Season three of Sex Education brought a wide selection of new and old relationships to the forefront and some less than favorable decisions with the students of Moordale Secondary.
We begin the season with Otis (Asa Butterfield) and Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) on their traditional bike ride to school, but now they’re joined by Adam (Connor Swindells), since the end of Season 2 saw Adam and Eric cement their relationship. Otis is uncomfortable with Adam’s presence and admits to Eric that they barely saw one another over the summer, creating the image that they will not be as involved directly in each other’s storylines this season. It’s clear from the beginning of the season the two were beginning very different personal journeys while still supporting each other.
Otis and Meave (Emma Mackey) ended season two not speaking after Otis left a voicemail confessing his love only to have it deleted by Meave’s new friend Isaac (George Robinson). Rather than spend his summer sulking over his perceived slight by Meave, Otis begins a no-strings-attached relationship with popular girl Ruby (Mimi Keeme). While the relationship was surprising at first, Ruby and Otis are adorable, with Ruby’s warm side shining through. However, it was disappointing to see the two split up, and it felt pointless to create such chemistry between the two in the first place.
Otis and Meave reuniting was the most disappointing part of the season since they teased their relationship for so long. Their bond did not compare to Otis and Ruby and Maeve and Isaac as couples. Otis and Maeve’s drama this season feels even more pointless when you learn that Maeve will be attending school in America for a Gifted Program, leaving no actual payoff of this decision. It’s like even the writers don’t like them as a couple.
When the writers set up the reuniting of Otis and Maeve in a relationship they shouldn’t have made the relationships the two had with Ruby and Isaac so interesting to watch. Maeve and Otis have no onscreen chemistry anymore, meanwhile Ruby and Otis had fun opposites attract storyline and a level of honesty to their interactions that made their relationship exciting.
Maeve and Isaac were the best couple this season because they genuinely cared for one another and openly communicated with each other. The scene between the two where they discuss sex as an interabled couple is incredibly heartwarming, especially because George Robinson himself is disabled, so when he speaks about his experiences as a disabled person, it’s refreshingly authentic.
They do not accredit the relationship ending to his disability. It does come off as Meave leaving Isaac for Otis because he is different, though. Maeve could have provided Isaac’s dishonesty about the voicemail as the reason, but instead, Isaac assumes it to be because she can’t choose him over Otis.
While the characters are fleshed out this season, having spent two seasons getting to know them, some of the subtexts for the season come off a bit problematic.
Eric’s relationship with Adam has always been problematic, but this season topped the cake with the portrayal of Eric as the bad guy in their breakup. The two start the season strong, but the issues they’ve dealt with their whole relationship don’t just disappear.
Adam struggles with coming out to his mom and doesn’t want to exist as a gay man in public, only when he is alone with Eric. While this is normal in the process of coming out, we have spent the past three seasons knowing and watching Eric be tortured by Adam, and it almost seems like a confirmation of the stereotype that gay people must suffer in order to be happy.
Eric goes on a journey to learn more about himself while in Nigeria, clearly reconsidering his relationship. He wants a partner who will love him as openly as possible, made clear when he keeps Rahim’s (Sami Outalbali) love letters. Rather than have Eric and Adam break up before he goes to Nigeria, the writers decide to make Eric cheat on Adam. No matter what, making Eric a cheater diminishes the realization he has when out with the other LGBTQ people dancing and finding community in his family’s country leads Eric really wants to be fully himself sexually and romantically.
While a beautiful scene, that even in a place with homosexuality is persecuted, Eric finds his way to not only other LGBTQ people but Nigerian LGBTQ people. A great depiction of the sense of community that comes from being an outsider, the moment is soured by the stereotype that LGBTQ people are promiscuous and only care about hooking up. Eric could’ve found himself heartbroken in Nigeria and sad to have to pretend to be someone he’s not only to find himself. It instead implies that homosexuality is synonymous with promiscuity and infidelity.
The breakup and decision to have Eric get to know himself without being pulled down, as Eric says during their separation, and to have Adam build his journey was the overall right decision for the characters because it allowed both to spread their wings in their comfort zones.
Characters pushed onto the back burner this season were Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) and her boyfriend Steve (Chris Jenks), despite much of Season Two focusing on Aimee’s journey with her sexual assault. This season briefly touches upon this but focuses more on Jean’s pregnancy, with Aimee’s therapy falling off.
Jean and Jakob’s (Mikeal Persbrand) relationship was as overdone as last season, bringing in only mildly interesting conversations about grief and making the viewer question, ‘Where is the educational sex talk?’
The high points of the season came in the Hope-Jackson-Viv-Cal storyline. Following the STD outbreak and Jean Milburn’s (Gillian Anderson) book exposing the “promiscuity” of Moordale, the school’s funding is on the line. Due to the PR Disaster of a school being blamed for the sexuality of their students, they bring in Hope (Jemima Kirke) to do damage control.
Hope is the perfect example of a white woman feminist, “girl bossing” her way as headmistress, taking on the weight of IVF rounds, and being the face of a PR disaster. Hope does not only “girl boss,” she gatekeeps and gaslights the students of Moordale prep, making it seem like she is supportive of them but wants to suppress anything that is not squeaky clean.
Ola (Patricia Allison) and Lily (Tanya Reynolds) are attacked for self-expression—Ola for her LGBTQIA pin, and Lily for her creative writing and grooming habits. While mild in her attacks and coming off first as an “independent woman” stereotype, Hope creates a more damaging impression in her treatment of students of color. Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) was initially head boy, but upon him fighting back against Hope for her treatment of Non-binary student Cal (Dua Saleh), Hope selects Jackson’s friend Viv (Chinenye Ezeudu).
Having a woman in power seems like a favorable decision at first, but Hope admits to Viv that she selected her for the diversity vote, not because she cared about her ambitions. Viv made several comments throughout the season about the two women using one another. It becomes incredibly problematic when Hope straight out credits Viv’s successes to a diversity credit in front of the press.
Hope explicitly targets the darker-skinned students of Moordale, repeatedly coming after Cal to use a gender-neutral uniform that is not form-fitting. Hope also gets on Maeve, who she constantly asks to take out her piercings and change her hairstyle, but does not punish her as harshly.
To have a white woman who appears like an advocate for feminism but not intersectional activism is a relevant conversation. White people are known to only advocate for things they can understand rather than for all minority groups. While a woman, Hope is only concerned with herself, and having students of color organize the student body to support one another in all forms of self-expression is what Sex Education does best.
The final two episodes deal with the students’ rebellion claiming back the desire for a sex-positive education with a hilarious mock of the uninformative sex ed movie they were subjected to earlier in the season. Unfortunately, the stunt results in the funding for Moordale, leaving it up in the air as to where the students will end up.
Season 3 does a lot for the development of incredibly relevant points like the way that white feminism is prioritized over the freedom of students of color and the discussion of disability in relationships. However, the season fails to do the same justice it achieved in Seasons 1 and 2 of breaking stereotypes about sexuality instead of feeling less like a show centralized on the acceptance of all self-expression and more of a teen drama.