Asexual Representation: Sex Education Was GOOD, Actually!?
We famously disliked the less than 5 minutes of screen time that Florence’s Ace plot line got, but Sex Education season 4 introduced an entirely new Asexual character by the name of O, so it’s time to ask the question: Did the show redeem itself!?
Courtney: Almost exactly two years ago, we released our second-ever podcast episode about how the Asexual representation in the Netflix series Sex Education is in fact, bad. And today, we’re here with a… quite a substantial and interesting update. So, hello everyone. My name’s Courtney. I’m here with my spouse, Royce. Together, we are The Ace Couple. And today, we ask the question: did Sex Education redeem itself with its fourth and final season?
Courtney: This might be one of the most interesting follow-ups to a previous episode that we might ever have on this podcast, because we absolutely roasted the Florence episode of Sex Education — that’s, you know, the Ace episode. And please do go back and listen to that episode if you haven’t already, because that’s going to fill in a lot of the context for how we felt about that particular scene.
Courtney: But long before we even started this podcast, we would see in various pockets of the Ace community, various pockets of fandom, who were just praising the character of Florence in Sex Education up and down. And I tried to avoid as many spoilers as possible, because I like to go into new media with my own fresh perspective that is not yet potentially influenced by others. So I didn’t even totally know that it was Florence that was the Ace character. I just heard a lot that there is such great Ace representation in this show, so naturally, I was interested to watch it to see. [laughs]
Courtney: But, oh boy, I felt so perplexed upon watching Sex Education, originally thinking that Otis was going to be the Ace character, thinking that it could be a hilarious and insightful Asexual journey to have an Asexual sex counselor who’s counseling his peers — his teenage peers — on their own sex lives, whose mother is a sex therapist but he himself is uncomfortable with engaging in sexual activity with another person. I thought there was so much comedic potential there and so much ability for that to be a heartwarming story.
Courtney: But turns out, no, he just had, you know, mental hangups and childhood trauma. And they kind of thought that they fixed that for a while in one of the previous seasons, only for Florence to come in for a total of four scenes on one episode that spanned just under five minutes, and then she didn’t really progress any major plot lines. She kind of vanished off the face of the earth after that. She didn’t become a regular cast member. And it was all just very, very disappointing.
Courtney: And then we had Steve — who was a regular character, he was a recurring role — who was in a relationship with one of the characters who was quickly becoming one of the leads in this ensemble cast, Aimee. And in a moment that I’m sure 99% of viewers did not even catch, because all the students have a big sign up, they’re all confessing secrets or shames about something to do with sex or sexuality, and his little cardboard sign just says “I think I might be Demisexual” or something like that. And then it’s never discussed again. They never even say the word aloud. It’s on screen for maybe all of a half a second.
Royce: Was that right at the end of Season 3?
Courtney: I think so.
Royce: Okay, and that character does not show up in Season 4.
Courtney: That’s what was so, so infuriating. So, Florence very much seemed like an appeal to the Ace community. They gave us, like, the sad, soppy cry music right behind this girl understanding or being told that Asexuality is a valid way of being. And so they were trying to be a tearjerker for people who could relate to that experience. And it felt forced in the grand scheme of the rest of the show.
Courtney: And she kind of felt like an apology for not making Otis Asexual. Like, “Yeah, we see a lot of people would have liked to have Otis be Asexual. Sorry we didn’t do that here. Here’s your consolation prize. It’s four minutes of screen time.” [laughs] And then not only was that upsetting to watch just as a viewer, but I was so upset with the community’s overhyping of Florence and the Ace rep in Sex Education. Because this would have been after Season 2 that we were seeing all this, because that was the season Florence appeared in.
Royce: Yes, I believe that by the time we started watching it, Season 2 was already out, because that’s how it landed on our radar.
Courtney: Yeah. And then we ended up, I think, watching Season 3 along with everyone else. But it’s a very sexual show. [laughs] There are some scenes that are quite repulsive to me, so sometimes it’s a little difficult to watch. It is very high school drama, which… I’m pretty picky about my high school drama, [laughs] personally, because a lot of it, I think, tends to get very repetitive. Sometimes it’s very mean-spirited. And I don’t need everything to be perfect and wholesome. I’m not talking about, like, Heartstopper levels of “no drama good feels only.” I’m just talking about, how does the show actually make me feel? Despite the highs and the lows and the emotional push and pull, am I, at the end of an episode, actually feeling good for having watched it? And for most episodes of Sex Education, at least up until Season 4, that was a hard no for me.
Courtney: But that’s something that’s happened to us on more than one occasion, even before we started this podcast, where the general consensus amongst the online Ace community would be like, “Someone saw us. We got mentioned. This is the best thing to ever happen. This is groundbreaking. I’ve never seen anything like this. This is amazing. This is wonderful. This is progress.” And almost everybody with a loud enough voice that we’re seeing it readily across several different platforms have this unanimous position that this is so wonderful, only to then that be the only reason why we go to watch a show and it falls so horribly flat. It’s really quite something.
Courtney: So I believe at the end of our first episode on Sex Education, I asked the question how the TV series would be able to redeem itself. And picking up on that little half a second sign that says Steve is Demisexual, I said, “First of all, you need to explore that and flesh that out. Give me a Demisexual storyline.” And I was like, “You know what? Let’s go big or go home. Let’s get him an Asexual partner that they can foster a relationship together.” We can see a bit of the spectrum with, you know, a Demisexual, someone else in a different place on the spectrum. They can help each other out. Maybe he gets an Ace girlfriend who is just, like, really knowledgeable about Asexuality and really comfortable in her own sexuality. So it’s his little reservation of “I think I might be” — maybe she can help him understand it. Like, there was potential there.
Courtney: And I also said, “If you cast a new Ace character, get an actual Ace actor.” I thought that would be very cool, because we don’t really see that yet. We got Todd’s bunny girlfriend in Bojack Horseman. They got an Ace voice actor to play her, which was fabulous, and to my knowledge, is the only time any major TV show has gone out of their way to cast an Ace person in an Ace role.
Courtney: And I also said, “Make me cry.” I’m a really easy crier, you guys. I cry like a baby at very minor things frequently, and I didn’t cry during Florence. I know a lot of people did. A lot of people said, “Oh, I teared up.” And I was like, “Yeah, but I saw their tricks. I heard that music they put underlying that scene. They were trying to do that, and it just wasn’t doing anything for me.” So I said, “Make me cry. It’s not that hard, but that’s your new mission, because that’s clearly what you wanted to do with Florence, and it didn’t work, so do better.”
Courtney: So Season 4 rolls along, and we are told right off the bat it is the final season for this show. And as far as my opinion on the Ace rep, it was a bit of a roller coaster, [laughing] I’m not gonna lie. There was a lot to unpack, and we have a lot to talk about.
Courtney: So first of all, Royce, as you said, Steve is just gone. He just doesn’t exist in the show anymore, and there’s no mention of him at all. So that proves my earlier very cynical opinion that they just threw that in so that someone online would see it and get really excited and screenshot it and make all this buzz about “OMG, Steve is potentially Demisexual” and just get that buzz. But they did not have any concrete plans for developing that into a meaningful part of his character or the show. I probably could have told you that, but I was holding out hope, and I was telling them how to be better.
Courtney: But they didn’t do nothing! In fact, they made many good decisions this season, and I want to talk about all of it: the good, the bad, the ugly, the weird, the interesting. And can I just say, like thank the gnomes that we have this much to talk about. We actually have many things to talk about pertaining to the rep in this season. Because Florence gave us four and a half minutes! [laughs] So strap in, buckle up, here we go.
Courtney: And in fact, we are, dare I say, highly qualified to speak on this, because I have learned — very recently, in fact — that since we recorded that first episode on Sex Education two years ago, our podcast has been referenced in an academic paper about Asexual representation on British TV, about our opinions on Florence in Sex Education [laughs]. Which is fabulous and hilarious, and we had no idea that that was going to happen. But I think that makes us experts on [laughing] Ace rep in Sex Education. What do you say, Royce?
Royce: I want to see the study, but it’s behind some kind of credential wall, isn’t it?
Courtney: I think so. I don’t think I’ve been able to read the whole thing. I read the abstract, though.
Courtney: And we were, like, cited in the abstract. Well, oh, I can’t remember if I read this whole one or not. I will try to find it, whether it’s behind a paywall or not. I know some of you out there may be academics and you may be able to read it. But I’ll post a link in the show notes so you can at least find it, whether or not you can access it. Because there have actually been a couple other academic papers that we’ve also been cited in for other things. Like, I found our podcast referenced in an academic paper about disability and Asexuality and I was like, “Well, I guess we do talk about that a lot,” [laughs] so that’s really fascinating. I didn’t know we were going to talk about that, so please forgive that I don’t have the author of that paper right in front of me, but we’ll put it all in the show notes if you’re curious. I do think one thing I remember when I was looking at this a few months ago was the word “tokenizing” was used, where, “Some people in the community thought this was tokenizing, reference to The Ace Couple podcast,” and I was like, “Oh dear.” [laughs] “That me.” [laughs]
Courtney: Really, at this point, I just, I think Courtney deserves an honorary degree. [laughs] If I’m ever presented with an honorary doctorate — I know some people think this is highly controversial, but I will absolutely go by Dr. Courtney Lane if I get an honorary degree. There are some like academia snobs that are like, “Well, if it’s an honorary degree and you didn’t actually earn it, you didn’t put in the horrible, tragic, depressing, life-ruining work that needs to go into actually obtaining a PhD the old-fashioned way — let alone all the money and tuition and whatnot — then you can’t really call yourself a doctor.” But no, no. Listen, between my own work with Victorian hair work and history and between the Ace activism that we do and this podcast where we just talk about opinions that sometimes make their way into academic papers, I think I think I deserve a degree. I’ve had so many academics contact me for help on their own papers, so where’s my degree, darn it?
Courtney: All right, I’m gonna stop ranting about how no one’s given me an honorary degree yet and we’re gonna talk about Season 4 of Sex Education as the experts on the subject. [laughs] So, Steve’s gone. He just disappeared. Several recurring cast members also just disappeared. They’re just gone.
Royce: I think that’s mostly explained by the transition from high school to college.
Courtney: Uh, I don’t think they would say “high school.” I don’t understand the British school system, but they are in… I think they’re in sixth form now, which is — it’s not, like, university, it’s not like college in the way Americans say “college.”
Royce: They were in sixth form in Season 1. I also don’t understand how schools work there.
Courtney: Their former school, Moordale, like, closed down because they were the sex school and it got all vandalized and lots of people got fired and…
Royce: Okay, but the new school is Cavendish College. Is that “college” meaning a different word, what we’re trying to say here?
Courtney: That is what I’m saying, yes. The main cast that we have kept that are still living in the same place — they aren’t studying abroad — they would have gone back to Moordale this year if the school had not closed down, so they’re basically transferring to another school.
Royce: Okay. And I — poking around, I did just see that the characters are confirmed to be, like, 17, 18, so that would track with what would be senior year of high school over here.
Courtney: Yes, correct. So now that we silly Americans have gotten that sorted out…
Royce: Translating is hard.
Courtney: [laughs] Yeah. I at least knew from having friends in the UK and other countries — like, I knew that they were not using “college” in the way we do. Because for us, “college” and “university” is, like, interchangeable. They’re the same thing. It’s not the same way in a lot of other countries.
Courtney: So, all that to say, they are in a new school now, and some characters are just gone and never referred to again. Some characters come to this new school, Cavendish College. And it was a little refreshing to see them in a completely new setting, because I honestly thought Season 3 kind of went off the rails [laughs] and for a lot of the time did not really know what it was doing. So I was very nervous about Season 4. I was really nervous that they were going to actually be able to find meaningful stories to continue to tell. But I think putting these characters in a new setting actually was a very big benefit to the season.
Royce: We both said — when we sat down to start watching, Netflix had, like, an Episode 0 that was like a couple minute clip of recap of what had happened in the prior season. And we were both like, “I’m really glad Netflix has started doing this, because I don’t remember anything that happened last season.”
Courtney: “I forgot most of this!” [laughs] I remember a few key memorable moments, but a lot of the plot lines they were rehashing, I was like, “Pfft, nope, I guess…”
Royce: There are specifically some things in Eric’s plot line that stood out to me as the most memorable things in the prior season.
