The introductory title cards for each of the eight episodes of Sex Education’s final season warrant a story of its own. As much as it explicitly pans on a teen boy’s face when he is orgasming, it also dedicates a couple of episodes to detail how it is a very inherent need for women too, by showing them trying to seek pleasure either with or without company. But that’s not all about it. When some episodes open with a childhood trauma that trickles to adulthood and shows why they are like they are, other episodes take a liking towards details, like religious awakening (in the case of Eric), thus breaking the overload of sex taboo on the show itself.
Returning for one final time, the fourth season of Sex Education, the show, most popularly known for focussing on the hormonal urges of teenagers to fornicate, shifts its base from the regular Moordale school to queer-friendly, gossip-free, and student-supportive Cavendish College. There are cool slides, 'go green' practices, mental health discussions, and of course, a sex therapist on campus. But despite the barrage of positivity that the school instils, thanks to its queen bee Abbie, it is so hard not to notice how the show, in a refined way, takes a dig at the woke culture. The culture that can make you think twice before uttering what you feel, and feel guilty soon after. It gets beautifully translated through Abbie’s friend Aisha and boyfriend Roman, who cannot talk their mind, engulfed by the fear of breaking the no-gossip and positivity rules.
But coming back to our students, the final season makes sure there is plenty of room for every character to get a deserving metamorphosis. Jackson’s sudden medical scare probes him to find the routes of his parentage and personal revelations. Eric understands how he can always have the best of both worlds while still flaunting his queerness, probably thanks to his Black Jesus, which itself is a symbol of intersectionality. It’s heartening to see a tonal shift to empathy that Ruby gains as we get to know more of what made her the way she is, as much as Aimee organically comes to terms with her past and heals her trauma through art, of course with Isaac’s help. For a series that places its horny teenagers on the top pedestal, the fourth season dedicates a chunk to taking us through the episodes of post-partum depression that Jean Milburn goes through after having Joy. In one instance, when Otis vents out how he still needs a mother while Jean treats him as an adult, as the latter cries helplessly, leaves you with an understanding that not all of us grow up, and are prepared to face the world alone. At the heart of all these characters, are Maeve and Otis, who for a while turn to long distance relationship, sexting, and passion to waddle off their relationship, until a tragic turn forces Maeve to leave her studies in the USA, and return home. Sex Education earns special brownie points for not judging its characters. There is never an instance of loathing you feel for Maeve’s brother Sean, despite his drug dealings and showing up late and stoned for his most personal occasion.
Despite its poignant moments, Sex Education misses what its previous season brought to the table. At the heart of the show, it wasn’t just a bunch of teenagers eager to have coitus, but understanding them through their bodies and sexuality. But as the cast gets bigger and storylines get broader, the visibility for lesser known gets only diminished. Even as the show throws enough light on dysfunctional families, and members trying to cope (an example of Adam and Michael’s relationship), the show faintly discusses other pertinent topics. For example, the concept of asexuality merely boils down to a simple mention and act of defence mechanism, while the inner details of transitioning and the economical nature of gender surgeries only warrant screen time in place for a dramatic twist. Cal’s story of transitioning has a couple of mentions of having testosterone, and experiencing periods, but why didn't the show detail further on the internal trauma that one goes through being a non-binary? There is also an instance of abuse and crossing boundaries in the relationship explored through Viv’s arc, a brief and underused appearance of Dan Levy as Maeve’s professor in the US, and Isaac batting for the rights of the differently-abled. But all these threads are conveniently used as a last-minute resort to build a narrative.
As much as the makers put noble intentions to send off the series that has heart in the right places, the climax is quite the delight, and rightfully so. But despite all this, as we bid adieu to this series, the heart doesn't feel quite heavy. Yes, there is confidence to learn, and awakening to gain, but shouldn't we feel a lot worse about saying bye to the ones who made our lives sprightly for so long?
Creator: Laurie Nunn
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Gillian Anderson, Ncuti Gatwa, Emma Mackey, and others