When “Sex Education” first made its way onto the Netflix screen, it established itself as a unique show that wasn’t purely in pursuit of making a name in terms of entertainment, but a show that brought to many a sense of a sense of safety, understanding and acceptance that many previous shows had failed to provide. Season three brought this in an even stronger sense, as every character further developed and became less one-dimensional than they originally were. Since the beginning, “Sex Education” was a powerful show, but further seasons have brought on more of a sense of reality as psychological elements developed and this season brought that together in more ways than every previous season; however other elements seemed to fall apart as a result.
In the earliest season, many characters seemed to be perceived as one thing or the other in a lot of ways. Although there was some variability, there seemed to be a general sense of villains and heroes. Mr. Groff (Alistair Petrie) was evil, Adam (Connor Swindells) was a dumb bully, Ruby (Mimi Keene) was the popular girl, etc. However, with each episode, the writers’ development of the characters allowed them to each individually grow and become more human. This element is important for the demographic. As a coming-of-age show, it allows us to understand that as we grow and develop, we all have to learn more about ourselves. What makes this especially beautiful is that it encourages this idea of finding ourselves as something non-exclusive to young adults, as it also focuses on the adults like Mr. Groff and Dr. Milburn (Gillian Anderson). As human beings, we are constantly encountering challenges, learning and growing from our faults and accepting or losing the support of others in the process. “Sex Education” encourages the reality that this happens at every stage of life, and that’s okay. Often teen shows seem to highlight experiences that happen on a different life track for others whether that be college or many years later. Like so many other aspects of this show, this is an example of how it provides many people with security in accepting their unique experiences as being ok in the challenging timeline that is the human experience.
This season brought on a new character: Hope (Jemima Kirke), the new Headmistress of Moordale. As mentioned previously, she could have initial impressions of being one thing: a dictator and a villain. However, that’s not how life works, and that’s not how the creators of “Sex Education” presented her in the end. She, like anyone else, had issues of her own that influenced how she interacted with others. The way she humiliated and harassed students was simply not okay—but understanding her background and seeing her open up to Otis in the final episode portrayed her as more than one thing. This small scene of interaction was incredibly powerful as it demonstrated the importance of seeking help and how we all can help each other in our own ways, and growing up is part of finding out how we would like to do that. Otis learned that he had a great passion for helping others and it was incredibly beautiful to see how he shared this with his mother. It also allowed us to see another perspective on Hope’s experience and how she may need to learn to accept help and also offer compassion for other people’s perspectives in the same way Otis did for her.
There were so many other moments like these that really made the show feel more real than any previous season; there were very few black and white moments but a significant amount of important grey lessons. Adam seems to constantly have his life beating down on him, and we all wanted him to win the dog contest, and that’s not always how life works; it’s not always fair. However, he did get an honorable mention, and that was enough. He was able to start to learn to grow into himself and discover who he was. Although it hurt, he didn’t let his break up with Eric disintegrate him, he was able to rise from the ashes. Everyone has their own individual life paths and that’s what truly matters in the end, is that we stay true to that while still accepting help from others, and season three truly captured this. Maeve (Emma Mackey) learned to not be so incredibly independent and accept help when she needed it, but she also didn’t sacrifice her own passions to be with Otis in the end. Mr. Groff was in a place of struggle, but he still found it within himself to make amends with Dr. Milburn and in the process had a bit of therapy that helped him to better understand himself, stand up for himself and move forward and continue to grow.
One of the most powerful elements of “Sex Education” has been its sense of unity. One of the most remarkable scenes of the entire show was the bus scene in season two, when despite their differences all of the women stood together to support each other and share their experiences in regards to sexual harassment. This season maintained this element in a different way, where we seemed to get a lot of individual perspectives on each of the characters’ stories. However, this powerful sense of unity came back when each student reclaimed the shame signs. Hope had made some students wear and use them as a “screw you” to society and a way to accept the aspects of themselves that they are supposed to feel ashamed of. This was so incredibly important, as it emphasized the idea that individuality is one of the most important elements we can hold onto in this world, and we can’t let anyone dampen that for us. We can support each other in accepting our own individualities.
With this idea, however, there were some aspects of the overall cohesion that fell apart in this season as other elements grew. Previous seasons, perhaps when things were more one-dimensional, had such a strong sense of place as the soundtrack enveloped the listeners in the world. Ezra Furman had such a powerful influence on this as well as the inclusion of some oldies, but this season didn’t have the same effect. Additionally, the episodes’ progression lacked this cohesion. There didn’t seem to be a clear arc in the same way other seasons did, although the focus on individual stories was powerful a more consistent pattern would have been more effective. Seeing Lily’s (Tanya Reynolds) story at the beginning of one was important, but it would have been even more influential, I believe, if we got that for every character that various episodes seemed to have a vague focus on. This season of Sex Education lacked the same continuity, although there were still so many important moments and it still was engaging enough to make viewers want to binge it.
In the end, season three of “Sex Education” was more real, powerful and emotional than any other in the message it conveyed of growth in the human experience. However, with this came some distractions from the important element of time and place necessary to any continued piece of entertainment.