By: Kimberley Bond
Now firmly in its stride as a show, Sex Education hasn’t been afraid to flesh out some of its background characters, making them people with stories and arcs we can invest in – and it’s a decision that’s certainly paid off.
It may have come as a bit of a surprise to viewers that, after leaving Maeve ‘the voicemail’, nerd-turned-sex-therapist Otis had started hooking up with Ruby Matthews – the head of the Untouchables and Moordale’s answer to Regina George. Before season three, Ruby’s character had never been more than a cliched popular high-schooler, the effortlessly beautiful and relentlessly b***hy queen bee, permanently flanked by her two worker drones. But it was this decision to pair her with Otis, as well as Mimi Keene’s excellent performance and fundamental understanding of her character, that finally made Ruby a three-dimensional figure.
As Otis – and the viewers – get to know Ruby more, we quickly learn her tough exterior is a façade (as it tends to be with the pretty and popular at school) which belies insecurities. Her house is smaller and more ordinary compared to the lavish mansions-in-the-woodlands that her classmates occupy, her mother is often absent due to work and her father is bed-bound, forced to smoke medical marijuana to help ease his chronic pain. Ruby’s desire to appear strong, glacial and independent is merely a defence mechanism to keep herself grounded and guarded.
“Ruby is very embarrassed of who she is,” Mimi Keene previously explained to RadioTimes.com. “Playing someone who’s feeling shame and feeling embarrassed is very different to what’s come before. She’s never been embarrassed before. She’s just proud of everything and who she is.”
It’s in part what makes Ruby such a compelling character now we’ve finally got to know her, and the fact she’s dropped her ice queen image and let her guard down in front of Otis means viewers are now rooting for them as a couple. And once we get past the initial shock of their coupling, it’s clear to see they’re actually quite a likeable and well-rounded pairing – Otis softened Ruby’s harder edges, while Ruby made Otis more assertive and dynamic, no longer just a lapdog.
So it’s a shame that after four episodes building up such a great and unexpected new partnership between these two characters, this fresh dynamic is then ripped to shreds in order to give way to the now-stale will-they-won’t-they ‘intrigue’ of Otis and Maeve.
It’s totally understandable why the writers revert to type, having spent so long establishing a connection between the pair. Fans were furious when Isaac deleted Otis’ voicemail and have been longing for the couple to finally admit their feelings. But after three seasons of continued mixed messages, missed opportunities and awkward encounters, the continued fake-outs have become boring. They’re now so typical of each series, they’re almost to be expected.
But it’s a shame, because after all the intriguing and rich character development the writers put into this series, it seems lazy that the latter half of season three once again revolves around Otis and Maeve’s potential frisson. So many more interesting things were being done with their characters separately that they both become boring when brought back together – Maeve’s romance with Isaac, and the way they choose to navigate intimacy, was far more moving, intriguing and heartfelt than scenes Maeve and Otis have shared. It seems reductive and redundant to try to force this flawed and failed romance on two characters when it no longer even makes any narrative sense.
As always, the third season of Sex Education ends with Maeve once again leaving Otis out on his own, choosing to travel to America as part of a Gifted and Talented Programme and the pair saying their goodbyes. Now this is the third time that’s happened, there’s no longer the excitement at seeing whether the pair will ever get together. It seems that even for the most die-hard fans, that ship has well and truly sailed.
Judging by the reaction on social media about Otis and Ruby as a couple, it would be brave for the show to deviate so wholly from the high-school tropes they used as the building blocks to shape their characters. Seeing nerdy Otis make things work with popular girl Ruby would be a far neater and more satisfying ending than forcing two characters together who have simply outgrown each other.
Seasons 1-3 of Sex Education are available to stream on Netflix. To find out what else is on, check out our TV Guide.