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Sex Education S4 Review: An Equal Parts Poignant and Frustrating Farewell 

Sex Education Netflix

Staff writer Anwesh Banerjee reviews the highly anticipated final season of the Netflix series Sex Education.

The final season of Netflix’s “Sex Education” has too many loose ends to tie together – some of which it does with panache and poignancy, but the rest with such rushed neatness that it leaves you wanting more. 

Final seasons are always a difficult affair to dissect. To begin with, there is the groaning moan that such an announcement will elicit from a million viewers across the globe. The end of any series, with its host of colourful characters and their irreparably colourful lives which you have come to love and laugh with, will now finally move on and move away from the confines of your screens.

Off the screens, of course, there are other commitments actors and showrunners need to urgently attend to. With regard to “Sex Education”, one of Netflix’s most loved teenage dramas, the list was quite huge. The appointment of Ncuti Gawa, who played the fabulously gay Eric, as the new “Doctor Who” was soon followed by the casting of people like Emma Mackey and Connor Swindells in the Greta Gerwig-helmed summer blockbuster “Barbie”. With Simone Ashley already playing the critically acclaimed lead for the second season of “Bridgerton”, it was clear that the writers had but one last set of episodes to tie up the largely messy straws of this show – so that the characters and cast members could finally move on to bigger and brighter projects and prospects. 

But tying up the loose ends of a show like “Sex Education”, with a canvas of characters this vast, is most definitely easier said than done. For starters, In the light of Moordale Secondary finally shutting down following its failure to sustain a record that lasted beyond the epithet of the “sex school” there also arose the question of where our characters were headed, and what new characters were in store for us as viewers. In the aftermath of Adam’s heartbreak and evocative poetry, we await to see what path Eric is going to choose next. In light of the knowledge that this was also the final season of the show, there also remained the biggest question of all, would our primary love-birds, the awkwardly maverick Otis Milburn and the eccentric sensation Maeve Wiley finally end up together?

The new season kicks off with Otis (Asa Butterfield looks like he has finally come-of-age and makes the best of his remaining dregs of awkward teen-boyish charm) coming to his new high-school Cavendish, where everything is happy, jolly, syrupy and good. There is the antithesis of the mean girls’ clique led by Abbie and Roman (a superb Anthony Lexa and Felix Mufti), the school’s hottest couple. In this atmosphere of toxic positivity enters Otis’s big-time competitor – the other sex-therapist of the show “O” (Thaddea Graham gets a stand-out scene inside an elevator and might just be the biggest discovery of this season). Things heat up very soon as the two compete to sell their skills to the student-body. Back home, Jean (the ever-reliable but this time, slightly tired Gillian Anderson) struggles with postnatal depression while her estranged sister Joanna (a riotous Lisa McGrillis) comes to help her sister out in raising her newborn niece Joy. Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) on the other hand finds inspiration and friendship in the most unlikely of quarters, Adam (Connor Swindells) nurses his wounded heart and spirit, Eric (Ncuti Gawa) struggles to find an intersection between his racial, religious and sexual identity while Maeve (the inimitable and stellar Emma Mackey), far away in America, struggles to make peace with questions of privilege, biases and merit in academic circles.  

Long story short, the fourth season of “Sex Education” succeeds in patches but somewhere in an attempt to paint the queer feminist utopia of its hypothetical posturings across three seasons, the show simply forgets to stay in touch with the very spiked and thorny reality which originally made it a blisteringly fun watch. The writing team, led by Laurie Nunn who is also credited as the creator of the show, is so obsessively bent on a saccharine vision of inclusion this season that it forgets the hard-pressed serrations that detail our everyday realities.

Beyond the saturated shades, neon bursts, and 1980s tabloid referencing, what made the show stick around with viewers for three long seasons was the bluntly raw nature of the razor-sharp writing. Be it Maeve’s essay on loneliness or Adam’s poem on heartbreak, Aimee’s breakdown in detention or Jean’s conversations with her patients, for three long seasons “Sex Education” made us believe as viewers that it was possible to have our deepest, darkest and often dumbest emotions projected on the big screen. And in this final season, as long as the writers and showrunners stick to doing that, the show soars. 

There is an oddly melancholic preoccupation this season with ideas of grief and death. A major portion of the show being dedicated to a primary character mourning the death of another supporting character. However, the writers also dedicate an adequate amount of run-time to examining the very contours of grieving as an emotion. What does it mean to grieve and who or what do we truly grieve for? Is it someone or is it something? Is it ever possible to grieve for our own selves? And in processing that grief, how does one move ahead in life – secure in the knowledge of past losses and yet uninhibited to brace for what uncertainties lie in the future? 

We see a young daughter – forced to grow up too soon – coming to terms with the years of emotional abuse she has been subjected to by her mother in the wake of the latter’s death. Two estranged sisters finally learn to process the grief and trauma from years of sexual violence encountered through childhood. And meanwhile, for characters like Adam and his father Headmaster Groff (Alistair Petrie), grieving takes a different meaning. In resolving their own unease with the self, is there any hope for a future of reconciliation? Similarly for Eric, processing grief is tantamount to understanding the violently fraught relationship he will forever share with his cultural and religious identity. And finally, there is Aimee who learns to walk through, or rather in, her trauma and quite literally makes sense of the words – take your broken heart and make it into heart. 

“Sex Education“ in its final stretches, also ends up being a beautifully written ode to the joys and pains of being raised by imperfect parents and caregivers. When a transitioning non-binary person goes missing, we have their mother coming into the school and begging the other students to help her search for her lost child in what is one of the most heartbreaking on-screen portrayals I have ever seen of a parent trying to make sense of their child’s sexuality. The erstwhile high-school jock Jackson, learns to forgive his lesbian mothers for ghosts of their own past. And finally there is also Maeve, who in another shatteringly written and performed sequence owns up to the fact that loving and liking your care-givers are not the same and sometimes the absence of liking with love, is completely fine. 

And to wrap it all up, there is also the singular closure which we have all been waiting for – the resolution to the Otis-Maeve love story. The season juggles through a series of will-they or will-they-not tropes (some are absolutely groan inducing including a sexting session gone horribly wrong) with a particularly funny one that takes us back to the very swimming pool (now run dry) where their story of love first began. But as the two characters navigate the ups and downs of growing up one last time with Maeve trying to function under a problematic writing tutor (played to joyous, evil perfection by Dan Levy) and Otis being forced to address his intimacy issues headlong, we finally stumble upon a finale conversation between the pair. It is a conversation that is in equal parts cathartic and frustrating which amounts to only you as a viewer bawling your eyes out. A final letter that closes the show leaves you with a numbing sensation in your back and an apple-sized lump in your throat. In a simple two minute tracking shot overlooking a beautifully voiced narration, the show puts into perspective what it truly is about. In the end it is all about how we see people, and make them feel seen.  

The final season of “Sex Education” is definitely worth watching. If not for anything else, watch it for your own mental peace and choose your own unique way to say farewell to these characters who have stayed with us for over four long years – although some of their theological or agricultural resolutions will leave you yearning for more. But watch it for the radical boldness with which this ode to an inclusive utopic yet thorny worldview, manages to humanise bodies engaged in coitus. Be it in a splendidly filmed love-making scene between two trans characters or the suddenly tragic end of a non-binary person attempting to make love to a fellow partner. These are moments that are disturbing in their radical representational potential and yet gratifying in their decentering of the fetishistic eros we associate with the human body, imploring us to look at these bodies for the humanity of their flesh and bone. 

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