Sex Education has been redefining how sex is talked about on screen for years now, on the way becoming one of Netflix’s most surprising and bona fide smash hits. The show has discussed an array of sexual experiences that had felt taboo to bring up in pop culture, breaking them down in earnest and honest fashion—which has frankly revolutionized television for teens.
But all good things must come to an end. On Thursday, this weird, unexpected show premiered its fourth and final season. The cast is bigger than ever, though we still focus on Otis (Asa Butterfield) and his quest to provide at-school sex therapy, and his best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), who is ready to explore a new school and is continuing coming into his queerness. And my word, Season 4 delivers more queerness than you can throw a glittery disco ball at! Highlighting that rainbow watershed is its exceptionally profound storyline that finds Eric finally finding his people—and a queer community that’s always eluded him.
Finding your community is something that, from the outside, seems to come naturally to straight people. Seeing yourself reflected in those around you goes a long way in helping you feel like less of an outcast. That’s something I never really experienced growing up as a closeted gay teenager; that’s not to say every interest gay and straight people have are diametrically opposed, but there’s something intangible about knowing that your innermost feelings are shared by the company you keep. You not only feel less alone, but more confident and surer of yourself. You begin to feel like a complete person.
A queer social circle of my own wasn’t something I got to experience until university—though in my final year of high school, I became friends with one of the only out kids. (The fact that the school in Sex Education is bursting at the seams with queerness is an encouraging sign of how far things have come.) That relationship proved formative, allowing me a sense of comfort in myself I didn’t know was possible.
The same goes for Eric, who never found his own queer community at Moordale. But with Moordale closing, Eric and his bestie Otis are off to Cavendish College, a new start where anything seems possible. One of the first things Eric notices about Cavendish is how queer it is. There’s an adrenaline in his voice when he talks about the school’s queerness—a sense of anticipation and excitement that’s all too recognizable. It’s that unyielding desire to find others like yourself.
Eric and Otis were the linchpin friendship for the first three seasons of Sex Education. While it’s clear the two still adore each other, a rift grows between them in Season 4. While they are dear friends, they are extremely different people, and it can be challenging to find a middle ground between them. They are fundamental opposites, and while opposites do attract, they can also grow farther and farther apart.
It’s not long before Eric finds other queer kids. As members of the LGBTQ+ family, we have an innate ability to find each other; gaydar is real, but only for us. His first meeting with the most popular kids at school, including trans power couple Roman (Felix Mufti) and Abbi (Anthony Lexa), is promising, but Eric isn’t sure if he’s made it into their circle. When he gets a text invite to yoga (at school, this place is wild) from Abbi, Eric lets out a primal gasp of excitement—he’s finally becoming part of something he’s always wanted. (I do question the reality of a very queer group of friends being the creme-de-la-creme in school, but I appreciate the aspirational quality of this nonetheless.)
Eric has grappled with the relationship between his queerness and faith throughout Sex Education, and that internal war forms a huge part of his story in Season 4. But another barrier in his life is lifted when he discovers that Abbi is also religious—an unexpected but delightful discovery for Eric, who understands that queerness and religion can often be at odds. But these are the two biggest pillars of Eric’s identity, and having them both recognized and embraced in his new friendship group is incredibly meaningful.
For the first time in his life, Eric has found people who love every aspect of who he is. Gatwa is so brilliant in this scene—you can feel Eric’s long-established walls coming down as he talks to Abbi. While Eric has always presented loudly and proudly, there’s an inner turmoil within him, and this conversation helps ease that for the first time. Through this new group of friends, Eric isn’t just able to express confidence externally: He’s able to feel a love for himself he never knew was there.
There’s an ease to Eric in the final season of Sex Education that hasn’t been there before, and it’s thanks to that long-awaited internal confidence. Eric was already one of the show’s boldest characters, but it always felt like there was something holding him back. But in Season 4, Eric is on a whole new level, and I’ve never enjoyed watching Sex Education more than when Eric is shining—and shine he does.
There are so many moments of joy in Sex Education: teenagers discovering their bodies without shame, embracing the parts of themselves that are different, and so on. These moments are often bombastic and thrilling, but the quiet subtlety of Eric finding his community is the single most effective storyline the show has done.
That said, Sex Education wouldn’t be Sex Education if it didn’t heighten the stakes, which brings us to a big all-queer party in Episode 3. Eric dances the night away with his new friends. While he was supposed to go with Otis, Eric ultimately discourages him from attending, knowing that having his straight friend tag along means that he won’t be able to fully come out of his shell. Without Otis there, he bursts out of it. The party is colorful, glorious, and relentlessly queer. There’s no moment in Sex Education that Eric—or myself watching—has been happier. Queer positivity abounds throughout the season, but here it practically leaps out of the screen and slaps you with rainbows.
Sex Education is too smart to suggest that queer people can only have queer friends. But it’s also wise enough to recognize the inherent power that comes with shared experience, and how it's easier to be yourself around people who really get you—not just your interests, but something far deeper than that. A change in Otis and Eric’s friendship is inevitable, as the pair discover themselves and, with that, that they’re even more different than they previously thought. That doesn’t mean they have to end their friendship—at the end of the show, their relationship is still intact.
They may never have the connection they once had, and that’s okay—a huge part of growing up and discovering yourself is finding that community that embraces every fiber of your being. It’s a beautiful, important thing for everyone—not just queer people—and Sex Education understands that intimately.