Royce: But a lot of the rest I had completely forgotten. And this is a show with a pretty large cast of characters, and they all have their individual plot lines running at the same time, often intertwining.
Courtney: Yes. Well, one thing that we did also give Season 3 to its credit was Cal’s storyline as the nonbinary character, because, unlike Florence, Cal became a regular character that we got to see in a variety of situations across several episodes. And I was happy to see Cal return to fourth season as well, since not all of the main cast did. But we also talked about the general disability representation with Isaac, and Isaac also makes a return to Season 4, which was a delight. So we’re gonna talk about that for sure. But right from Episode 1 of Season 4, I knew 23 minutes in who the Ace character was. 23 minutes in, I was like that… Is it Leo DiCaprio in that meme where he’s, like, pointing? Like, “Ahh!”
Royce: I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I’m going to search.
Courtney: [laughs] Oh no!
Royce: Okay, yeah, I know what you’re talking about now.
Courtney: Thank you!
Royce: It’s from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which I’ve never seen.
Courtney: No, I’ve never seen it either, but I know that meme. Like, “There it is! I found it!” [laughs] So 23 minutes in, I did that. I feel like there are some other Aces out there who might have done it, but it was very much a secret. It was, like, a little community secret where, like, only Aces will understand, which had me feeling quite hopeful. Had me feeling quite hopeful.
Courtney: And the thing is, too, I think I would have noticed this either way, because I have noticed this on real life people before. [laughs] But there was a character who had a black ring on her middle finger. And I was like, “That’s an Ace ring! That’s an Ace ring. That’s gonna be an Ace character.” And I think I would have noticed this anyway. But right before we sat down to binge this season — because I knew all of you listeners were going to be out there being like, “Uh, Courtney and Royce, what’s your opinion on this thing?” And boy, you were — the day this came out, there were lots of people talking about this and saying, “We can’t wait to hear what your opinions are.”
Courtney: But I popped onto Twitter and I was basically just about to Tweet, like, “Hey, we’re gonna start watching Sex Education. Like, hopefully, Steve actually has a fleshed-out Demisexual plotline.” And I saw that Yasmin Benoit had made a post saying, “The secret’s out. I was working on Season 4 of Sex Education to help consult for an Asexual character.” And then I got excited, because I was like, “Oh, they brought on an actual Ace to consult. This is already going to be better than Florence. There’s no way it cannot be.” So, seeing that, then getting 23 minutes into the first episode and being like, “There she is! [laughs] That’s her!” was a very hopeful experience in a way that I have not had with this series yet.
Courtney: Because, truth be told, the first show we were ever aware of an Ace character getting an actual Ace consultant on was Todd from Bojack Horseman, and that is still one of our reigning favorites, still an untouched level of Ace rep, and that was Sherry B. Ellis, who is involved with Ace Los Angeles. I believe Sherry also consulted for Elijah on Big Mouth, which we’ve mentioned offhandedly on this podcast before, but we haven’t dedicated an episode to it yet. But I did watch that first episode where Elijah came out as Asexual, so I thought what I’ve seen so far was very, very well done. So, it works to have Aces consult on projects to tell our stories.
Courtney: So now my hopes were actually a little high. I don’t know if that’s for better or for worse, but I had almost no hope going into the fourth season that they were actually going to do any of the things I wanted. But then I see they get Yasmin to consult. I’m like, “Alright, I’m going to dare to hope. I deign to.”
Royce: Well, yeah, of course, consulting for any sort of marginalized identity is going to make for a better character. We compare a lot of media to Bojack, and I think the reason that Todd stands out amongst a lot of these other characters is that Bojack was a pretty long-running show — it was 77 episodes across six seasons — and Todd was a central character, a main character, throughout that entire season.
Courtney: He was there from Episode 1, even though he didn’t know he was Ace yet.
Courtney: He was there the whole time.
Royce: And it’s going to be very difficult to make a character that is fully flushed out in a single episode or even in a single season, because you just don’t have the screen time.
Courtney: Mhm. Plus, like, Todd had other things going on that was apart from, or even sometimes complimentary to, his discovering his Asexuality — which is another critique that we often have, where it’s like, this character only exists to teach the audience that Asexuality exists. And that’s boring! Give us a real character. [laughs] Give us nuance and complexity and, for goodness sakes, make them important to the plot. Please make them important to the plot!
Royce: So, speaking of the plot, you said how many minutes into Episode 1 you noticed?
Royce: That’s when you saw the Ace ring.
Courtney: That’s when I saw the Ace ring and I went full Leonardo DiCaprio.
Royce: And so this is after the character who goes by O —
Royce: — has been introduced. She is an already active sex therapist on this new school campus.
Courtney: Which is instantly a compelling conflict. Because we have Otis and his best friend, Eric, and a few of the other main cast coming into this brand new school, brand new environment. Some of them think, like, “You know, we’re the cool kids now. We’re more in tune with ourselves. We’re more confident. So we’re going to stroll in and we’re going to run this place, right?” But they find themselves wildly out of their depth, because this new school is very, very progressive. And so where they had this, like, rigid, “You can’t talk about sex,” they tried to impose a sex education curriculum that was very reductive, they had very gendered bathroom situations — it was one of the conflicts with Cal last season. Now the first, like, three people that they meet that greet them here are very obviously queer. Like, visually, they are queer characters. There’s no question about it.
Courtney: Lots of very environmentally focused cues. Like, Otis shows up, he’s like, “I’m going to start my brand new sex clinic in this new school, and it’s going to be great.” So he prints out, like, posters, and someone comes up and they’re like, “This is a paper-free campus.” And then they’re like, “Oh shoot, sorry!” Try to throw it in the garbage can. And someone’s like, “Please recycle.” [laughing] And they take the paper out of the garbage and put it in the recycling. So, like, there are those clues all over the place.
Courtney: Oh, and bikes, too. Like, everyone rides bikes to school. So the one previously very popular girl who… Ruby was her name. She had a thing with Otis for a while, but they broke up. She was also, like, the really mean, bitchy girl for a while. She was in, like, the popular kids clique for a bit. Her other two clique-mates are nowhere to be seen. She, like, drives to school in her nice car, and everyone gets mad at her for driving her car, and they’re like, “Maybe you should get a bike. It’s better.”
Royce: She drove her car into an area that is not supposed to allow cars.
Royce: That was the issue.
Courtney: Yes. And she almost ran over someone, which is not good, but —
Royce: That is another issue.
Courtney: In addition to being like, “There’s a, you know, there’s a parking lot across the street, but, uh, maybe you should consider getting a bike.” [laughs]
Royce: Yeah, we’ll get into that a little more later. We need to get into the Ace plot line. But for a new environment, this school is modern and progressive to a fault.
Royce: Like, being very climate-friendly is a departure from their previous environment, and it does show the old characters sort of stumbling, getting into this environment that they’re not used to. But at the same time, we see a series of things where this new, very wealthy school has a lot of accessibility problems.
Royce: Because everything is digital, everyone has tablets, it’s paper free. There’s a slide that students go down.
Royce: Which I laughed at, because I’ve been at quote-unquote “cool” office spaces —
Courtney: That just have a slide?
Royce: Yeah, there’ll just be a slide connecting a couple of floors. Or when you’re given a tour, they’ll be like, “Here’s the kitchen, and here’s the company keg,” and things like that.
Courtney: Yeah, I was so baffled the first time you told me, like, “Yeah, my office has a slide going from one floor down to the next.” I was like, “You have a slide? Like, a playground slide?” [laughs] “We’re not, like, a regular company, we’re a cool company.”
Royce: That is absolutely the vibe I got from the school at times.
Courtney: Well, and they had, like, yoga classes, and they had a gym onsite, and they had, like, sound meditation and very, very artsy furniture and little cozy nooks and things. And so it did look like a very cool place that you could easily be enamored with, but you do start to see some of the holes shine through throughout this season.
Royce: There are cracks. I mentioned the big ones are issues with accessibility.
Royce: Other ones are that, because there’s this very prominent culture that you’re supposed to like and enjoy a lot of these things, eventually, it comes out that a number of students are just kind of going through the motions with things that they don’t actually want to do or want to enjoy, because that is the culture of the campus.
Courtney: Yeah. Well, and, you know, it’s interesting for this cast of characters, too. Because especially Otis and Eric, they’re very much like, “We’re the progressive ones. Like, Eric was the first kid in our old school to, like, come out as gay. And here I am, this very openly sex-positive educator and friend, and I’m helping bring conversations of sex and sexuality, and I’m not discriminating based on sexuality,” except he kind of did for Florence, which never got brought up again. [laughs] Like, now they’re not the progressive ones anymore [laughs], and they kind of don’t know what to do with that.
Courtney: And Otis is like, “Yeah, I’m going to come in, I’m going to, you know, break down barriers with my new sex clinic.” But as he’s trying to figure out how to advertise, he’s figuring out where they can meet, he finds out there’s another sex educator on campus by the name of O.
Royce: Which, you said that this was an interesting conflict. This is one of Otis’s main conflicts throughout the series, and I guess it is. But the whole time I was thinking, “Why does there need to be a conflict? Why can’t you both just do this?” Because consistently, the student body is shown to have so many issues that they need counseling, that things are booked up days in advance and there are lines down the hallways.
Royce: So you think having two specialists would actually be a benefit to the student body.
Courtney: Well, and that’s the thing, too, because — we’re going to talk about this. Because, first of all, Otis, as soon as he hears there’s another sex educator by the name of, O, he’s like, “Who is he? Who is that other guy?” And it’s not a guy; it’s a girl.
Royce: Which, honestly, that seems like an odd assumption, considering he learned all of this from his mom.
Courtney: From his mom! And, like, here’s the thing. Otis is a very arrogant character. And one of the biggest faults of this season, I think, was that I could see a lot of the arrogance and his flaws and the sexism and just his overinflated self-confidence. I saw it because I know that guy. [laughing] I know guys like that, and I have interacted with them. But I worry that some of the time this, like, ongoing feud between Otis and O almost tended to favor Otis for a majority of it. But we’ll get into how it got broken down.
Courtney: Because he basically — he finds out how to schedule an appointment with O, and he’s like, “I’ve got to get in. I’ve got to see this guy. And I gotta, you know, I gotta talk to him.” And she comes out of her little room where she has these sessions and is like, “Oh, Otis, hi. Come in. Why don’t we talk?” And then I see she’s wearing an Ace ring. So I’m like, “There she is. We got her.” And I was like, “Alright, if this is going to be a main conflict, at least she’s going to be an active part of the plot, and they’re setting it up from Episode 1.” So this seems like it’s going to be a through-plot for the whole season — already miles better than Florence.
Courtney: And the meeting is contentious, but a lot of it is started by Otis’s arrogance, because I believe he’s the first one who says, like, “There can’t be two sex educators on campus.” And he says, “I’m the original sex educator.” And she’s like, “Excuse me.” [laughs] “You know, women can have our own ideas, too.” And he doesn’t even ask, like, how long O has been doing this, so he just assumes that he’s been doing it longer. And not only that, but by extension, she has copied him, she has stolen his idea in some way.
Courtney: But she’s also, like, familiar with his mom and his mom’s work, and she’s like, “I love your mom’s work.” And a very interesting thing does happen. Because she seems very self-confident when Otis is like, “There can’t be two sex educators,” and she’s like, “Well, alright, may the best sex ed, like, sex counselor win. Like, I’ve been here, I’ve got my book of business established.”
Courtney: Okay, now tell me, Royce, have I been saying 23 minutes this whole time, or was I saying 32 minutes?
Royce: You were saying 23 and I questioned it in my head and didn’t say anything.
Courtney: Why didn’t you say anything? I transposed the numbers. It was 32 minutes in. I just realized that. I think I’m saying that wrong the whole time. That takes away all of the drama of my Leo DiCaprio audio meme. [laughs]
Royce: You were pointing at the wrong thing.
Courtney: I was pointing at nothing! [laughs] So it’s 32 minutes in.
Courtney: And the thing is, like, this first meeting, she is a woman and she’s also Irish Chinese, and yeah, it’s a little tense when they first meet. She’s like, “I saw you trying to hand out flyers for your clinic.” And she’s like, “But have a seat. Get comfortable.” And they just start talking, and she kind of starts therapizing him. And he goes along with it for a bit, because he’s got a lot of issues going on, because Maeve’s moved away and they’re still kind of trying to make a long-distance thing work, and he’s having issues, and his mom has a baby, and everyone in the house is tired. And so he starts talking for a little bit.
