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The Observer

The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer


‘Sex Education’ Season 4: Hope for All Who Need It

The final season of ‘Sex Education’ offers a new and colorful spin on the beloved show
While the show dealt with heavy themes such as addiction and assault, the fourth season of “Sex Education” offered its audience hope and assurance.

Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers for the fourth season of “Sex Education”

After two agonizing years of anticipation, the fourth and final season of “Sex Education,” the British dramatic comedy series by playwright and screenwriter Laurie Nunn, was released on Netflix on Sept. 21. Following its debut in 2019, “Sex Education” quickly won over audiences with its complex cast of loveable, relatable and redeemable characters navigating the erotic and complicated world that we all know as high school. 

“Sex Education” is a show like no other — one that unapologetically portrays the impossible challenges of growing up in an entertaining yet earnest manner while boldly embracing sex as a means of storytelling. The series follows Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), a painfully awkward teenager and son of a sex therapist, as he follows in his mother’s footsteps and opens his own clinic. 

What begins with an anxious virgin whispering sex advice through bathroom stalls, quickly becomes a chronicle of teenagers exploring their identities as they navigate the sexual trials and tribulations of Moordale Secondary School. 

“Sex Education” goes far beyond the despair that audiences have come to expect, sharing the trans joy that is too often discounted.

Nunn’s approach to this material avoids the patronizing pitfalls of so many other coming-of-age stories, and it is the diverse and well-developed cast that truly sells the show. The show’s diversity is exactly the kind that audiences deserve, and the characters are not tokens or plot devices, but rather fully fleshed out individuals with unique struggles that accompany their identities without defining them.

While the show has addressed relevant and heavy themes since its inception, what makes season four so poignant is its focus on religious trauma, gender dysphoria and addiction. Besides these thematic elements, the final season is also set apart by its open embrace of all that is queer and colorful, bringing these storylines from the backdrop and into the spotlight for the first time in the show’s tenure. 

After Moordale Secondary loses funding with the close of the third season, the cast embarks on a new journey at its much more cheerful and progressive counterpart: Cavendish College. The new season is still characteristically framed around sex, but here, unlike at Moordale, it is expected and embraced. With a more open outlook on sex and the removal of the obstacles presented by a close-minded institution, the show is able to delve further into the character’s personal issues and better explore their complicated identities and experiences. 

This is especially evident in Eric Effiong’s storyline, as he continues to struggle with the intersection of his Nigerian, Christian and queer identities. Played by Ncuti Gatwa, Eric wrestles with his identity throughout the show, bearing the burden of disapproval as a result of his sexuality and vibrant self expression. 

This internal conflict is further elevated by his mother’s insistence that he become a baptized member of his family’s close-minded congregation. However, rather than the tragic ending audiences are so sorely accustomed to, Eric’s story closes with hope. His vulnerability and unapologetic queerness ultimately lead him to discover his own desire to become a pastor, offering much needed affirmation to religious LGBTQ+  people everywhere, that they have the power to find and create spaces where they are loved as is.

Beyond Eric’s storyline, this season also does a wonderful job portraying a variety of trans and nonbinary characters. Unfortunately, diverse and dynamic representations of trans individuals are few and far between, as the media either fails to represent the community’s diversity or disproportionately focuses on the most painful aspects of the trans experience. However, “Sex Education” goes far beyond the despair that audiences have come to expect, sharing the trans joy that is too often discounted. 

The final season is also set apart by its open embrace of all that is queer and colorful.

While the show features a couple, Roman (Felix Mufti) and Abbi (Anthony Lexa), who identify as transmasculine and transfeminine respectively, the season centers on the returning character Cal Bowman (Dua Saleh). Cal is nonbinary, and season four documents the beginning of their physical transition, exploring the strained relationship with their mother who struggles to accept their identity, as well as the physical and mental toll their dysphoria takes on them. 

These experiences offer a personal, realistic and necessary depiction of what it means to be a nonbinary teen, reminding trans youth that they can embrace their identity and still find love, happiness and acceptance.

Although the show’s exploration of queer and trans identities is both eye-opening and heartfelt, it also delves into grief, illustrating the complicated and painful experience of addiction. Addiction is an inherently complex disease, one that becomes even more difficult when your parent, the person supposed to protect and care for you, suffers from it. 

During season four, one of the show’s central characters, Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey), loses her mother to an overdose, and when she returns from America to process this grief, she delivers a eulogy that achingly acknowledges how “a mother can be a pretty shit parent sometimes, and you can still love them and want them to get better. And someone can be an addict and still be generous and kind.” 

Maeve verbalizes her contradicting feelings and accepts the difficulty of her situation rather than shying away from it, offering heartfelt assurance to other children of addiction that they are not alone in their conflicting feelings.

Season four of “Sex Education” is arguably its best yet, providing hope for single mothers, trans youth, children of addicts, victims of sexual assault, queer people of color and anyone else who may need it. Nunn does not lie about how hard the journey will be but instead comforts audiences with the promise of a loving community, self-acceptance and a better tomorrow.

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