Sex Education Season-Premiere Recap: I Wanna Change

Sex Education

Episode 1
Season 3 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

Sex Education

Episode 1
Season 3 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: Sam Taylor/Netflix

Since the beginning of Sex Education, Moordale Secondary School’s old restroom block has been a place for secrets. In the first two seasons, it was where Otis and Maeve ran their underground sex-therapy clinic, a place where students from every rung of the popularity ladder could hide out and confess their fears. Now, even with the clinic shut down, the building is still a refuge: A secret hook-up spot, a discreet place where an English teacher can smoke, and a place where a locker-room-shy student can change clothes in peace. It’s also the current domain of the Sex King, a moniker adopted by Kyle so he can make money by dispensing sex advice.

But by the end of the episode, the Sex King’s reign has ended and the old restrooms are getting torn down. It’s the first bold move from the hip new headmistress Mrs. Haddon (we can call her Hope), a 30-something Moordale alum who wants to get the school “back on track.” In the wake of season two’s “chlamydia outbreak” and racy school musical, Moordale has been branded the “Sex School” by the press. And to Hope, that just won’t do.

Otis rats out the Sex King to Hope, not because of any real animosity or jealousy, but because it seems the right thing to do. After the fiascos of the last two years, maybe it’s true that students shouldn’t be the ones dispensing wisdom, especially someone with advice as unhelpful as Kyle’s. But what Otis understands — and what Hope might not — is that eliminating a safe space for students doesn’t make their problems go away. “They still need help,” Otis insists.

In past seasons of Sex Education, episodes have been loosely structured around sex cases. That continues here: Dex, introduced as Viv’s crush last year, is deeply insecure about his inability to make his girlfriend come. After some advice from the Sex King that does more harm than good, Dex worries the size of his penis is the problem, which is something he’ll never be able to solve. His situation worsens when he strips to measure himself and gets his clothes taken away, leading to a humiliating naked meltdown in front of the school. Luckily, Otis and Maeve are around to give him clothes and the real wisdom he needs: penis size is often irrelevant, female orgasms are often unattainable from penetrative sex alone, and Dex should probably pay more attention to his girlfriend’s clitoris.

It’s the one scene in the episode when Otis and Maeve are really in their element. But it doesn’t mean everything’s back to the way it used to be. Neither Otis nor Maeve grasps the whole truth about their relationship: Maeve has no idea Otis left her a voicemail confessing his love during last year’s finale, and Otis assumes she heard but wants nothing to do with him. Emma Mackey’s line delivery is painful as she explains their status to Aimee: “We’re not fighting. We’re just not friends anymore.”

Both of them have been preoccupied with other people, anyway. Isaac seems like the only person who understands Maeve’s issues with her mother, who finally answers Maeve’s repeated calls only to tell her to stop calling. And Otis has kept himself busy over the summer, hooking up with popular girl Ruby in secret because she’s embarrassed by him. The secret gets out when he tells Eric, but by the end of the episode, Ruby has come around — after all, everyone knows now anyway, so they might as well keep seeing each other out in the open.

Otis isn’t the only Milburn keeping a secret: His mother, Jean, still hasn’t told Jakob she’s pregnant with his baby. Finally spotted driving back and forth in front of his house, she reveals her pregnant belly to him, giving him the option to walk away if he wants to. But it’s a relief when he does show up to the hospital for Jean’s latest scan, demonstrating his commitment to being a part of his child’s life.

Adam is used to keeping secrets, too. But now that he’s out and openly dating Eric, he finds it hard not to fall back into old patterns, resorting to violence when another guy at school teases him. I’ve had issues with the depiction of Eric and Adam’s relationship in the past — I still find them difficult to root for considering the abusive origin of their relationship — but I appreciate that the show is taking the time to show Adam’s ongoing struggle with his anger realistically. Just because he’s willing to hold hands with Eric in public doesn’t mean he’s completely fine with all the attention or entirely at peace with himself. Still, after some much-needed advice from Ola, Adam tells Eric how he feels: “I don’t like it when I hurt people. I don’t know why I do it. I just get so angry. But I wanna change.”

In the first episode of Sex Education, Adam unwittingly became Otis’s first patient. Stuck in the abandoned restroom after taking too many Viagras, he admitted how intensely anxious he was, how much pressure he felt from the scrutiny of his headmaster father and his sexually frustrated girlfriend — and thus, the sex clinic was born. The clinic is over now, and the filthy but strangely comforting restroom where it was born is flattened to the ground. How will the students of Moordale cope without the safest space on campus?

All the Good Things and the Bad Things That May Be

• I should mention that the episode begins with this show’s most gloriously raunchy montage yet.

• Our first beautiful Eric Effiong laugh of the season is when Otis tells him about Ruby and he assumes it’s a joke.

• Hope makes her big debut by coming onstage to “Land of a Thousand Dances” by Wilson Pickett. I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about Hope as this season goes on, but for now, I’ll just say Jemima Kirke is brilliant casting.

• Ruby’s contact name on Otis’s phone is “X-Tina,” because the first time they hooked up last summer was at a costume party where she dressed up as early-2000s Christina Aguilera.

• Not much Viv this episode, but her friendship with Jackson seems to be going strong, as is her long-distance relationship with a boy named Eugene with whom she’s hoping to unite at Oxford.

• Ruby: “We’re not done. We’re over.” Otis: “‘Over’ and ‘done’ mean the same thing!”

• Jackson has a meet-cute with Cal, a new character played by nonbinary Sudanese-American recording artist Dua Saleh. The other development with Jackson is that Hope seems to want him as an ally, handing him her proposed “new school values” to look over. Intriguing.

• Aimee and Steve, who are still taking things slow physically after Aimee’s sexual assault in season two, get a pet goat as a “commitment animal” to bring them closer together.

• Speaking of which, Dex using the goat to cover his dick is the most sitcommy moment of the episode, but I laughed harder at his initial anguished cry: “Look away! I don’t want you to see my dick!”

• I’m curious to see what sort of role Jason Isaacs will play as ex-headmaster Mr. Groff’s rich older brother Peter. He pulls off the admirable task of making Mr. Groff the more likable guy in the room.

• Kyle: “Now everyone knows about you and Ruby; guess I can carry on being the Sex King.” Otis: “It means exactly the opposite of that, Kyle!”

• I’m super-excited to dive into this season! Sex Education is one of my favorite TV shows, even when I’m frustrated by it, so it should be really fun to unpack each episode. Hit me up on Twitter or dive into the comments if you have any thoughts on the show you’d like to share.

Sex Education Season-Premiere Recap: I Wanna Change