Sex Education gets more three-dimensional in Season 3
Sex Education certainly never messes around with its season-opening montages; S2 began with Otis’s masturbation (lots of it), and S3 is a good two minutes – longer than it sounds – of most of the cast bumping, grinding, thrusting, licking, grabbing, lubricating, licking, sucking, butt-slapping … and a great many O-faces.
It’s all there in the title.
The third season lands firmly in ensemble cast territory, with several significant storylines plus a few small ones on the side for good measure. If you haven’t watched yet, there are spoilers in this Season 2 recap, so let’s dive into the new season.
Moordale’s former headmaster Michael Groff (Alistair Petrie) is out, and new head teacher Hope Haddon (Jemima Kirke) is in. At first she seems super cool, dancing onto stage a la Ellen at assembly, everyone calls her by her first name, and like a politician, she fills her audience’s heads with exciting promises. Unfortunately, she quickly shows she is not so amazing after all, and frankly no one will blame you if you dislike her. She’s got a back story, though, that may or may not redeem your sympathy.
Otis (Asa Butterfield), always our hero, is having “casual sex” with Ruby (Mimi Keene), which means they are shagging whenever they can but she won’t be seen dead with him in public and he is not allowed to tell anyone about it either. The counterpoint to this relationship is Maeve (Emma Mackey), with whom Otis royally screwed up in Season 2.
She’s getting closer to Isaac (George Robinson) at the trailer park where they live. Obviously we’re rooting for Otis and Maeve, because they clearly still have feelings for each other, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon, even when Maeve discovers what Isaac did with the voicemail.
Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) remains hands down my favourite character in this series. I adore everything about him, from his clothes to his boundless enthusiasm, and his sensitivity and marshmallow heart. Eric and Adam are A Thing now, and while Adam (Connor Swindells) is still dealing with being an out and out “poofter” (don’t hate me, it’s in the script), he’s also committed to his relationship with Eric. So much so that he even warms to Eric’s ex Rahim (Sami Outalbali) and seeks out his advice. In other news, Eric goes to Nigeria for a wedding, a country where homosexuality it outlawed.
Another queer relationship in Season 3 is that of Ola (Patricia Allison) and Lily (Tanya Reynolds), which is ticking along nicely, but Lily’s obsession with aliens – which manifests as the X-rated alien fiction she writes and her enthusiasm for alien role play – grows into a stumbling block for both of them.
Balancing LGBTQI+ storylines is new Moordale student Cal (Dua Saleh) who is non-binary and uses the pronouns them/they. Cal’s experiences with locker rooms, groups being divided by gender, and school uniforms are educational for heteronormative audiences as well as Hope, with whom Cal clashes at every turn.
Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling), head boy for a minute, develops a crush on Cal, which leads down a path of self-discovery. It’s worth noting here that these 17-year-olds are incredibly self aware and even if they sometimes don’t know all the sex stuff (which is where it all began – with Otis offering advice learned from his sex therapist mom), they have deep and intelligent thoughts on their emotional relationships.
Speaking of sex therapist mom, Jean (Gillian Anderson) is pregnant at the age of 48, and struggling to tell Jakob (Mikael Persbrandt) – Ola’s dad, for a touch more drama. They (Jean and Jakob) split up in Season 2 before he knew about the baby, but they decide to try to work together as a family (easier said than done). Because, of course, Otis and Ola used to date, and now they must live under the same roof.
While the focus is firmly on the teen relationships, the adults are not left out: Adam’s parents and the teachers get their time in the sun.
Overall, the inclusive third season is an enjoyable binge – but story-wise, the results of Hope’s appalling actions could have taken a very different turn, which is an avenue I thought was set up so well but then left unexplored. Maybe because I really really didn’t like her, and wanted to see her go down.
So yes, there is sex; there are also several teachable moments to tweak awareness – education for the viewers. The Independent gives it five stars, saying “Netflix’s teen drama remains heartfelt and cringingly honest…the explicitly sex-positive series has shifted to an ensemble drama full of three-dimensional characters and is all the better for it.”
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