The fourth and final season of British dramedy “Sex Education” — released on Netflix Sept. 21 — is as shocking, heartfelt and bawdy as its predecessors.
After their high school is dramatically shut down in season 3, the students of Moordale Secondary School begin the academic year in a new locale: Cavendish College. The school is the antithesis of a typical TV show high school: gossip is taboo, mental health support includes sound-bath rooms and silent discos, and everything is student-run.
There is one thing that Moordale and Cavendish have in common: the presence of a sex therapist. But Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), who previously held a sex therapy clinic monopoly at Moordale, is frustrated to learn that “O” (Thaddea Graham), who has a highly professional and innovative therapy approach, holds an established role as a student counselor at Cavendish. Otis’s mission is to supersede O’s clinic as the go-to on campus, but his campaign doesn’t prove to be as easy as he anticipates.
His inner circle also experiences a host of problems. Following her and Otis’s long-awaited kiss in season 3, Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) starts the semester in the U.S. to study writing in a prestigious course taught by a disapproving, moody author (Dan Levy). After a family emergency suddenly calls her back to Moordale, Maeve struggles with imposter syndrome and grapples with whether she should return to the U.S. to finish her studies. Her experience at fictional Wallace University uncovers issues of wealth and class not only in the American college system, but also in the larger professional world.
Meanwhile, things seem to be looking up for Otis's best friend, Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa). He has been integrated into Cavendish’s popular posse and feels more confident in his skin now than ever before. Yet his relationship with religion is increasingly called into question. As his mother encourages him to get baptized, Eric is torn over whether to hide his sexuality from his church or lose his community forever. His spiritual journey brings a little flair of magical realism into the series, as he is frequented by God and uncanny prophetic visions.
While Otis, Maeve and Eric may share the most screen time, the season dives into many of the other students’ lives as well. One of the show’s most impressive feats is its ability to juggle so many different characters’ background stories, central conflicts and personality developments without distracting viewers. Each character is brilliantly written to be complex and multidimensional, inviting viewers to feel invested in their future. Audience members without as much exposure to some of these struggles can still glean ways to support their peers who may be going through such things. Conversely, those who identify with the characters are provided with a space to see their struggles worked through and validated in a thoughtful, deliberate fashion.
By having characters with diverse backgrounds and identities, the series is able to address a plethora of social issues that often only receive a small or underdeveloped feature in modern television. “Sex Education” does not shy away from any topic, whether it is postpartum depression, gender dysphoria or ableism. In a way, the show is a subtle therapy session in itself — through poignant writing and realistic dialogue, the series presents a roadmap for navigating through various difficulties.
What makes “Sex Education” such an enjoyable watch is that it never fails to add a comedic edge to its depiction of teenagers clawing their way out of puberty. Every deep portrayal of real-life struggle is wonderfully balanced with hilarious and awkward scenes, like Otis accidentally Bluetooth-presenting lewd photos of himself to the entire school. The actors’ impeccable ability to move through such varying emotions makes the series even more of a joy to watch.
Since its start, the show has been particularly distinct from other television shows set in high school because of its incredibly frank and explicit presentation of sex-related themes. By airing all of this in the open, the show destigmatizes topics that may feel uncomfortable for people to approach on their own. And while the show might be something of an anomaly in this way, this openness about real issues faced by people of all ages should be the norm in media.
While it is disappointing that season 4 is the show’s last, this strong finish will help preserve the legacy of “Sex Education,” unlike many other shows that keep running well past their primes. The final episode delivers a perfect ending because it offers no real sense of closure. No character is awarded any clean or complete resolution; in this way, “Sex Education” precisely captures the dynamic and imperfect nature of life itself, just as it has through its entire run.
Daphne is an Arts & Culture writer from Austin, Texas. She is planning on studying International and Public Affairs. Her passions include cats, running and Phoebe Bridgers.