Courtney: But then he’s like, “Wait a minute! I see what you’re doing.” And that’s when he starts saying, like, “I’m the original,” and “What are we going to do about this? Because there’s not room for two sex therapy clinics.” And she’s just very matter of fact, like, “Well, I was here first. I don’t have to do anything. So I’m just going to keep doing what I do, and good luck to you.” And Otis takes this as, like, a personal affront.
Royce: Yeah, and immediately walking out, Otis meets back up with Eric, and Eric looks O up on social media and is like, “Oh, she basically does what you’re doing, but better and on a larger scale.”
Courtney: [laughs] Well, yeah, because she has a YouTube channel and she started doing videos before she started meeting people in person to have these conversations. And I do want to mention one thing, too, because, for all of the positives or negatives that we’re going to discuss here today, I do want to say that this is — based on an interview with Yasmin, this is the power of having a consultant for characters like this. Because I found a couple of articles — the one I have up right now is Attitude, where Yasmin stated that the character was originally going to be very, very different, and that when they started, O was meant to stand for “Oracle.” Quote from Yasmin: “She was pretty different when we started to how she ended up, once I got more involved. Initially, she was meant to be more otherworldly. But I was like, ‘You can be Asexual and knowledgeable without it coming from some mystical higher force.’”
Courtney: And as much as that’s also true, I would have felt really weird about having the one Chinese character be named “Oracle” and be this mystical otherworldly force. Are you kidding me? Like, I don’t know, maybe they weren’t necessarily intending to cast a Chinese woman for this role. Maybe they left race, you know, somewhat fluid. I don’t know what the casting calls looked like, but that sounds like they were falling really heavy into the, like, magical minority trope, which is really pretty harmful and would also be a little weird and out of place in this show, because we haven’t seen any, like, mystical, otherworldly things happening. It’s been very grounded in… absurdist reality, I suppose, if I can say so. [laughs]
Royce: Yeah. Until this season, where Eric starts seeing prophecies and manifestations of God and things like that. But different character, different plotline.
Courtney: Yes. Which I also thought was a little out of place in the show, but I kind of liked it anyway, so I wasn’t that mad about it. [laughs]
Royce: I wasn’t mad about it —
Royce: — but it felt a bit out of place. [laughs]
Courtney: But it was fun, so we’ll allow it. We’ll allow it for the fun. So, right off the bat, aside from the Asexual rep of it, you now have Yasmin, who is a Black woman, who is now consulting for another woman of color, too. Like, even if the races are not exactly the same, like, you really need a person of color in the room and a person of that sexuality to be able to point out, like, “I don’t think you realize how messed up that actually is, if that’s what you’re going for.” [laughs] So, right off the bat, that is a very tangible — this already would have been a worse character if Yasmin didn’t get her hands on it.
Courtney: Now I — okay, so this is silly, but now I have to figure out what I was pointing out at 23 minutes. Oh, it was Maeve looking for her phone in the bushes after Professor Dan Levy threw it out the window. [laughs]
Courtney: “There it is. There’s the Ace character.” [laughs] Yeah, Dan Levy’s in the show too. He’s a delight, but a very minor character.
Courtney: So, in Episode 3, we now see Ruby, who is struggling to fit in at this new school. She was the popular girl. Now she’s almost, like, queering herself up to try to get in with the new popular group of very queer students, but it’s not working. So she’s kind of struggling socially. She’s kind of dealing, still, with the breakup with Otis. But now she sees O, and they have a little encounter, and she very clearly makes it seem like they know each other and they have met. And O is like, “Nope, sorry, wrong person, gotta go.” So we’re like, “What’s going on there?”
Courtney: But in Episode 3, we get that story, where Ruby went to, like, a summer camp of some sort — as a child, like, elementary school, many years ago, much smaller — and she had, at the time, an issue with bedwetting, as many kids do. And so she was really nervous to go to this camp. And she did end up wetting the bed. And her bunkmate, who turns out to be Sarah, who now goes by O, woke up in the middle of the night, saw what happened, was at first very kind and was like, “I have an extra set of pajamas you can wear. I promise I won’t tell anybody.” But then they’re playing, like, a little game of, like, Never Have I Ever. And O, as a young child, very cruelly and out of nowhere, was like, “Never have I ever wet the bed at camp,” or at school or wherever it is that they are, and, like, threw the blanket that was, like, hidden under the bed and shoved away at Ruby and was like, “Oh, Ruby, you’ve got to, you’ve got to put your finger down.” And then, like, all the girls started, like, laughing and snickering and making fun of Ruby. And then she ended up getting mocked for, like, a long time because of this.
Royce: And she was already being bullied at the time because her family was poor.
Royce: So this just added on to it.
Courtney: So that was really, really weird for me, because I’m thinking, “Okay, let’s see where this goes, but are they actually setting this character up to just be a bully? Is she just going to be mean? Is she the villain? Is she the antagonist?” And what Sex Education has essentially done with nearly every villain or antagonist or bully that they’ve had — they’ve all gotten, like, several season redemption arcs. Like, even Ruby used to be a bully, and now she’s more of a protagonist.
Courtney: But we also have Adam Groff, who started as, like, the stereotypical mean jock bully, and then was closeted and secretly queer, and then was in a relationship with one of the main cast, and then they made him very sympathetic because he had a father who was really cruel to him. And he’s still in this season, too, but he doesn’t go back to school, and he never talks to any of the other characters. There’s one scene where he sees the characters again in a different setting, but he doesn’t go back to school. Instead, he gets an internship at a farm. So, all of his plotline for this season is completely removed from everyone else, which is weird, because that’s the only main character they’ve done that with this season. And so they not only have him trying to better himself, but they also have his dad trying to better himself, who was an antagonist not only to his son as, like, an abusive parent, but he was also in a position of authority at the previous school, so he was an antagonist to just the general student populace. And now he’s taking a course — like, an online course — on how to be a better man. And so they have this father-son relationship. So, like, every villain has gotten a redemption arc here, for the most part.
Courtney: So when I see this, I’m trying to see how I feel about this show making the Ace character the main antagonist of this season’s plot thus far. And I don’t even think that I mind that just as a concept. I really don’t. Because I think you can still have complex and nuanced villains. I mean, I’ve said a number of occasions that I love a good queer villain [laughs]. And you can critique the overabundance of queer villains in media as a trope. You can make a case that it’s harmful. But, like, I love a queer-coded villain. I love an overtly queer villain. I very often gravitate towards villain characters. But then you have something weird in, like, a school drama like this, where the villains are just, like, bullies and mean, and that’s almost harder to empathize with than, like, fantastical Disney villains who are just, you know, doing whatever they do, [laughs] because it’s more realistic. And a lot of us have, like, observed bullies like that in real life. And it’s just very, very mean-spirited.
Courtney: But my biggest concern here was, “Alright, they’re going to make her the villain. What does this mean for the rest of the season?” And these were all my thoughts as we were watching Episode 3. I was concerned that they would not have enough time with this character to give her an empathetic storyline and redemption arc like they have with previous bullies. Because now we know this is the last season. We know that it’s done after this, so do they have enough time? Are they going to flesh that out enough?
Courtney: Now, very, very interesting update from Yasmin that we just saw literally right before we sat down to record this. If we recorded this an hour earlier, we would not have had this information. But Yasmin has taken to Twitter as well as Instagram to talk about O’s character and, having now had a chance to watch the season, she’s disappointed in some of the cuts that were made. And one of the big cuts was mentioned in Episode 3. Because apparently, that game of Never Have I Ever was cut short. What we were originally supposed to be, as per the script that Yasmin worked on and was preparing for, there was going to be some kind of question asked — I assume something about relationships, something about boys, whatever it is — where one girl in this cabin was going to call her “frigid,” and they were going to start picking on her for not having the same feelings for, you know, presumably boys at that age that all the other girls were having.
Courtney: And it was in that moment, where she’s getting picked on basically for being Ace, without having the word yet, she made still a mean decision to deflect that bullying off on another girl. Because she’s also probably the only Irish student here. She’s the only Chinese student here. So these two girls have something in common where they’re already different from the other girls here, and that could have been a beautiful friendship. But in a moment of panic and self-preservation, we were supposed to see that that is why she made that decision, and that originally, when she had lent her pajamas and promised not to tell anyone, she probably did earnestly mean that in that moment. Which, to me, is a wildly different setup than she just outright lied to her and she was just going to bring it up to the entire cabin out of the blue just for the fun of it.
Royce: That wasn’t exactly my take when I saw the scene. I thought that I saw just a little bit of, like, social pressure, social awkwardness, because the girls that they were playing Never Have I Ever with were already sort of established to be bullies. Ruby was picked on at this camp by quite a few people, so I wasn’t particularly surprised when O threw Ruby under the bus. I just thought it was really rushed. Like, it would have made a lot more sense to have the extended scene there.
Courtney: Yeah, it would have, because that would have also shown — because I did kind of see it like, “Oh, whoa, she actually is a bully.” [laughs] Like, in the previous scenes with Otis, I feel like ungenerous viewers could view it as, like, “Oh, she’s being cold. She’s being cynical.” She is very clearly an ambitious character with everything she’s trying to do with her clinic. But from my viewpoint, Otis was very clearly in the wrong, but I could see that some people could maybe see it the other way around, since Otis is already the protagonist.
Courtney: And so to then have this character who just, like, doesn’t like O for some reason, and we don’t know why yet, and then we find out, like, that is the reason, she just, like, bullied her and, like, threw her to the wolves, threw her to the other bullies, it’s like, yeah, that’s, that’s mean. Was she just a little bully girl? But it is more nuanced to have that moment of self-preservation, and it makes it more complex. It’s still mean, and it’s still a cruel thing to do. But then, we see right away that there is a reason, no matter how faulty that reason is. And that’s, like, the messy, muddy drama that we like in characters. We like the complexity.
Courtney: But from here, I would say there’s probably several episodes’ span of time where there are probably more people now siding with Otis, because, well, she’s, she’s the bully here. Like, she was mean, she was cruel. Because by this point, I think a lot of the viewers will have forgiven and forgotten that, like, Ruby was also a bully, because now she’s just one of the protagonists, like everyone else, and she may be a little vain, but she’s not, like, outright cruel to anyone just for the fun of it and just for the popularity of it this season.
Courtney: But after sort of sharing with Otis that this is why she doesn’t like O, she decides… Well, it’s so silly, because Otis is still adamant that there can’t be two sex clinics on the same campus, so they decide to have, like, an election for student counselor. And it’s just O versus Otis. And O is clearly someone people already know. A lot of people have been to her to talk. And she makes this cool, like, music video for her campaign to get people to vote for her. And Ruby’s like, “I hate that girl. I know how to be popular and win votes, and I’m just going to be your campaign manager now, Otis, because we have to destroy her.”
Courtney: And it is just incredibly disappointing that they do bring on a consultant and they make cuts. I know cuts are going to need to be made at certain points, but this show has runtimes that are not standard, because it’s Netflix. So we have, like, a 47-minute episode. We have some episodes that are over an hour by a few minutes. Like, they didn’t have to stick to the same length of time for every episode. And that alone seems like a much shorter scene that wouldn’t have taken up much extra time. But that was something that, based on her post, Yasmin found as a very, very important moment, not only for that character’s motivations in her history, but also dropping the word “frigid” being something that, you know, an Ace person might have a visceral reaction to and might have a concern that people are going to, you know, find out that you’re different from everyone else.
Courtney: It just seems so odd that they would make a cut that their consultant found so important, without so much as running it by them. Because the day this show came out, too, I saw headlines for maybe four or five different articles that Yasmin was, like, quoted in about this show. And now, based on her Instagram post, she didn’t even get a chance to watch the whole season before people were asking for quotes for these interviews. So she’s said in an Instagram story now that she wishes she would have known this before giving those interviews, because she would have absolutely called out that, “Hey, they cut some important moments that I found very disappointing.”
