Sex Education Season 4 is about saying goodbye. It’s an obvious thing to say, given this is the final season of Netflix’s beloved raunch-fest. The reception to that goodbye, however, has been mixed, as an overcrowded final act is missing some of the fun of previous seasons and doesn’t feel quite as horny. But maybe that’s OK. Still, despite the reaction of some fans, Season 4 of Sex Education exceptionally distills what the series has always been about under its horny heartfelt surface. It all amounts to an effective and affecting farewell.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead for Season 4 of Sex Education.)
This is best brought into focus by the funeral of Erin Wiley (Anne-Marie Duff). After spending the first five episodes in the U.S. texting with Otis (Asa Butterfield) as he awkwardly tries to open his sex clinic in college, Erin’s death catapults Maeve (Emma Mackey)—who left for the U.S. at the end of Season 3—back to the U.K., back to Moordale, and back to Otis as she says goodbye to her mother. It feels right, given Maeve didn’t really say goodbye at the end of Season 3. She and Otis shared a brief, emotional moment and then she was gone.
At first glance, Erin’s funeral appears to be another vehicle for the cycle Sex Education employs so well. The proceedings start with hijinks: an inept celebrant (played by Elizabeth Berrington) gets Erin’s name wrong, bringing the coffin in is a disaster, and Erin’s favorite song cuts out. All of that is undercut by Sean (Edward Bluemel) disrupting the event, before a series of uplifting moments bring us back to a more profound sense of joy, capped by Colin Hendricks (Jim Howick) belting U2’s “With or Without You.”
However, Episode 6 hides a crystallizing effect in which, after fumbling around for five episodes, trying to situate Otis and pals in Cavendish college, Erin’s funeral finally cements Season 4’s raison d’être by shifting focus to Maeve. It’s late in the game to do so, and it’s telling that it’s almost exclusively the remnants of the original cast that facilitate the reminder of what this show is really about. Sex Education has always had a solid emotional core—driven by Maeve—even if it’s sometimes limply hidden behind sex, nostalgia, and ’90s fashion.
Season 4 arguably codifies Sex Education’s principal theme. Otis and Maeve’s sex clinic was never really about sex. As Maeve writes to Otis in the final episode, “Most people who came to us just needed connection.” Beyond sex, fumbled relationships, and the ups and downs (or maybe… tops and bottoms), Sex Education has always been about young people in desperate need of meaningful attachment.
Something about where Maeve—and many of these characters—are in their lives came into focus during Erin’s funeral. Perhaps it’s a side effect of the actors being in their mid-twenties, but it’s easy to forget that Maeve is so young, and so chronically bereft of positive adult forces in her life—not helped, this season, by Thomas Molloy (Dan Levy). Now, she must navigate a funeral she is understandably ill-equipped to handle. Later, Otis admonishes his mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson), saying, “You’re treating me like an adult, but I still need a mum.”
Reeling from her perceived failures in America and more besides, so does Maeve. But now she has to bury her mother, a woman who put her through so much and yet represents the only real constant in her life.
That the nuance of these connections becomes so suddenly overt may be why some fans are turned off by Season 4. But watching as Maeve’s family falls apart, only to reveal a swathe of bonds from which to build a new one serves as a stronger emotional gut punch than a more conventional plot twist like Otis and Maeve just getting together.
Yes, some fans might be frustrated by the stillness that haunts the end of Maeve’s relationship with Otis. There’s a nostalgic idealism to the previous seasons of Sex Education, in which we relive the past vicariously through Moordale’s teenagers. Be it sending us back to school, the mirror held to our own intense memories of past relationships, or even its ’90s aesthetic, Sex Education rewrites history to evoke a better past that never really existed. When that crashes down in Season 4, revealing the realities of growing up, not getting what you want, and unsatisfactory endings, it seems natural people might complain that it didn’t resonate as much as previous seasons.
But that is why the season needed Erin’s funeral. If nothing else, the episode underlines everything Season 4 had been doing up until those scenes, highlighting that even the most fleeting connections can change our lives. That’s true of Otis’ tussle with O (Thaddea Graham), Eric’s (Ncuti Gatwa) battle with a bigoted community, and even something as brief as the parental influence Maeve finds in Jean, which is enough to send her back to America. All of those threads are treated with the grace and sensitivity that are a hallmark of Sex Education.
In so many ways, Season 4 feels like Maeve’s season. When we first met her she was a loner, dealing with past abuses, unable to trust, and searching for purpose. By the end of the series, she is thriving in America, the funeral reminding her of the relationships she’s forged and that Moordale’s cheering her on. Otis ends up alone, and is perhaps healthier for it, but the satisfying resolution here belongs to Maeve—even if it means, as an audience, we don’t get what we thought we wanted from their pairing.
That said, though Otis and Maeve end up separated, it doesn’t feel like the end—unlike Otis’ relationship with Ruby. Much as they don’t know what comes next, neither do we. Appropriately, however, we understand their connection continues—transcending physical proximity, sex, and even the limited bounds of an eight-episode television series. Because that’s what it’s all about: connection.
Perhaps that makes Season 4 the lesser of Sex Education’s seasons. Maybe this show genuinely thrived on sex and fun alone. That’s reflected, I think, in the divisive reaction to Season 4’s more realistic tone—though, perhaps, that’s just a reflection of just how hard it is to say goodbye to beloved media. Sex Education Season 4 may not be the series’ best, but in how it’s brought us together in grief, frustration, and loving Eric, it’s certainly kept us the most connected.
The post The ‘Sex Education’ Funeral Episode Matters More Than the Show’s Sex appeared first on The Daily Beast.