In a post #MeToo world, sexual crimes of all types continue to challenge and often destroy the lives of individuals globally. While the conversation was surely needed and an important staple of culture today, its necessity to continue must not be overlooked.
Actor, writer, and director Michaela Coel takes this mentality into her own hands with HBO’s I May Destroy You. The best series of 2020 thus far, the show sees Coel vulnerably drawing inspiration from her own life to construct a string of beautiful, empathetically told, challenging stories. The episodes often feel atypical, launching viewers into a characters’ experiences that feel wholly separate from the overarching narrative.
The brilliance of the teleplay is that these so called dissimilar tales are analogous, spreading mortar to glue together, brick by brick, a complex and deeply affecting narrative.
I May Destroy You opens to introduce Arabella, an overnight sensation. After releasing her book, Chronicles of a Fed-Up Millennial, Arabella reaps her successes and travels to Italy. The events of the series begin, however, when Arabella returns home to London. Viewers meet her two close friends, the aspiring actress Terry and the sex positive Kwame.
The trio have a banter and connection only the closest friend groups can boast. It’s all the more astonishing that this group of actors brings such a sense of realism to these characters and their bonds with one another. A testament not only to their talent, but to the expert, nuanced writing with Coel at the helm.
Arabella’s world is established ambiguously, leaving viewers to fend for themselves and rely on a narrator who may not be telling the story as linearly or traditionally as some may take comfort in; again, playing to the series’ favor.
Arabella soon tells Terry and Kwame of her upcoming deadline to submit pages for her sophomore book. Instead of knocking them out, Arabella is herself. She joins a few old friends for some drinks, is drugged and raped.
Stunned, disoriented, and repressing the severity of it all, Arabella begins to unravel as she attempts to understand not only the identity of the predator and the events of the assault, but the implications this will have on her life and relationships moving forward.
Throughout the series, Coel pours out the murky water that is adult friendship, she posts the dangers and toxicity of social media, and she paints the complicated portrait of emotional processing sexual assault.
From the confusion and denial (“Someone Is Lying”) and future implications (“That Was Fun,” “…It Just Came Up”) to fantasies of closure (“Ego Death”), the series intricately sews together a tapestry of a human experience few creators dare to depict. More, it succeeds in portraying how difficult it is to define experiences from multiple perspectives, instead offering a vantage point where no character is the outright villain or victim – each character is held accountable.
At 12 episodes, Coel is able to explore so many different avenues, bringing a richness to each character few storytellers are able to. In “The Alliance” and “The Cause The Cure,” viewers are provided insight into Arabella’s upbringing.
In the former, her character is shown in a flashback, witnessing a sexual assault from an outsiders’ perspective. The sequence captures how complicated and separate opinions can be on issues like these. The Arabella in the present would surely not have approached the situation like she did as a high school student. With “The Cause The Cure,” Arabella is given further background, with viewers getting a glimpse into the character’s home life and upbringing. A broken family and an undying leniency to her father further cultivate the complicated central character.
No stone is left unturned in I May Destroy You. It goes where view projects do and portrays incredibly important conversations. The multiple sexual crimes depicted throughout are sent from a variety of viewpoints, and the repercussions of each are given proper run time to find closure, or the lack thereof.
When it comes to sexual assault and rape, closure is often a frame of mind rather than something one achieves. This is how viewers are left at the conclusion of the series. With its dreamy, hyper-real tone, “Ego Death” shows Arabella fantasizing all the ways she would approach her attacker. An internal Groundhog Day, it exists entirely in the character’s mind.
All the while, Arabella has not forgotten about her career nor her artistry. With each experience viewers are taken through during the show’s run, Arabella is spreading the mortar. She literally pieces together her book on her wall, coming to a sense of relief at the series’ close.
I May Destroy You is the best show of 2020 thus far, and it will definitely destroy anyone who watches.