Warning: There are Dear White People season 3 spoilers ahead.
There’s one running joke in Dear White People Season 3, as many students at Winchester remark changes in their lives like they’re watching “the third season of a Netflix show.” It’s funny because it’s true.
The show isn’t shy at all about calling the streaming network out for the fact that many Netflix shows try to reinvent themselves at this stage in the game, and then are swiftly canceled after their third seasons (hello, One Day At a Time, Santa Clarita Diet, and Daredevil to name just a few from this past year). It also makes you wonder if the writers are taunting Netflix a little bit, while also politely making the case for Dear White People to be renewed for season 4, something that the series absolutely needs and deserves.
Leaning into the trope of “third season Netflix show,” season 3 of Dear White People abandoned the format it had used for the first two seasons, and literally and metaphysically kills the narrator. Season 2 ended with the unseen narrator finally being revealed, and yes, it’s Giancarlo Esposito in the flesh. Surprise, he’s actually a member of the mysterious Order of X that Sam (Logan Browning) and Lionel (DeRon Horton) have been tracking all season. The season ends before he’s able to reveal any more information about it and season 3 picks up shortly after that.
Unfortunately, Sam and Lionel quickly dismiss the narrator, which is his own suggestion to “kill the narrator.” It’s very meta. Also, they essentially abandon the entire Order of X storyline. So, Esposito and his narration, and Order of X, disappear for the entire third season of the show. He shows back up again at the very end when it’s revealed that Esposito is actually playing Dr. Edward Ruskin, a professor at Winchester who’s on sabbatical, but hasn’t gotten around to leaving the school to go anywhere else.
Also, he’s got important information about Order of X, and explains to Sam and Lionel that a small fraction of the mysterious group has been trying to keep its wealth and power rather than do what’s right — like actually call out the sexual assault allegations against Professor Moses Brown (Blair Underwood). Ruskin warns that going after the Order of X isn’t something to be taken lightly as it could drastically affect their futures. Season 3 ends with Troy (Brandon P. Bell) broaching the topic of Order of X by showing Sam and Lionel a cufflink he got from his dad and declaring, "We need to talk."
Clearly, the show is setting up for another season since there are still so many unanswered questions about Order of X — and the lives of the students at Winchester. By all signs, Dear White People is anticipating a Season 4 with all these loose ends, but that, unfortunately, is completely in Netflix’s hands. As you know, because it’s discussed ad nauseam, Netflix does not release viewership data so we have no idea of knowing how many people watched season 3. When it comes to renewing or canceling series, Netflix looks at viewership numbers and if the show is profitable for them.
During the press rounds before season 3, the mention of a possible season 4 wasn’t discussed between the cast and creators, at least not publicly, which means we don’t even what it might look like, let alone if the narrator would return from his season-long sabbatical. This is all up to Netflix now, and we’ll find out the show’s fate in the coming months.
It usually takes the streaming giant a few months after a series premieres to make the call on renewal or cancellation (see: The OA, which debuted season 2 in mid-March and was cancelled this August, and Tuca & Bertie, which debuted in early May and was cancelled in late July). While we have no idea of the viewership, it should also be noted that Netflix has been increasingly tough, cutting more shows than ever in 2019 as other streaming services like the upcoming Disney+ and HBO Max begin to gather their own series.
If Dear White People manages to bypass the season 3 curse and live to see a fourth turn on Netflix, we might have to wait a while. Each season has premiered a little later in the year than the last (season 1 in April 2017, season 2 in May 2018, and season 3 in August 2019), so even if we do get good news, it might be over a year until we see any further Order X antics.