Courtney: And, as per Yasmin’s Twitter thread here, which I’ll also link in the show notes, “You didn’t get to see the impact of race, privilege, and Acephobia as much as intended. It’s just mentioned in passing.” So there was one very, very good scene later on — which I really, really liked, and we’ll get there in a moment. But Yasmin saying that scene, when they’re in a lift, they’re in an elevator, was kind of the first time a lot of the main point of this character was mentioned, but little nuggets of that were supposed to be present throughout to make it more seamless, so that it didn’t seemingly just come out of nowhere.
Courtney: And this one Tweet, a few down in the thread, really strikes me as something that I want TV shows that bring on consultants to understand — that it’s not necessarily just the words, it’s not necessarily just the presence of a character, but if there is an intention, you need to be aware of what the intention is and what is important to the respective communities. Because Yasmin said, “O was not meant to be a villain. She was a woman of color being pushed out of a space she had found success in by a white guy who thought he deserved to be there more than her.” And that is what I saw from Episode 1. Because I was like, “Why is he just busting in here being like, ‘This is my idea’?” Like, you’re new to this school; she’s already well established.
Royce: Yeah. And I mentioned that the whole “there can only be one” plot line didn’t make sense anyway. But I saw… It would be great if I could remember more of the series, but Otis, at least as far as this season goes, just kind of sucks. He was in the wrong for very stubborn, selfish reasons a lot of the time.
Courtney: Well, there was also, for example, apparently, originally a scene where Otis made O cry. And there was supposed to be — like, before this elevator scene, before this big heart-to-heart that happened, this big exposition — like, we were supposed to see that Otis was actually causing her emotional harm in doing this. And we don’t see that right now. She is a very strong, self-assured character, and I think she still would have been either way. But her sort of stoic nature, her self-confidence, her, like, “Yeah, you try that, good luck” kind of demeanor, paired with the fact that she has bullied someone that the audience already knows — I can see where they were maybe trying to shift tone.
Courtney: And maybe they were trying… I don’t know. I’m just making things up at this point. But maybe they wanted her to seem more like a villain for longer, so that the big reveal at the end was that she’s not actually so bad. Which, I can see writers trying to do that for the sake of drama, or a director doing that for the sake of the drama, and, like, “Ooh, plot twist.”
Royce: That’s what I… That was my first impression when you mentioned that earlier scenes kind of showing this got cut, was that they were trying to make that reveal bigger. But, I mean, I saw the social self-defense mechanism in the scene that aired. It just wasn’t nearly as prominent as it would have been had they left that earlier scene in.
Courtney: I think it was missable by people who couldn’t empathize with those experience in some way, whether as being a woman, being a woman of color, being a person of color —
Royce: Being a big ball of anxiety.
Courtney: Being a big ball of anxiety. [laughs] I think Otis has more anxiety than O, if we’re being perfectly honest. [laughs] But it does strike me, even if they were just sort of holding this off for the big reveal, the big tone shift, the big plot twist — which seems logical — that isn’t how they treated other social issues this season, and I think that’s worth noting.
Courtney: Because there were several breadcrumbs about ableism and accessibility before the big accessibility scene, the big dramatic scene there. For example, in the first episode, one of the new characters we meet is deaf. We see that she’s wearing a… she has a cochlear implant. If viewers didn’t pick it up by just the way her voice sounded, they very shortly thereafter have one of the new characters talking to her and kind of turn away and everyone says, like, “Oh, she needs to read your lips. Make sure she can see your mouth.” And we have a moment where one of her friends, one of her best friends in this clique at school, says something to someone and, like, dismisses something, and she says, “Oh, what did you just say?” ‘cause she was turning away. And instead of repeating herself and explaining to her friend what she just said, she just says, like, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll tell you later,” and shrugs her off. And we see this deaf friend now, like, obviously off-put by that.
Courtney: And then we have — Isaac is going to this new school now, and he meets Aimee in an elevator. And this first scene I actually really, really liked. Because Aimee is processing her trauma from a sexual assault that happened in a previous season, and she’s trying to get more into art, and so she’s taking an art class. And Isaac’s quite an accomplished artist. This is something we’ve already known about him. And so meeting him in an elevator, she just says something really ignorant, like, “Oh, do you just use art as a way to process your trauma for [laughing] being in that wheelchair or something?” And he is so snippy. He is taking no shit from her. He is sarcastic as all get out. He is cutting in response to her. And she’s still a little oblivious. It’s like, “Did I say the wrong thing?”
Courtney: And there were more little, tiny moments in this season that I think I actually laughed out loud compared to all the previous seasons, if we’re being honest. Because I did laugh out loud when she said, like, “I kind of wish I took the stairs today.” [laughs] And he just says, “I wish you did too.” There were just moments like that that actually had me laughing. But then she’s obviously feeling bad about saying the wrong thing, and so she apologizes. She’s like, “That was a stupid thing to say. I am sorry. I was hoping we could start over.”
Courtney: And they do agree to start over, and they become friends, and then they kind of start developing more-than-friends feelings for each other. And honestly, Isaac and Aimee… I wouldn’t have expected it. If you just told me that those two became a couple, I probably would have groaned. But there was just something about their chemistry and the way they were written and the way we saw them together that I thought was the most delightful couple in maybe this entire series. They were precious, and I was surprised at how much I liked them together.
Courtney: But there were also just little subtle things that I think is really cool to show an audience without needing to over-explain it and even presenting it in a very, like, loving manner. Like, there were multiple instances where Aimee was feeding him. They were eating together, and she was feeding him, and no one made a big deal about it. But it’s things like that where, in inter-abled relationships, where one partner might take on what society would perceive as, like, a caregiver role, like, “Oh, they need help to eat or or to move,” or if one partner is lifting another or helping with any mobility needs. There’s a really big stigma about that because people will be like, “Well, that’s supposed to be your partner and your equal, not your caregiver.” And so there are just really weird societal stigmas like that. And I think that just showing a really adorable, precious couple where that is just part of their dynamic and a thing that they do, was… They were a darling couple, they were charming. I liked them a whole lot. But it started with that really ableist, like, introduction where he called her out on her shit, and then she learned and got better.
Courtney: But we also have the parallels with the deaf character who is also having various accessibility issues throughout the season. They go to the movies at one point thinking there are going to be closed captions or subtitles, and they didn’t turn them on, and she’s upset about that. This is going to be a worse experience for her now. But she also doesn’t want to raise a fuss about it and explains how if she stood up every time she had an accessibility need, then she’d just constantly be arguing with abled people, like, her entire life. And that’s a big mood for disabled people. Sometimes you have to kind of pick and choose your battles, because you literally do not have the energy or emotional strength to fight absolutely every single one of them. Which was — totally unrelated to Sex Education, but that was one of the themes in Arcade Spirits: New Challengers that we saw with the disabled character on there, and we did an episode with the developer of that game previously, if you’d like to listen to that episode.
Courtney: So with this storyline, you get those little inclinations, so they’re almost building up to this bigger moment throughout the season. Which was actually hilarious, because you also see Isaac frequently outside of a broken lift. He can’t get in; it’s always breaking down. But he has classes on an upper level, and he needs the elevator to get to his class! And he’s arguing with maintenance, saying, “Why isn’t this fixed yet? Why does this happen so often?” And so when he’s had, like, enough is enough, at the end of — near the end of the season, oddly enough, this coincides with the elevator scene that we’ve already alluded to with O and Otis. [laughing] This happened simultaneously. Because O and Otis get stuck in the broken elevator together, and Isaac can’t get to his class. So he gets… Oh, what does Maeve say? “You’ve got mischief in your eyes.” [laughs] And I was like, “Oh no, he’s got the mischief.”
Royce: You said “Maeve” there. It was Aimee.
Courtney: It was Aimee! What is wrong with my words today? They’re all over the place. Forgive me, listeners. So yeah, Aimee’s like, “You’ve got mischief in your eyes.” And it’s like, “Oh, what’s the mischief?” And then you cut to the students on the upper level who are taking their exam. They’ve just started this big, important test. And the fire alarm goes off, and so everyone starts filing out. But the deaf student doesn’t hear. So she gets really confused just seeing everyone get up and leave their desks all of a sudden. And after everyone’s filed out of the class, she decides to get up and follow them. But no one explained to her what was happening.
Courtney: And then Aimee must have, on Isaac’s direction, just, like, piled a bunch of this super progressive, like, hippie-dippy furniture setup that they’ve got — like, piled it on the stairway that people need to come down to exit the building. So they’re just, like, stuck on this upper level, and there’s this big barricade there. And everyone’s like, “Oh no, what’s going on? How do we get down?” And Isaac, like, rolls up and he’s like, “How does it feel to not be able to get where you need to go?” [laughs] And it was just brilliant. That was such a badass moment.
Courtney: And, of course, some people immediately try to play it off like, “Oh it’s, you know, it’s going to get fixed,” or “It’s not our fault,” or trying to make excuses or something. But then the deaf student — well, first of all, asked someone next to her what they just said. And once she gets the story, she pipes up and she says, “No, he’s absolutely right. You all just left me in that room. What if this is a real fire? Like, yes, accessibility is important. This should not be an afterthought.” And to even further, leading up to this, she expressed how hurt she was to some of her other friends, and a couple of her friends finally understood, like, what she deals with every day, and they start trying to learn BSL, British Sign Language, for her, which is, you know, very sweet that they’re trying, but we also saw them disregard her access needs previously. So it was very much — they’re trying to do better, they’re trying to make up for this.
Courtney: And so, that was a running theme. So if we’re going to have this big, climactic scene, where all the accessibility plotline is coming up at the same point as this big confrontation with O and Otis that’s been leading up this whole time, I don’t know why they couldn’t have left us more clues along the way. But since they did not, I do want to talk about the things that, regardless of unfortunate omissions, there were some pretty solid lines and scenes and character developments here. So I do want to talk about the positives, because maybe it’s too cynical of me, but I’m kind of shocked to say that there were many positives in this season. I really wasn’t expecting it.
Courtney: So, as part of this campaign, Ruby decides that she doesn’t want to tell the bedwetting story, but she knows that O has bullied her in the past and suspects that maybe other people have negative stories about O. So far, everyone seems to absolutely love O, not a negative word to say. But we also see a bit of this, like, toxic positivity being impressed on everyone — like, a sentiment that seems to be nice and kind, like, “Don’t gossip about people, don’t talk behind their backs” gets going, like, to the extreme where, like, people cannot talk about actual, like, interpersonal relationship issues and can’t seek help from their friends about it, because that’s considered gossiping. So she’s going around, she’s sneaking, she’s trying to figure it out.
Courtney: But meanwhile, O actually gets hired to be the co-host on a radio show with Otis’s mom, which is fascinating, because Otis’ mom is going through, like, postpartum depression, she’s living as a single mother, she’s living with the knowledge that she hasn’t been truthful to the father of her baby, things of that nature. And so when she’s hired for this radio show, she takes it right away, despite not being ready to go back to work at all. But she’s worried if she doesn’t take this opportunity, she won’t get another one, because that does happen to women who have children. So it’s a valid concern.
Courtney: But once she gets in and starts working on this radio show, she does not have very much energy. There’s a lull in her words, she’s kind of just dragging, and she’s not much of a non-air personality at this point. And so they hire O, after seeing her YouTube channel, and they think, “Well, if we have her on as a co-host, she can be sort of the personality. She can help things running a little better so that we don’t drag on.” And that’s really interesting because we actually see that O is good at this job. She’s good on the radio. And the producer of this radio show — who’s played by Hannah Gadsby, by the way, like, they just got a few stars to just pop in and play small roles this season, much like Eugene, but that was fun to see. Even she agrees. She’s like, “You two are great together. She’s really gonna help the show. She’s gonna help you and she’s good. She’s giving good advice, and she’s prompting you at the right moment so that you can flourish better.”
Courtney: But of course Otis is livid about this, like, “How dare you be on a show with my mom?” Which, I mean, is natural. They got a feud going on, of course. But we already know that O is familiar with her work and, like, admires her as a sex educator. So this is, like, a big career opportunity, especially for a 17-year-old, to get, like, a regular radio slot with a very well-established leader in this field.
Courtney: And naturally, trying to win this election for student counselor, O uses that. She’s like, “I’m the star of Sexology with Jean Milburn,” and that just makes Otis even angrier. But it also makes Ruby even angrier because she can’t find anybody to say anything bad about O, but she knows someone out there has something bad to say. So Ruby does try to sabotage her in a very mean move. She tries to call in live to the show and basically tell her off on air. And that was kind of hard to watch. [laughs] Despite having trauma from being bullied by this person, like, that was many years ago. And I get still being hurt by it. But, like, there are real-world career implications to that that are just… That was difficult. I was feeling very, very bad for O.
