‘Sex Education’ Final Season Packs Plenty of Heart and Ravenous Hormones 

Here is a good series leaving at just the right moment. Netflix’s “Sex Education” is closing down just as its cast reaches true adulthood and the story winds down to a fitting climax. What it leaves behind is one of the most original recent shows dealing with that subject that obsesses all humanity. But its exploration of sex was always lively, never absurdly raunchy. It was easy to laugh because of how honest the writing could be about adolescent hormones, adult yearnings, and all of the physical complications they come with. Most importantly, it was never mean about it. As with most final seasons, this one begins with finding the main characters at important crossroads, which in life can turn desire into a channeling of everything we want and fear.

Much has happened since last season. Maeve (Emma Mackey) is now in the United States pursuing her dream of becoming a writer. Her professor is a typically frustrated author, Thomas Molly (Dan Levy). Everyone at her campus is of course having sex, so she tries to deal with her horniness by sexting Otis (Asa Butterfield), who hasn’t quite mastered this modern mating ritual. To make it even more frustrating, he’s still back home in the U.K., attending Cavendish Sixth Form College. Otis figures he can open a shop on campus as a sex therapist with the support of regular bestie Eric (Ncuti Gatwa). Meanwhile his mother, sex therapist Jean (Gillian Anderson), is at home single with a newborn baby. She yearns to get back to work somehow. As Otis tries to sustain a long distance relationship with Maeve, his goals on campus get hampered by the appearance of a rival sex therapist, O (Thaddea Graham).

This final season of “Sex Education” does something rich and intelligent in its approach to the character arcs. The heartfelt environment is still here, but there are also darker shades and the unease that comes with truly leaving adolescence behind. For many students, college is almost that last phase in life where everything is still mapped out. But life’s more complicated, even wrenching turns down the road begin to appear. Otis may be a sex expert in a clinically detached way, but it’s difficult for him to truly open himself up to what is needed to keep a distant bond going with Maeve. Once she casually mentions an attractive study partner at her campus, jealousy rears its head and Otis has to grapple with real insecurity. Subtly, the writing connects some of these developments to Jean, whose character’s backstory receives more focus, along with dark revelations that hint at quite the scarred personality. We begin to really see those invisible influences of parents on the personality traits of their offspring. Friendships are also tested with time and Eric finds a new clique that threatens to isolate Otis when the two realize how different they are becoming. Jean also has to deal with new environments when she’s offered a job doing radio by a station owner (Hannah Gadsby). 

The show’s gallery of characters also returns, somehow giving everyone just enough space. Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood), Isaac (George Robinson), Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling), Viv (Chinenye Ezeudu), Cal (Dua Saleh), and Ruby (Mimi Keene) are all present. Some are given new turns that prove endearing, like Ruby, who gets closer to Otis in one of those situations where opposites attract in surprising ways. Thaddea Graham presents a vivacious counter to our hero, hogging the sex therapy clientele and soon initiating a war of social media campaigns. Amid all this, characters also go through the experience of transitioning while others, like Aimee, discover new ways to deal with their alienation. She soon dives into painting. It’s one of those simpler storylines about passions we didn’t know were waiting to come out. Adam (Connor Swindells) has a memorably powerful storyline about being a queer person reconciling his identity with the Christian faith he refuses to abandon. He has also taken the bold decision not to attend college and instead look for work. That also marks the character as a refreshing departure from the norm.

Twists and shockers are inevitable. By the fourth episode someone’s mother has overdosed and new friendships are made while others are lost. “Sex Education” exits as a show that succeeded by being funny yet never insincere. Everyone in this show felt real and plausible. Its funniest moments were taken from the hilarity of actual life (like the struggle to find a satisfying orgasm) but beneath the ribald humor, there was always a moving set of portraits dealing with the struggles of growing up. In the season premiere Otis has an absolutely humiliating experience involving some poorly done dick picks he meant to send Maeve. Instead they end up on a projection screen at the wrong time. Part of what obsesses us about sex is how it symbolizes our most intimate selves. This is why it remains daunting into adulthood, but is never as frightening as when we’re young. “Sex Education” ends with the kids growing up and the adults still having a lot of growing to do. Such is life, which is why this was such a good show worthy of being discovered by new viewers for years to come.

Sex Education” season four begins streaming Sept. 20 on Netflix.