We’ve come a long way since the start of “Sex Education,” when we were all rooting for (or at least commiserating with) Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), the Netflix dramedy’s awkward, anxious and slightly dysfunctional hero. Four years later, we’re saying goodbye to the show’s high school student-turned-amateur sex therapist and his brilliant sex therapist mother, Dr. Jean Milburn (played by the incomparable Gillian Anderson), along with a lengthy cast of characters we’ve all grown to love.
In this final season, we get to see each character develop into the people we’ve wanted them to become. And in a sense, it seems like some end up outshining Otis, making it feel like perhaps he was never really the hero of this story, but rather an entry point into the interwoven lives of the diverse residents of the fictional town of Moordale.
But first, some bad news: Thanks to the closing of Moordale Secondary School at the end of Season 3, there are a handful of folks who don’t return for the final episodes. Ola (Patricia Alison) and her alien-fixated girlfriend Lily (Tanya Reynolds), as well as Ruby’s crew, Anwar and Olivia (Chaneil Kular and Simone Ashley), are presumed to have wound up at different schools this year. It’s a hard pill to swallow, especially if you were rooting for Ola and Lily to get their happy ending.
You might also be wondering if we’ll see Maeve (Emma Mackey). Last we checked, she was bidding adieu to Otis on her way to America. Fortunately, she is most definitely present this season, despite being across the pond at the start. In fact, she’s the first character we see in the season premiere, toiling away at an essay about the Brontë Sisters (a fun easter egg given she played the starring role in the 2022 biopic about Emily Brontë) for her class under Professor Thomas Molloy (played by “Schitt’s Creek” star Dan Levy).
But she’s also feeling the distance from her home and from her sort-of long distance boyfriend Otis, so much so that she sends him a racy photo in a text. But Otis being Otis fails to reciprocate or even reply to her gesture. It’s the first of many blunders that happen between the pair throughout the season, and the lightest of the issues that Maeve ends up tackling. If anyone undergoes massive transformation this season, it is undoubtedly Maeve. To say that the final season gets dark for her is a massive understatement.
Meanwhile, Otis is preparing to set up a brand new sex therapy clinic at his new school, Cavendish College (college in the UK is what we would call senior year of high school in the U.S., FYI). Unfortunately for him, there’s already a sex therapist on campus – a young woman who goes by the name of “O” (“Doctor Who” star Thaddea Graham). Feeling immediately threatened, Otis starts leaning into not only his anxieties, but also a bit of misogyny. It’s not a good look for our little Oatcake.
Then there’s Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), who starts the season trying to support his pal until he begins to realize that Otis doesn’t show up for him nearly enough. He does find support in The Coven – a group of cool, queer friends at Cavendish. There’s Abbi (Anthony Lexa), who happens to be a fellow Christian, Abbi’s trans boyfriend Roman (Felix Mufti) and Aisha (played by deaf actor Alexandra James). After seeing Eric let down in previous seasons by Adam (Connor Swindells) and Otis alike, it’s nice to see him shine with a new crew of supportive friends.
Speaking of Adam, the Groffs all have their own growing to do. Adam opts out of college and lands an internship working with horses. Meanwhile, his father genuinely seems committed to working on himself and repairing the relationships with his family. It’s painful to watch at times, but the vulnerability seems to pay off over time.
In an unexpected turn of events, Ruby (Mimi Keene) also gets a bigger role this season, revealing there’s much more to the Queen Bee than meets the eye. Keene does a great job pivoting from mean girl to genuinely kind friend, and back again, throughout the season. More plotlines this season include Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) and Isaac’s (George Robinson) budding friendship over art, Isaac’s frustrations with attending a “progressive” school with plenty of issues, Jackson’s (Kedar Williams-Stirling) personal health scare, Viv’s (Chinenye Ezeudu) dark relationship with an overly jealous new beau, Eric’s internal debate as to whether or not to get baptized, and Cal’s (Dua Saleh) struggles with transitioning and mental health.
To top it all off, we also have Jean’s struggles with new motherhood and postpartum depression, which lead Otis to call in his aunt Joanna (Thaddea Graham) for help. There is resolution from last season’s DNA test result cliffhanger, but not immediately. Jean also starts working on a sex therapy radio show, with her boss being none other than Hannah Gadsby.
Between new conflicts, new characters and the ticking clock to the series finale, the first couple of episodes this season can feel a bit too much. At times, it can get frustrating trying to figure where it’s all going, especially when there are only eight episodes in which to tie it all up. But things start to shift into place by Episode 3, and most everyone’s journeys do come to a head before the end.
Some might not love all the new characters, or how everything turns out – and some may not agree on where Otis lands by the end – but the show stays honest through and through. It gets messy, but ultimately, “Sex Education” gives fans a proper ending with some truly beautiful, sometimes heart wrenching, scenes.
As always, there’s still plenty of excellent sex education offered throughout, which is part of what drew us all in to begin with, isn’t it?
“Sex Education” Season 4 premieres Thursday, Sept. 21, on Netflix.