Season 4 of the hit British comedy-drama “Sex Education” arrived on Netflix on Thursday, marking the end of our journey with the beloved students of Moordale Secondary. The coming-of-age series follows teen sexologist Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) and a group of teens as they navigate life, love and, notably, their personal relationships with sexual health and emotional, identity and other big issues.
In the show’s final season, Moordale Secondary closed and students transferred to the ultra-progressive Cavendish College campus. Although Season 4 boasts an array of guest stars, including Dan Levy and Jodie Turner-Smith, as well as some excellent cast additions, the show’s Black characters continue to propel “Sex Education” in the best way. When the systems around these Black students fail, they lean on, comfort, and run away again and again.
Audiences rarely see leading black characters written with this much depth in television series. Yet “Sex Education” masterfully describes their livelihoods, identities, and individual personalities without associating black adolescence as strictly synonymous with trauma. In joy, comedy and heartbreak, Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa), Jackson Marchetti (Kedar Williams-Stirling), Vivienne Odusanya (Chininye Ezeudu) and Cal Bowman (Dua Saleh) are all prisms through which the experiences always vast and nuanced of We say to black youth.
Although we see each of the characters wander through identity-based struggles, it is not without purpose or for the sake of shock value. Whether it’s struggling with sexuality, gender identity, or what it means to be a young black man struggling with anxiety, these experiences actually inform the growth of these characters and speak to everyday experiences young black viewers.
I see my younger self in Vivienne, a stubborn, intelligent and determined black academic who wants to succeed by any means necessary. But sooner or later, she realizes the importance of separating her personality from external success – and adamantly refuses to become an institutional pawn at the expense of her relationships and personal values. She develops a friendship with star athlete and former head student Jackson, and we see clips of her torrid long-distance relationship with her first boyfriend, Eugene (Reece Richards).
While I disagree with Vivienne’s romantic storyline in season 4, I would much rather see a young, darker-skinned black woman sought after in a in good health Somehow I understand the point of the story. Adolescence is shaped by learning, by suffering and triumph, but also by the discovery of community along the way. Not only does she discover the signs of domestic violence, but also, once again, her platonic best friend, Jackson, stays by her side even when she refuses to accept the truth.
Viv and Jackson become friends in season 3, as she tutors him when Jackson’s grades drop. The decline in performance is due to his generalized anxiety disorder, but also his anxiety as he embarks on his journey of self-discovery, which many teenagers can relate to. This season, Jackson is determined to find his sperm donor, as he was raised by two lesbians. NOTToday, Vivienne does not approve of her decisions to circumvent her mother’s wishes, but she nonetheless stands by her in the midst of her grief and confusion. When a testicular cancer scare arises, Vivienne calms his fears and becomes closer to him, despite her overbearing and controlling partner.
In season 3, Jackson seeks to develop a romantic relationship with Cal, a non-binary student from Minnesota who disagrees with the principal over strict, rigid, and sexist dress codes. During intimate moments, Jackson always caresses Cal as if he were a woman. He needs to pause and ask himself if he is gay or even capable of being in a same-sex relationship without burdening his partner, who should explain Queer Sex 101 to him. (As we saw with Eric and Adam, played by Connor Swindells , in previous seasons, this dynamic generally does not lend itself to success.)
Naturally, Jackson needs time and space from Cal to meet his needs, reveal his feelings, and heal from his first real heartbreak. This season, we see Cal find a new love interest with a queer, deaf black woman in an ethically non-monogamous relationship.
But as gender dysphoria rears its ugly head and the costly realities of gender-affirming care set in, we see Cal become a recluse. They become a shell of themselves and eventually Cal’s mother reports them as missing. As a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-trans laws are passed across the United States, “Sex Education” shows the very real effect when queer kids hear messages that the world doesn’t want them to exist.
That’s where Eric comes in. Known as Otis’ partner in crime, the show’s first proud and vocal black gay character took the brunt of the pain to be his authentic self. Yet, time and again, he rises and asserts himself. Audiences have rightly criticized the trope of his character falling for his bully in previous seasons, but in season 4 we see Eric finding his place, becoming closer with a group of all-gay friends in Cavendish and develop a new adventure with a boy from his church.
Amid black queer joy, Eric is tasked with untangling his relationship with homosexuality and religion. As the child of a devout Nigerian mother, she ardently desires that he be baptized, but Eric is unsure about professing his faith and is forced to hide completely to appease the congregation. On the day of baptism, he takes a stand and proclaims that his sexuality and his faith are not mutually exclusive. He is gay and always a child of God, an epiphany that led him to make the decision to become a pastor.
As he leaves the sanctuary, he has a vision in which he is led to the top of a mountain by God, played by Jodie Turner-Smith, where he finds Cal sitting solemnly. Eric sits down with Cal, reminding them, as another black queer person, that joy is their birthright and that they deserve kindness. Jackson, out of breath, finds them both sitting along the ledge – Jackson had embarked on a county-wide search for Cal – and they both continue to console Cal, a scene that will remain etched in my memory.
These characters are the heart and soul of “Sex Education.” They are written with such care and embody the maturity that young Black people are forced to possess from a young age while maintaining their joy and integrity.
What this series has proven is that black characters deserve more than supporting narratives meant to prop up those of white characters; they are vehicles circulating on the plot. To Eric, Jackson Marchetti, Vivienne and Cal: we will miss you so much.