The third season of Netflix’s Sex Education is all about growth. Comedy is still a major component of the hit teen dramedy, but with so much heart, the series teeters more and more into drama territory. Season 3 allows characters – new and familiar – to prosper individually, as well as in their relationships. Given the intimate nature of the show, its ability to let each character stand on their own is impressive, especially over the course of three seasons.
However, not every character grows in season 3 – at least, not in a positive way. Some remain stagnant, while others fall into co-dependent relationships or regressive behavioral patterns. Some characters are missing – like Isaac, Ola, Viv, Jakob, and Cal – and this is simply because they don’t play enough of a role in season 3 for their storylines to stand on their own, or they don’t change in any fundamental way. Here’s a look at how the main characters of Sex Education guide their arcs in season 3.
10. Eric Effiong
Though Eric evolves in season 3, it’s not necessarily in the most positive way – or at least, not in a way that fans may have expected. Instead of showing more of his compassionate side, he becomes more self-absorbed than ever. This is most evident in his relationship with Adam. In season 2, Eric defends Adam when Otis thinks he’s making a mistake. By season 3, Otis likes Adam and believes he’s changed. However, Eric is beginning to lose his patience with him, which almost seems uncharacteristic of him.
Eric is one of the few people who understand what Adam has been through at home and in his journey to self-acceptance and coming out. However, instead of supporting Adam through his experience, Eric becomes impatient and frustrated with him for doubting himself. When Eric leaves for Nigeria, Adam is worried for his safety, but Eric sees it as an opportunity to rediscover himself. His attraction to Oba is understandable, given both characters’ free-spirited rebelliousness, but the fact that Eric doesn’t even hesitate to cheat on Adam may have raised some eyebrows.
Upon his return, Eric almost acts like nothing happened, but when he does tell Adam about Oba, he doesn’t consider Adam’s feelings. He blames Adam for the way things ended, which reinforces Adam’s belief that he’s always in the wrong. Outside of his relationship with Adam, Eric continues behaving as normal – he supports Otis through Jean’s pregnancy, Ruby’s wrath, and Maeve’s departure to America. Overall, Eric ends the season pretty much where he started; he’s sure of himself and feels confident enough to assert that, which would have been more admirable if it didn’t come at the cost of hurting other people.
9. Ruby Matthews
Many fans praised Ruby’s growth in season 3, though her story was almost entirely limited to her relationship with Otis. They begin a casual fling, which later turns into a more romantic relationship, though it’s clear Otis doesn’t feel as deeply about Ruby as he does about Maeve. Eventually, he has to be honest with her about this, and his timing in this instance is unfortunate for Ruby. She’s just told him she loves him, hopeful that he’ll return the sentiment, but he doesn’t. After this awkward phone call, Ruby treats Otis with astounding immaturity, reminding the audience of why they should not be together.
During their brief romantic relationship, Ruby makes it clear that she doesn’t accept Otis the way he is and constantly tries to change his appearance, habits, and interests. The more interesting side to Ruby’s arc is her home situation. Unlike the other characters, not much insight has been given into her life outside of school until season 3. Now that viewers have had a glimpse into her personal life, they can better understand why she behaves the way she does. However, her dad’s health condition and family’s financial situation shouldn’t excuse her mean and vindictive behaviour.
After fading into the background after her breakup from Otis, Ruby resurfaces again in the final episode. In an unexpected and out-of-character moment, she decides to help Otis and Eric fend off Hope when she attempts to stop the students’ effort at defending their sexualities. The scene might have had more impact if Ruby’s decision-making had been built up beforehand, but as it is, it seems arbitrary and superficial. It does suggest that Ruby has grown, but audiences don’t see much of this onscreen – and whatever growth she does experience is minimal.
8. Jackson Marchetti
Much of Jackson’s season 3 storyline revolves around Cal, a new student at Moordale who brings a new perspective to the school. Jackson is immediately enamored with them but is a little ignorant of what it means to be non-binary and queer. Their romantic relationship is sweet as it unfolds, and is certainly a new trajectory for Jackson now that he’s not swimming – however, it feels like now he has no direction in his life. Perhaps this is intentional; he’s stepped away from the sport that defined him, and has acknowledged that he isn’t going to be an actor after his stint in Lily’s musical production of Romeo and Juliet.
Because it’s Sex Education, it seems only natural that Jackson’s story should delve back into relationship territory. His bond with Cal is very different from the one he shares with Maeve in season 1 – for many reasons. Cal is much more open and honest, and they’re the one to ask Jackson what he really wants. When it comes down to it, Cal can see that Jackson isn’t ready to be in a committed relationship with them. Jackson acknowledges that the main reason for this is that he’s not queer. They part ways on good terms, but Jackson ends the season without much of a hint of what he wants to do next – unless it’s to find a person he really wants to be in a romantic relationship with.
