All good things must come to an end, and the fan-favorite teen sex comedy Sex Education is returning for a fourth and final season on Netflix. Fans are hardly surprised by the conclusion, as the cast is in their late 20s by now — they can’t play teenagers forever, after all — but it’s still a bittersweet goodbye to these characters we know and love. Unfortunately, the send-off is not as strong as fans would hope.
At the end of the last season, Moordale was shuttered, sending its students on their separate ways. As is the case with almost any ensemble-driven property in which its characters are split up, this immediately leads to a loss of charm on a massive scale. This is only compounded by the fact that the beats in their individual arcs are much more conventional than in past seasons.
Take Otis (Asa Butterfield), for example. His arc in past seasons has been one of sexual discovery, which dealt in the irony of him being sexually inexperienced yet giving sex advice. This time around, he encounters a rival at his new school — and the result is a “battle of the wits” storyline that feels too standard for the series.
Sex Education season 4 suffers from poor editing and a rushed ending
Meanwhile, Maeve (Emma Mackey) has traveled to America for the writing program, where she is in for a rude awakening — questioning her talent, and also her recently-confessed love for Otis. It’s a long distance relationship romance the likes of which we’ve seen dozens of times before. Throw in a professor that’s too hard on her (Dan Levy, in a cameo that wastes his talents), and you have a character drained of any of her usual idiosyncrasies.
One of the most glaring differences this time around is that many of the actors have outgrown Sex Education. Ncuti Gatwa is becoming the next iteration of The Doctor in Doctor Who. Aimee Lou Wood is picking up supporting roles in prestige pictures like last year’s Living. Connor Swindells was in Barbie — and Emma Mackey was too. Because of this, many of the characters are relegated to the sidelines, only getting a spare scene or two here and there. It’s disappointing to lose out on the group dynamic that previously made the show tick.
Gillian Anderson is another member of the cast whose role feels substantially reduced this season, and it’s not entirely clear why. It doesn’t really seem to be the result of scheduling conflicts as it was for many of the other actors, but she is given a subplot that feels like a throwaway about starting a radio show. Even her relationship with Otis after having another child feels like an afterthought.
There’s also some big issues with the editing and rhythm of this season. While previous outings effortlessly balanced the humor with the more endearing moments. This season, it feels like they are having to rush so quickly through the beats to wrap everything up that there is no time to breathe. For example, we’ll be in one really sad, emotional scene, then there is a hard cut to a physical comedy gag. It’s off-putting and draws you out of the show.
That isn’t to say that this season is all bad. There are still plenty of very funny moments — particularly in the first half of the season — as well as some that explore themes of adolescence with the blunt honesty that audiences have come to love from the series. Yet, as the show starts to run out of time to wrap things up, it starts trying to give everything too nice of an ending.
Indeed, it seems as if the creators of Sex Education were terrified of its cast and characters growing up, and struggled to grow up alongside it. The result is a final season that feels like a pockmark on an otherwise flawless teen comedy that had one of the best three-season runs of any show on streaming. It’s almost easy to feel like the last season’s cliffhanger would have been the better place to end this story.
Sex Education is now streaming on Netflix. All eight episodes reviewed.