School is back in session for the sweet, sometimes absurd British comedy “Sex Education,” which leans heavily into its streaming-series freedom to portray adolescent sex for what it generally is: awkward, mediocre, part of life. Expect close-ups of patchy pubic hair, belly rolls and many (many) penises — among other physical realities of sex that don’t typically appear in teen stories.
The show, which won the award for best comedy series at the International Emmy Awards in 2022, centers on Otis (Asa Butterfield), the erudite but romantically floundering son of a sex therapist (Gillian Anderson), who finds that he, too, has a gift for doling out intimate advice — in his case, to his desperately uninformed classmates. Unlike other raunchy teen dramas, like the provocative “Skins” and “Euphoria,” “Sex Education” takes a normalizing, endearingly un-edgy and even occasionally musical approach to the birds and the bees (though the writers would probably choose a more clinical term).
In the fourth and final season, now streaming on Netflix, Otis must navigate a new school alongside his effervescent best friend, Eric (Ncuti Gatwa). After the closure of Moordale Secondary School at the end of Season 3, they now face a social hurdle more daunting than trying to become popular: survival as the new kids.
But if popularity at Moordale was all about status and appearance, the new school represents something of an alternative educational universe, where learning is student-led, sustainability is cool and gossip is frowned upon.
Will Otis and Eric fit in? Will Otis set up a new sex therapy clinic? And where is his broody, wryly sharp love interest Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey)?
Two years have passed since the release of Season 3. Here’s a refresher — a little gossip, if you will — as we head into Season 4.
What happened to Moordale?
After a schoolwide sexually transmitted infection outbreak in Season 2 and an obscene, intergalactic production of “Romeo and Juliet: The Musical,” Moordale Secondary School attracted news attention for its debauchery and earned the nickname “Sex School.” The administration hired a new head teacher, Hope Haddon (Jemima Kirke), to turn things around, but her shame-based approach to discipline and strict dress code couldn’t keep the students from being sexually curious teenagers.
As revenge, the student body revolted at a public assembly for Moordale’s investors and the news media, disrupting the program with a screening of a sex-positive student film in which they dressed in genitalia-inspired costumes. Then the audience chanted, “We are Sex School,” and the band performed an explicit song.
It was chaotic and symphonic, and it was enough of a ruckus to scare off investors and prospective paying parents. Moordale’s funding was withdrawn, and it closed its doors, forcing its students to find new schools.
Where is Maeve?
In Season 3, one of the English teachers at Moordale, Ms. Sands (Rakhee Thakrar), gave Maeve, Otis’s crush and sex clinic business partner, a brochure for a gifted and talented program in the United States. Throughout the season, Maeve wavered back and forth on the decision, concerned about the money and leaving her little sister behind.
Otis and Maeve’s will-they-won’t-they relationship got some resolution when they finally kissed on a class trip to France. But in the final scene of the season, we learned that Maeve was leaving to study literature at a prestigious American university.
The news came as a blow to Otis, who was happy for Maeve’s dream opportunity but devastated to see her go. Maeve promised that her departure didn’t mean that they were over, but she didn’t define the relationship further.
Is Jean … OK?
Yes … and no. At the end of Season 3 Otis’s mother, Jean, went into labor with dire complications, including hemorrhaging. But she pulled through, and in the season finale, she delivered a healthy baby girl whom she named Joy. Although the pregnancy had a happy ending, the future of the family is a bit fuzzier. In one of the final scenes of the finale, Jean opened a paternity test and her shock revealed that her partner, Jakob (Mikael Persbrandt), might not be the father.
Throughout the pregnancy, Jean and Jakob were committed to raising their baby together and forging a robust, if a bit untraditional, family unit with Otis and Ola (Patricia Allison), Jakob’s daughter (who, in a messy set of circumstances, used to date Otis).
Will Jean, a careerist rising in her field, continue her sex therapy practice? Will Jakob remain in the picture? And if he isn’t the father, who is?
Where do things stand with Eric and Adam?
Eric, who is gay and proudly wears eyeliner, colorful nail polish and silky scarves, has had an emotional roller coaster of a relationship with Adam (Connor Swindells), a closeted bully who is new to intimate relationships. They grew closer as Adam learned to accept his sexuality, but Eric struggled to be with someone who couldn’t fully open up, and he eventually kissed another boy on a family trip to Nigeria.
Adam eventually forgave the infidelity, but Eric realized he had outgrown the relationship and broke up with him anyway. Heartbroken, Adam began to come to terms with his identity; in the finale, he came out as bisexual to his mother, finally admitting to her that Eric had been his boyfriend. This could be a turning point for the animal-loving gentle giant who always feels like a misfit.
Is there still a wide array of experience in Season 4?
Somehow the show’s lens has gotten even wider. “Sex Education” is known for its nuanced depictions of gender, sexuality and disability, and for presenting forms of intimacy that are rarely displayed on mainstream television. A progressive new school promises an even more varied student body, with types of relationships not explored in previous seasons. Whether the school lives up to its “good vibes only” reputation remains to be seen.
The show celebrates the body — its limitations, its potential, its drive — in its many forms. Whatever Season 4 may bring, it is sure to explore a wide range of teenage lust and physical complexities.