‘Sex Education’ Intimacy Coordinator David Thackerary Unpacks Maeve and Otis’ ‘Ross and Rachel Scene’ in Season 4: ‘There Was a Lot of Pressure’

Thackerary also explains why the fewer sex scenes this season make sense

Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) and Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) finally going on a date in "Sex Education" Season 4 (Netflix)

“Sex Education” reached a climax with Maeve and Otis sleeping together after four long seasons and 32 episodes of back and forth between the two school sex clinic operators.

Season 4 doesn’t make it easy for Maeve and Otis to finally date and connect. Maeve has just gone to America for an English class taught at a prestigious university by Professor Thomas Molloy (Dan Levy). Otis and Moordale Secondary company have their own challenges to navigate because a majority of them transferred to Cavendish College after the shuttering of Moordale Secondary School at the end of last season. Intimacy coordinator David Thackerary, who has been involved with the show form Season 2 onwards, described the build-up to such an important scene involving one of the show’s most beloved “ships” in an interview with TheWrap. 

“There was a lot of pressure for this moment because it’s this relationship. This is their moment. I call it the Ross and Rachel scene of ‘Sex Education,’” Thackerary said. “A lot of conversations happened before this. It was very much ‘Listen to the director’s vision and questions like, ‘What kind of position is this going to be? Are we only going to show one position? How does it begin? How does the intimacy begin?’”

Because Maeve comes back to Moordale for her mother Erin’s (Anne-Marie Duff) emergency hospitalization and eventual funeral, she and Otis go on a date to try and take her mind off things. But the date, and their attempt to have sex after, goes wrong.

“They try more than once, and I think it’s on their minds as well, even in the long-distance relationship points. It’s just building up to that moment,” Thackeray said. “I think it feels right at that point. You can see the consent that is taking place. It might not necessarily be vocal, but it’s engaged. And you can see that for the body language and that face and the way that.”

Episode 7 marks the moment of truth for the young couple. Maeve decides that she will go back to America to complete her course with Molloy. She tells Otis this beforehand, but it doesn’t stop him. He has come away from a talk with O (Thaddea Graham), who has encouraged him to let go of the fear of getting hurt because you can’t love anyone without risk.

SEmma Mackey as Maeve Wiley, Asa Butterfield as Otis Milburn in Episode 5 of Sex Education Season 3 (Sam Taylor/NETFLIX © 2020)

“You have this lovely moment of clothes coming off, and then we see Otis feeling confident enough because of Maeve and you see the joys of him lifting her up and going down to the bed,” Thackeray said. “There’s smiling, there’s moments of laughter, there’s eye contact and it’s an intimate scene based on the characters’ trust and so much deeper relationship. I thought it was really well-directed and really well edited. I was really happy when I saw it.”

The culmination marked a full-circle moment since the first episode in Season 4, in which Maeve sends Otis a nude, and they then get intimate over the phone. 

“The process still stays the same. It would still be a closed set. You still want to make you talk to the director beforehand, say hey, are we seeing anything here – is there any nudity? Are they doing any kind of action or simulated action? And then I’ll talk to the actor and find out what they’re comfortable with and any kind of thoughts from this moment,” Thackeray said. “There is a different feel to it because you are just by yourself and there’s no one on the end of the phone. So you are really just trying to go through each beat of that conversation and what that intimacy is, and sometimes you might have to call out and say, ‘Right, we’re here at this point. This is how we’re going to finish this scene as well. This is where we’re gonna call cut.’”

Thackerary worked with a team of intimacy coordinators, some of whom stepped onto set in moments like these when he couldn’t be there. 

“The nude picture being sent, it’s very much like, ‘Oh, wow, great. This is awesome.’ And then suddenly, ‘Oh, do I have to send another one?’ You’ve got this kind of dilemma of at least open conversation that people want to talk about, which is great, because it does happen and it should be spoken about and it’s two characters trying to find ways of being intimate with a long distance relationship,” Thackeray said. “It’s very much, especially for Maeve and Otis, about exploring what this relationship is, but on a deeper level, on a mature level, from a long distance relationship and navigating that to the hurdles that they find themselves in where their everyday life is getting in the way of the intimacy, which is very normal and very mature.” 

Season 4 had fewer sex scenes compared to the previous three seasons, but that makes sense to Thackerary.

“I was also like, Hey, where’s all the work? Where’s all my scenes? But like it actually makes sense for the season. It’s about other things. It’s about other journeys, not necessarily all about the intimacy. This season felt different from the previous ones. There’s a real maturity for the characters’ journey now. You can really feel the difference from Season 2 to where they are now,” he said. “Enjoy seeing your favorite characters on screen one last time. Enjoy the stories that are told and for what ‘Sex Education’ is all about,” Thackerary added. “And take one fundamental lesson which is make sure you have consent and have open communication with your partner.”