The first series of Netflix’s teen drama sex education was released so long ago – in January 2019, before Covid, aka The Before Times – that it’s hard to remember a baby that Otis and Eric showed up on the first day of sixth grade. But already on the first day, Ncuti Gatwa, as Eric, foreshadowed how big the characters’ journey would be over the course of the four series of the series, telling Otis (Asa Butterfield): “Are we going to turn from modest caterpillars into… amazing killer whales?”
At the time, Eric was one of only two gay men in his class (“as far as we know,” he points out) and was constantly bullied, literally bumped against closets and called a “f***” in the first episode, as if the show was trying to win a full house at the stereotypical high school drama bingo. Later in the series he becomes the victim of a gay assault, and initial glimpses of his strict Nigerian-Ghanaian religious family suggest that he is alienating himself from them and his faith, a victim of his inability to accept his true identity.
So far, so classic gay best friend character, and so disappointing.
But when we were writing off Eric, creator Laurie Nunn pulled the handbrake on her character’s journey and allowed Gatwa to turn him into one of the newest and most complete LGBTQ characters on screen. While most teen dramas zigzag, sex education tends to zigzag, and Eric doesn’t get any different: his family actually fully supports his identity (though not in church), and while Adam Groff (Connor Swindells, SAS: Rogue Heroes) is struggling with the shame of his sexuality, Eric seems to be very comfortable in his skin.
Throughout the four series, Eric repeatedly holds Otis accountable when he lets him down, demands to be more than a buddy in his heterosexual, white world, and refuses to tone down his differences with Otis to make them “more palatable”. (not only for Otis, but also for viewers at home). Gatwa makes stealing scenes look easy, a dominant presence that requires your undivided attention, and sex education just wouldn’t have been so successful without him.
The fourth and final series is no different, although Otis and Eric become the new boys again, settling into their new school, Cavendish College, which is a world away from their rather anarchic Moordale secondary school, which was closed at the end of the series. three. This new student-run sixth grade is a progressive utopia – everyone’s sustainability, daily yoga and the popular kids are really nice and even implement a “no gossip” policy. While Otis is struggling to adapt to a long-distance relationship with Maeve, who is now studying in the USA, Eric finds a new tribe in the popular LGBTQ friendship group “The Coven”, finally experiences unconditional acceptance and can further explore his queer identity. complete.
He also manages, against all odds, to build a healthy relationship with his faith as he prepares for baptism. Nunn explained that this last aspect of Eric’s journey was a conscious decision, telling the Guardian: “We really wanted to honor people who are LGBTQ but also have faith – these people exist and they shouldn’t be looked down upon, they should be celebrated.”
It can not be a coincidence that Eric’s decision to engage in sex education prompted him to become a pastor. After giving up his own baptism ceremony in the last episode, when it became clear to him that he could not compromise his identity because of his religion, it seemed that Eric would suffer the same fate as so many other LGBTQ characters who were forced to leave a community he loves. to be authentically himself. And even if at some point the pastor shows up at the school’s fundraiser to meet Eric halfway, his offer of a “discussion on how the church can be more inclusive” is far from enough, as Eric points out. But does Eric reject this weak attempt at reconciliation, which means that nothing will change? No – he accepts that it is a beginning and invites the pastor to dance.
Eric bodes well for Gatwa’s upcoming role as the fifteenth doctor in Doctor Who, not only for his confident performance, but also for his confident and uncompromising portrayal of a character who doesn’t need or want to join the mainstream to make the audience comfortable. If he is so fearless in his portrayal of the Doctor, we will be surprised. In fact, from the caterpillar to the killer whale.