Courtney: So, despite this ongoing feud happening, I at least was seeing O as a more sympathetic character at this moment. But I will be curious to see in coming weeks what other viewers think — other viewers who don’t have any ties or connections to the Ace community, people who aren’t women of color. I’m really, really curious to see if anybody is going to start making the assertion that, like, she is the bully and she’s the one who was wrong, or whether or not other people do see her as being redeemed at the end of the season, I’ll be curious to keep my eyes out for.
Courtney: But this election kind of culminates in a big debate, and it’s a really nasty debate. There are some low blows. Like, we start off the debate, right off the bat, where Otis starts talking and giving his little introduction and O actually cuts him off and, just like, comes in hot, cuts him off mid-sentence and starts her spiel. So, ambitious, yes, but there’s also, depending on how you’re reading this and how generous of a viewer you’ve been towards this character over the last few episodes, knowing that she has this big past of bullying and all that, there’s a case to be made that she’s quite rude at times. Which is a concern of mine, that that is a justifiable response to come through after what we’ve been presented with. But then over here having Yasmin saying there was supposed to be more about the sexism and the racism and the Acephobia, and now we aren’t getting those things either, because we aren’t getting how hard it is for a woman like this to cling to a thing she’s already built when a white guy’s coming in and trying to force her out.
Courtney: And I even said, too, while we were watching this, before we saw Yasmin’s response to it, that… During this debate, she mentions that Otis has been quite sexist toward her, which I think is true, but it’s also a little bit of a low blow that the way she presents it is taking, like, a book that Otis’s dad has written which is very, like, manosphere, like, men’s rights, like, weird, very weird bad book there. But she quotes something from it that’s horribly sexist and is like, “This is Otis’s dad!” [laughs] Which, like, we know, his dad is not in the picture and has actually caused some childhood trauma to Otis, so, like, that’s kind of a low blow to present it that way. And she sort of says, like, “Well, what do you think, Otis? Do you agree with that?” And he’s like, “No, of course not.” And she’s like, “Really? Because you’ve been pretty sexist to me.”
Courtney: And a couple of different times, she says that. She’ll say, like, “You’ve been sexist to me.” But every time that was brought up, I wanted someone to interrogate that more, because I wanted it to be laid out better, and I wanted Otis to sort of have to be confronted by his own response to things in that way. Because every time she’s saying, “You’ve been sexist to me,” he just brushes it off. And no one else is like, “What do you mean by that? Like, what exactly have I done?” So that’s why there’s sort of like… I don’t know. What do you think of that? Because I said that a couple of times while we were watching it. I was like, “I want them to show or say more than just ‘You’ve been sexist’ a couple of different times.”
Royce: Well, we as the viewers, at least, saw Otis’s entitlement pretty blatantly and consistently, but whenever the topic of the characters actually discussing sexism, the framing of the conversation felt very awkward to me. Like, the prompt wasn’t brought up in, like, what I felt was a very fluid manner and, yeah, it also wasn’t discussed. And I guess to a certain degree, there is another instance with Otis and Eric later in the series where Eric tries to call Otis in for brushing off really anything about Eric’s identity, whether it’s race or orientation or things like that, and saying that he doesn’t really get it, he doesn’t really try to get it, and Otis just kind of locks up and can’t respond.
Courtney: Which I would have liked to see more parallels with that with O, that’s actually, like, shown to us and not just thrown at us in the one elevator scene that’s sort of like… sort of like the climactic moment to the election plotline. But at any rate, during this debate, when she starts bringing up his father and saying, “You’ve been really sexist to me,” there’s a lot of them both trying to cut each other off to get a word in. It is a very messy debate.
Courtney: But Otis manages to shift the conversation away from sexism and onto “What advice would you give someone who’s been ghosted?” And that’s when he starts calling out names of people in the audience who have confided in either him or Ruby that O had perhaps started a relationship with them in the past but then ghosted them. And so all these people are like, “Yeah, you broke my heart. That was so cruel of you.”
Courtney: So now at this point we have, yeah, she did bully people as a kid, but now we have, like, several different names of people she’s ghosted that she’s being put on the spot here with. And I didn’t see it this way from my frame of view, because I saw the Ace ring at 32 minutes into the first episode, and I had seen that Tweet from Yasmin just before we started watching. But I did wonder if viewers who didn’t catch that Ace ring and clearly didn’t get the Acephobic bullying scene because it got cut altogether — I wonder if any viewers also questioned whether or not the monologue that ensued was actually authentic or if it was just O trying to say what she needed to get ahead. I knew it was genuine because I saw the clue, the one little clue, on her right middle finger.
Courtney: But in response to all these people calling her out publicly for ghosting, and so having been put on the spot, O says, “I deserve to be called out for my past behavior. I have withdrawn from several relationships, and I’ve done it without proper communication, and I do not condone it.” And she basically admits before the school, “I was an asshole for that.” I guess it would be “arsehole,” wouldn’t it? “I’ve been an arsehole,” and sort of takes accountability there. But then says, “I have been on my own personal journey recently.” And she says, “This isn’t something I was gonna talk about until I felt ready. But I guess Otis here has kind of tied my hands.” And she stammers a bit. She’s acting very uncomfortable. A lot of “Ums,” “Ahs,” and “Oh God.” And the audience of course is just watching in suspense, since this is a live debate.
Courtney: And then she just comes out with it and says, “I am Asexual.” And the entire student body just gasps. And she explains that she loved all of those friendships, but once they started moving into something that was more intimate, she was just completely overwhelmed, she was very uncomfortable with it, and she just didn’t really know how to handle that situation, and that’s what led to the ghosting. And she kind of defers back to Otis, and she’s like, “Unlike some people, I can take accountability for my actions when there are valid criticisms. And all that was wrong of me, but I didn’t have the language, I didn’t have, you know, the self-awareness to be able to articulate what was going on at that time. And I’ve been trying to do better, and I will do better. And I’m trying to come to terms with my identity and be more comfortable in my Asexuality.” And it’s a very moving speech, and the very queer, very progressive audience, they absolutely give her a standing ovation. Like, they start cheering, they are standing, they’re clapping for her. And then the debate kind of just gets rushed to an end, and now people are not seeing Otis very favorably because, the way they see it, he just sort of forced her to come out before she was ready.
Courtney: So, I do want to ask you, though, Royce, because I have seen at least one person on social media — mind you, this has only been out for, like, [laughing] 24 hours at this point, a little more than that, but it has not been two full days that we’ve had this show out. Do you think the average viewer — who doesn’t know the Ace connection, who didn’t catch on with the Ace ring, who didn’t get the context of Acephobic bullying in the past, who is just seeing this really quite cutthroat debate, this very ambitious woman who’s fighting for her spot in this election and also being sort of seen as the antagonist, also sort of being seen as the bully, also saying whatever she needs to say to get ahead, like, pulling out Otis’s dad’s book, when we as the audience know that that’s a sore spot for Otis — do you think that there are people out there that are going to see this and basically think that that was bullshit and she was just saying something because she thought it would get the student body on her side? Because I have seen at least one person on social media say that they thought that she was faking it during this scene.
Royce: I don’t know. I have trouble seeing this in a different way than I experienced it, but I think that for a person to hear someone explain their orientation and immediately think they’re lying, there’s probably some underlying source of bigotry there.
Courtney: But we know that that’s there.
Royce: We know that that’s there, but we know that people will frequently jump through hoops to try to explain how Asexuality isn’t a thing.
Royce: And that’s bigotry. We were talking through all of this, so I had known for several episodes that she was already Ace.
Courtney: Yeah. I’ll even take it a step further: I even saw another Ace say that they were disappointed at this scene in particular, because they thought the way that this character was being set up, that the writers were intentionally just writing her as someone who would say whatever she needed to say to get ahead. And another Ace said, “Well, I don’t even know if she’s being genuine or if she’s making this up.”
Royce: Oh, I guess I didn’t get that at all. She definitely… You’ve referred to her as a bully a few times. I don’t see her that way. She did participate in that, like, elementary school or kindergarten-era summer camp was.
Courtney: Oh, that was bullying.
Courtney: It was years ago, but it was.
Royce: It was bullying, but I wouldn’t classify her as a bully — like, someone who does this regularly. Like, I think that was the only real evidence we saw was she was in a situation and she bullied someone else to deflect, and we didn’t really see that be a common behavior. Whereas, like, we were talking about…
Courtney: But we didn’t know that. I’d argue that you’re just filling that in with something you know or suspected, because from what we were shown, she saw Ruby wet the bed, said “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone,” and then out of the blue, brought it up in a game.
Royce: That is not what I saw. I saw posture in the situation that showed someone being uncomfortable and deflecting when the game got passed around to them.
Courtney: You still wouldn’t think that that’s still bullying? Like, even if you have a complex emotional reason for making that choice, she did…
Royce: I think that that was an instance of bullying. I wouldn’t describe her as a bully. Like, compared to Adam, we mentioned, who has become a main character, who was, like, the school bully. It was a widespread pattern of behavior. I’m using “a bully” to describe a person with a consistent form of abusive behavior versus an instance of bullying.
Courtney: And I can see your logic behind that, but I would say that that is the issue with not showing more of her backstory, because there is an absence. There is a many, many year absence from that one flashback at school to what we see of her now. And the plot, up to this point, has been Ruby trying to find other instances of O hurting other people.
Courtney: Because she’s got a hunch that there are other ones there. And we don’t know — until this debate, when Otis calls out people who got ghosted by her, we don’t know whether or not she found anything or not, but we know she’s looking for it, so there is an absence. So I think any viewer without more information could apply their own biases in either direction. They can say, “Well, she’s not a bully; that was just a one-time thing and it was years ago.” Or you can say, like, “Man, maybe she has been a bully for all these years and nobody’s calling her out on it because of this culture of ‘Don’t gossip about people.’”
Royce: Yeah. I think there were a lot of gaps, particularly with the cut scenes, that a lot of different people could take in a variety of different ways.
Royce: The way I saw it was: here is a student today who did something really bad in her past. We saw evidence of that. We saw evidence of something coming in Episode 1 when Ruby tried to call out to her and she was ignored.
Royce: Like, it was very clear. Then we were shown what that was. And from the moment we saw the camp scene, it was like, “Okay, that is going to come back up.” Because, like, this isn’t just a story; this video was posted online and has persisted. Like, this video still exists and is searchable in modern day. So it was clear to me that that was going to come back up. But, given the character we were seeing, I didn’t see any signs of continually abusive behavior. And even the ghosting, which brings this up — I understand that that is bad. That is a very poor communication in a relationship. It causes a lot of harm. At this point, we have seen three and a half seasons of dysfunctional relationships.
Royce: Otis, right now, as this scene is going on, is failing to communicate properly with Maeve, who he’s in a relationship with, who is overseas.
Courtney: Oh, yeah, it’s all over the place.
Royce: So, I don’t see that as a, like, demonizing act. Because, again, like, most of these teenagers are not operating 100% perfectly in all of their relationships.
Courtney: Oh no, absolutely not. And I think that is just my one big concern, especially, obviously, having not seen all the scenes that were cut, but the two that I know Yasmin has mentioned that I’ve seen on social media was Otis making O cry, which would have shown, you know, the emotional impact that he was having on her, and also a very clear motivation for why the deflection of the bullying happened. And you saw it, and your reading of watching this was very, very generous. And mine was too, because I wasn’t seeing O in as negative of a light as I fear other people might. But what we do have here, which we know happens not only in fiction but also in real life — you have a woman of color feuding with a white guy. There are a lot of people who are going to, by default, see the white guy as the more sympathetic character.
Royce: Right. Like, Otis’s entitlement might not land on some viewers.
Royce: There’s also this big sort of media literacy thing where people take “protagonist” to mean “good person” —
Royce: — “who only does good acts.”
Royce: Even though we have this whole big cast of characters —
Courtney: They’re all flawed. [laughs]
Royce: — that get an equal amount of depth and screen time. And particularly in this season, Otis is one of the worst main characters.
Courtney: [laughs] I agree.
