Making it past midterms during your freshman year of college feels like a Herculean effort. There are undoubtedly a golden few who manage the transition from “high-school baby” to “slightly older baby with debt” easily, allowing no tears to fall when their family drives away, quickly finding friends, and leisurely cracking open a textbook days before the test, not haggardly the morning of. Then there’s everyone else, the bunch of us who this show is made for, the freshman who trudge to class in weary acceptance of two core beliefs: Nothing comes easy, and no one knows what the fuck they’re doing.
So soon into their college life, the four girls of Sex Lives have tripped into several pickles, and this finale episode solidifies that, although often excruciating, a hard-won battle isn’t always an impossible one. It’s a bit of an unconventional finale, providing mellow answers to last episode’s full-throttle questions, but it ties most loose ends with a bow and sets the stage for the series’s just-announced second season. So, crack open your worst beer while we get into it for the last time … for now!
It turns out Kimberly’s punishment was not just to somberly return to her dorm but to present her case in front of Essex’s honor board and hopefully avoid expulsion. She tells her roommates and her dad, who, at first furious at the “bad girl” (Whitney’s words) his little Kimmy from Arizona has become, ultimately assures her that he loves her and that no one is perfect. It’s a nice dad moment. Although Kimberly initially intends to deliver a personal statement that is “compelling, thoughtful, and at times humorous,” Lila suggests a better idea — give up Nico’s frat and the secret test pile that lies within it. Kimberly quickly prepares herself for an Ocean’s Eight-esque heist and plans to nab the whole stash at the “Anything But Clothes” party later that night.
Whitney finally airs out her frustration with her mom, Evette, who comes to campus to check on her after the Dalton news breaks. She laments her “way too much” mom in conversation with age-appropriate (and much more charismatic!) love interest Canaan, who meets Evette for the first time when she unexpectedly shows up during his and Whitney’s make-out sesh. Awkwardness aside, he tells Whitney it’s obvious that her mom really cares for her, and it’s clear that she needed to hear that.
Later, instead of continuing to lie to her mom about the affair, Whitney comes clean in a rare show of vulnerability. And to Whitney’s surprise, Evette isn’t angry with her but angry at herself for making Whitney feel like she had to keep her problems a secret. She assures her that she’ll be there for her no matter what, “especially when things are bad,” and they hug. It marks a significant and tender milestone for their relationship, which is usually confined to surface talk and perfunctory affection.
When it comes to Bela, justice is indeed served at Catullan, where Ryan is unceremoniously ousted from his position as co-editor. Eric makes good on his promise to Bela, choosing to sever his relationship with Ryan and rip his co-editor plaque off the wall and let it patter to the ground. Evangeline is then promoted to co-editor, becoming the magazine’s first woman ever in the role. But Evangeline’s achievement is short-lived when a male Catullan member bravely speaks up that revoking a humor magazine membership because the member sexually harassed other members is “kinda fucked up,” and then everyone says the word “fucking” a lot until Bela reaches her breaking point and decides to leave the Catullan, citing slut-shaming and getting hate-crimed by that one alum. Afterward, she’s somewhat overwhelmed by her decision and hesitates going to the ABC party, weighed by the sense that her “comedy dreams are over” but intrigued by Kimberly’s heist enough to go.
And thank God she does or else we wouldn’t have gotten a hardstyle montage of the roommates drinking clearance-aisle schnapps and doing ABC outfit reveals in their doorways. Mind my skepticism, but there’s no way these girls were able to throw together four expertly crafted DIY outfits in one afternoon. Where did Kimberly even find a gift bag big enough to wear as a dress, the highway Sheetz? On the other hand, you can never really know how much hot glue a girl owns just by looking at her.
In any case, it’s a good thing that everyone attends the party because, as the writers might have a teenager say, it is a “whole-ass vibe.” Nico turns on “noble smolder Nico” mode to allow Kimberly to take Theta’s tests when he catches her in the act. Bela is ecstatic when Evangeline tells her that she also left the Catullan and wants to create a “ladies only” “comedy thing” with her. And as she leaves the party, Bela gets set up in a hate-to-love flirtationship with Eric, who is now depressed with glasses instead of annoying with glasses (and therefore hot).
Leighton reaches her milestone when she’s rejected by Alicia, who misses her, too, but understandably needs to move on. She sniffles in her bed for most of the day until Kimberly urges her not to cry because “he’s not worth it,” which prompts Leighton to mumble, “It wasn’t a guy, it was a girl; I’m gay.” Reader, I cannot lie to you, I cried through this whole scene, especially when Leighton starts to sob about how terrified she is. “I think the only way you can be happy is if you’re yourself,” Kimberly responds, now crying, too, and Leighton pulls her into a fierce embrace. Reneé Rapp has said that playing Leighton “was like vomiting out my deepest, darkest fears about her own internalized homophobia,” and in scenes like this, you can absolutely tell. I don’t doubt that the rawness of this scene will resonate with many people, especially since it’s unexpected from a show that at times chomps moments too quickly and easily as if the scenes were candy.
Sex Lives has one more piece to slide us before the season’s over. Although Kimberly doesn’t get expelled, her financial aid is revoked despite her emotional (and very real) statement about struggling to keep up with Essex while working five days a week. Forcing Kimberly to pay an extra $46,000 a year or leave the school is a slap in the face when it’s coming from a huge, money-making institution and it’s delivered to what is essentially a child.
So we’re left in this in-between place as we head off into the next season — Whitney and Leighton inching along in their emotional journeys, Bela triumphant, and Kimberly thrown into financial anxiety way too soon. This first season wasn’t without its pitfalls; the clunky writing and flimsy take on feminism diluted what might have been a compelling plot. But freshman year always comes with growing pains. Next semester, there’ll be more time for maturity.