One of the biggest joys of Sex Education’s evolution between seasons has been its approach to its ensemble cast. The show it reminds me of the most might be Orange Is the New Black, another favorite of mine from the last decade. The two might have little in common on the surface, but there is an overflowing well of empathy for each character at their core. Nobody gets left behind — of the sprawling main cast, no characters have left Sex Education yet, and almost the entire recurring cast has stuck around since the beginning, too, only adding more characters as time goes on.
In “Episode Eight,” Adam Groff conclusively becomes one of Sex Education’s most remarkable accomplishments in empathy. He’s a character who started this series as a homophobic bully and who was then positioned, at the time bizarrely, as a romantic hero capable of sweeping a past victim off his feet. Adam’s rehabilitation following the relationship’s origin could’ve easily been rushed, or oversimplified, or unbelievable. But he’s been changing slowly throughout the show, and now, he conclusively proves himself worthy of Eric’s love.
Adam writes Eric a poem before he knows for sure he’s going to lose him. He’s been thinking about poetry for a while now, at first as a jealous reaction to the poems Rahim wrote Eric and then as an earnest way to convey how he feels.
Adam has always been defined by his quiet anxiety, closed-off nature, and inability to let loose and broadcast himself to the world. He’s still early in his self-expression journey compared to Eric, who realized just how ready he was to fly this season. Eric finally ends their relationship because he recognizes they’re in different places and he doesn’t want to lose more of himself by staying with someone just beginning to explore his identity. It’s a mature choice on Eric’s part. But Adam also takes a big step forward in his development through the mere act of committing words to paper. His deeply poignant poem says he didn’t know he had a heart until Eric, that no matter whether their relationship survives, he can thank him for showing him he had a heart.
It’s also a credit to Adam’s evolution that he invites Miss Sands to see him perform with his dog Madam in the county dog trials that night, remembering his mom’s suggestion that “People like to be asked to go to things. Makes them feel like you care.” And it’s a credit to him that he’s branching out and trying to find new passions in the first place. He doesn’t win an actual prize, but he gets a special mention for one of the best debut performances in a long time, and he proudly tells his mom Eric was his boyfriend, not just his friend.
Adam has struggled with these issues for the whole series, largely because of his cold, strict father. But now, without Adam’s knowledge, Michael is going on the same journey he is. For Adam, poetry and dogs may be the best avenues to self-expression and joy — for Michael, cooking is the way to connect, a simple thing that brings him joy and allows him to show other people he’s making tentative steps out of his repressed lifestyle. But Maureen cancels her dinner plans with Michael that night when Adam asks her not to tell Michael he didn’t win an actual prize, showing the difficulty of undoing past harm even with the willingness to change.
Otis has recently realized for sure that he wants to help people who want to change. He’s always had genuine wisdom and skill at consoling people by showing them their strengths and helping them see themselves as special. He’s generous and empathetic, even to people like Hope, whom he runs into at the hospital shortly after losing her job. She breaks down about her professional failures and her body’s inability to have a baby, calling herself weak for dwelling on it. But Otis says he thinks she’s honest and courageous for admitting her vulnerabilities.
Otis got that instinct to listen and help from Jean, who makes it out of surgery safely. He opens up to her about the “rush of connection” he feels when talking to someone and apologizes for being a brat. This whole experience has made him realize how important she is to him still. “I realize I still behave like a child most of the time, and I pretend to be so grown-up,” he says. “I still need you. I can’t not have a mum.”
He’ll need her and Eric even more in the time without Maeve, who decides to go to the U.S. for the gifted and talented program after a pep talk from Aimee and a huge last-minute monetary contribution from her mom. I wish we had a little more assurance that Otis and Maeve will be together at some point next year — this, again, feels like yet another contrivance to annoyingly keep them apart from each other a little longer — but overall, there’s a sweetness and optimism to this latest good-bye. “It’s see you soon,” Maeve says.
We see just how far all the characters have come in “Episode Eight.” Lily, initially planning to abandon her alien obsession, changes her mind after a girl at school asks her to autograph her short story and Lily’s mom tells her a story about an alien sighting she once had (the veracity of which is less important than what it shows about her love for her daughter). She reunites with Ola and apologizes for being too distracted to notice how much Ola was missing her mom. The two move forward together with a greater understanding of each other, becoming more open-minded people themselves.
Jackson has also come a long way, reclaiming his head boy title with a new desire to improve the school. But he still has blind spots he’s still trying to figure out. Explaining his earlier weird behavior to Cal, he says he still doesn’t think he’s queer, and should that matter for their relationship, anyway? “I’m not a girl, and I’m worried you still see me as one,” Cal says. Jackson still wants to move forward with them and learn a mature impulse, but Cal has too much to figure out to carry someone else. Jackson reluctantly agrees to be just friends, but I’m sure this story is far from over.
Season three ends with a lot of ambiguities, especially when it comes to Moordale Secondary School itself. After open day, all the investors have pulled their funding, so Moordale will presumably be sold to developers, and all the students will have to find educational alternatives.
But the Moordale ecosystem is the heart of this show, in many ways, so I can’t imagine it disappearing entirely. In season three, the show’s best, Sex Education took a “Sex School” and used it to tell an impressive variety of efficient, emotional stories about self-expression, self-perception, and our desperate need to connect to other people in whatever way we can. There will always be a need for someone to listen and be compassionate, no matter the setting.
All the Good Things and the Bad Things That May Be
• Jean reacts to the paternity test with an “Oh, shit.” I don’t remember if we know who else the father could be, but this is a pretty big twist! It looks like Jean and Jakob will have to figure out having a family together with a baby that isn’t his.
• There were many, many tear-jerking moments in this episode, but I’ll shout out Jakob telling Otis, “I know I’m not your father, but I’m not going anywhere.”
• Another one: Ola confesses to her dad that she’s worried she reminds him of the pain of losing her mom, and he assures her, “You remind me of joy. Only joy.” Ola later suggests “Joy” as a name for the baby.
• I love that the show makes the space for a nonbinary character other than Cal. Layla provides the brief episodic plot this week, getting Cal’s help with finding a binder designed for safer chest compression.
• Aimee finally pulls the trigger on breaking up with Steve, since she needs to spend some time alone and figure out who she is. I never seem to find a way to talk about Aimee in the body of the recaps, but she’s still one of the best characters.
• I also know I haven’t talked much about the acting in these recaps, but that’s just because it goes without saying that it’s uniformly great. This year Ncuti Gatwa astounded me, as usual, but Connor Swindells and Alistair Petrie especially impressed me as Adam and his dad. Dua Saleh and Jemima Kirke have also been great additions as Cal and Hope.
• Our main glimpse of Viv in this episode is when her model-hot boyfriend Eugene visits, and they engage in some in-person role play. So happy for her.
• That’s it for season three! Thanks so much for reading. This was the first regular recapping I’ve ever done for an hour-long show (let alone for a season that dropped all at once), and it was one of my favorite seasons of TV in a while. So I feel like I really lucked out with this one.