Minor spoilers for Sex Education season 2 below.
In a crowded world of teen dramas and comedies, Netflix’s Sex Education stood out thanks to everything from its exploration of adolescent sexuality to the vibrant, John Hughes-esque aesthetic. Refreshing, nuanced, and unafraid to go there, the first season of the series was a charming introduction to the teens of Moordale Secondary and their tumultuous sex lives. Or in the case of protagonist Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), his lack thereof. Returning for its second season, Sex Education avoids the sophomore slump by fleshing out the beloved characters from its debut and introducing a contained roster of newcomers that elevates the high bar the series has set for itself.
Happy endings come early in the second season, with Otis finally being able to masturbate following his chronic mind block during the first season. But now he cannot stop wanking, which makes for a comical intro sequence in the show’s realistic-outrageous voice. Things are also going well with Ola (Patricia Allison) now that she and Otis are officially together, even though his mom (Gillian Anderson’s Dr. Millburn) and her father Jakob are also dating.
But as the season progresses, Otis descends into douchebaggery, making poor decisions that end up negatively impacting those around him more than himself. That arc can often feel like a waste, considering that season one was also about him learning to be less self-centered.
Both fortunately and unfortunately depending on how you look at it, Otis’s journey to becoming less of a jerk is the weakest part of the season — but there are plenty of other characters that pick up the narrative slack and remind viewers why the series still feels so fresh.
Maeve (Emma Mackey) continues to be the heart of Sex Education. The first season quickly peeled back her bad girl exterior to reveal a hopeless romantic just trying to make her life a little bit easier. While the love triangle between her, Ola, and Otis still lingers, the most compelling parts about Maeve come through when we get to see what she’s most afraid of and what her deepest desires are. The return of her mother has Maeve trying to figure out what she needs to do versus what she wishes she had. Seeing Maeve grow and become more honest with herself has more emotional payoff in season 2 as we continue to watch her refine the best parts of Maeve Wiley: her fearlessness, intelligence, and dedication to those she loves.
Meanwhile, the scene-stealing Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) gets his own love triangle during season 2. While Adam (Connor Swindells) is away at military school, new romantic prospect Rahim sets his eyes on Eric and treats him in ways he’s never been treated before: he gets asked out on real dates and is flirted with in public. Plus, instead of his love triangle depending on a “who will he choose” narrative, it’s much more about Eric discovering his self-worth and what he wants. Seeing a gay teen like Eric take power in his ability to choose exemplifies the show’s mastery at unearthing stories about young people that have been missing.
The second season does take a step back away from the first season’s sex-clinic-based episode structure to focus on the characters’ journeys of self-discovery. While the clinic was a primary focus when we first met the Moordale crew, it’s more of an afterthought this season as the students’ problems go beyond the scope of Otis’s expertise. As Otis realizes his limitations, other characters share their own knowledge. His mom steps in as a professional, helping the characters through a myriad of circumstances, including a hysterical chlamydia outbreak and multiple conversations about the spectrum of sexuality. Rahim guides a classmate through an explanation of anal douching. And at one point in the season, Otis himself even seeks for advice, asking a lesbian at school how to improve his fingering techniques and relationship communication. That’s not to say things stay too serious for long: everything culminates in a smutty sci-fi retelling of Romeo and Juliet produced by fan fiction fanatic Lily (Tanya Reynolds).
Along with Lily, many of the other characters get more moments to shine during the second season. We get a closer look at Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) and the pressures he faces to be the perfect student athlete in a stirring storyline about mental health. Adam grapples with his own identity and the roots of his anger in a particularly heart-wrenching investigation into masculinity. Bubbly space cadet Aimee (Aimee Lou-Wood) has to contend with an assault in a harrowing season-long storyline that comes to a head in one of the most gripping conclusions of the season. Ola also gets her chance to shine after being introduced late in season one, and even each of the Untouchables get a special moment that grounds them as humans.
Ultimately, Sex Education season 2 shows how strong teen-focused TV can be when it combines sincerity and humor against the backdrop of adolescence, providing an examination of what we internalize growing up and also practical ways to learn about the most awkward parts of ourselves. A show that can make us laugh, cry, and teach us how to douche? Genius.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue