The third season of Netflix’s Sex Education opens with — no suprise here — a sex montage as students, parents and teachers hook up to the sound of the 80s classic “I Think We’re Alone Now.” Set the summer after the conclusion of Season 2, a great deal has changed for the characters in their idyllic British countryside home — Otis (Asa Butterfield) has been secretly having casual sex with popular girl Ruby (Mimi Keene), his mom Jean (Gillian Anderson) is very pregnant and has yet to tell her ex-boyfriend about the baby, Adam (Connor Swindells) and Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) are adjusting to their relationship becoming public, Maeve (Emma Mackey) is dealing with the aftermath of calling the police on her mom and her sister being placed in foster care and Moordale Secondary has a new head teacher.
There’s a lot happening, and indeed the first few episodes of the season are almost too busy to keep track of the various storylines. Sex Education has a lot of points to make, and with only eight episodes, the season is pretty jam-packed. Though it still provides structure for the show, the focus on Otis and Maeve has lessened so that the lives of smaller characters are allowed to shine through — and many of these subplots, both new and ongoing, are successful. Adam’s character development, as he navigates being in a gay relationship and confronting his vulnerabilities, is wonderful to watch, and Swindells’ subtle facial expressions communicate so much emotion. Meanwhile, new student Cal (Dua Saleh) makes Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) aware of the many constrictive cisnormative options that non-binary people face. The friendship between the two is candid yet playful, and Cal’s nonchalant manner of introducing their pronouns normalizes being non-binary in a refreshing way. Maeve and Otis are still not on speaking terms, as their feelings for each other continue to be besmirched by different factors (in this case, Otis’s love-declaring voicemail being deleted from Maeve’s phone by jealous neighbor Issac). Maeve and Aimee’s (Aimee Lou Woods) friendship continues to be an incredible portrayal of female friendship, with all of its humor, emotion, loyalty and fights, and is one of the most touching aspects of the season. To top it off, Aimee’s struggle as she deals with the trauma of her sexual assault in the last season is honest and deftly handled.
As school begins again, the students are confronted by a new headteacher, Hope (Jemima Kirke), whose mission is to clean up Moordale Secondary’s reputation of “Sex School” and instill some discipline into the students. Hope’s new restrictions include school uniforms, sex education classes promoting homophobia, abstinence and the shaming of sexual desire, on top of her general uniwillingness to support the identies of students. What begins as a commentary on the pertinent dangers of these types of policies quickly turns tyrannical, with levels of treatment and punishment from Hope that border on abuse and diminish the strength of important social criticism.
However, Hope’s presence does create the opportunity for students to bond and fight back — not necessarily because of their shared identities, but because of their respect for each other’s differences, pride in their designation as “Sex School” and obligation to protect identities under attack. Identity is the key word of Season 3, and the identity struggles the characters grapple with are diverse: gender orientation, sexual orientation, sexual desire and preference, appreciating one’s body, discovering and accepting one’s passions and learning to prioritize oneself over a relationship are just some of the particularities that characters come to terms with. It seems that almost anyone can see a facet of themselves in a plotline or theme of the show.
Sex Education’s world occasionally fails to be relatable; the 80s style costumes, homes, and cars are fun yet sometimes distracting, and Maeve’s trailer park home is more aesthetically pleasing than anything else. Yet in the picturesque bubble of Moordale, the complications and themes are universal. A focus on adult characters as well as students showcase how obstacles evolve with age, but remain rooted in the basic issues of insecurity, behavioral patterns and societal pressure. The season successfully teaches the importance of fulfilling relationships and acceptance of personal identity without becoming too preachy. The characters may be specific and well-defined, but close your eyes and you will likely hear your own experiences in their words. Overall, despite its imperfections, the third season of Sex Education is well worth the watch. It made me laugh out loud, cry and examine my own identity and those around me — exactly what a show about teenagers in the modern-day should accomplish.
Eliza Salamon is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]