Netflix’s Sex Education season 3 returns to Moordale Secondary School and fixes many of the more glaring issues with former headmaster Mr. Groff.
Sex Education’s utterly square former headmaster Mr. Groff is the subject of a tremendous amount of growth in season 3 of the hit Netflix series, both in terms of the character’s journey and how he is written. Michael Groff (Alistair Petrie) was introduced in the very first episode of Sex Education as Moordale Secondary School’s rigidly archaic headmaster, quickly establishing himself as one of the series’ most unlikeable individuals. He is the kind of man who values militant discipline and a strict adherence to the rules above all else—a trait that extends past icy interactions with Moordale students and into the home, silently suffocating his woefully misunderstood son Adam (Connor Swindells) and wife Maureen (Samantha Spiro), whose clearly practiced smile speaks volumes.
Mr. Groff is largely a secondary player in Sex Education season 1, popping up a few times each episode to remind viewers he’s completely out-of-touch with his students. He is overtly cruel to those he perceives as lower class, such as Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey), pushes star athlete Jackson Marchetti (Kedar Williams-Stirling) far past his limits, and even sends his own son to military school for disrespecting him publicly. His mental state visibly deteriorates throughout season 2, as he clashes against professional sex therapist Dr. Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson). Groff blames her for the simultaneous loss of his marriage and authoritarian grip on Moordale. In the season’s climax, he leaks pages from the doctor’s private journal all over the school, effectively broadcasting many of his students’ most intimate and embarrassing details—a decision that costs him his job.
Sex Education season 3 further breaks Mr. Groff down in order to build him back up again. He was beginning to turn into a bit of a maniacal super villain previously, so the changes to his character are both welcome and necessary if the show is to continue beyond Moordale’s third year. The series explores his background quite a bit, finally giving the viewer a look at why Michael does the things he does. There is of course loads of repressed resentment and anger directed at his own father, who originally instilled the dangerous and emotionally stunting values that Groff would later pass down to his own son Adam, who also comes out of his shell quite a bit in season 3.
Mr. Groff spends most of the season trying his hardest to atone for past sins. Unemployed and essentially untouchable as an educator, the former headmaster finds an unlikely friend – and roommate – in quirky science teacher Colin Hendricks (Jim Howick). He also mends fences with Jean and comes to grips with the fact that he was responsible for the dissolution of his marriage. In an unexpected therapy session, Groff realizes he has nothing in his life that brings him any semblance of joy and questions whether he is even capable of feeling that emotion. This sets him down a much-needed path of self-discovery that leads to a passion for cooking and an honest attempt to win back his wife Maureen—one that nearly works.
For all his growth, however, the one relationship Groff makes almost no effort to fix is the one with his son Adam. The two historically have very little in common outside their shared emotional and mental trauma, and because Adam was never an exceptionally bright or good student, virtually all of their interactions in Sex Education have been negative ones. There is a telling moment late into the season where Adam finally finds his calling as a dog show competitor but cannot properly enjoy the moment because he’s worried about disappointing his father.
Michael makes great strides in the newest episodes of Sex Education and emerges from season 3 as a somewhat likable human being with actual interests and hobbies. He begins to mend his marriage, finds common ground with other adults he had previously shown great contempt for, and most importantly, realizes the error of his ways. But it’s clear that for all the work put in thus far, his character cannot be completely redeemed until he puts an end to the cyclical history of emotional abuse passed down from father to son.
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