Netflix’s Sex Education manages to spin a lot of plates. It’s a show about emotional intimacy and just how difficult it can be to achieve — even for hyper competent women in their 50s with fantastic suits and hunky boyfriends. It’s about growing up and unquenchable horniness. But, more than anything, it’s the story of nervous Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) and the rightly defensive, ceaselessly intelligent Maeve Whitly (Emma Mackey).
For proof, just look at the emotional beats both seasons of Sex Education wrap on: Otis and Maeve. Season 1 ended by tossing a very purposeful wrench into their undeniable attraction. Season 2’s 2020 finale “Chapter 2” flips that script with an extra dose of youthful, conniving energy, once again thwarting a thriving relationship between Maeve and Otis.
Yet, if you pay attention to the Sex Ed clues, the series' messy central duo still appears to be endgame — and this kind of tension is exactly what Otis deserves.
Sex Education sends much of season 2 revealing why its hero, Otis, isn’t a perfect boy. He may be able to give his fellow students great sex advice, but he is still a roiling mess on the inside (which teen isn’t to some extent?). No episode illustrates the issues within Otis better than “Chapter 6,” when his “small gathering” at home turns into a wild rager. Otis, absolutely wasted, publicly humiliates his first girlfriend Ola (Patricia Allison) and accuses crush Maeve of playing with his feelings, calling her “the most selfish person he’s ever met.” This is the monster of a person Maeve’s new love interest, Isaac (George Robinson), understands Otis to be.
Isaac, on the other hand, is the one who helps Maeve uncover her mother's continued drug use and protect her little sister.
What Isaac doesn’t see is the work Otis begins to do on himself in “Chapter 8.” At the beginning of the episode, Otis apologises to Ola and asks her why she thinks he upsets so many people.
“You’re always trying so hard to be a good guy that you end up not being a good guy,” she explains. So Otis goes to the source of his good guy anxiety, his mostly absent father Remi (James Purefoy). Otis asks Remi how he can avoid going down the same “arsehole” path as his old man. “Just try and stay honest,” Remi responds. That is the exact opposite of what Otis did about Ola and his long-held feelings for Maeve, as he admits during his “Chapter 6” party.
Remi then urges his son to recognise which people really “get him” and to avoid alienating them forever.
This advice inspires Otis to call Maeve and apologise for his terrible behaviour, as we learn at the end of the finale. In the present timeline, we see Otis show up to Maeve’s trailer park just as she has departed to pick up snacks to share with Isaac. She left her phone in Isaac’s trailer. Otis asks Isaac to tell Maeve he came by and that he wants her to check her voicemail. Isaac claims he’ll do just that, but instead opens Maeve’s phone and listens to the message Otis left. Through voiceover and flashback, we experience Otis’ heartfelt apology for hurting Maeve, which he made seconds after speaking to Remi. Otis congratulates Maeve for succeeding in the Quiz Bowl competition, admits all he ever wanted was for her to like him back, and confirms his worst impulses ruined everything.
“I was so caught up in trying to do the right thing, I lost track of what that actually is,” Otis says. “It’s you. It’s always been you. I love you, Maeve.”
Isaac deletes the entire message. The possibility of Maeve knowing Otis at his very best is swiftly robbed from her.
Considering the fact Isaac has only seen Otis at his darkest, this level of deception isn’t surprising. Why would Isaac want to give someone as seemingly awful as Otis an easy road into Maeve’s heart? Otis doesn't even deserve one after a season of upsetting conduct. In the short-term, it’s clear Isaac has one the battle. His new crush doesn’t know her OG love interest has shared the perfect apology with her and loves her.
But, Sex Education slightly tips its cards over whom it wants to ultimately win Maeve’s heart. If the show were rooting for Isaac, it wouldn’t have allowed Isaac to delete Otis' message, thereby stealing feminist Maeve’s agency in her own love life. In a Team Isaac narrative, Isaac would have let Maeve hear the voicemail and she still would have chosen him anyway, in the face of Otis’ declaration of love. But the show has Isaac self-sabotage, leaving room for Otis to expose his romantic rival in a prospective season 3. Despite Isaac’s supposed “Chapter 8” win, the final image of season 2 is Otis walking in Maeve’s footsteps out of the trailer park, smiling just as she did up towards the same sky.
Maeve and Otis may have been smiling about different things — for Maeve, it is Isaac; for Otis, it is Maeve — but they’re still inexorably connected as they stride towards Sex Education's future.