Don't be silly... wrap your willyHeidi Atkins with permission for Varsity

The prospect of writing the final season of any beloved TV show must be one of the most daunting tasks that screenwriters face. After several seasons of developing characters, building up an audience and interweaving long-running plotlines, the mammoth task of tying all of the above into a neat and satisfying bow would scare even the cockiest of screenwriters. It’s not uncommon for final seasons to fail to live up to their expectations; Game of Thrones certainly fell at the final hurdle, and the later seasons of Gilmore Girls could not fully capture the charm of the earlier instalments. I don’t wish to brand the fourth season of Netflix’s Sex Education as a failure, but it certainly struggles to match the legacy and cultural impact of its earlier seasons.

“Flying from character to character provides important representation, but it also puts audiences at risk of emotional whiplash”

In 2019, I fell in love with the vibrant rotation of characters who, episode by episode, would take it in turns to deal with their own intimate crises with the help of Otis Milburn. This formula flounders in season four, where the climax of Sex Education is largely one of chaos rather than catharsis.

The show was quickly beloved because of its unapologetic embrace of the highs and lows of navigating teenage sexuality. The trailblazing representations of sexualities, gender identities and life experiences offered are some of the best and broadest in TV and film today, but the sheer quantity of new elements in season four overwhelms the quality of these narratives. The students of Moordale find themselves starting afresh at Cavendish College, an ultra-modern and proudly progressive sixth form. For Eric this means getting to surround himself and thrive alongside queer people in a way he couldn’t at Moordale, while Otis begins to butt heads with O, Cavendish’s incumbent student sex therapist. In this vibrant new setting we are introduced to hordes of new characters.

We’re introduced to Abbi and Roman, the trans power couple who reign at the top of Cavendish’s social hierarchy with their friend Aisha. Appearing on the scene is Jean Milburn’s sister, here to help with childcare but dragging emotional baggage and a complex sister dynamic with her. Jem is a farmer’s daughter who teaches Adam to ride a horse as part of his new farming apprenticeship. This is all without even starting to consider the concurrent characters shaping Maeve’s life as she now studies writing in America.

“The show remembers what it does best: presenting powerfully authentic characters navigating the problems of their teenage lives”

While all of these new additions are exciting and add further dimensions to the characters we’ve known throughout the show, they also mean that the narrative spreads itself a bit too thin; we meet these bold new characters at Cavendish and beyond, yet they are not given the depth they really deserve because of the sheer quantity of storylines that the series tries to take on. Cal, Adam, Jackson and Ruby are notably present throughout the series, but their storylines are stunted by a lack of room in the running time. Flying from character to character provides important representation, but it also puts audiences at risk of emotional whiplash.

Amidst this tangle of new and old characters, the quality of performance shines through as an undeniable saving grace for the series. Ncuti Gatwa (Eric Effiong) undeniably takes the lead as a rightful scene-stealer who continues to shape the backbone of the show. He brings humour paired with profound depth as Eric explores his relationship with Christianity. Gatwa is closely accompanied by Emma Mackey (Maeve Wiley) who powerfully guides the character of Maeve into her final form as she faces imposter syndrome, insecurity and bereavement. I don’t think it will be too controversial to state that having started to dislike Otis in season three, his development in season four solidified my feelings – Asa Butterfield gives a good performance as the teenage sex therapist, but he is a source of repeated crisis and conflict throughout the season and he doesn’t have the room to redeem or endear himself to audiences again.


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Despite the crowded narratives of the season, it still manages to reach a satisfying conclusion. In the closing scenes we return to Otis and Eric’s friendship and the four seasons of the show seem to come full circle. Meanwhile, Maeve seems to put her past to rest, writing a manuscript about her life growing up in a trailer park and moving towards a bright future. Here the show remembers what it does best: presenting powerfully authentic characters navigating the problems of their teenage lives.

Had this detail and authenticity been centred throughout the season, it would have better served the legacy of the show. If you came for the characters, you won’t be disappointed in Sex Education season four, but prepare to navigate a crowded tangle of underdeveloped plotlines in the meantime.