Sex Education season four is vivacious, ballsy, and in your face, just as we have come to expect of the teen dramedy created by Laurie Nunn.
This season is a bittersweet but riotous farewell to a brilliant show that is quite like no other. It ties up pretty much every loose end. Perhaps a little too neatly. Sometimes, it also teeters towards a preachy territory, but in a show that navigates coming-of-age themes, adult ennui, and teenage sexual awakening in such an unfettered fashion that it is easily forgivable. More so because season four is rambunctious, healing, and often feels like therapy in a bottle.
The season four journey kicks off with an audacious entrance into college life as our beloved Moordale Secondary graduates—Otis, Eric, Jackson, Ruby, Viv, Cal, and Aimee—find themselves in the uncharted waters of Cavendish Sixth Form College. Maeve is stationed across the Atlantic, experiencing dark academia at the prestigious Wallace University while pursuing her literary ambitions. Adam is, meanwhile, finding his rhythm in living life as a horseboy.
There are also two familiar faces in the cast this season that amp up the overall star power of the show—Dan Levy’s caustic Wallace professor Thomas Molloy and Hannah Gadsby’s radio producer. At points, it does feel like there are just too many characters and stories to do justice to; some of them could have benefited from at least one more season to fully flesh out.
The transition from the confines of school to the vastness of college is akin to feeling like a fish out of water, yet Cavendish, with its hippy-dippy atmosphere, is a place where dreams and open-mindedness abound.
One of the season’s strengths lies in its ability to introduce a fresh batch of characters as diverse as the world itself. But still, a few familiar faces are missed, particularly Lily Iglehart (Tanya Reynolds), the resident Moordale alien erotica writer. But given the scope of storylines chalked up for the new characters, these exclusions are understandable. Indeed, they mirror reality. When you move up and on in life, you leave behind many familiar faces.
After setting up the season’s main plotlines, the show dives right into familiar grounds. The biggest laugh of the season is lodged right there in the first episode between Otis’s (Asa Butterfield) terrible public speaking skills and his very flaccid penis, which he accidentally flashes to his new college mates on day one of school.
However, it is to be noted and lauded how, amid the lush scenery and rolling hills of the fictional Moordale, Sex Education season four uses Otis and Maeve’s four-season-long ‘will they won’t they’ arc almost as a Trojan horse of narrative subterfuge. The series finale barges in with a potent payload of stories about disability, male body image, enthusiastic consent, love and sex on the gender and sexuality spectrum, postpartum depression, toxic positivity, the trials and tribulations of transitioning and gender dysphoria. And Sex Education somehow manages to do all this without reducing the characters into token representations.
One of the most compelling characters introduced in the current season is Aisha, portrayed with remarkable verve by Alexandra James. A member of Cavendish’s popular clique, known as the Coven, Aisha distinguishes herself through her conspicuous kindness, love for gossip and astrology—and not just the pop kind. However, Aisha bears the additional challenge of being hearing impaired, a characteristic that, like the wheelchair-bound Isaac’s experience, does not define her.
Aisha and Isaac’s characters serve instead as an illustration of the impediments to which ableist societies are seldom attuned. In a particularly striking scene, the blaring alarms interrupt a mock exam. Amid the ensuing chaos, everyone rushes out of the classroom, leaving a confused Aisha behind. You might not even understand the significance of this scene until Aisha finds herself compelled to point out to her peers, teachers, and viewers alike that her disability cannot be an afterthought just because she puts in the effort to fit in better.
The now iconic “She doesn’t even go here” scene from Mean Girls gets a nice little homage when the disabled community at Cavendish erupts in protest. In an otherwise spirited environment, this is a disruptive moment, as protests are meant to be.
While Otis has to deal with competition from another sex therapist on campus, at home, he is overwhelmed, suddenly in the role of a caretaker for his newborn sister, Joy. It is somewhat disturbing to have a wailing infant in a show that frequently shows boobs, butts, and even ejaculate. But it almost functions as a tacit PSA about contraception, a reminder to have safe sex or else.
The radiant Gillian Anderson finally has a scene with Emma Mackey, which is incredibly tender. Ncuti Gatwa’s Eric’s almost-baptism is another cathartic moment. His contentious relationship with religion and divinity finally gets a resolution after going on a surreal and trippy journey.
However, this season’s major drawback is the lack of scrutiny regarding teenagers providing sex therapy to their peers. There are no raised eyebrows that Otis’s new nemesis O, a fellow sex therapist at Cavendish, is also a 17-year-old teen. They are both unqualified, but in Otis’s case, it is at least addressed in previous seasons that what he is doing is somewhat unethical. On the other hand, O mostly gets pure adulation from all, even adults. Somehow, her being a sexual wellness influencer with a substantial social media following is supposed to give her some credence. She is suddenly shown to be at par with Jean, who is not only a licensed practitioner with degrees supporting her credentials but also has years of experience.
Despite the minor glitches you are supposed to suspend your disbelief for, Sex Education season four is unflinching and unmissable. You will want to binge it all, but then you’ll sit there wishing you had savoured it a bit more.