Royce: A lot of his takes on things are just bad. Like, just about the only time we see Otis in a good light is when he actually settles in and focuses on helping someone out in a relationship issue when he’s counseling, because he’s not thinking about himself.
Courtney: Mhm. And even sometimes he gets it wildly off the mark.
Royce: True, yeah. But, yeah, I understand what you’re saying, that there are a lot of biases that can go into this. What I saw in O’s character was… You mentioned the word “ambitious” very frequently. I definitely see that. There were a couple of things that irked me a little bit with… She didn’t seem to respect boundaries very well and would, like, jump in, unprompted or without the other person consenting, into therapizing.
Courtney: Yeah, which, I didn’t like how the show rewarded that and made that an acceptable behavior. I’ll say, I don’t like how heavily into therapy the entire show leans. [laughs]
Courtney: Because therapy is not always 100% perfect. It’s not always good. There are many times when it has actually been very harmful to people, and it can be a harmful institution. And so when we’re taking something as frivolous as, like, literal teenagers who are just sort of [laughing] playing therapist with other teenagers, like, that sounds like a recipe for disaster. So I’m suspending a lot of disbelief for the sake of being able to enjoy this show.
Courtney: But the way this show sees these counseling sessions — the show says the counseling sessions are good and they are helping people. And in this instance, when O does jump in and start therapizing people, usually, we’re seeing that she has the right answer. And sometimes that’s directly at odds with Otis. Sometimes Otis will be, like, giving a little therapy session to someone, but then she’ll, like, overhear and be like, “Actually, you know, this emotion and this sexual act that you’re saying are two completely separate things,” she’s like, “Actually, sounds to me like maybe that’s connected. What if we treat this as the same issue?” And it normally ends up siding with her, where, when there are two conflicting opinions on the issue, she ends up being correct. So, despite my personal feelings that all of this is harmful, and if this was in real life, I would tell all of these people to knock it off [laughs], for what the show is setting up, if I’m suspending all disbelief, the show is rewarding that and saying that O is the better therapist most of the time.
Royce: Well, it’s interesting that you sort of led this episode off saying that the original inspiration for this character was this otherworldly oracle type character, because she is portrayed as just being able to see right through people very easily, to a degree that is a bit unnerving and is too accurate, too consistently. She’s too direct, like, to the point. Like, she figures things out just instantly in a room with someone.
Royce: But all that aside, trying to wrap this around to the point we are trying to get to, I saw her as a character that has done harm at points in her life, most pointedly when connected to her feeling that her position, her space, was being threatened, both with Ruby and with Otis.
Royce: And that’s when she made the most significant grievances.
Royce: But to lie about your orientation, that doesn’t seem to fit the behavioral patterns that I was seeing in her character.
Courtney: I am going to be really curious to see other opinions on this as it’s been out longer. Because the biggest issue, if we’re being honest, is that a not insignificant percentage of the viewer base who is going to be seeing and taking in this new character is going to have unconscious biases. They are going to be people who are misogynistic themselves. They’re going to be people who are racist themselves. And what we have here is a Chinese woman who has been set up to be an antagonist against our white man protagonist that we already know and presumably most people watching this love, despite his many flaws. And so the concern here is that, despite Otis’s flaws, despite his overwhelming arrogance in the way he has interacted with this character, most viewers are going to see him as the more sympathetic character by default.
Courtney: And I honestly… I’m starting to see parallels between how people might treat this character versus how they actually treat women of color in real life. And even in our own community, women of color who are Ace activists, who are Ace educators, are always going to be met with an additional amount of skepticism. They’re always going to be seen by large swaths of the community as being a little less friendly or a little less approachable or a little more aggressive, even when they have every right to be angry about the racism that they’ve experienced, the misogyny that they’ve experienced. Even Yasmin herself, on more than one occasion, has talked about misogynoir that she has experienced and how people may hold her to a much higher standard than white Aces. We know that that happens in real life. So there’s almost a bit of irony here that Yasmin being the one to consult on this — I am already concerned that people are going to treat the character she helped write the same way they treat her, and maybe some of that’s just inevitable.
Courtney: And I was really curious because, even though this is still very new, not a lot of people are commenting on this. I did just Google, like, really quick, or I searched Twitter, like, “Sex Education O” just to see, like, the first few comments that are coming in about O. And they are all negative, 100% negative. And these are not people in the Ace community for the most part. Yet this is just people saying, “O is insufferable. O is irredeemable. I absolutely hate this character. She’s giving me the ick so bad.” Like, these are the kinds of comments I’m seeing from the day of or the day after this show getting posted.
Courtney: And, truth be told, despite the instance of bullying and, you know, telling all these girls that Ruby wet the bed, nothing present-day has actually been that bad. She has not done anything that bad to people in present-day. And you could even say… Like, compare her to Otis and the way people are treating Otis. I bet there are going to be people who saw Otis’s little line, that he made a video during this election about how he’s a flawed teenager and he’s hurt people who liked him and people he liked have hurt him and he’s messy and he’s made mistakes and all this, but that’s how teenagers are, teenagers are messy and teenagers make mistakes. I’m sure there are people who saw him talk about that and they were like, “Yes, so sympathetic. He is absolutely right. I love him. I love him so much, and I empathize with that.”
Courtney: But since he was the one to say that, I don’t think people are going to take that message and apply it to the woman of color in the room, and so I am admittedly worried about how the average viewer will read her, because the way I see these scenes that we know from Yasmin have been cut, it seems like the show is no longer, or or isn’t at all, hand holding the audience into understanding that O is in fact a sympathetic character and that we should care about her feelings and her plotline. But on the other hand, from where I’m sitting, I kind of wonder if they would have actually changed the way people perceived her otherwise. There might have been some people that had changed their opinion. But knowing that people are going to view this character with a racist lens, with a misogynistic lens, I think just the fact that she is a strong-willed woman — I kind of think maybe it doesn’t actually matter and people still would not be receiving her very well.
Courtney: And that’s something we need to talk about. Because if it turns out in the next few days or week before this podcast comes out that the entire Ace community hates her — which would be hilarious if we’re just that contrarian where, like, everyone loved Florence and then we hated her, but now everyone hates O and we like her, actually — that that would actually be really funny. I might find some humor in that. But what I don’t want to fall into is the entire community seeing her as less likable and therefore bad Ace rep.
Courtney: When we’re talking about a woman of color not being likable, are we going to be so racist to this character that we’re actually going to start disregarding a character that’s actually pretty good? Because all those posts, all this commentary, all these articles about Ace characters are still going to have Florence in it, talking about how Florence was such a groundbreaking moment for Sex Education. So are we really gonna throw the Chinese character under the bus? Our first Chinese Ace woman in Western mainstream media that I’m aware of? Are we gonna throw her under the bus because she’s not likable? I don’t want to see that happen. I really do not want to see that happen.
Royce: I think that the “not likable” read that a lot of people are getting is something that needs quite a bit of introspection, because you listed out a variety of different reasons that that could be set up to happen that way, regardless of this character’s orientation, just because she’s set up opposite Otis —
Royce: — who has been here the entire time and has had the camera behind him most of the time. We’ve talked about already how Otis’s behavior throughout this season is just obnoxious a lot of times.
Courtney: To me, Otis is incredibly unlikable.
Courtney: [laughs] I don’t think the average viewer thinks that. Despite his flaws, they are still overall going to see him as a sympathetic character. But I think he’s very unlikable. I would not hang out with that guy if I was in high school in real life. [laughs]
Royce: And that is exactly part of the issue, because that shows that a bias exists, and that bias is going to affect more than one character and the perception of more than one character. The only thing that sort of irked me about this character’s portrayal goes back to what I mentioned was potentially something that was stemming from how this character was written before Yasmin got involved, which was the sort of oracle perception.
Courtney: Mmm. Being able to fix everyone else’s problems, sometimes without their consent. [laughs]
Royce: Without their consent, yes. It was the way that her character would sometimes ignore personal boundaries to try to learn information about people’s lives and try to solve those problems, without that happening in, like, a structured manner that everyone was okay with.
Royce: And I do wonder… From the comments you read, I don’t know how many of the people could actually articulate what they did or did not like about that character-that’s the issue.
Courtney: People were not calling out specifics. They’re just like, “She gives me the ick. I’ve got a bad feeling about her. She’s insufferable. She’s irredeemable.” But I’m sure if they did scramble to pick a specific thing and then you actually played back, like, the first scene — like, the first meeting with Otis — like, she really was not doing much bad.
Courtney: Like, Otis is the one who busted in here and was like, “Who is this guy? We can’t both be doing the same thing.” So, like, one could also argue that Otis is also ambitious. He’s trying to do exactly the same thing she is, but she’s already established here.
Royce: Oh, he walked into campus and just assumed that she was going to shut down the thing that she was already doing so he could just continue what he was doing at the past school.
Courtney: Yeah, what the heck? And like, if you —
Royce: And there’s no argument for that being reasonable. If people are missing that, that is a significant bias on Otis’s character.
Courtney: Yes! And if you’re thinking that the way she reacted to him is too cold or standoffish or whatever people might be saying or perceiving on her, it’s like, wouldn’t you also feel incredibly uncomfortable if you had a very well-established thing, you know everybody here, you’re successful in what you’re doing, and some white guy you’ve never mentioned before, busts in, is like, “You stole my idea! I just got here today, but you stole my idea.” [laughs] Like, come on now! Really, truly.
Courtney: So… because also, depending on how perception goes, I’d like to think that people starting to call attention to the fact that Florence did not get the same treatment, by extension, Asexuality did not get the same treatment that any other identity did in this show. I would like to think that the showrunners saw that criticism and wanted to do better. If that’s the case, and they do actually try to go out of their way to get better, they hire a woman of color who is an Ace to be a consultant, to sit at the table at the writer’s room, and then people absolutely hate this new character that’s a woman of color that got an entire season, that got so much more screen time, what message now is that sending to them? They’re just gonna say, like, “Well, why did we even bother? Like, damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” you know?
Courtney: So, I think there is something to be said about the fact that they did cut some elements that Yasmin signed off on and expected to be there. That could have helped a little. But I honestly think even if they were there, a lot of people would still be hating this character. And I think those people are wrong, but I think that’s the case, to be really, unfortunately, honest.
Courtney: And I suppose the only question there, by extension, is what responsibility does the show have to know the biases of their audience and to try to circumvent that? Because you could make an argument that, you know, the show still did very much make a mistake by cutting those things, because it could have helped the character’s cause, and it might have helped. But at what point is it kind of just the audience being shitty? [laughs] I think there is a line there, because there can be things where a show can just be completely negligent in the way they handle a minority character, a minority of any kind. Like, there is a way to do this with negligence.
Royce: Yes, there is, but there’s also no realistic scenario where the writers create a character and absolutely every viewer who watches the show sees that character in exactly the same light.
Royce: Like, so many people have so many different things that they’re bringing to the table. Human memory itself — human memory and perception is just so flawed. People are going to pick up on some words and some lines and some details about the scene more so than others.
Royce: And everyone is going to construct their own opinions about these characters. And so to try to say that the creators of the show have to make it so that every single character is so straightforward that there can be no misconception is, like, a race to the bottom.
Royce: You’re going to end up color-coding your villains. You know, your good characters can only do good, your bad characters can only do bad, everything’s flat and one-dimensional. And even then, you would still have people arguing about —
Courtney: And that’s not good TV. That’s not good storytelling in general.
Royce: Those aren’t human characters.
Courtney: No. But yeah, I guess I just say this because if there are listeners out there who watched this and they’re just horribly disappointed in this character, I do want you to interrogate that a little bit. It is important to listen to what Yasmin has said and to understand what things did get cut, but I think it’s also really important to acknowledge the positives that she contributed to this character, because there are many, many positives. And at the end of the series of Instagram stories that I was just watching prior to recording, Yasmin did say, “Yes, this is disappointing,” but at the end she did say, “I do think most of what I was trying to get out there with this character did get out there. The ‘but,’ the asterisk to that is, had these scenes been in earlier, had they not been cut, we would have started understanding this character in her backstory and getting seeds of her identity earlier, whereas now we’re just getting it in exposition dumps.”
