Sex Education Series-Finale Recap: Forever Changed

Sex Education

Episode 8
Season 4 Episode 8
Editor’s Rating 5 stars

Sex Education

Episode 8
Season 4 Episode 8
Editor’s Rating 5 stars
Photo: Samuel Taylor/Netflix

“If there’s any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know it’s almost impossible to succeed, but who cares, really? The answer must be in the attempt.” — Celine (Julie Delpy), Before Sunrise

From the beginning of season one, Sex Education has been a show about talking. Talking, more than anything else, is how things get done; there’s a reason the traditional first step in addiction recovery is admitting you have a problem, and there’s a reason it can feel almost impossible to reclaim power after serious trauma until you acknowledge it with words. It’s often only by having a conversation — with friends and family and people you trust, but also with yourself — that you see the right path forward.

When Joanna calls into Sexology to talk about the abuse she suffered at 12 years old, she finally begins to move on, no longer determined to run away whenever she feels a lasting connection to a person or place. Her journey helps her sister Jean realize that she has a similar issue speaking about her feelings, as much as she constantly encourages dialogue in others. Jean went through something serious this past year: Not only did she almost die giving birth, but she lost the man with whom she really wanted to raise the baby. But until recently, she ignored her postnatal depression and the need for medication, preferring to pretend nothing was wrong. She couldn’t even discuss Jakob.

But really, we all have those defense mechanisms to a certain extent. Abbi, our final “patient of the week” character, developed a reliance on constant positivity, partly to deal with the pain of being seen as a sinner by her own family. It infected her whole friend group to the point that none of them felt uncomfortable expressing any issues with one another. Abbi herself risked burning the house down to avoid having to confront Roman about his garlicky breath and irritating moans, even though it meant months without sex.

But they move past those issues quickly once they’ve talked. It’s difficult for Cal, who went missing sometime last night. Cal has only been in the show since last season and gets much less screen time than most of our first-stringers. But for much of “Episode Eight,” they feel like the heart of the show. The search for a missing Cal isn’t just about making sure they’re okay; the whole community feels at stake here. Nobody says the word “suicide,” but it feels possible that Cal could take drastic measures to escape the hell they’re experiencing.

The search brigade begins at the mall, where they were last seen. One food court employee mentions seeing them the night before, and eventually, the squad manages to procure the security footage in exchange for a selfie and some Facetime with Ruby. Seeing that Cal dumped their backpack in the trash, Otis fishes it out of the dumpster and sees that they left their phone inside.

Both Eric and Jackson manage to find Cal, the former by accident and the latter by remembering where they spent so much time last season. Cal is able to unburden themself to Eric and Jackson out there on the overlook, verbalizing the feeling of darkness and drowning that can come at peak dysphoria. When Jackson apologizes for letting them down, and Eric tells them, “We need you here with us,” Cal finds the strength to step away and come home.

Later that night is the Miami-themed fundraiser, where Connor is announced as the new student counselor. But he turns it down — and then Otis, after taking his place, turns it down too. Otis is the main character of this show, and the last person we see on screen, but he’s not necessarily the center of this finale. It’s satisfying to see him cede the floor to O, Cavendish’s proper student counselor, who regains some favor with the help of a newly merciful Ruby. I have a feeling they’ll be working together again anyway.

Cal learns that the students want to raise the money for their top surgery — an overwhelming gesture and borderline-fantastical way to promise a light at the end of the tunnel of their dysphoria. But equally as meaningful is the text from Jackson about everyone missing them and the moment when Cal’s mom curls up in bed with them to hold their hand and tell them there’s absolutely no reason to apologize. That’s the part that will linger with me. The world may not always (or usually) be kind to people like Cal, but life feels far more possible with a support system.

The fundraiser was originally intended for the soup kitchen, but just before Eric’s baptism, he discovers that the church can’t accept the money because of Cavendish’s values. It’s enough to really shake his confidence, and seeing Adedayo renounce sin during his baptism doesn’t help. When it’s his turn, he gives a beautiful speech to the rest of his community, identifying himself as a Christian and a proud gay man. He says he will move forward if they love him as he is, but otherwise, he’ll have to leave. But his mother is the only one who stands up and accepts him.

It’s a shattering moment for Eric, his worst fears coming true. But it’s also liberating, in a way, and he comes to see that during his final visit from God. It turns out this was what he had to learn all along to remain strong in his faith while being true to himself. His mission now is to ensure that people know that God loves them, no matter who they are.

