An unorthodox sex clinic, in which Moordale High students Otis (Asa Butterfield) and Maeve (Emma Mackey) gave their peers relationship advice provided the backbone for the glorious coming-of-age stories in Sex Education. The clinic was a vehicle through which Otis could share his wisdom (gleaned from his mother, an actual sex therapist played by Gillian Anderson) and students could confess their secret fears. In the third season, the clinic is no more – and the story suffers as a result.
Things fell apart for good reason at the end of season two. Otis and Maeve’s will-they-won’t-they friendship collapsed – and the school board took issue with Moordale’s burgeoning reputation as “the sex school”. Season three sees creator Laurie Nunn expand the show’s focus beyond Otis and Maeve, giving more time to Otis’ best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and his new relationship with former school bully Adam (Connor Swindells). Meanwhile, Otis’ mum Jean (Gillian Anderson) must come to terms with her new pregnancy by a partner who doesn’t completely trust her.
We also meet new non-binary student Cal (Dua Saleh, a revelation) who strikes up a friendship with head boy Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling); and the tyrannical incoming headmistress Hope (Jemima Kirke). Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) is still trying to process her sexual assault, and Lily (Tanya Reynolds) is questioning her devotion to aliens. In short? It’s a lot.
By presenting so many different, equally important, storylines, none of them land as well as they should. Lily “shuts off” for an episode but nobody dares mention depression, Jackson has “a dizzy spell” and his anxiety – clearly getting worse since season one – is brushed over. Eric goes to Nigeria while another character struggles with IVF, yet both of these compelling storylines are neglected. Without the clinic, too, Sex Education spends less time on, well, sex education. One student asks a school nurse what to do when her boyfriend refuses to wear a condom, yet that issue is resolved before there’s time to realise just how damaging that can be.
Season four hasn’t been confirmed just yet, and these characters clearly still have a lot more to give. Adam is slowly becoming the star of the show, with Swindells’ heavily charged performance balancing sadness and courage in the face of disintegrating relationships and a search for lasting happiness. Otis and Maeve used to offer the show’s most compelling narrative, but the stakes now feel a lot lower. There are still wise musings on love and adolescence, but season three fails to build on the show’s foundations. Moordale is still the same place fans fell in love with, but these new episodes do little to take that relationship to the next level.