The second season of Sex Education accomplishes a fascinating inversion. We open with a montage that picks up from the ending of the last season where Otis (Asa Butterfield) is finally able to achieve an erection. It’s a series of moments that seems to only serve to settle you back into this raunchy but thoughtful world of quirky British village teens.
But it does something else that’s arguably more important: it shifts Otis’ story from the forefront to kind of an oddball supporting thread. Obviously, he’s still the hub through which all other stories flow (seeing as how his surreptitious professional enables this otherwise unlikely volume of connections), but it operates as a sort of dick joke thesis that says hey, all the good stuff? That’s gonna happen elsewhere.
Fortunately, the good stuff does happen. This second season takes all the exceptionally introspective and vulnerable moves of the terrific first season and spreads it around. The world is a lot larger now, but each arc is still given room to breathe and grow within topics of trust and communication and honesty and the nuance between them all. It’s a smart season of television.
The standout, however, comes from a rather unlikely source. Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood), a former member of the hilariously pompous popular kid group The Untouchables, comes from a wealthy family and seems to have little to be concerned about despite being worrying naive and dimwitted. Money solves a lot of problems as it turns out.
Suddenly one day, she is riding the bus to school while carrying Maeve’s (Emma Mackey) birthday cake, Aimee’s very first baked good she’s ever made, when a stranger gets close to her. Too close. She calls him out when she realizes he isn’t just popping her personal bubble; he’s ejaculating on her. No one responds. No one helps. All she can do is yell for the bus driver to stop so she can escape and walk the rest of the way.
This is a brutal story. Aimee engages in every tactic that a male-dominated world has taught her to employ. She blames herself, she downplays the attack, and she buries the trauma. Her wellbeing is not worth anyone else’s trouble in her mind. Despite support from Maeve and tender honesty from the police that help her, she pushes it all away and spirals. Deeper and deeper inside herself, she disappears.
It’s heartbreakingly poignant in how the show handles the small moments of the aftermath. Her obsession with getting her jeans back, a totem not of the assault but of a time before it. Her choice in shoes, excising a part of her joy to feel safe. The everyday interactions with her boyfriend that would otherwise mean nothing now show how she can’t let her guard down. And it all culminates in one of the most impactful scenes of any television show of the past few years.
This is hugely indicative of what the show excels in, namely taking high school teen comedy archetypes and making them grounded, complex characters. (In an especially pointed move, Aimee’s big turn comes in a direct homage to a John Hughes classic.) Lily (Tanya Reynolds), for example, continues to be a beacon of sexual awareness and honesty as well as personal identity. Her openness in her desire to either fuck or be fucked by an alien is something we should all aspire to, and it’s amazing that that fetish is never the butt of the joke.
The show also develops its own understanding of sexual awakening through Otis working on his understanding of himself. The advice he gives this season is far less prescriptive than before, often boiling down to talk to your partner and figure out what’s right for you. He makes broad descriptive statements, giving his patients often what they seek most: permission to be who they are and the freedom to talk about what they want.
It’s a pleasant canvas for both the subtle and the extravagant. Adam (Connor Swindells) returns from a military academy and, though he speaks with Drive-like efficiency, has an absolutely heartrending story delivered through a quietly emotional performance. But contrast that with Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) who plays with every part of the spectrum with a reckless bravado that only serves to make every turn feel more impactful. These are truly wonderful performances across the board, especially when they collide in the most unexpected ways.
The second season of Sex Education is a rarity. It takes all it left dangling at the end of the first season, frays them even further, and hangs on them more complex and rewarding stories. In a show that trades so often in emotional optimism, it still manages to shine a light on all the dark, dingy corners that such positivity usually ignores. This is something you should unequivocally watch.
Final Score: 9 out of 10