7. Jean Milburn
Jean has grown a lot since her first appearance on Sex Education. Over the course of the first two seasons, she allows Otis some independence as a growing teenager, and also discovers that she might want a more committed romantic relationship for herself. She also helps Maureen by giving her a vibrator. In season 3, it seems that Jean and Otis have finally found their footing, but now Jean has other things to worry about – primarily her pregnancy with Jakob. When she finally musters the courage to tell him about the baby, he rejects her advances. Jean suggests they attend couples therapy, though they don’t go to many sessions.
For much of the season, Jean has little to do other than worry about giving birth – though these scenes allow for some interesting feminist discourse with medical staff at the hospital. Outside of her pregnancy, Jean makes a few public appearances to discuss Moordale and the sex education curriculum in schools across the country. She also plays a key role in Aimee’s healing journey following her assault in season 2. Overall, Jean doesn’t grow all that much this season, other than to accept responsibility for her past behaviour – specifically relating to Jakob’s mistrust and the true paternity of her baby. Of course, this is a significant step for her, but one that she already started to take in season 2.
6. Michael Groff
Of all the characters in the show’s ever-growing ensemble, Michael’s arc stands out because he’s so separate from the other characters this season. It’s also the first time he’s been willing to change. The result is one of the most affecting storylines of season 3. Michael is living with his brother, who is wealthier and overall more successful than Michael. A series of flashbacks to his youth reveal that he was also more of a favourite with their father.
Over the course of the season, Michael untangles his childhood trauma, stands up to his brother, and regains some independence. He moves in with Mr Hendricks and discovers his passion for cooking, inspired by memories of his mother when he was a child. He even presents one of his culinary creations to Maureen, and though she can see he’s changed, she doesn’t want to be involved with him romantically. Heartbroken, Michael visits Jean and gets vulnerable with her. However, the one thing Michael doesn’t do in season 3 is try to make things right with Adam. Maureen encourages him to speak to his son, but Michael never does. At times, it appears he’s too afraid to, but from Adam’s perspective, it seems like Michael doesn’t care enough. In any case, it’s clear that Michael hasn’t entirely forgotten about Adam, and this relationship will likely be explored further in season 4.
5. Aimee Gibbs
Most of Aimee’s growth occurs in season 2, but in the aftermath of her trauma, she’s trying to figure out who she is and what she wants. Maeve pushes her to break up with Steve because it’s clear Aimee doesn’t really want a relationship. As Maeve says, Aimee is too much of a people pleaser to break up with him. In the meantime, she decides to start a cupcake business to help raise awareness about the female body. She’s also visiting Jean for therapy as she attempts to heal after her assault.
Season 3 is the first time audiences have seen Aimee really stand up for herself and do the things that she wants to do – for herself. In the previous seasons, she worries about staying on good terms with the Untouchables, or being a good girlfriend, or supporting Maeve. In season 3, Aimee finally gets a chance to put herself first. This is also part of the cause for her conflict with Maeve. The two girls can no longer ignore their differences, so it makes sense for them to vocalise their concerns about one another. However, what’s more important is that they’re able to overcome this and become even closer afterwards. Aimee then breaks up with Steve, and of course she plays an important role in taking Hope down. However, the most important part of Aimee’s journey in season 3 is that she’s still dealing with her trauma, and she knows that it will take a long time to heal. She also accepts that she may never go back to the way she was before, and she’s okay with it.
4. Adam Groff
Adam begins the season in a seemingly happy place, but it doesn’t take much for his deeply entrenched shame to bubble to the surface again. Over the course of the season, he struggles to reconcile his identity with how he’s been brought up, especially by his father. Eric’s impatience with Adam doesn’t help him in this process, though his mother tries to be supportive of him. Over the course of the season, Adam tries to become a better person – a person he thinks deserves Eric. Outside of this relationship, he also pushes himself to be better in school, supported by Ms Sands.
Ms Sands also supports him by attending the dog show where he competes with Madam. However, when he fails to win, Adam feels like he’s disappointed everyone – but mostly his dad, who isn’t even there. However, after the show, he finally tells Maureen that Eric was his boyfriend. As they leave the venue, viewers finally get to hear Adam’s poem to Eric – though Eric never will. He thanks Eric for bringing out his more emotional side and helping him understand what kind of person he wants to be. By the end of season 3, it’s safe to say that Adam has achieved redemption. However, he has yet to mend his relationship with his father.
3. Lily Iglehart
Though this season sometimes feels overstuffed with characters and their individual stories, Lily gets a chance to shine in a way that sets her apart from the rest of the ensemble. In the first two seasons, she mainly serves as a comedic, quirky supporting character, but in season 3, her carefully curated sci-fi shield is stripped away to reveal some backstory about why she is the way she is.