Eric and Otis make up, with Otis explaining that he was uncomfortable discussing their differences and afraid that he’d mess it up. Now he knows that there’s nothing wrong with talking about it. (You may see a common theme here.) Later, Pastor Samuel visits the fundraiser, asking for Eric’s help in working toward a more open, inclusive church. It’ll be a tough road ahead, but Eric is cut out for it. It’s fitting that the Coven calls him “savior”; he might be the closest character this series has to a true hero.

Depictions of religious teenagers on TV can be infrequent, and often the ones who do appear are made into targets of ridicule, even the likable ones. That’s part of why Eric might be the strongest character in the whole show: He’s gay, he’s Christian, and the two inform each other without contradicting each other. It makes a lot of sense that Eric would realize he wants to be a pastor, and Otis’s uncomplicated support of the idea is maybe just as moving as their earlier reconciliation.

But picking a favorite character in Sex Education might be a fool’s errand. What about Aimee, a character whose journey from insecurity to self-love has been one of the show’s most rewarding? It’s so touching to see her slowly become comfortable being intimate with Isaac and to see her turn her trauma into art. Or what about Viv, who firmly declines Beau’s request to talk after realizing she shouldn’t feel unsafe in her own relationship?

And then there are the Groffs, who hold a special place in my heart. I remain astonished that I care so much about the tyrannical headmaster and the homophobic bully from season one, both individually and together, but that first scene at the farm tested the durability of my tear ducts like no other. Adam thinks his dad doesn’t like him, and Cal’s disappearance highlights the awfulness of that misconception for Michael. So he finds his son at work and tells him that not only does he like him very much, but he loves him. It’s himself who he doesn’t like, and he’s trying to change that.

When I think back to season one, I remember the Groffs’ home as a cold, quiet place where nobody felt comfortable, nurtured, or truly loved. But our peek at the end of this episode feels like the opposite of those things: all three Groffs sitting together on the couch, watching a reality show together, smiling and at peace.

Sometimes, opening your heart up to someone means accepting that you’ll feel a whole lot of pain one day, whether you lose them to something temporary or permanent. But love can also feel like a superpower, a rare force that makes the world around you appear far more vibrant and gentle than it would otherwise. When Otis admits he’s scared to let himself focus on Maeve and feel what he feels, Jean reminds him that it’s worth it. And if he ever forgets, there’s that letter from Maeve. He allowed her to open herself up, and now she’ll never close herself off again.

One day, if we’re lucky, a show like this will feel less like an anomaly, and its most meaningful strides in diversity and representation won’t feel quite so radical. But as it comes to a close, we should think about why it matters that it exists now, especially with the government trying to legislate trans people out of existence in both the U.S. and abroad. How would it have felt for queer teens to watch this season 20 or ten, or even five years ago? How would it have felt to watch a trans woman fuck a transmasculine guy and say the words “I love being inside of you”? There’s tremendous power in putting these experiences to the screen.

Some may call this final season (or this show in general) treacly or didactic, but I don’t see it that way. This was a rare gem of a series — a comedy ostensibly about sex but really about cracking your heart open and letting the people you love see what’s inside. It was a true joy to write about. Thanks for everything, dickhead.

All the Good Things and the Bad Things That May Be

• A publisher is interested in Maeve’s book! And she gets to tell off Mr. Molloy, who conveys some much-needed depth with this line: “It’s just not easy sometimes watching all of you at the beginning.”

• Jackson’s story was pretty low-key this season, and in retrospect, the lump subplot basically existed as a vehicle to explore Jackson’s deeper curiosity about his parentage. After his biological father tells him to leave his property, we learn the truth: Roz had an affair with a married man and got pregnant, then she met Sofia, and they agreed to raise Jackson together. It’s a bit random as a final story for his character, but I don’t really have any complaints because it still brings in his friendship with Cal and his issues with anxiety.

• I figured earlier in the season that Jean, Joanna, and Dan would form their own little family, all co-parenting Joy. While we don’t see that explicitly materialize here, we do see Jean invite Dan over to break the news, so it’s easy to imagine something like that happening.

• It’s pretty great that when Otis acknowledges how he used Ruby and asks if they can still be friends, she says, “I’ve actually got enough friends now, Otis.” That’s fucking right.

• Adam tells Jem he’s bi and she asks him on a date, so that’s nice.

• Lots of tear-jerking moments, obviously, but “I wish we’d had a mum like you” was the first time Joanna truly moved me.

• “I made you this bright so that others would see in the darkness.”

Sex Education Series-Finale Recap: Forever Changed