I had a reminder for the release of season three of “Sex Education” set before even watching the trailer. To put it lightly, my expectations based on previous seasons were high, and I was optimistic that the third season would meet those expectations.
For the unfamiliar — “Sex Education” is a Netflix original series focusing on the teenage inhabitants of Moordale (a fictional British town), as they navigate sexuality and explore intimacy in all its forms. This season sets the main cast plus newcomer nonbinary transfer student Cal (Dua Saleh) against new principal Hope Haddon (Jemima Kirke), who enacts increasingly controlling measures over the students’ lives. Shame signs, school uniforms and pro-abstinence sex education does not stop Moordale Secondary from spinning out of her control. Relationships blossom, feces go flying and vulva cupcakes are on full display as tension builds over eight episodes.
Tonally, season three occasionally struggles. Heavy underscoring — the type usually reserved for heartbreaking finale moments — seems to play underneath every other scene. Meanwhile, the characters, while as compelling as always, are alternately exaggerated and toned down throughout the season. It seems as if the actors and writers are overcompensating for the COVID-19 filming break through overacted mannerisms, which jar with their attempts to inject more “realism” into their actions. This results in the show feeling like a caricature of itself at times.
Another major change is how easily characters seem to communicate this season. For example, Adam (Connor Swindells) talks openly about his aspirations after two seasons of playing the brooding, silent type. Meanwhile, Ruby (Mimi Keene), a supposed mean girl, stops using the silent treatment on Otis (Asa Butterfield) and instead frankly expresses herself. It’s worth noting that this open communication falls in line with most characters’ arcs, but the development of nearly all these arcs in such a similar fashion, simultaneously, is off-putting. The show ends up swapping its grounded tone for easily-resolved tension.
This season is different, for sure. However, once I acclimated to its small quirks, I found it just as heartwarming as previous seasons. The characters’ communication styles, although one of my complaints, ends up driving home a key theme — open communication and its importance in our lives. Combined with the writers’ choice to put nearly all of the main characters in romantic relationships, this communication sets up a more mature message than previous seasons. Sometimes relationships just don’t work out — not because someone messes up — but for reasons outside of anyone’s control, and the best thing people can do then is to communicate honestly. It makes for a season that is bittersweet to the max — bitter with the feeling of missed opportunities and sweet with the knowledge that this was the best, most honest possible outcome for every character involved.