When Issac deleted Otis’ voicemail to Maeve professing his undying love for her in the final scene of season two’s finale of “Sex Education,” fans weren’t exactly expecting season three to feature the early and tragic death of a cat, Johnathan, — who’s owners night of frisky activity sent a microwave oven flying across the room, crushing him to death — or travel as far as an underground Nigerian gay club.
But the Netflix Original’s latest installment debuted Sept. 17 with the series’ usual blend of absurdity, sincerity and of course, sex positivity.
Not one for quiet entrances, the season opens with an intense 2 ½ minute montage of the show’s characters having sex to the tune of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” by the Rubinoos.
From here, the season picks up in the fall term at Moordale High, now dubbed the “Sex School” after the events of the second season, resulting in characters like sex educator/therapist Jean Milburn and headteacher Michael Groff, played by Gillian Anderson and Alistair Petrie, respectively, to lose their jobs at the institution.
With the headteacher position left unfilled, season three sets up its central conflict around Hope Haddon, the new young headmistress, who despite being a self-described feminist, eventually reveals her true colors through enforcing conformity, heternormativity and abstinence-based sex education.
As the characters navigate new conflicts, season three shines in its humanization and delicate delivery of character growth. Made especially apparent in the show’s handling of LGBTQ issues and themes.
One of the most eye-catching character arcs is that of Adam Groff, played by Connor Swindells. Adam, who began as a straight-presenting bully in season one, explores and struggles with his queerness in season three alongside openly gay boyfriend Eric Effiong, played by Ncuti Gatwa.
Raised in a masculinity and discipline focused household, Adam’s scenes in this season perfectly encapsulate the emotional and rewarding journey of dismantling internalized homophobia while participating in gay culture, like when Adam comments that he looks “quite pretty” after Eric does his makeup.
In addition to Adam’s own self-discovery, season three introduces its first genderqueer characters with two non-binary students, Cal and Layla, who use they/them pronouns.
The introduction of transgender characters proves greatly positive for the series, isnpiring conversations about outdated modes of gender binaries, as well as conversations surrounding safe binding techniques (binding is the practice of flattening the chest with constrictive material), as shown in the final episode.
If nothing else, this season creates an even safer space for its audience — specifically its queer audience — than before.
Beyond creating a safe space via queer stories, season three of “Sex Education” expertly delves into issues regarding the healing process after sexual assault, having a parent in active drug-addiction and how families can unite through an unexpected pregnancy.
Focusing greater screen-time on these more serious issues, season three drives “Sex Education” into a more somber direction, straying further from the goofiness that was its earlier seasons.
Where season three falters, is, perhaps — and not so surprisingly — in its comedy. Unlike the care put into its serious side, the comedy of season three of “Sex Education” feels heavy handed and overly juvenile. With one of the central conflicts in episode five centering around a fecal related car accident and running fart jokes, the humor provided is starkly immature, compared to the internal and external struggles of its characters.
Beyond poor taste in jokes, the comedy in season three feels clunky and disjointed. Rather than interwoven with the more dramatic and serious aspects of the season, as has been done previously, the humor often disrupts heartfelt moments, causing an abrupt and unsatisfactory shift in tone.
After all, it’s hard to laugh at a cheap vending machine joke directly following a character’s grief around his mother being in the hospital.
With that being said, the season still stands out in its adeptness regarding the complexities of both adult and teenage explorations and confrontations with sexuality. It skillfully navigates conversations surrounding sex, whether that be about finding joy in sex, reconciling with sexual trauma, or figuring out one’s own sexual identity.
Though no season four has been confirmed yet, it would be a shame for season three to be the end of “Sex Education,” seeing how the show has transcended pure entertainment into a place of guidance and acceptance.
Kara Anderson is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org