Sex Education Season 3 On Netflix Is Just As Sincere, Sexy And Educational As Its Preceding Seasons, Film Companion
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Season 3 of Sex Education begins the way Season 1 of Sex Education begins — with sex. 7+ couples are mating in various stages of undress, two friends are jumping trampolines to give their hip flexors the oomph and core strength for the sheets, one young man’s dynamic hand is dexterously at work in his pants, a girl flashes over web-cam, and a boy has a VR induced sexcapade. The paths are endless, the goal is singular — an earth-shattering orgasm. 

But sex is never just about sex. It’s also about the contours that lead us to it — our ease, our indifference, our anxieties, our phobias that we bring to the act, like language to a feeling. The resounding, radiant success of the Sex Education franchise is testament that as much as we are interested in seeing sex unfold as an erotic act, we are also interested in sex unfolding as a humanizing one. 

We are in the fictional British hill station, Moordale. The hilly part is important because the town is largely untouched by the outside world and its raging fires, perched along the foggy woods, tree-lined paths, where its own personal stories can unfold without interruption, much like Elite did with its fictional riff on Madrid. Here, characters say things like “Tonight at 4:30”, because 4:30 p.m. is dark. It is almost otherworldly, running on its own circadian rhythms. 

The camera on this show often hovers in close-ups at a forehead height, giving you such unhindered access to the character’s eyes, it feels as invasive as it does inviting.

Much of the drama unfolds around Moordale Secondary —  recovering from bad PR courtesy a Chlamydia outbreak and a sex musical — and all the characters are in their final year, as suddenly the school becomes more strict and unyielding. There is the perceptive beyond his years but bitten by love and thus restrained Otis (Asa Butterfield) and his best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), who gets a brief sojourn to motherland Lagos this season. Then there is the always cutting, most intelligent and self-preserving Maeve (Emma Mackey) in her frill-jacket, living in an RV park, and her best friend, the reflexive people-pleaser Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood), who is still healing from a sexual assault the previous season. Otis’mother Jean (Gillian Anderson) gets significant space in this season — to flex her precise, pleasure-centering, and kind sex therapy, as well as her maternal instincts, one indistinguishable from the other in an almost disconcerting way. She is pregnant, too. 

Sex Education Season 3 On Netflix Is Just As Sincere, Sexy And Educational As Its Preceding Seasons, Film Companion

But it is not while dealing with sex and sexual attraction that the show is at its sparking and witty best. It is when the show pauses its gaze on the friendships. When Otis tells Maeve that he wants to apologize, we see Eric overhearing this exchange and butting in, “What are we apologizing for?” When, in a later episode, Otis is weeping in Eric’s arms and they are disturbed by a man they are in the way of, Eric spares no tone and in his British-Nigerian sharpness scalds, “Excuse me? Can you not see that we are very upset?” Similarly when Maeve asks Aimee for a favour after a turbulent fight with her, Aimee brushes her aside saying, “Okay. What are we doing?” It’s always we, as if friendship is a collective condition, a pushback against this post-Industrial notion of the I as an island. This is not to say there aren’t boundaries. There are. They are often flouted and apologized for. But these boundaries aren’t to keep the other away as much as it is to give one a sense of self. 

On the sex-therapy front, this season deals with penis envy, grief sex, and more didactically about non-binary personhood — to be told that your body is a type, masculine or feminine, but to feel indifferent, confused, and thus divorced from that very sexualized body you inhabit. All of these problems boil down to and are thus solved by clear articulation, as if all problems regarding sex are problems of articulation. It is not just what to say, but how to say it. It is too simple sometimes, like Eric’s boyfriend, the incredibly masculine and beaten down Adam (Connor Swindells) looking the other side, so he feels unobserved when he asks to be penetrated, to bottom. 

 

The greatness of the show is how it can elevate something it frames as funny — like the incredibly rough sex Cynthia, a resident of the RV park, is having in the RV, which shakes the walls enough for the microwave to dislodge and land on her cat, killing him — into a lesson on grief management. Some of it comes across as too neat, too folded, and that is the commercial, widely-watchable impetus of the show. But some of it, like the arc given to Lily (Tanya Reynolds) — to embrace the ‘weird’, her erotic alien fan fiction about cock-rods being unsheathed, by refusing to accept any of it as ‘weird’ — or that of Adam’s father (Alistair Petrie), now divorced, unemployed, and homeless, is too loose, too lazy. There is a sense here that the show might have bitten off more than it could chew, buoyed by its fast pace. 

Even so, it always pays the character the attention they deserve in the spare scenes they get. The camera on this show often hovers in close-ups at a forehead height, giving you such unhindered access to the character’s eyes, it feels as invasive as it does inviting — the way the eyes stare with forceful intention or waver around uneasily, you are soon lassoed into their interiority. 

The most radical idea in Sex Education, however, is not the sex, but the education. It flips the idea of education — that it is not something you get, but something that you must take.

A note on Mrs. Haddon (Jemima Kirke) — the new head teacher, the puritan with bold lip tints who thinks of order as a moral condition. Thus for her, to be chaotic is immoral and disgusting. Yet, the show never lets her completely become the villain, always on the perch of villainy, but never quite there. When Maeve is unable to find the funds for an application, she promises to get the money, but also asks her to tidy up her appearance — get rid of the nose ring, chop off the highlights. When Cal (Jemima Kirke) is unable to slot themself as male or female and thus is unwilling to wear a skirt in the newly imposed school uniform, Haddon allows them to wear pants but it has to perfectly fit the body. There are concessions and imperatives. When she acts brutal, almost unforgivable, we get a shot of her a moment later, when we see her sigh, as if all that unforgivable brutality was a chore for her too. She is deeply flawed, morally, unconsciously, with subtle racist tendencies — two boys are waiting outside her office, one white, one black, and she assumes the headboy is the white boy. She is given moments of pathos, and towards the end we see where she is coming from, but we don’t even get to see her husband, her life at home, her life beyond work, and so her struggles with maternity feel, at best, distant. 

The most radical idea in Sex Education, however, is not the sex, but the education. It flips the idea of education — that it is not something you get, but something that you must take. That education doesn’t just produce agency, but that education also comes from agency — to look at your school curriculum of sex education and push back on the idea of abstinence, to demand comprehensive sex education, to look at your failing grades and go to your teacher asking for help. Even if this kind of education produces students who don’t know where to put a full stop at age 16, so what? The idea of an education is less about the classroom, but the classroom as a space where students can exchange their life stories, because that is the real learning. Nothing of value seems to be taught in class and all the valuable lessons the teachers impart here are of fearlessness and shamelessness, told outside the classroom. It is a complete devaluation of the textbook-model, so even when the school as an institution is threatened towards the end of the season, it doesn’t feel tense or worrisome, because as long as the characters are together, the education will continue. This might seem excessive — to give agency to people who haven’t grappled with the idea of consequences fully. It is a gamble. And not all gambles pay-off. But in Moordale High, they certainly did.

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