'Sex Education' Primer: Where Things Left Off and What to Expect From Season 2

Sex Education Still - Publicity - H 2020
Courtesy of Netflix

The students of Moordale Secondary are growing up in season two of Netflix’s breakout Sex Education.

When creator Laurie Nunn introduced her coming-of-age comedy about teenage nobody Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), who launches an underground sex clinic at his school, her characters — inventive riffs on teen-com clichés that exist somewhere between the present and a nostalgic re-imagining of the John Hughes era — were just beginning to awkwardly fumble their way through various sexual rites of passage.

The fumbling continues in season two, a way for Nunn to mine humor and relatability from this tale of a sensitive boy searching for his place (and libido) in the grand scheme of things. But there’s a sureness of step now, for both Nunn and her colorful collection of misfits, who use the show’s sophomore season to explore urges and fetishes and the kind of hormone-fueled existential crises grown-ups remember with detached amusement.

Season two of Sex Education delivers more heartfelt laughs and engaging storylines about a handful of fan-favorite characters, but it also pushes its storytelling, introducing new faces, confronting even more controversial issues, and asking viewers to grow with it. Before season two debuts Jan. 17, here is a refresher on the biggest storylines from season one and a look ahead at what to expect from the new episodes.

Old Dramas

The debut season ended with resolved conflicts and more than a few unanswered questions. After pining after school rebel Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) all season, Otis began a relationship with Ola (Patricia Allison), a fellow weirdo and the daughter of handyman Jakob (Mikael Persbrandt). Jakob and Otis’ mother, Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson), were shacking up, but neither teenager knew that…yet. Just as Otis began to embrace his “stunted” sexual appetites, forgiving his mother for penning a book about his repressed urges and inability to pleasure himself, his romance with Ola kick-started his sex drive.

Meanwhile, Maeve, who spent much of season one struggling to survive on her own, was forced to say goodbye to her unreliable brother and her academic career after shouldering the blame for his illegal drug dealing at school. Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), who was tormented by school bully Adam (Connor Swindells) for much of the year, was left contemplating a confusing, violent hookup as Adam’s father, Mr. Groff (Alistair Petrie), sent him packing to military school.

Season two will check in on the status of Otis and Ola’s relationship — and that of their parents — as well as Eric’s romantic endeavors and Maeve’s life at the trailer park now that her business venture and friendship with Otis have been put on the back burner.

New Kids

With a new year comes new students, and a trio of characters make their mark early on in season two.

“I still think that Otis very much leads us through the world, and he's still our protagonist, but I really wanted to be able to kind of get under the skin of some of our other characters,” showrunner Nunn told The Hollywood Reporter about the shift in focus.

Expanding the world of Moordale means storylines focusing on fan favorites like Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood), Lily (Tanya Reynolds) and Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling). Newcomers include Rahim (Sami Outalbali), a French foreign exchange student who factors into Eric’s story in surprising ways; Viv (Chinenye Ezeudu), a brilliant young woman who shares a special bond with Jackson following a traumatic event; and Isaac (George Robinson), Maeve’s sarcastic new neighbor, who comes to her aid when her mother (Anne-Marie Duff), a former addict, pushes her way back into her daughter’s life.

In many ways, season two seems to bid farewell to childhood, untethering itself from former friendships and expected character arcs in favor of bolder storytelling. Otis seems content in his dalliance with Ola, and though he continues to dole out his brand of "sexpertise" to his fellow students, the days of bathroom confessionals are long gone. Eric, who went through an identity crisis in season one following a horrific assault, sports an enviable amount of self-confidence, even when lamenting his nonexistent love life. Maeve, whose cynicism masked her dreams and ambition, is forced to fight for what she wants for once.

The influx of new characters also means that Anderson’s soft-spoken sex therapist will take on a bigger role in season two, venturing from the safety of her home office and finding new clientele at Moordale Secondary after an episode of STI hysteria makes it painfully clear just how archaic the school’s sex education curriculum is.

More Sex

Speaking of sex, there’s certainly more of it, and in greater variety, in season two. Otis, who achieved the impossible by finally having an erection in the season one finale, is mastering the art of masturbation and learning how to please his girlfriend. Butterfield is given a big comedic moment in season two that involves a self-pleasuring montage set to the heavenly choir cover of the Divinyls' “I Touch Myself” that encapsulates everything this show does well — before abruptly ending in the most nightmarish of ways.

This season also explores queer sex, using Eric and Rahim’s friendship to cover topics that feel taboo, even in these modern times, and forcing other mainstays to question their impulses in interesting, comical ways. There are fetishes and female orgasms galore, but there are also meditations on the aftermath of sexual assault, repressed desires and pregnancy scares.

Even More Questions

One thing Sex Education has also done well, and continues to shine at in season two, is letting its characters exist in a state of ambiguity. Yes, there are big payoffs, victories for underdogs, reconciliations for strained relationships, but Nunn poses as many questions as she answers by the time the eight episodes are over. Will Eric and Adam reunite? Will Maeve and Otis finally admit their feelings for one another? Will Jean write her book? Will Otis lose his virginity? Nothing is tied up too neatly this season, which might disappoint some, but it’s also proof that this series is fully dialed into the story it’s trying to tell, a messy, conversation-starting contemplation on the joys and pains of growing up that’s as sincere as it is silly.

The second season of Sex Education launches Jan. 17 on Netflix. Stay tuned to THR for additional coverage.