Season 4 of the hit British dramedy Sex Education landed on Netflix on Thursday, marking the end of our journey with the beloved students of Moordale Secondary. The coming-of-age series follows teen sex therapist Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) and a group of teens as they navigate sexual and emotional health, identity, and other major issues in their lives, loves, and especially their personal relationships.
In the final season of the series, Moordale Secondary School was closed and students are moved to the highly progressive Cavendish College campus. Although Season 4 boasts a number of guest stars, including Dan Levy and Jodie Turner-Smith, as well as some excellent new additions to the cast, the Black characters of the series “Sex Education” continue to thrive. When the systems surrounding these Black students fail them, they continually support, comfort, and rescue each other.
Audiences rarely see black main characters in television series who are written with such depth. But “Sex Education” masterfully portrays their livelihoods, identities, and individual personalities without associating Black adolescence as strictly synonymous with trauma. In joy, comedy and sadness, Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa), Jackson Marchetti (Kedar Williams-Stirling), Vivienne Odusanya (Chinenye Ezeudu) and Cal Bowman (Dua Saleh) are prisms through which the increasingly rich, nuanced life experiences of Black youth are viewed told.
Although we see each of the characters weave their way through identity-based struggles, it’s not without purpose or for the sake of shock value. Be it the struggle with sexuality, gender identity, or what it means to be a young black man struggling with anxiety, these experiences actually guide the growth of these characters and speak to the everyday experiences of 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 rather than later she realizes how important it is to separate her personality from external success – and strictly refuses to become a plaything of the institutions at the expense of her personal relationships and values. She develops a friendship with star athlete and former school principal Jackson, and we get a glimpse into her torrid long-distance relationship with her first boyfriend, Eugene (Reece Richards).
While I don’t agree with Vivienne’s romantic storyline in Season 4, I would much rather see a dark-skinned, young black woman being desired in Season 4 healthy As far as I know, I understand the purpose the narrative serves. Adolescence is characterized by learning, injuries and triumphs, but also by finding community along the way. Not only does she learn the signs of domestic violence, but her best, platonic friend, Jackson, stays by her side even when she refuses to accept the truth.
Viv and Jackson become friends in Season 3 when she tutors him when Jackson’s grades decline. The decline in performance is due to his generalized anxiety disorder, but also to the fear he experiences on his journey of self-discovery, which many teenagers can relate to. This season, Jackson is determined to find his sperm donor because he was raised by two lesbians. NAlthough Vivienne does not approve of his decisions to circumvent his mother’s wishes, she stands by him despite his grief and confusion. When the fear of testicular cancer arises, Vivienne suppresses his fears and grows closer to him despite her bossy, controlling partner.
In Season 3, Jackson attempts to develop a romantic relationship with Cal, a non-binary student from Minnesota who is at odds with the school principal over strict, rigid, and gender-specific dress codes. In intimate moments, Jackson still caresses Cal as if they were a woman. He needs to stop and ask himself if he is queer or even capable of being in a queer relationship without burdening his partner who would have to explain Queer Sex 101 to him. (As we’ve seen in previous seasons with Eric and Adam, played by Connor Swindells, this dynamic usually doesn’t work out.)
Understandably, Jackson needs time and space from Cal to sort out his needs, express his feelings, and recover 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 grows and the costly reality of gender-affirming care takes hold, we see Cal become a recluse. They become shells of their former selves and eventually Cal’s mother reports them missing. As a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-trans laws are passed across the United States, “sex education” shows the very real impact when queer children hear the message that the world does not want their existence.
Then Eric comes into play. Known as Otis’ partner in crime, the series’ first-time proud and loud black gay character has borne the brunt of the suffering for being his authentic self. But again and again he stands up and asserts himself. Audiences were right to criticize his character falling in love with his bully in previous seasons, but in Season 4 we see Eric find his footing, get together with an all-queer friend group in Cavendish, and develop a new affair with a boy from his church .
Amid the black queer joy, Eric is tasked with untangling his relationship with queerness and religion. Born to a devout Nigerian mother, she desperately wants him to be baptized, but Eric is unsure whether he should profess his faith while being forced to hide his entire self to appease the community. As the day of his baptism approaches, he takes a stand for himself and proclaims that his sexuality and his faith are not mutually exclusive. He’s gay and Despite it a child of God, a revelation that leads him to make the decision to become a pastor.
As he leaves the sanctuary, he has a vision in which he is led to a mountaintop by God, played by Jodie Turner-Smith, where he finds Cal seated solemnly. Eric sits with Cal and reminds her, as another black queer person, that joy is their birthright and they deserve kindness. Jackson is out of breath and finds them both sitting next to the ledge – Jackson had begun a nationwide search for Cal – and they both continue to comfort Cal, a scene that will stay with me.
These characters are the heart and soul of “Sex Education.” They are written with great care and embody the maturity that black youth must embrace at a young age while maintaining their joy and integrity.
What this series has proven is that black characters deserve more than supporting narratives designed to prop up those of the white leads; She Are the vehicles that drive on the property. To Eric, Jackson Marchetti, Vivienne and Cal: we will miss you very much.