Courtney: Which, to be fair, we did really get on Heartstopper for being a show that tells things more than it shows things, recently, when we covered the second season, where, like, the one moment when Isaac just got really upset and is like, “You guys never care about my life or my interests unless it has to do with romance.” But just, like, a couple scenes earlier, we saw one of his friends come up and be like, “Hey, Isaac, what are you reading?” And then the camera immediately cut away and I was like, “Why would you have a character showing an interest in him, devoid of romance, and then have him yell that people don’t care about him?” Like, show us the people disregarding him more first, so that that doesn’t seem to come out of nowhere.
Courtney: So we could make a similar criticism that coming out as Asexual was not foreshadowed, and therefore, that’s a big monologue that gave us all that information verbally, and, by extension, the elevator scene later on, which fills in a little more, with a little more clarity, a little more of her backstory, is also just exposition. It was a good scene of exposition. I think it was good, but it could have been better with the scenes that they didn’t cut. It sounds like it would have been. But I don’t think that’s a reason to say that this character or this arc is bad.
Courtney: But, yeah, so let’s bring it around to this brilliant elevator scene, because I did actually very, very much like it. I don’t think I have anything negative to say about this scene on its own. But, as I said, this was happening during the, like, accessibility revolution, which, now that I think about it, there was… For as much as I loved that scene — because they even pointed out, they’re like, “This campus pays for daily yoga classes, and we have this big space and we have all these things. Like, we have money. Why is the money going to all these other things and not my basic accessibility needs?” Like, I don’t think they outright mentioned the slide in this one, but they could have been like, “We have a slide, but not a working elevator.” Like, that would not have been out of place there.
Courtney: The one thing that was a little out of place: a random, unnamed character who has not been seen even in the background once this entire series and is never seen again, who is also a wheelchair user, just starts piping up, like, “Yeah, I agree,” and chiming in with these other two named characters that we’re familiar with. And they almost… was it directly a Mean Girls parody? Because it felt like a direct Mean Girls parody.
Courtney: Because everyone’s like, “Who’s he?” And someone says, “I don’t even think he goes here,” and then this guy’s just like, “I’m just really passionate,” and it’s like, “Where did you come from?” [laughs]
Royce: Was that a Mean Girls parody? I didn’t get a parody; that would make more sense. I just thought that so many of these shows that we’re seeing nowadays do have these moments where they’re trying to make a point, they’re trying to educate, and it comes off as very soapboxy.
Royce: And I thought they were trying to basically make fun of themselves after knowingly doing that again. Apparently, I need to watch that movie again.
Courtney: Ah! When was the last time you’ve watched Mean Girls?
Royce: The last time you put it on.
Courtney: I don’t even know when that was! I haven’t watched it recently. [laughs] But yeah, that felt like a Mean Girls parody. There was also, like, definitely a… There were a couple of moments that we were comparing to, like, other teen drama shows that we’ve seen and reviewed recently. Like, we both caught at least a couple of scenes where we’re like, “That’s very Heartbreak High.”
Royce: Yeah, there was a nude picture texting scene that we were both like, “Oh, that’s very Heartbreak High of you.”
Courtney: Yeah, Otis was trying to get a dick pic to send to Maeve in America, and he was just not happy with them. And so we see this montage of him trying out different angles and looking at his phone in… disgust — I don’t know what the word is for the emotion you feel when you have taken a bad dick pic. [laughs] What emotion do you reckon that is, Royce? Dismay, perhaps? [laughs]
Royce: Well, because we’re watching Sex Education, Otis doesn’t delete these pictures, and they all end up on a projector at school the following day.
Royce: But that sparks a… I think it’s a brief conversation. Honestly, a lot of the conversations about various things in the show are brief because there are so many things going on all the time.
Courtney: There’s so many characters.
Royce: But the conversation is just acknowledging that there are a whole bunch of body image issues that guys face as well that just aren’t talked about as much.
Courtney: Mhm. Yeah. And so we did see that scene and we’re like, “That’s very Cash from Heartbreak High,” because Cash was trying to do that to send to Darren, and he was just really unhappy with it. But meanwhile, Darren has, like, an entire team trying to get the lighting [laughing] and the angle and everything just right, and so it may be one of the funnier moments of Heartbreak High. Cash is like, “How did you get that picture so good?” [laughs] So, yeah, just seeing that montage, it’s like, I have seen this montage on TV already, and recently! I have recently seen this happen.
Courtney: But at any rate, let’s talk about the elevator scene. So, O and Otis, throughout this whole accessibility revolution, Mean Girls parody, silliness, they’re stuck in the elevator together, which was also a bit of a trope. Like, they got in the same elevator together, and before the elevator even broke down, Royce was like, “Oh, they’re in the elevator together, [laughs] time to break down.” And at first, I mean, clearly, they don’t want to be here, they don’t want to be talking to each other. I think Otis especially is a little standoffish, but O is really pretty kind. Like, when his stomach, like, audibly growls, she, like, grabs a bar from her pocket and hands it to him. And his own pride — like, he almost doesn’t accept it. Like, she has to prompt him and be like, “It’s not poison. Just just eat the dang thing.” And they end up being in there long enough that they do start to have a conversation.
Courtney: So we haven’t spoken much about Maeve this episode. We don’t really need to. But the gist is, she moves to America, gets a really asshole professor who’s not very kind to her, despite her obvious talent and merits, but she… Her mom ends up dying, so she needs to come back home for the funeral arrangements and whatnot. And while she’s there, between seeing Otis again and grieving her mom and having issues with this professor at school, she considers not going back. And O gets wind of the fact that oh, Otis’s girlfriend is in town, and she’s like, “Oh, but wait a minute, I thought she was in America doing this, you know, very impressive program that she got into.” And Otis, the whole time, super defensive, and she’s like, “I’m just making conversation.” And he’s like, “Well, we’re very happy, and she’d rather be with me than go to school in America.” And very, very defensive the entire time.
Courtney: And there are some moments of prying where O had previously, like, in working with Otis’s mom, had been in her office and had seen, like, a chapter his mom had written on his sex issues. And so she brings that up and is like, “Oh, are you still having those issues? I read the thing your mom wrote,” which Otis says is wildly inappropriate. And, honestly, it is. That was not super cool. But O is just like, “Oh, I find it really fascinating, actually.”
Courtney: And the funny thing is about this season: we thought we had, you know, cured Otis’s sex phobia, because he figured out that all the issues stemmed from, like, his… Was it walking in on his parents? Or his dad cheating on his mom, or something?
Royce: It was walking in on his dad cheating.
Courtney: Yeah, walking in on his dad cheating was, like, the answer. And it’s like, once he had this revelation, then all of a sudden, he’s able to have and enjoy sex and he’s, like, masturbating constantly. There was, like, a whole masturbation montage — [laughing] which I did not appreciate, if I’m being honest. I hope some viewers out there liked it, because whoof. But he starts having issues again when he and Maeve try to have sex. But also in, like, the sexting and the taking nudes and all these things, he’s having issues all over again. And so in this moment, he’s like, “Well, I can’t believe you read that. But I had this issue. I used to get very anxious around sex. But clearly, whatever the issue is is presenting itself again.”
Courtney: And Otis deflects and is like, “No, I don’t want to talk about me, let’s talk about you.” And she’s like, “Oh right, what do you want to know about me?” And he’s like, “Anything.” And she’s like, “Well, you haven’t exactly asked about anything about me.” And he’s like, “Oh, well, what about when you were calling me sexist publicly? Why were you doing that? And why did you get the radio show with my mom? And what about that thing you did to Ruby? That was terrible. Do you know how bad she felt about that?” And O says something very interesting, which again, Otis sort of brushes off and I don’t think really internalizes in the moment. She’s like, “Do you really even care about her? Because you are literally just using her to try to win this election? I don’t think you actually look at her as, you know, an equal or a person worthy of respect. Like, you’re using her, too.”
Courtney: But then Otis, just in a huff, does say, like, “Are you Asexual or was that just something else to make me look bad?” And then you can see in her face that she is hurt. She is livid. And her voice just drops, it’s almost cracking. She moves further away from him — like, back into a corner — and just says, “That’s a really fucked up thing to say.” And conversation halts again for a good long while.
Courtney: And after a period of time, she looks up and says, “You know, I do feel awful about what I did to Ruby.” And when Otis then asks why she did it then, she starts explaining her story a little more. And she explains that she moved from Belfast. She had an accent that was different from all the other kids in school. She was one of the only kids of color in her year. Like, everything about her already screamed “outsider.” And she explains that other girls were getting crushes; they were talking about boys and wanting to kiss. And she was already feeling that she didn’t feel those things. She was already different in that sense as well. And so she thought if she could get in with the popular girls, that no one would sort of have a target on her back as the odd one out.
Courtney: And since she wasn’t understanding relationships or crushes or anything about sex or that nature, she decided to try to learn everything she could. And we kind of see a flashback montage of her, like, studying, like, in textbooks, and explaining that the reason why she was doing that was so she could pretend to be like everyone else, so she could understand, logically, the ins and outs of sex, so that she could sort of put on her own performance or emulation of that. But she also says that while she was studying, she found it fascinating. She didn’t feel sexual attraction herself, but she found learning about these things interesting. But despite being interested in the subject material, she also said, “You know, pretending to be something you’re not is really exhausting,” and it was starting to wear on her over time.
Courtney: But I will point out that this moment where she is studying and trying to fit in — and this is just to sort of conceptualize in the timeline with the scene that we know was cut out, this is when she is a bit older than at that camp that she is going, like, full into the textbooks, taking notes and whatnot. And we do even see Ruby, also a little bit older, in the same flashback, where one of the popular girls now is still calling her “bedwetter.” So we know that this is after that has transpired already. So we still have not seen any of these hurtful remarks at or before that time when she actually did do that to Ruby.
Courtney: And so, having learned everything she did and finding this is all fascinating, she decided to set up this clinic when she got into this school. But despite enjoying it and being very successful with it, she still didn’t feel like she could come out as Ace. And then she says, “I mean, who wants to get sex advice from someone who doesn’t have sex?” And the actor killed it here. Oh my gosh, can we look up her name? Because I haven’t even done this yet. But she was fabulous in this scene. She started — like, her eyes started tearing up when she said that line and her voice almost broke. It’s Thaddea, Thaddea Graham. Oh my goodness, she was fabulous, especially in this scene. I mean, she was good throughout.
Courtney: But listeners, listeners, it happened. I cried. Oh, and I don’t know if I wanted to go into this. I don’t really know if I had any expectations, positive or negative. I tried to remain neutral, but I don’t know if I wanted to come on here and say, like, “They blew it again. They didn’t do this.” But I’m actually pretty happy to say that they did it. I told them to make me cry, and they did it, gosh darn it! It happened! Royce, where’s my gavel? [claps] They did it. I cried. Ladies and gentlethems — oh, I shouldn’t say that. I got in trouble last time I said that. Said that on Twitter, and people got mad at me. I think — I actually think I mentioned that during the Sex Education… No, that’s what we’re talking about literally right now. What is wrong with my words today? How do you all listen to this podcast, honestly? The Heartbreak High episode. Because someone said “Ladies and gentlethems,” and I was like, “Pfft. They can say it, I guess, but I can’t.” [laughs] Ah, the impossible standards we hold ourselves to.
Courtney: So I did. I will fully admit, I thought this entire scene was very, very good. No concerns. It actually made me cry. It is so abundantly obvious that even despite the flaws, the cuts, the things that Yasmin might be disappointed didn’t make it in, I think we needed to have an actual Ace person consult to have this. And that was even the magic of having the subtle touch of the ring from the very first episode at 32 minutes in. Because that’s something that’s for the Ace community. We can see that, we can latch on to that, we can identify it. That is for us, by us. But then we have this exposition for the rest of the audience. And it is so much better than the exposition we got with Florence. I mean, compare the two side-by-side and it is a night and day difference with just character progression, a more fleshed out storyline. It’s really beautiful, and it did get to me.
Courtney: And then O even mentions that being closeted, not feeling like she could come out as Ace, she was struggling to make deep, meaningful friendships, because she really wasn’t letting anyone get close enough to her. And she said that for a while, that was okay, because she had her clinic, and that was a passion of hers, and she felt that that was her safe space. And then she does say, “Then, you just came in and took everything away from me.” And then, of course, the elevator gets fixed right after she delivers that. And she gets up and, like, books it and is out of here, and that conversation has now halted.
