When the first season of Sex Education debuted on Netflix in 2019, something about the series felt very taboo considering its audience. Sure, there had already been plenty of teen-oriented shows that explored sex and identity, but rarely as openly and in as much depth as Sex Education. The Netflix original series managed to capture the modern zeitgeist through a youthful lens, and has since undeniably rooted itself deep in pop culture. Created by screenwriter and playwright Laurie Nunn, Sex Education has become one of the platform’s most beloved originals. All good things must come to an end though, which brings us to Sex Education Season 4.
Though some of the show’s cast members such as Gillian Anderson and Asa Butterfield were recognizable long before the series premiered, Sex Education has brought some of its other stars newfound fame and opportunities. Three of the show’s key players – Emma Mackey, Connor Swindells, and Ncuti Gatwa – starred alongside Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in arguably the film of the summer, Greta Gerwig’s recording breaking Barbie. Having been a clear standout since his first screen appearance, it is no surprise that Gatwa has now continued to assume his rising status by taking on the role of the Fifteenth Doctor in Doctor Who.
Before the stars of Sex Education move on to inevitable further success, we are being treated to one last return to Moordale in a fourth and final season. In the aftermath of Sex Education Season 3, Moordale Secondary School remains closed, which leaves Otis Milburn (Butterfield), Eric Effiong (Gatwa), Aimee Gibbs (Aimee Lou Wood), Jackson Marchetti (Kedar Williams-Stirling), Vivienne Odusanya (Chinenye Ezeudu), Cal Bowman (Dua Saleh), and Ruby Matthews (Mimi Keene) to navigate the process of moving to a drastically contrasting new institution, Cavendish Sixth Form College. Some find fitting in with the new crowd far easier than others. While some make new friends, others reunite with people from their pasts.
As Maeve Wiley (Mackey) is abroad studying in America and his mother Jean (Gillian Anderson) suffering from postnatal depression, Otis attempts to distract himself with his therapy work. But much to his surprise, Otis discovers that he is not the only young relationship and sex expert in town. The biggest issue with Sex Education Season 4 is that there is simply too much being juggled. Showcasing representation has always been one of the show’s strong suits and this final season is no different. At Cavendish, we meet new characters who reflect the evergrowing diversity of teen circles. These characters include Cavendish royalty Abbi and Roman, who are played by trans actors Anthony Lexa and Felix Mufti respectively.
While newcomers Abbi and Roman are given adequate time to be explored in Sex Education Season 4, it feels as though we are afforded less time to say goodbye to the core cast of characters that we know and love. It’s admittedly hard to form an attachment to new supporting faces when the show’s conclusion looms just right around the corner, knowing that after only eight episodes these characters that we have only just met and their narratives will not get the longevity that others have. To say the least, dedicated viewers of the show will be able to feel valuable time running thin as these final episodes reach their conclusions.
With so many subplots occurring simultaneously, the pacing of Sex Education Season 4 is all over the place. These latest episodes go from suddenly pumping the breaks for somber moments to speeding back into comedic relief without warning. The final season of Sex Education is packed with this kind of emotional whiplash. At its best, it comes off as slightly cliche but still bearable given the topical story and representation at hand. At its worst, it seems as if these last episodes are a parody of the concise and trailblazing seasons that came before.
Flaws aside, Sex Education Season 4 is still entertaining and thrives when it focuses on the core group of characters that we have been growing with for nearly half a decade. This final outing, in particular, is most moving when it explores the significance of non-romantic relationships. Whether it be family, friendship, or even self-discovery, every external and internal relationship has its complexities and Sex Education never shies away from that, delving into the beauty and hardships of being human.
Any show’s final moments are crucial. Creator/showrunner Laurie Nunn opts for a more ambiguous path towards finality that leaves some fates and relationships open to interpretation. These decisions will certainly feel serviceable to many fans, but the series finale still doesn’t quite reach as satisfying a climax as some are hoping for. Nonetheless, Sex Education continues to stay true to its signature style until the very end, simultaneously generating joy while also sparking crucial conversations in a sensitive manner. When all is said and done, it is the characters and the unique performances that have brought them to life over the years that will define the show’s legacy in years to come.