I was far from the only one who had a lot of thoughts about season three of Netflix’s Sex Education. It’s a great show, and the most recent season has a lot of developments. The one that most people, including me, had the strongest reaction to is the unfolding of the romance between Adam and Eric. I think we can all agree that that is not what we expected from those two.
My sister and I watched the show together long distance, and when I looked back at how many texts we sent analyzing Eric and Adam’s relationship, I decided it was time to write another of my embarrassingly long and nerdy (but surprisingly popular) essays about fictional relationships. When I actually set down to write it, though, I found myself focusing more on Adam individually than on the pair. That’s why this essay has been broken in two… it simply got too long. You can find Part I here, which is mostly about seasons one and two. This is a continuation of that earlier post, but you can start here if you only want to read about season three.
At first, I was mad at Eric. He used to be my favorite character, and by the end of season three he wasn’t anymore. In season three specifically, I find Adam to be a lot more sympathetic and much easier to relate to. My first reactions were entirely in Adam’s corner, because Adam’s confusion and internalized issues with his own sexuality are things I can really empathize with, so when a character is brushed aside because of that hesitation and shyness, I react pretty viscerally. In writing this, I did my best to approach Eric’s side of the equation with as much tact and understanding as possible. I still love Eric. He’s a fantastic character, and through the writing of this I was able to come around to his side of things a little more. I tried to keep this essay balanced, but if you notice a slight wavering in my impartiality, that’s why.
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents:
Adam and his Mentors: Communication Crash Course
At the end of season two, it looks like it will be smooth sailing for Adam and Eric. Adam has come out and is liberated from his father both at home and at school. Eric has broken things off with Rahim, and Eric’s mother is onboard the new relationship. Adam is even allowed back at Moordale.
It’s not perfect, though. Adam is definitely a work in progress. For Eric’s sake, he’s trying to do better, but his bad instincts are still there. When he arrives back at school, it doesn’t take long for people to start whispering about him. There are rumors that his mom bribed the school to get him reenrolled, and his sexuality is a topic of much conversation. Adam’s first impulse is to fight anyone who talks about him, and that doesn’t go over well with Eric.
ERIC: What are you doing?
ADAM: They… they were talking about me.
ERIC: But that doesn’t mean you can hurt people. No, I… I can’t do this again. Sex Education season 3, episode 1
Eric likes Adam, of course, but it’s worth noticing that even here in episode one Eric is ready to leave the relationship. For clarity’s sake, that’s a good thing here. Based on their history, Eric has forgiven a lot. Their relationship is conditional on Adam having developed past his violent bullying. Eric entered the relationship only after feeling certain that Adam had, so when Adam demonstrates that that might not be the case, Eric knows to prioritize himself and get out.
Thankfully, Adam has developed past that. He needs a bit more help to reprogram his first instincts, but he’s eager to change. Importantly, Adam is not alone anymore. He has Eric, of course, but more importantly he has Ola. As in season two, Ola is there for Adam when he needs her the most and like in season two, Ola knows exactly how to help Adam navigate the things he’s struggling with. Adam, when he’s upset and angry, wants to destroy things but Ola prompts him to open up instead, introducing Adam’s primary challenge for the season: communicating what he wants.
ADAM: Do you wanna go and smash some shit?
OLA: Or we could talk instead?
ADAM: I’m… I’m not good at talking. Sex Education season 3, episode 1
Adam’s first instinct here, as it has been in the past, is to smash stuff. In season one, he was unfortunately smashing people. In season two he found the healthier outlet in the junkyard, but here Ola suggests that maybe violent smashing isn’t always the best outlet. Thus prompted, Adam admits to Ola that he’s concerned about his reputation and his masculinity; Ola tells him exactly what he needs to hear, and exactly what he needs to work on.
OLA: Of course you’re still a man. But you know, men don’t need to hit things, and men can date other men.Sex Education season 3, episode 1
Ola is a treasure. She deserves more screentime of her own, but we won’t get into that now. In this Adam-centric essay, the important point is that Ola sees him and sees what is important to him. She gives him another definition of what it is to be a man, and as we’ve seen, Adam has a lot of toxic ideas hardwired into him about masculinity. Ola is offering him a healthier version, a version that is more true to him. Adam can embrace his sexuality, express himself, and communicate openly. Doing so does not make him any less of a man, and it does not make him any less masculine either. It is, however, worth noting that down the line that Adam’s more traditionally masculine presentation when compared with Eric’s flamboyant, more traditionally feminine expression eventually becomes a sticking point between them.
Now, however, Adam takes Ola’s advice to talk to Eric about how he’s feeling.
ADAM: I don’t like it when I hurt people.
ERIC: Then don’t.
ADAM: Yeah. I don’t know why I do it. I just get so angry, but I wanna change.
ERIC: Okay. Sex Education season 3, episode 1
Adam is good to his word. We see the effort it takes for him to change, but he makes huge strides in the right direction immediately. The next time someone tries to mock him for being gay, he challenges them verbally rather than physically. For someone who struggles to speak, he has a pretty brilliant comeback that forces his attacker to either affirm him or cross the line into naked homophobia.