Sex Education is one of the few truly charming and consistently watchable Netflix originals, but it falters in its final season, reminding us that no television show is flawless. Luckily for the show, one character will always captivate the audience. We all know who it is; Sorry, we’ve never seen “Sex Education” for Otis (Asa Butterfield). Our fan favorite will always be Eric (Ncuti Gatwa). Gatwa’s boundless charisma and radiant smile will transport you like quicksand in this psychedelic excursion into youthful horniness. The actor’s charm knows no bounds as he played a version of Ken in this year’s summer blockbuster “Barbie” and is preparing for the release of his historic leap into the role of the first black and gay Doctor in the long-running British hit “Doctor Who.”
While Eric is the bright spot that saves the confused and disjointed finale of this season, I still have to voice my concerns about the direction this season has taken. My biggest gripe is that the show cut most of the cast to make room for new characters. In college, our favorite characters besides Otis and Eric started this year. This was supposed to be a way to give its series regulars like Maeve (Emma Mackey), Viv (Chinenye Ezeudu), Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) and Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) more room to breathe and connect with each other, but it does it not. T. Even though not all of our Mooredale favorites are best friends, it would have been great to see them all really come together in solidarity. The show is at its strongest when all the characters come together in surprising moments. Remember the season 2 episode where all the Mooredale girls were gathered to ride the bus with Aimee after she was sexually assaulted on the bus?
A big plus of the new characters is that they added a sense of queer community of color to the isolated Eric, who has mostly straight, white, cisgender friends. This opening into Eric’s identity also explores his inner conflict with his faith as a Christian and as someone who is gay. It offers a fascinating insight into the constant struggle he has with darkening himself in order to be accepted by his religious African community, while also the solace he has found in his strangeness.
Most importantly, Otis is still insufferable. As a protagonist after four seasons, Otis and his everyday struggles should be important, but I constantly wonder why every other character revolving around him is actually much more interesting and thought-provoking than him.
But to balance out Otis’ annoying storylines, his best friend Eric softens the boring protagonist’s banality. This year at Cavendish College, Eric is blossoming into the queer icon he was always meant to be, finding a strong sense of community with queer friends and students at a more accepting, progressive college. In the show’s earlier seasons, Eric struggled with a regressive Mooderale. Eric was the comedic foil to Otis’ chronic main character syndrome. Their friendship continued to be one of the show’s stronger focuses, as they helped Mooredale’s students with episodic sexual problems. But Eric sometimes fell into the Black Gay Best Friend style. The few storylines he had revolved around his sexuality and how he was bullied by his future boyfriend Adam (Connor Swindells), who was a closeted bisexual homophobe (yikes, I know).
Last season, Adam and Eric realized they weren’t compatible when Eric traveled to LagosNigeria in a standout episode of the series, examining the nuances of the black queer experience in Africa. In Nigeria, Eric, who is out and proud, is told to tone down his queerness and gender expression Laws in the country that criminalize homosexuality. Eric does as he’s told, but meets a gay Nigerian photographer at a family member’s wedding and takes him to an underground LGBTQ+ party. This is the first time in the series that Eric feels at home – just at peace. He is seen and he enjoys it.
We get more of this Eric in the final season. He’s always been louder and bigger than life in his personality and fashion, but meeting a community of like-minded young, queer people who also see Eric for the gem he is only reinforces everything that’s already within him and without is available. It’s not just Otis who gets to experience Eric’s miracle. This season not only allows Eric to be the person he’s always dreamed of being, but also strengthens his connection to his faith. Eric hears from many characters this season that his queerness doesn’t have to be isolated from his Nigerian-Ghanaian community – they can happily coexist and he is accepted not in spite of, but because of, his queerness.
Although the last season was lackluster, the series is wrapping up its run of success and can still be proud of the positive image it created for an eternally colorful character like Eric. Most of it has to do with Gatwa’s commitment to making Eric someone each of us can laugh and cry with.
All four seasons of “Sex Education” are now available to stream on Netflix.
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