleshed human being. And as a result, the show itself has transformed from the ‘raunchy teen comedy’ that it originally threatened to be, into something more dramatic, willing to tackle prickly themes with the same matter-of-factness that some of its characters bring to shaving their prickly morning stubbles.
And that’s what makes Sex Education so special. It’s revolutionary without feeling the need to organise a parade in its own honour. This, I suppose, is the essence of normalisation. In any given scene, the show is deftly juggling ‘issues’ as volatile as gender identity, teen sexuality and middle-age crisis. And it’s all so watchable that you never feel like you’re being lectured
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But certainly, that’s exactly what the new headmistress Hope Haddon does with every student that has the misfortune of crossing her path. Hired as a replacement for Michael Groff, under whose leadership Moordale developed a reputation for being a ‘sex school’, Hope essentially takes the Dolores Umbridge approach to discipline. Thrown off by her youthful approachability, the students recoil as Hope goes about systematically dismantling the social order of the school.
She introduces uniforms and enforces strict regulations; she also makes sure that students walk in single files and seemingly endorses abstinence as a viable deterrent for unwanted pregnancies. As someone who went to a Catholic missionary school for 13 years, none of this sounds out of the ordinary to me. But this is Moordale we’re talking about, the school where, as Eric Effiong succinctly puts it in one scene, students ‘f**k in the bushes’.
Sex Education continues subverting audience expectations in its third season by sidelining Otis — the guy that patriarchal conditioning had made us all believe was the protagonist — to a passive supporting presence. On one knowingly humorous occasion, Otis literally goes missing and nobody raises the alarm, because nobody realises he isn’t there. The show is an ensemble piece, fluidly switching perspectives on a nearly episode-to-episode basis. Take, for instance, the sensational episode six, in which Eric goes on a trip to his native Nigeria to attend a wedding.
It’s a sort of spiritual sequel to that excellent Eric-centric episode from season one, but told with a maturity that reflects how both the show and the character have progressed. Apprehensive about visiting a country notorious for its intolerance for the queer community, Eric struggles to comprehend the connection that he feels to his ancestral land, and make peace with the reality of its politics.
Eric’s departure for Nigeria is juxtaposed with the rest of the class going to France for a day. School trip episodes always make for ripe drama in teen comedies (remember that terrific Maxxie and Anwar-centric episode back in the first season of Skins?). And as expected, major progress is made on the will they-won’t they front in episode five of the new season, when Otis and Maeve discover that they’ve been left behind by the rest of the contingent at a gas station. Having had a falling-out that lasted all summer, they’re left with no choice but to confront their feelings for each other as they wait to be rescued.
The women in these eight new episodes, as with every season of Sex Education, are written with far more insight than any of the men. As endearing as Eric and Adam’s arc is — not to mention the show’s fascinating decision to devote an entire subplot to Adam’s father, the former headmaster — it isn’t nearly as engaging as Maeve’s journey, or the delicately detailed manner in which Sex Education handles Dr Milburn’s pregnancy.
And then there’s Hope, played by Girls alum Jemima Kirke. The character could’ve been a uni-dimensional antagonist, but there’s a sense that she’s also battling her own demons — success at her age comes with its own share of setbacks, especially if you’re a woman. But possibly the best example of how empathetic the show is even to its least likeable characters, look no further than how it treats Ruby this season.
Sex Education a show about the Gen-Z crowd without any of the storytelling trappings of Gen-Z cinema — not only are none of these characters on TikTok, they appear to exist almost in an analog world, with landline telephones on their nightstands and vintage cars on the streets of their quaint village.
Season three of Sex Education ends on a melancholic note. Soon, these kids will graduate and go their separate ways. But what’ll happen to the show, and to us? Will we be forced to say goodbye to Otis and Maeve; Eric and Adam; even Jean and Jakob? That would be quite unbearable. But even if Sex Education were to end tomorrow, I can’t complain about where it has left its characters — on the verge of new adventures, excited about fresh beginnings, and with bright futures beckoning. Hopefully, the education that they have received in these last few years will serve them well.