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Sex Education season 2 fixes its Adam & Eric problem

Ali Griffiths
Photo credit: Netflix

From Digital Spy

Sex Education is undoubtedly one of the strongest shows to come from Netflix’s unending pursuit of original content. The first season wowed critics and fans when it premiered back in January 2019 and the second is fast on its way to doing the same.

We said "We didn't think it was possible for Sex Education's second season to exceed its debut, but Laurie Nunn has raised the bar" – and its deft handling of relationships, abuse and sexuality all through the lens of a rom-com teen drama deserves all the praise its getting.

But it's not all perfect. In fact, at the end of the show's initial run it made a surprising misstep when it leaned on a particularly lazy and harmful LGBTQ+ trope.

In the final scenes of the first season Adam gives Eric a blowjob in detention – a big twist, given his history of bullying and tormenting the guy. Lots of fans, this one included, felt like the move was worryingly unearned and perpetuated the harmful idea that all homophobes are secretly queer.

Photo credit: Sam Taylor - Netflix

The trope is particularly frustrating because, instead of laying the blame at the feet of toxic heterosexual culture, it makes homophobes the responsibility of the LGBTQ+ community. By presenting this explanation or excuse, that someone was just acting out or couldn't handle their feelings, the trope offers an immediate emotional and narrative redemption to the abuser without them having to work for it.

Despite this misstep, we were optimistic going into season two that the show could course-correct given its track record. And we're more than happy to report that, in fact, we were right.

Instead of quickly brushing over Eric's trauma in favour of a fan-service-y romance, the show’s writing actively works through all sorts of angles.

It does this initially by keeping the camera firmly on Eric. He doesn’t jump into something with Adam and, although he pines for a while, he instead ends up in a healthy relationship with new character Rahim. They go on dates and they meet each other’s families. Rahim is a calming influence who's entirely confident in his identity, offering Eric a healthy, well-adjusted alternative to a clandestine affair with his ex-bully.

Photo credit: Netflix

And although we eventually see Eric and Adam secretly meeting to kiss and smash plates, as you do, Sex Education is bold enough to not just drop the wider implications of the situation. In fact at multiple times during the middle of season two it tackles the issue head-on.

A key example of this is the conversation that Eric has with his best friend Otis during episode five. During their stay in a hotel Eric reveals that he and Adam have been meeting up, and presumably expects Otis to be excited and a little scandalised. Instead, Otis is disappointed and understandably pissed off.

He stands in for the audience when he tells Eric, who claims that Adam isn’t the same person who spent years tormenting him, that he’s “so self-hating that you’d let yourself fall for someone who literally treats you like shit”. It’s the sort of moment that makes you clap in your seat.

Photo credit: Netflix

This revelation motivates Eric to see what the audience has seen all along, that pursuing something with Adam is, at best, self destructive. It all comes to a head during a conversation the two have about whether they could or should be together, which ends in Eric rejecting Adam on the basis that he's "full of shame" – something that Eric’s only just finished processing himself.

Eric is the true agent in this story, he is the one who says yes or no to Adam – and through this Sex Education gives him the power to come to terms with the harassment and trauma he went through. He puts it plainly, saying "I had to work really hard to love myself, and I won’t go back to hiding parts of myself again."

This, in turn, is the conversation that galvanises Adam. It’s the first time he first outwardly says "I think I'm bisexual" and is fundamentally the moment the show begins to work towards his redemption.

Sex Education is smart enough to recognise the importance of making Adam confront the hard truths about who he was, but it goes an extra step by ensuring it happens after this pivotal moment. By making a concerted and consistent effort to prioritise Eric’s emotional and physical safety. the show is finally finished rectifying any potential damage done at the end of the first season.

Photo credit: Netflix

From this point on we’re happy to see Adam working on himself, first through building genuine personal relationships – he tells Ola in the last episode that "No-one's ever said they were my friend before" – and then via an acceptance of who he really is.

All of this growth leads to a public declaration of affection, bathed in some incredible bisexual lightning, that feels entirely deserved. Comparing the moment onstage at the end of Sex Education season two, when Adam tells Eric he wants to hold his hand, with the covert secretive moment that kicked off this journey is like night and day. In the end Adam earns happiness because he worked on himself, and worked on understanding himself, without relying on Eric.

Sex Education seasons one and two are available to watch on Netflix

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