“Sex Education” has been a hit since its release in 2019. Known for its daring, raunchy humor and its heartwarming, nostalgic homage to ’80s coming-of-age cinema, the series has long relished in critical acclaim and audience approval. But the iconic series is finally winding down with its fourth and final season in a touching if uneven conclusion to the comedy-drama.
After Maeve (Emma Mackey) and Otis (Asa Butterfield) finally get together, they find their relationship in dire straits as the two navigate the muddiness of long distance. Maeve, living in the United States as a part of the Gifted and Talented Program, struggles with her interpersonal relationships and fitting in at her new school. Meanwhile, Otis and the other Moordale students matriculate into Cavendish College after Moordale shuts down, only to find that a new social order and environment challenges them in unexpected ways.
The final season of “Sex Education” returns to the poignant threads it traversed in years past. Aimee’s (Aimee Lou Wood) journey in healing from her sexual assault, Maeve’s tumultuous relationship with her mom, Eric’s (Ncuti Gatwa) experience with Christianity — it all comes to a head, and each storyline produces some of the best moments in the entire series. The viewers are privy to stunning sequences, from Maeve’s peers coming together to support her during a particularly hard junction with her mom to Aimee embracing art as a medium for healing.
But the final season’s most egregious problem is, surprisingly, its uneven writing. While it’s unreasonable to expect every character to be etched as intricately as Eric or Aimee, the fact that pivotal characters received such flat endings is disappointing. Characters such as Otis finish the series at a junction not dissimilar to where they were at the start, and tender scenes are interrupted by sudden comedic cutaways that not only ruin the tone but erode character development altogether. “Sex Education” feels utterly scatterbrained. Yet perhaps even more disheartening is that it was almost unavoidable with how many storylines the final season juggled.
With the core cast growing in size each season, “Sex Education” has always been ambitious. While this expansion worked for seasons two and three with the knowledge that another was coming, inserting a myriad of new characters in the final season left the finale feeling overcrowded. From Abbi (Anthony Lexa) to O (Thaddea Graham), the new characters functionally serve as objects to propel established characters forward and characters the audience is meant to invest in, with half-baked storylines to seal the deal.
While Abbi and O may be interesting in theory, all they did was take up space from the long list of pre-established characters that needed the screen time more. Even with the departure of some fan-favorite characters, like Ola (Patricia Allison) and Lily (Tanya Reynolds) — which made room for others — the precious final moments of the series should have been spent on characters that fans knew and cared about. “Sex Education” cannot get its priorities straight.
The new setting of Cavendish, perhaps, is an even more glaring misfire. While “Sex Education” has always been known for its sensitive, tongue-in-cheek commentary on youth issues, Cavendish operates as a superfluous site of trendy buzzwords and a bizarre caricaturization of modern teens. As students chastise the Moordale transfers for minor issues like recycling posters, encourage practicing manifestation during tense moments and chant that Otis is a meninist, it seems like the “Sex Education” writers have lost their touch.
But “Sex Education” ultimately comes to a more or less satisfying close as the characters find new direction in their lives despite the odd circumstances they find themselves in. Whether it’s a new career choice or the pursuit of higher education, “Sex Education” climaxes with warm-hearted dialogue, evocative reunions and outstanding performances from cast members — particularly Mackey and Gatwa — in spite of the poor writing.
It’s a shame that we have to say goodbye to the cast of “Sex Education” under such dismal circumstances; their disastrous yet droll teenage antics were always fun to behold. But seeing the characters reach such promising points in their life is just as fulfilling, even if the finale leaves much to be desired.