More sex and a whole lot more education, season 3 of Sex Education takes a well-aimed swing at the regressive UK education system and it’s thinly veiled misogyny, homophobia and trans-phobia while never losing any of its signature charm or hilarious wit. The opening montage sets the tone for the season - sex in all shapes, sizes and positions. Sex Education is a safe and fun place where nothing is off limits.
Written by Tresca Mallon
WARNING SEASON 2 SPOILERS AHEAD
We pick up at the start of the school year, not long after the explosive end-of-year play of the Season 2 finale. Jean (Gillian Anderson) is pregnant, the future of Otis (Asa Butterfield) and Maeve’s (Emma Mackay) hangs in the balance after the voicemail mishap and Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and Adam (Connor Swindells) are finally together. After the scandalous events of the previous year, the school board have hired a new headmistress, Hope (Jemima Kirke) to whip Moordale into shape.
For two seasons we have followed the roller-coaster of Maeve and Otis’ will-they-won’t-they relationship and as the voicemail cliffhanger from season 2 still hangs in the air, they open the season further apart than ever. Maeve is still spending a lot of time with Isaac. While she and Otis have an undeniable chemistry, Maeve also has a strong connection with Isaac. In some ways, he is more suited to her as their temperaments match and banter is on the same level. Otis is having casual sex with popular girl Ruby and I for one am thrilled for him! We also got some development in Ruby’s character, finally giving her layers and an invest-able back story. However, while the show is lucky to have held interest in the push and pull between these characters, Maeve and Otis’ will need an injection of excitement or they are soon going to lose the audience's investment.
Eric continues to be Sex Education’s best character. Unapologetically himself, he consistently has the best lines which Gatwa delivers with expert comedic timing. This season delves into Eric’s cultural background and how that clashes and meshes with other aspects of his identity. We see him discovering himself and coming into his own as he visits Nigeria and discovers a community he could never believe existed. While breaking down Eric’s preconceptions about queer life in Nigeria, it also challenges the audience to examine their own perceptions.
Eric and Adam’s relationship is a masterclass in how to navigate a TV couple’s transition from secret to open without losing the excitement. The show navigates this by examining realities, conflicts and compromises and never allowing the audience to feel comfortable in the couple’s future. An important aspect of this was developing Adam as an invest-able character, revealing layers of his personality and interests outside of his relationship with Eric. Ola (Patricia Allison) and Adam’s friendship is so subtle yet impactful. It gives us an insight into both characters’ motivations and vulnerabilities. Particularly Ola humanises Adam as a character who can be hard to relate to due to his dead-pan nature. However, Ola was somewhat neglected this season and used to advance the arcs of other characters.
New headmistress Hope is the worst kind of villain. Kirke is excellent at playing infuriating, nauseating, pretentious characters - see her turn as Jessa in Girls - and Hope is her Magnum Opus. Her facial expressions are immediately vomit-inducing and the writers expertly utilise common microaggressions from the outset to build the increasingly contemptible character. And yet like every person in Sex Education behind her deeply flawed exterior there is a person whose insecurities consume them. In the end the overwhelming feeling for Hope is pity as her ambition becomes her ultimate downfall.
Season 3 also gives us some wonderful moments for the show's most loveable characters Aimee (Aimee Lou Woods) and Lily (Tanya Reynolds). After Aimee’s sexual assault in Season 2 - which was beautifully handled by the series writers and gut-wrenching to watch - she has started to attend therapy with Jean to repair her relationship with her body. Watching her transformation in this season is incredibly affirming and a joyful conclusion to a tough arc which resonated with a lot of people. Lily could have stayed a kooky background character, but the show continues to imbue her with a real depth. This season she is a perfect example of women being shamed for their sexual desires, kinks and artistic interests. Reynolds has brilliant range and exhibits this through Lily as she embodies a teenage girl made to feel dirty and strange while never losing her endearing weirdness.
Sex Education ensures we are learning while we’re laughing our asses off. Always tackling taboo subjects, in previous seasons discussing everything from Vaginismus and douching to foreplay and erectile dysfunction. This season is no different taking a hilarious but informative approach to topics such as chest binding - a topic recently highlighted by Emma Corrin on their Instagram - labia difference, PrEP and Undetectable = Untransmittable. This season also veers somewhat from the teenage perspective to issues such as ‘geriatric’ pregnancy and infertility, neither of which are typically discussed on TV and even more rarely the impact they have on a woman’s view of themself or their body. It also rips apart the abstinence argument and tackles problematic sexual health teaching. This is very relevant given the infuriating discourse and active lobbying against the inclusion of LGBTQ+ sexual health on UK school syllabuses. One of my favourite topics touched upon is the reality of entering into a queer relationship as a straight person. This season introduces a new and dynamic character named Cal (Dua Saleh) who I’m sure will spark a lot of really interesting conversations.
When Sex Education first appeared on our screens, the contrast between the UK setting and the 90s American High School aesthetic caused quite a stir. I’ve always loved it as it allows Moordale to exist as a world unto itself which bears a resemblance to ours and yet is totally separate and self-involved. It allows us to be fully absorbed in the characters’ world. The eclectic soundtrack further confuses the artistic direction and fits perfectly.
While Sex Education’s third season runs head first into some of the most uncomfortable conversations, it’s also one of the sharpest written and innovative comedies in TV at the moment. Never one to avoid being provocative, this season will have you rushing to Twitter once you pick yourself up off the floor from laughing.