Sex Education’s Ola and Lily take the show to the next level
Over the course of eight episodes, season two of Netflix’s Sex Education tackles many topics through an earnest and empathetic lens, paying tribute to classic teen tropes but also subverting them in unexpected and delightful ways. Main characters and secondary characters alike who appear at first glance to fall into clichés are deconstructed and given inner lives that are rich and complex, including compelling queer storylines that focus on Ola (Patricia Allison), who is introduced as Otis’ (Asa Butterfield) love interest near the end of the first season, and Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), Otis’ vibrant and outspoken best friend.
Historically, queer people on television have not often been allowed to have happy endings, and queer pain is a key aspect of Eric’s storyline in the first season of Sex Education. Though he ends season one proud of his identity and confident in his own skin, it only comes after he experiences homophobic bullying at school, disapproval from his conservative Christian family, and victimization in a horrific hate crime on his own birthday.
Luckily, Eric’s upward journey continues in season two. After a harrowing first season, Eric’s main conflict in the second revolves around a love triangle between his new French boyfriend, Rahim (Sami Outalbali), and Adam (Connor Swindells), his former bully-turned-secret hookup. As Eric decides what his heart really wants, the storyline also expands to include another positive queer narrative: that of Ola’s self-discovery.
Upbeat, straightforward, and always brightly dressed in rainbow-colored outfits with a sharply tailored style reminiscent of queer icon and musician Janelle Monáe, Ola is Otis’ first-ever girlfriend. Though she is unfazed by Otis’ inexperience and awkwardness and is happy to take things slow, it’s clear from the jump that they are never quite comfortable together, always fumbling slightly and missing each other’s cues.
At the beginning of season two, Ola transfers to Otis’ school, where she is assigned a mentor, the sublimely bizarre Lily (Tanya Reynolds). Introduced in the first season as one of Otis’ clients, Lily is an avant-garde comic-book artist and writer who has created her own space-erotica universe. She dreams of having a perfect sexual experience that mirrors the orgasmic stories she writes—but is unable to do so, due to vaginismus.
Lily and Ola quickly become close friends, but as their friendship strengthens, tension elsewhere starts to grow between Otis and Ola, who is unhappy about his continued friendship with Maeve (Emma Mackey). This leads to a confrontation in episode four, when Ola asks him to leave her house because he keeps ignoring her to read Maeve’s texts. It seems obvious that the main issue in their relationship is Ola’s jealousy, as she believes that he has unresolved feelings for her. However, as soon as episode five begins, the narrative is immediately subverted after Ola has a dream about kissing Lily.
The dream starts with Ola and Otis lying on her bed, talking about Tank Girl. They start kissing, and Ola asks him to kiss her harder. As Otis flips her over, he is suddenly replaced by Lily. Confused, Ola asks where he is. In response, dream Lily replies, “I think I might have killed him.” What makes Sex Education stand out is how quickly Ola accepts her dream. Over the course of the episode, she both explores and takes action upon the discovery of her queerness (an online quiz declares she is “pansexual, apparently”). Ola dreams again about kissing Lily: a surreal psychedelic vision with romantic saxophone, swirling lights and thunderclaps, the screen bursting with the chemistry that is missing between her and Otis. As it fades away, the camera cuts to Ola, smiling with pleasure in her sleep.
In short order, Ola breaks up with Otis and runs to Lily’s house to kiss her for real, and as she pulls away, she sighs with satisfaction. “That’s what it’s supposed to feel like,” she declares. Unlike Ola, Lily isn’t as quick to accept that she might be interested in girls, and at first completely avoids her, because “boys that smell a bit sweaty” were in her plan, not “girls who smell like vanilla pods and sometimes car air freshener,” leaving her confused and unsure. Ola understands and agrees to be just friends, but right as she starts to walk away, Lily finally accepts what she really wants and stops Ola from leaving with a kiss.
Through the development of Ola and Lily’s relationship, Sex Education also highlights how open communication and patience can make a huge difference in a relationship. Episode eight of the second season showcases this by directly paralleling episode eight of the first season, which opens with Lily having sex, wearing the same personally designed role-play costume inspired by her space-erotica universe.
In the first season, Lily and her male partner are both dressed up, role-playing different characters. When he tries to lean in for a kiss, Lily pushes him away and says, “Get to the sex!” While he is more than happy to oblige, her vaginismus immediately gets in the way, and the scene ends with her leaning back in frustration, leaving both of them unsatisfied. In the second season, Ola and Lily start by kissing on the bed, Lily in full costume while Ola is dressed normally. Ola tries to finger her and Lily immediately seizes up, but instead of giving up in frustration, she explains her issue to Ola, calling her vagina a “Venus fly trap” and musing that one of the reasons she has vaginismus may be because she puts too much pressure on herself.
Ola listens patiently, and her eyes light up as soon as Lily reveals that she can experience pleasure if she keeps to the outside and is the one touching herself. “I have an idea,” she says, leaning in with a kiss. The camera cuts to them lying next to each other, engaging in mutual masturbation, climaxing at the same time. Spent and satisfied, they give each other a high five. It’s a far cry from Lily’s experience in the first season, when she is afraid of being the “weird virgin girl,” desperate to have sex with anyone so that she isn’t behind all of her classmates.
Ola and Lily have a high school relationship that is grounded and sweet, and it is delightful and revelatory to see a queer relationship between two young women that isn’t centered on trauma. Their relationship shines as a normal, fun, and wonderful example of young love, with all its ups and downs, as they discover what they want and how to go for it.
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