The questions being asked about Lily’s identity in season 3 are valid, and now that she’s in a serious relationship with Ola, it’s the perfect time to ask them. Lily is such a peculiar and enigmatic character that it’s almost hard to imagine she has any kind of home life. Sex Education has always made a point of comparing the students’ home lives to their public personas at school, and Lily’s background has been a point of mystery since her memorable introduction to the show. It seems only natural that at some point, her peers would question her eccentric personality, and Hope is the perfect character to do so.
However, Lily begins doubting herself even before Hope publicly shames her for her explicit short story. Ola is beginning to feel uncomfortable with Lily’s obsession with aliens and sci-fi. Naturally, this upsets Lily and makes her feel insecure, but Ola’s concern is also understandable; she feels that Lily doesn’t want to get vulnerable and reveal her real, unfiltered self. When Hope publicly admonishes Lily, she spirals into an uncharacteristic depression and eventually withdraws completely. Even her mother can’t get through to her.
Lily strips her bedroom of her many sci-fi knickknacks and stops wearing makeup or anything colorful. It isn’t until Otis talks her down at the end of the season that Lily realizes her friends still love her as she is – they just want to see her without her guard up. Lily and Ola come together to attend an alien sighting, where it’s clear that Lily is still passionate about the possibility of extraterrestrial life, but she seems more mature. She also appears to be embarking on a journey of figuring out who she really is, and who she wants to be as she begins transitioning out of adolescence.
2. Maeve Wiley
For much of the series, fans have been vocal about Maeve’s romantic relationships, but it wouldn’t sit right if the self-proclaimed feminist let that define her. In season 3, she proves that she really doesn’t need a romantic partner when she prioritizes her own future. In the first season, she tells Aimee she doesn’t want a boyfriend but dates Jackson anyway. In season 2, she tells her mother that she’s going to focus on herself for a while, but is still hopeful that Otis will rectify his mistakes. For much of season 3, Maeve is caught between Otis and Isaac, and it appears that her story will again be defined by another love triangle.
However, it’s Aimee who reminds Maeve of her principles towards the end of the season. She encourages Maeve to pursue her dreams by accepting an offer to study in America. On a practical level, Maeve needs to take any opportunity she can at securing a career for herself, but she’s also just a teenager with big dreams. Taking the opportunity to study in America could help her turn those dreams into goals. The timing of this storyline is significant because it aligns with her long-awaited resolution with Otis. Just when things start going well for their romance, Maeve must break his heart and leave him again.
What’s significant about Maeve’s choices this season is that she’s learning to decide things for herself. In the first two seasons, she feels that she must also look after her brother, or her mum and half-sister. Now, she has reached a new level of independence – and maturity. Maeve accepts help from others, like Anna, which she has adamantly refused in the past, and this gives her the freedom to focus on herself. It also means she’s being kinder to herself than she ever has been before.
1. Otis Milburn
As the main character of this ensemble, it can be expected that Otis grows and changes the most throughout the series. In season 1, he overcomes his feelings of otherness and repressed sexuality by asserting his independence from his mother. But in season 2, he seems to be less mature and more vindictive towards Jean. By the end of the season, he mends his relationship with her but seems closer to where he was at the beginning of the show. Season 3 finally sees Otis mature in a real, meaningful way.
Unlike the first two seasons, Otis doesn’t fight with either Jean or Eric, but that doesn’t mean his story is free of conflict. Still grappling with his feelings for Maeve, he enters a casual relationship with Ruby. Though he breaks her heart in the end, he does the right thing by being honest with her. It’s also worth pointing out that Otis asks Jakob for advice on what to do, and he listens and applies that advice, demonstrating a new sense of trust and respect – another sign that Otis has grown.
Otis and Maeve are finally able to come together and have a mature conversation about their feelings, primarily because Otis has caught up with her in both maturity and emotional intelligence. He’s learning to take responsibility for himself and his actions, something Maeve has been forced to do from a young age because of her family’s situation. From the beginning of the show, one of the biggest obstacles in the way of their relationship was Otis’s immaturity. Throughout the first two seasons, he adamantly refuses to grow, but the new experiences he gains along the way put things into perspective for him.
Jean’s hospitalization in season 3 also plays an important role in Otis’s journey. He realizes he’s growing up and that sometimes he needs to take care of his mum, who has already given so much of herself for him. In the final episode, he tells her about Maeve and how much she means to him, where previously, he kept his feelings secret from Jean and generally tried to keep her out of his personal life. Now, he understands that his past actions were wrong and treats Jean with the kindness and trust she deserves.