When it comes to Hope Haddon’s vision for Moordale, appearance is key. How can you expect students to learn when there’s no law, no rules governing the congested halls? No wonder so few students take their studies seriously when Mr. Hendricks has his swing band opening their assembly rehearsal with the lyric “Suckin’ on my titties like you wanted me,” and one of the most respected pieces of art on campus is called the Wall of Cock.
To Hope, Moordale has an image problem, so a total redesign makes sense. An endless yellow line suddenly divides every hallway and staircase into halves to encourage single-file processions and general order in the halls. The lockers are painted gray. Signs prohibit smoking, gum chewing, running, fighting, piercings, swearing, bullying, and colorful hair dye.
She goes full Professor Umbridge, in other words. And really, that’s how Hope reads so far: like a younger, cooler Umbridge, a secondary-school fascist who hides her insidious conservatism beneath youth, charisma, and a principled belief in academic rigor. She wants to create a “calmer environment for learning,” she explains to Jackson, the head boy and thus her most vital tool for administrative PR. Jackson reluctantly agrees to volunteer with Viv to paint over the Wall of Cock, but it starts to feel as if they’re censoring something authentic once he’s there. Cal, the nonbinary student Jackson ran into in the hall and mistook for a woman, suggests he push back against Hope’s wishes, but when he tries, all she does is replace him with Viv, the fangirl who researched Hope and knows this would look great on her CV.
It’s not surprising, at the end of “Episode Two,” that Hope institutes a new school-uniform policy. But it does feel alarmingly quick, and it promises that the worst of Hope’s machinations are still to come. Early in the episode, Rahim warns his classmates, “This line is not about unity. It’s about control. We’re going to be into tiny, little boxes. Nothing is ever just a line.” He echoes that last statement at the close of the episode, ending on a foreboding note.
The turn is foreshadowed by this episode’s focus on costume design and self-expression. Early on, Hope asks Maeve to remove her nose ring because she wouldn’t wear it at a top law firm and school is supposed to prepare you for the real world. Much later, she actually demands Maeve hand it over.
But the more complicated fashion drama is happening within Ruby’s snobby group of friends, who have strict rules about which colors to wear on which days. Ruby gives Otis a makeover so he’ll fit in during their lunches: neatly coiffed hair, some flashy shirts and sweaters courtesy of a very reluctant Anwar, and no more dirtstache. It’s a bit of a clichéed story. Ruby wants Otis to look worthy of being with her, and he obliges until he realizes the clothes aren’t him so he changes back into a classic striped orange T-shirt. But it’s satisfying to see Otis continue to stick up for himself, and the story ends with a surprising development: Otis and Ruby begin officially dating.
It’s all the more deliciously ironic, of course, because Otis starts thinking about what he really wants out of his relationships only when Maeve tells him, “Casual doesn’t seem like you.” Coming to his mom, Otis asks, “Do you think I’m a casual-relationships kinda guy?” She immediately responds with the best answer a mom could give: “I think you’re the sort of person who wants meaningful connection. But I also think that it’s good for you to try different types of relationships.”
Jean has been exploring a new kind of relationship herself: She and Jakob are planning to co-parent without being together romantically. Thankfully, that idea gets thrown out the window almost immediately when the two play a game of “I See You” for therapy homework and end up having sex. (And who can blame them for being unable to resist after staring each other in the eyes for ten seconds?) In bed afterward, Jakob suggests they get back together and form a real family. When Jean tells Otis she wants Jakob and Ola to move in, Otis considers for a moment and tells her he’s fine with it. It’s a moving conversation and one that could never have happened for either of them two seasons ago.
Meanwhile, Maeve has her first kiss with Isaac, followed immediately by his confession about deleting Otis’s voice-mail in the season-two finale. It opens the door for a big inevitable Otis-Maeve romantic union, but of course, the timing still isn’t right: Otis and Ruby get official just as Maeve learns the truth. In a way, it’s another contrived near-miss for the central will-they, won’t-they, whose drama bogged down season two a bit. But this time, it doesn’t bother me much because I like Otis and Ruby together. I’d like to see what a real relationship between them looks like with each of them wearing the clothes that make them feel the most themselves.
Eric has often been the most honest and open character on the show when it comes to voicing his passions, and that applies to the bright, loud colors and bold designs of his clothes. The first scene of “Episode Two” features Adam trying on eye makeup and making tentative steps toward Eric’s ideal of freedom in his self-expression. But Adam has always had the most difficulty in expressing himself, a trait that gets further explored here when Eric and Adam agree to have sex for the first time.
The issue is that both Eric and Adam imagine themselves as bottoms; Eric automatically assumes Adam would top, and it doesn’t even occur to him that he would want something different. Adam, of course, is too self-conscious to voice his desires, so all he can sputter out is “This isn’t what I want.” This time, Otis plays listener as Adam drops by his house and explains his key, character-defining mental process: “I don’t know how to say what I’m thinking. All the words are there in my head. I just don’t know how to say the thing that I want to say. The more I think about it, the worse it gets. People are just looking at me, waiting for me to say something, so … so I don’t say anything at all. People think I’m scary or stupid.” He didn’t grow up in a “naked family,” he says.
So when Adam returns to see Eric, he takes Otis’s advice and requests that they face away from each other while he speaks his truth: “I want you to put your dick in me. That’s how I would like to do it.” It’s a huge moment of growth for Adam, somebody who would have been revolted by the idea of saying those words not long ago. His improvement in communication even extends to approaching Miss Sands the next day, facing away while he asks for her help to improve his academics.
The kids of Sex Education, as mature as many of them may be sexual, are still figuring themselves out and thinking of ways they can express their feelings and wants while being comfortable and true to themselves. Fashion has been a huge part of that, and it should be fascinating to see how a uniform mandate could make self-expression even more difficult — or whether some kids will be able to assert themselves more forcefully than ever.
All the Good Things and the Bad Things That May Be
• Of course, the song the swing band plays is “Fuck the Pain Away,” by Peaches. I also love the use of “Sound of da Police,” by KRS-One, over the credits.
• It’s nice to see Maeve’s sister, Elsie, in good hands with her friendly new foster mom, but it’s increasingly hard to watch Maeve’s mom totally reject any peacemaking attempt. At the visit this episode, she tells Maeve nobody wants her there.
• Maeve is also considering applying to an international program in the U.S. called Gifted & Talented.
• Aimee still isn’t ready to be intimate with Steve, and Maeve helps her decide to get professional help from Jean. That should make for some great scenes.
• Mr. Groff (who will be Michael from now on) initially ignores Mr. Hendricks’s suggestion that they hang out. But after overhearing Peter talk to his wife about kicking him out soon, Michael lies and says he found a flat — then shows up on Mr. Hendricks’s doorstep, asking to stay with him.
Update: An earlier version of this recap switched Anwar and Rahim