It’s no surprise that when a school uniform mandate is put in place, the first real reactions of devastation we see belong to kids like Ruby, Olivia, and Anwar. Of course they’d be upset: To them, being stylish and coordinating outfits is central to their everyday lives. But the people who end up in Hope’s office for dress-code violations in “Episode Three” aren’t the popular kids, used to getting all the attention. They’re Maeve (purple hair dye), Lily (hair ties, clips, and funky makeup), Ola (LGBTQIA+ badge), and Cal (loose-fitting trousers). These different forms of self-expression vary in degree, but the embellishments have become part of who they are for all four students.
The stakes might be highest for Cal, for whom the idea of wearing a skirt is unthinkable in a time when they’re still regularly misgendered, even by progressive kids like Viv. At least Hope lets them stick with trousers, citing her apparent feminist bona fides, though the trousers can’t be baggy the way Cal wants them (and Hope’s insistence that “she gets it” seems to imply she’s still thinking of Cal as a tomboyish girl, not someone outside the binary). But the coldest line from that office scene, to me, is Hope’s response to Ola explaining the importance of her badge: “Of course it is, but I hope that your values aren’t so fragile that a little badge is all that supports them. Remove it.”
The move to school uniforms has already begun to exacerbate these students’ identity crises. But even a character like Jackson, typically Moordale’s biggest conformist and ideal student, has no idea what he’s doing now that he’s no longer swimming or head boy. After an anxiety attack that leaves him lightheaded, he goes hiking and smokes weed for the first time with Cal, who suggests he just be himself, Jackson Marchetti, for a while. Cal also explains their discomfort changing in front of the mean girls, adding new context to their mournful look at the destroyed restroom block in the premiere.
The episodic sex case this time around is a rare one focused on adults: Cynthia and Jeffrey, Maeve’s neighbors and landlords. Besides knowing they argue a lot, fuck a lot, and have a cat named Jonathan, we don’t know that much about them. But in “Episode Three,” Sex Education does what it does best, using a low-key sex conflict to deepen our understanding of the minor characters. In this case, Cynthia and Jeffrey’s wild sex causes their microwave to fall and crush Jonathan, and Cynthia retreats to her most reliable defense mechanism: Sex. It’s her futile way of coping with the grief of losing her cat, the pet that was almost like a child to her — but it’s too much for poor Jeffrey, who gravely steps outside and declares, “I can’t have sex again.”
Who else could help save Jeffrey’s marriage — and his overexerted body — but Otis? Otis meets Jeffrey when he’s delivering weed to Ruby’s father (who uses it to deal with the pain of multiple sclerosis). It’s when they leave for the night that Jeffrey opens up about his issues, and Otis suggests Cynthia’s reaction is a coping strategy. The story ends in a heartbreaking but cathartic scene when Cynthia admits how painful it is to talk about their loss.
It’s a successful day overall for Otis, whose double date with Ruby, Eric, and Adam turns out better than expected after some initial awkwardness. Adam hilariously connects with Ruby over Keeping Up With the Kardashians, but more importantly, he connects with Otis by suggesting he and his new quasi-stepsister Ola help each other out since they’re both having trouble adjusting to living together under Jean’s roof. Later, Otis persuades Ruby to have him over to her house when she never lets anybody come over. She doesn’t have some fancy mansion like so many students assume — but Otis proves himself as a boyfriend when he compliments the house and helps her father get back into bed when he’s stuck. Finally, when he returns home, he and Ola patch things up.
It’s his finest day yet as a new brother (weird), and his finest day yet as a boyfriend — until it becomes his worst, when his girlfriend tells him she loves him, and he responds, “That’s nice. Good night, then.”
I didn’t see this coming, but I should have. Ruby is one of the countless teens in Sex Education who struggle to muster up the courage to show their true selves. When the possibility of being seen so mortifies you, and then for the first time somebody does see you and likes you for all the parts you were too scared to show anyone before, it can feel life-altering. Ruby’s declaration may be a reaction to the novelty of that feeling and to her earlier realization that Otis wanted to be with her for more than just sex or clout. But it undeniably comes from a place of deep feeling and gratitude — which makes it all the more devastating that Otis, at least for the moment, can’t say it back. The specter of Maeve still looms, it seems.
Maeve is still trying to figure out how she feels about Isaac, who paints Maeve’s mom’s portrait while she waits for Maeve to come home to get her passport, then takes a decent stab at a rom-com apology monologue, emphasizing how scared he is of losing the one person who makes him feel hopeful, who makes all his cells “fizzy and alive.” Maeve’s relationship with her mom, thankfully, is also looking up: After Maeve tells her mother that she’ll always love her despite her illness, her mom texts her, “I want you to know I will get better.” It’s a comforting note at a time when so many of the show’s central relationships could be on the verge of falling apart.
All the Good Things and the Bad Things That May Be
• In her first session with Jean, Aimee has to stop shortly into her assault story. But it’s an encouraging start, and she learns her vulva is totally normal.
• Not sure what to think of Lily’s increasing obsession with alien conspiracy theories yet, so I’ll wait and see.
• Jean and Jakob start to discover reminders that they don’t know each other that well. They argue about potential baby names, which last name to use, and voting.
• Viv has really fallen under Hope’s spell, which I hate to see. Here’s hoping she gets a wake-up call earlier than, like, the finale. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure this episode cemented Jackson as my current favorite character (though ask me again in an hour, and it’ll probably be Eric or Aimee).
• After the double date, Eric and Adam take an unfortunate turn for the worse when Adam gets jealous of Eric’s history with Rahim (who wants his books back, along with the poems he wrote Eric). Then he walks in on his mom making out with some man, introduces Eric as his “friend,” and texts Eric a weak three-word explanation.
• It turns out Otis did meet Cynthia once before and even advised on her marriage: In the season-one finale, she hands some mail to Maeve and says, “A young lad dropped it off. Skinny, sickly-looking fella. Had some really interesting thoughts about me and Jeffrey’s marital problems.”