A lot has happened since we last saw Maeve Wiley. When we meet her in the second season of Netflix’s Sex Education, she isn’t doing very well. "She’s left out really," Emma Mackey, who plays our favourite (not so) bad girl, tells Refinery29. "She’s not at school anymore. She’s working in a pretzel parlour, wearing a stupid outfit. She misses Aimee. She misses nourishing and nurturing her mind. She’s not at rock bottom, but she isn’t in a good place."
Before you panic, this isn’t permanent. We all know that our perceptive, stubborn and quippy Maeve is destined for great things and over the course of the new series we watch her battle through another year of drama to get there. There’s the reappearance of her estranged mother, the reluctant realisation that she has feelings for someone at school, and the pressure of figuring out what it is she wants from her life. In Maeve’s character journey alone, you’ll find Sex Education’s signature blend of pain, awkwardness and hilarity. And it feels so good to be back.
"That's why I think the show works," Emma explains. "Because you get all of those silly, farcical elements. It's comedic and you're cackling when watching it and then something will happen, and the tone completely changes again. You're just waiting for what the hell is going to happen next, which is great. It's like a page-turner."
As we chat, a week before the show returns, Emma says that she had two wishes for the second season: to spend more time with Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) who had that monumental masturbation scene last season, and for there to be more of Maeve focusing on her mind. Thankfully, she got both of those things. After the warm response to Maeve’s brilliantly executed abortion storyline last year, brace yourself for another look at a difficult narrative, this time experienced by Aimee.
Beyond informing the world that no, chlamydia can’t be caught in the same way a cold can (fears of an epidemic dictate some wonderfully funny scenes in episode one), the impact and agency of Sex Education isn’t lost on any of the cast. "There’s a responsibility with this kind of show because it reaches so many people and it’s such a big platform. It’s a very real, very upsetting reality that a lot of women have to go through, or a version of what Aimee goes through has affected hundreds of thousands of women," Emma says. "It’s going to be a vector to start a conversation, to at least start moving things properly along and not just be conversing about it but actually take action and put more concrete things into place for women who have been through that kind of stuff."
Running parallel to Aimee and Maeve’s story arcs there’s also Ola (Patricia Allison), Otis' new girlfriend who we met briefly in season one. She and Otis (Asa Butterfield) are starting to explore each other sexually and one of their most wonderful narratives is when Otis fingers her for the first time. He thinks he did a great job; she absolutely hated his weird 'clock' technique but doesn’t know how to tell him. "And we’re talking about a girl that’s really confident and will [normally] speak her mind," Patricia tells Refinery29 in an earlier interview. "So I think it’s really interesting that we have that storyline so that a lot of girls who are like, 'Oh my god, I’m super shy and couldn’t have [said anything],' now know maybe how to approach it." The show's lightness of touch (pun intended) brings so many aspects of sex that many of us - particularly women - have spent a lifetime normalising to the forefront in a way that really resonates, no matter your age or experience.
Kedar Williams-Stirling, who plays Mooredale Secondary School's swim star Jackson Marchetti, takes his character on an emotional journey grappling with his mental health in the new series but says he's most excited to see the relationships between the show's female characters come together. "We broached the idea of sisterhood quite a lot in this season – the female dynamic and female relationships," Emma explains. "And there's an episode where some female characters are stuck in a room together, Breakfast Club-style. I haven't seen it but doing it was one of the best experiences of my life, hands down. Just being in a room with all those women was amazing. Mind-blowing!"
Meanwhile, Jackson is being tutored by a new character, Viv (Chinenye Ezeudu) – a dynamic that Ncuti Gatwa who plays Eric is most excited to see this season: "I just love them on screen together, I love seeing two black actors! What they both represent is so powerful. Jackson, as a young black boy dealing with mental health and peer pressure and all those things, and Viv dealing with her self-confidence and finding her desirability is just so good."
Season two promises new relationships and new characters to devour. New dilemmas and new, desperate requests for Otis' advice on whether one student's girlfriend has a secret ghost fetish. Led by some of the richest, most diverse and relatable characters to grace a teen show, we're ready and excited to talk about sex again.
"I think people are literally already starting to use it as a guide or as a reference for conversations about sex,” Emma says. "I've had mums come up to me and say thank you for, like, creating the show. It's helped them talk to their kids about sex, which I think is awesome. And, you know, people who are my mum's age talking about female pleasure and stuff they'd never talk about ever before. It's almost like it gives them permission, which is sad, but I think our generation takes it for granted that it's really easy to talk about all these things. And actually, we should respect that it's not easy for everyone and the reason the show exists, actually, is just to help us move the conversation forward."
Sex Education season 2 is available on Netflix from Friday 17th January