Courtney: But then, despite not being able to get away from Otis fast enough, she does actually find him outside of the school that very day, because she’s been thinking about his sex problems and trying to piece it together. And she comes up to him and says, “Hey, I think I’ve got it. Your mom had a really hard time when your dad left.” And he’s like, “Yeah, she had a breakdown, but what’s your point?” And she said, “Well, I think your concern around sex is getting hurt like she was, falling into a depression like she did, and someone that you love leaving you and leaving you in that state.” And that does end up, like — spoiler alert, I guess — that ends up being his issue. And once he identifies this, he can once again have sex with his girlfriend!
Courtney: So it is kind of interesting that it was the Ace character and the rival sex counselor, who is better than he is, who solved this problem, which was present from Season 1. That was one of the main original, like, concerns, I guess — one of the big plots. I think that’s interesting. I wish they didn’t have to walk it back. It’s like, they resolved an issue, and then they recreated the issue again so that it could be resolved again in a different way.
Courtney: And my only critique with that would be, like, bring on an Ace character and an Ace consultant for that character earlier in your show. Don’t wait to the last season to try to… I don’t know why they made this choice to have an Ace character and have O be the Ace character, but it’d be really interesting if it was just people being disappointed in Florence and calling out the fact that they didn’t have [laughing] a fleshed out Ace character, if they were like, “Oh shoot, I guess we better do that.” But if it was done earlier with more intention, we could have also then, you know, had more time with this character. But for the single season that we have and the single season that we are allotted, I think they did a lot of very good things with it.
Courtney: And that means — I mean, in the grand scope of the entire series, that means one of Otis’s biggest conflicts was solved by the Ace character. That is so plot important, not only to this season but to the entire series, so that’s actually kind of cool. It’s a little goofy, if you think about it too long, that they solved an issue and then walked it back, but I’ll consider that a win. I wanted someone who mattered to the plot, so they found a way to not only make her important for Season 4 but the entire series. So, well done there.
Courtney: But then they do have sort of a goofy resolution to the actual election, since this is what so much of the school conflict has been building up to. Like, now Ruby has gotten mad at Otis because Maeve’s back in town and Otis has basically just ignored everyone else, except her, and so he stopped responding to Ruby’s texts about the election and everything. And so Ruby’s like, “I am done with you.” And she just picks a random guy to enter the election who has never had any interest in this, has never done anything, but she’s just like, “You there, [laughing] I’m going to help you win this thing.” And at this point the general student body doesn’t really like O or Otis, because they both kind of tarnished each other’s names. So random white guy who has no importance to the story at all ends up winning the election, and when they announce that he won, he grabs the microphone and is like, “Thank you, but I decline. I don’t actually want to do this at all.”
Courtney: And so then they’re like, “Oh, okay. Well, I guess we’ll go to the runner up then. And that’s Otis.” And as soon as they announce Otis as the new winner, someone in the audience is like, “But he’s a misogynist,” so nobody’s, like, applauding or happy about this. But then he grabs the microphone, and he’s like, “I’m not going to accept the position either, actually. You guys already had a really good student counselor, and she solved my problem, and I’ve observed her solve everyone else’s problem. And now she has pointed out to me that I just sort of ran in and tried to steal her safe place and the thing she built from her.” I don’t actually know if he has that much self-awareness, though. Like, I don’t know if that was part of his decision or if it was just because she actually solved his own issue. Maybe it was both, but we don’t see a lot of how he works that out. So he’s like, “Oh, she’s great and we’re gonna let her have it,” and so this whole thing was a complete waste of everybody’s time and energy and reputation.
Courtney: But when he turns it over to her, then someone else in the audience is like, “But she’s a bully,” and everyone’s like, “Get off the stage,” and, like, trying to boo her. And the only reason why she’s redeemed is that now Ruby has, you know, had a change of heart. She realizes she doesn’t feel good about trying to tarnish O’s reputation, and she jumps up on stage and tells everyone, like, “No, no, it’s cool. We’re all right here.”
Courtney: And then, after all that’s said and done, she does come up to Otis later and does say, like, “You know, we could still work together. I could use a friend. I could use someone helping me around the clinic.” And Otis ends up kind of smiling and saying, “Okay, I’ll think about it.” And again, the entire thing — a total waste of everybody’s time. [laughs] I think the teacher, like, running the election and making the announcement and was the one running the debate was also just, like, grabbing his head like he had a headache, like, why? Why are we doing this?
Courtney: But overall, I think it was good. I do. As far as the Ace rep, it was good. It was maybe one of the better examples I’ve seen on mainstream Western television.
Royce: Yeah, I thought it was solid, and my justification for that decision is that O felt like an actual character.
Royce: She felt like a character that got an equal treatment to all of the other identities that were shown.
Royce: I mean, her characterization was not as deep as some of the long-running characters, because she was introduced in this final season, but she was as much of the story as everyone else.
Courtney: Yeah. And she actually influenced the plot. They let her be messy and dramatic, but they also gave her a redemption. They allowed her to be complicated, a sympathetic character who isn’t perfect, and that is really nice to see. It was actually pretty refreshing.
Courtney: And there were some other characters that we don’t necessarily need to talk about at length on this episode, but there were some other things that were also just kind of nice to see this season that I didn’t have as many favorable things to say about any of the previous seasons as this one, even outside of O’s plotline. Like, a couple of the new characters are a trans couple, a trans woman and a trans man, and they show their relationship’s ups and downs and issues and complex characterizations. But they showed them having a sex scene, and, for as much as I don’t like the sex scenes, that was maybe one of the better sex scenes in this entire series, too. Like, I don’t recall seeing a couple where both parties are trans having a sex scene on TV before. Can you think of any?
Royce: Not off the top of my head, no.
Courtney: Not off the top of my head. We’ve had instances of one trans person having sex with a cis person. I can think of a few instances of those. But that was neat. I liked more exploration of Cal, because Cal being the nonbinary character but starting to actually get on testosterone and start transitioning towards a more masculine appearance, there were some really positive moments of gender affirmation that were just fun to see that character have. But then there were also, like, really low lows that that character was experiencing and talking about medical care — like, really long wait times to be able to get in for consultation for top surgery and things like that that I like seeing portrayed. We already talked plenty about the accessibility and the disabled students. I really liked the way that was handled.
Courtney: And then there was Eric, too, because we got Eric going to Nigeria in a previous season, which was probably one of our favorite plot points up until this point to be able to see portrayed. But we see this continuation of a cultural exploration now that he is back home. But a lot of it has to do with his religion and Christianity and the church he was brought up in that is not queer-affirming. And he’s having these, like, religious symbols, like, from… He’s interpreting it as it being from God. He’s having dreams. He’s having, like, visions. And all these little signs that keep popping up all over the place that he’s trying to interpret, and he thinks that God wants him to get baptized. But he’s worried about getting baptized in this church, because he doesn’t actually think that the church will accept him for who he is and thinks that being gay would be seen as a sin and that that’s something he’d have to swear off if he were to be baptized. So you have a lot of that Christian trauma, and some of that was just — I mean, that that character is one of the better characters, just on his own. [laughs] He’s a fun character. But that really was a just really absurd, out of nowhere plotline for him, though. Because I get the religious trauma, but we, like… Did they make Black woman God canon? Like, it really seemed — [laughs]
Royce: Like, Eric’s character is having visions and dreams, presumably hallucinating. It wasn’t clear to me what was happening when, but there are cases where he follows a vision of this personification of God and ends up finding other characters.
Courtney: Yeah. Well, and it’s multiple times, too. Like, first he sees what appears as a homeless woman on the street who’s asking him for change on a night when his church is doing a soup kitchen. And she asks for money for food, and he says, “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t have cash, but there’s a soup kitchen around the corner.” And she grabs him by the arm and is like, “Great, show me where it is,” and makes him walk to the church with him. And then he finds out it’s really understaffed, so then he feels guilty and needs to stay and help out with the soup kitchen. And that’s how he ends up finding out that the church is losing funding, and that makes him really sad.
Courtney: But, yeah, then he has a dream that’s like, this woman turns into this, like, floating, ethereal, like, goddess creature, but there’s also, like, this weird rainbow fish motif going on. [laughs] Like, what was with that? There’s this, like, iridescent fish that comes out, and he’s like, “That’s not a river fish. Let’s throw it back.” And then God’s like, “No! My fish! And now I’m gonna turn into cow.” And it’s like, what does that dream mean? But then he gets this, like, silly, like, holographic fish sticker, like, stuck on the bottom of his shoe the next day and he’s like, “It’s a sign! It’s a sign from God.” So yeah, that was really silly.
Courtney: But then I couldn’t tell if they were trying to say that, yes, this is literally happening, or he’s actually having, like, religious hallucinations that happen to be bringing him to exactly the right place at the right time. Because there hasn’t been anything that is this not-grounded in everyday reality in the show before. Like, this is the only time we’ve seen anything that is mythical or religious or otherworldly in any way. So, that was kind of interesting. But that was the one where I said, like, “You know what? It’s fun, so I’m not even mad about it.” [laughs]
Courtney: So the question I posed at the top of this episode: did Sex Education redeem itself? Was this in Season 4 good enough Ace rep to counteract the previous frustrating Ace rep enough that we would recommend this show as something that has good Ace rep to someone?
Royce: I don’t like the concept of redemption.
Courtney: [laughs] You heard it here, folks: no redemption! No second chances! [laughs]
Royce: As I mentioned, I think that O’s character in Season 4 is solid, but to say to someone, “Watch this entire show just for the last season” —
Royce: That’s a lot.
Courtney: That is a lot. That is a lot. I think it’s a very fascinating case study, though, because we have seen far more instances of an Ace or at least Ace-coded character have that part of their identity completely erased as seasons go on. So we’ve seen characters… Or between adaptations — like, a book to a TV series or a comic to a TV series — we’ve seen Ace characters in the source material turn not Ace when we put it on the screen, and that’s really upsetting and frustrating. That’s big, big Ace erasure that happens. But I cannot think of a single other instance of, here is a TV show that I think botched the Ace rep but then came back for round two and actually did it justice. So I will give them big, big props for that. I will give Yasmin big, big props for that.
Courtney: As I said earlier, the biggest thing I would say to anyone trying to put Ace rep in a show like this is to have this plan earlier. Don’t just throw in an Ace character just to have it there. If you’re going to represent this identity, make it a fully fleshed out, fully-formed character. I love that we have another Ace woman of color on TV. I can’t think of any other Chinese women in Western television right now who are Ace. So, like, that’s great. We love that. We want more of that. And what did I say in our first episode? I was like, “An Ace who is a sex therapist? What a brilliant concept.” That should have been the concept from the get-go, because there is so much potential there. They finally did it, a little too late and as a secondary thought, but we’ve seen it work.
Courtney: So get Aces to help tell our own stories. Bring us on to consult and make our stories a meaningful part of whatever television show or movie is being produced. And please, please, for the love of Black woman rainbow fish God, give them an identity and a plot and a purpose that is not just, “Let’s learn what Asexuality is and that it exists.” Please, let’s get past that.
Courtney: I see this as hopeful. I don’t see it as perfect. I don’t see it as a full redemption. I think the only folks I would recommend watching the entire series to are someone who might actually enjoy the comedy of a sex show, which I very much don’t. But I will absolutely use her as a reference for characters that are good examples of rep. I would put her on a list of good characters. And kudos to them for making me cry. I told them to do it, and they did it. I gotta give them that. I gotta hand it to them. I will not lie.
Courtney: But if nothing else, please let this be a lesson to our community that we can ask for more. We deserve to ask for more. We should not continue giving shows this overabundance of praise for the bare minimum. Because I did see a tremendous amount of praise for all of five minutes that Florence was on screen, and we have now identified and proven that the exact same show can do so much more, so much better. So do give credit where it’s due. It is absolutely okay to say that something’s just alright. But hopefully, this will be permission to us to ask for what we deserve and to not give shows extra advertising via word of mouth based on barebones Ace rep.
Courtney: So, on that note, thank you all so much for being here. An extra special thank you if you have been with us since that first Sex Education episode. That was — I really think that was our second episode ever. Two years ago. Unbelievable. You are fantabulous, and we appreciate you. Please give us the good old ratings, reviews, likes, subscribes. If you follow us on Twitter or you’re watching this on YouTube, please feel free to leave a little comment and let us know what you thought of Sex Education if you watched this season. And we will talk at you all next time. Goodbye.