In the best episode of season three yet, Sex Education takes a trip to France. It’s the kind of new, abnormal setting rife with potential for conflict, and it allows for some interesting character dynamics that might not happen otherwise. Most impressive, the trip relentlessly pushes the plot forward in many of this season’s key story lines — while also featuring a drug trip and one of the most hilariously outrageous scenes of the show.
When Rahim clogs the coach toilet, he starts to panic. Other people are knocking, and flushing doesn’t seem to do anything but overflow the toilet. So he does what any of us would do: He reaches into the toilet, loads a sock with his own excrement, and lobs it out the window. It’s a creative alternative to plunging, but the problem is the French family driving behind the coach. The turd splatters graphically on the windshield like something from a horror movie, traumatizing a little kid and causing the car to swerve into the coach.
What’s great about the poop scene, besides the shock and chaotic hilarity, is that it’s also an effective plot device. Adam, stuck in the same group as Rahim, takes the fall when the teachers investigate which student threw the shit-filled sock out the window. It totally alters Rahim’s perception of him as “unremarkable.”
The poop scene also leads to Maeve and Aimee’s first fight after Maeve finds out Aimee paid for her trip. At first, it’s an argument about class and privilege; Aimee doesn’t quite understand why Maeve would be upset at getting a massive handout from her best friend. But it becomes about more than that when Aimee points out Maeve’s pattern of rejecting help and pushing away the people who love her. And it escalates even further when Maeve accuses Aimee of staying with Steve just because she’s too much of a people pleaser. It’s a mean thing to say, even if Aimee is continuing to avoid dealing with the fundamental problems in her relationship.
As a result, Maeve is one of the two people without phones or wallets who get left behind at the rest stop when the coach takes off without them. The other, of course, is Otis. And before the class comes back and rescues them, the two have the conversation we’ve been waiting for. Maeve tells Otis she never heard the voice-mail he left her and asks what it said. Otis tells her what he tried to say in last season’s finale: He loves her. (He did when he sent the voice-mail, at least, but come on — he still does.) They kiss, the culmination of two and a half seasons of sexual tension. The kiss is deeply romantic, down to Otis’s panicked “I don’t want to lose you again,” even with Maeve’s realistic confession that she’s confused (after all, things have been going so well with Isaac). When they’re picked back up, Maeve tells Otis she needs to sort her head out before they talk about what this all means.
It’s not the only first kiss of the episode. That honor also goes to Jackson and Cal, who take ’shrooms and spend the day happily vibing. Jackson finally convinces Cal to go to Hope with their thoughts about gender-neutral changing rooms, saying they made him realize he cares about things. He calls Cal beautiful and the two kiss. It’s so sweet and tender, but Cal cuts it off pretty quickly and says they don’t think they can do this.
There’s plenty more relationship drama to go around, but none of it feels contrived, the way some did in season two. The “sex case of the week” this time, in a way, belongs to Viv, who doesn’t like the medieval-themed sexts Eugene has been sending her. At first, she goes to Lily for help crafting a sext, recognizing Lily’s skill at erotica, but the predictably filthy text she crafts just isn’t Viv. She only solves the problem by being honest, telling Eugene what she likes and doesn’t like. In the end, both are mature enough to make a compromise.
It’s a story line that also elegantly ties in Lily and Ola’s relationship when Ola finds the perfect opportunity to express that sometimes she’d like to have sex without all the alien role-play. Lily is immediately defensive and refuses to see where Ola is coming from, latching on to Ola’s skepticism about aliens as the most offensive part of this whole debate.
Back home, Jean and Jakob enter relationship limbo after Jakob finds a cuff link in Jean’s bedroom and admits that he doesn’t trust her, especially because of her kiss with Remi last season. He even asks for a paternity test. It’s a huge step back for the couple, but the conflicts they’ve had leading up to this moment have foreshadowed it well.
“Episode 5” moves many of the central romantic arcs of the series forward. But even in the broader comedic scenes, there’s a quiet background threat throughout the trip: Hope, always a phone call away, listening closely for a whiff of anything that could possibly tarnish Moordale’s image. At the end of the episode, when the teachers report back to Hope to say everything went just peachy, it’s a relief, a “thank God they got away with it” moment. It’s a testament to this season’s efficient storytelling and rich ensemble that the stakes in both the relationship drama and the school drama at this point feel so high.
All the Good Things and the Bad Things That May Be
• Some nice follow-up to the breakup when Otis tells Ruby he never meant to hurt her, and she says she doesn’t hate him. But the look on her face when she sees Otis and Maeve together at the rest stop is, again, heartbreaking.
• Besides her texts to Viv, our main glimpse of Hope this episode is at the hospital, where she has an icy run-in with Jean. We see that the reason she’s there is to schedule another IVF treatment since hers haven’t been working. It’s a good call to humanize Hope a bit, but this scene felt a bit out of place to me, and I’m not sure it’s enough to alter my understanding of her yet.
• A nice detail for a relatively cartoonish character: Kyle has an epiphany about how fragile life is after visiting Beaumont-Hamel, the site of one of the British Army’s bloodiest battles. It’s nice to see one character engage with the actual educational aspect of the trip.
• Anwar’s angry shout of “Can we please go home?” after Miss Sands and Mr. Hendricks agree to move in together made me laugh out loud. It’s the most I’ve ever liked Anwar.
• I’m not sure what I’m hoping the outcome of the Otis-Maeve-Isaac triangle will be right now. Part of me thinks it would be such a waste to eliminate Isaac as a love interest right now after the groundwork of the past few episodes. But another part of me is sick of the contrivances keeping Otis and Maeve apart and thinks the show should just commit to it. (Besides, knowing this show, Isaac will stick around regardless.)