Michaela Coel brings us back to the main timeline for the celebration of Terry’s birthday, but before festivities begin, we as an audience learn of Terry’s complicity in the events that occurred at Ego Death in episode 1. The guilt that Terry’s self-care overload was trying to hide is finally revealed – Terry told Simon to leave a wasted Arabella alone the night of her rape and she told Simon to lie about it the next day. This is a big reveal for us as an audience and we wonder what will become of the beautiful friendship we’ve seen, once Arabella finds out the truth. In the nature of people being complicit, we see Arabella act in way that makes Kwame feel uncomfortable and endangered, as she locks him into a room with another man. Although she doesn’t know about his situation, she forces him into a traumatic situation. The aftermath results in him beginning to come to terms with his sexual assault, as he opens up to Terry about what happened to him.
Alongside the celebration of life, we see the downside of reality happening to Arabella, as her finances are in disarray. This leads her to being recruited by Theo for a job at a vegan company, that use her status as an influencer to push her brand. Her new job is the object of discussion at the party that centres power, race and exploitation. The insights provided in the dialogue take the gravy in this episode as they come at a time where race and power structures are being examined. I’m not saying that Coel predicted the fight against systemic racism, but as a Black writer, producer and director, she uses her platform wisely to comment on the things that affect her and people that look like her. On a less serious note, this episode is a ten out of ten for vibes and overall depicting Black people in their element – house parties. Being Black is lit.
If you’re familiar with the phrase ‘it comes in threes’, then you won’t be surprised by the events of episode eight. Finances, justice and relationships are not within reach for Arabella, as she finds herself sinking in the quicksand of life. Being that her work has firmly taken the backseat, her finances are in disarray and her rape case is closed, the only thing that she desires in this tragic state is going back to Italy to see Biagio. He was last seen screaming at her through a phone screen and blaming her for her situation, but the heart wants it wants sometimes. Despite, knowing this is a bad idea, Terry provides the plane ticket in order to ‘affirm’ her friend. Arabella and Biagio’s reunion is short and bittersweet. It is an event filled with shock, tenderness and violence, and ultimately the boundaries that Arabella crosses in order to find comfort lead her to feeling more desperate and alone.
Back in England, Kwame’s quest to feel safe during sexual encounters leads him to problematic actions. It’s clear why he decides that sex with women is safer for him than with men, but his deception adds to the conversation about sexual encounters and how it affects consent. There’s a lot from this encounter which Coel leaves us to unpack and we are able to view both parties as victims and perpetrators at the same time, because as usual the writing is superb. Conflict is constantly being infused into the storyline, just as it is in life, therefore, making this fictional world a lot more like reality.
Building onto the reliance Arabella develops in order to cope in episode 5, Arabella’s social media consumption takes a turn for the worst as she appears to be consumed by it. The episode begins with her receiving results from a CT scan that confirm that her brain is healthy, but her actions of publicly announcing the results to ‘prove’ that she is not crazy mid appointment suggests otherwise. In this episode Coel highlights the toxicities of the internet and how it can be misused and cause regular people experiencing trauma to become burned out. Furthermore, the dialogue explores victimhood and labels. Arabella’s attachment to her trauma, leads her to questioning everyone’s actions but her own, and it takes wise words from an outsider to point that out. In addition, her dear old flatmate Ben is a pillar of unwavering, unjudgmental, serene comfort and we love him for it. The episode mainly focuses on the demons we have within our lives and this is mirrored brilliantly with the theme of Halloween. There is glamourous Halloween imagery provided through the wicked costumes and gorgeous make-up. Honestly, this cast is just beautiful.
Arabella, having confronted her social media addiction and finally switched off, resumes with life. In the process of dealing with the remnants of the night that left her scarred, she decides to return Simon’s jumper and see him for the first time since he lied to her. The reunion is sweet and led by an awkward disjointedness, but a sprinkle of familiarity between the pair. This leads to the lukewarm reveal to Arabella that Terry co-signed Simon’s choice to leave Arabella that night, this mirrors the lack of fireworks when Arabella and Terry face one another for the first time after it is revealed.
Something that was presented initially as a big deal is swept under the rug, personally, I wanted more, however, I realise how it’s a bigger part of the conversation surrounding rape. It’s not about what people need to do to prevent rape; rape occurs because of the rapist at the end of the day. The majority of the episode focuses on family dynamics, relationships and expectations. It is clear from how her family is presented that her view on relationships has been skewed and the expectations she has held of her father have been unrealistic, but the strength of her mother allows her to be strong and continue healing. This episode is primarily about confronting the things that have hurt us and letting go of the pain; something that is done so beautifully through the conversations Arabella has with her loved ones.
Arabella is the picture of total failure as she sits on a toilet wearing an odd hat with a book in her hand, begging another writer to help her out. Things only get worse when she is dropped by her publishing house and agents, therefore, leaving her in great debt. She hits rock bottom and is forced to redirect, and with the help from an unexpected source (Zain), she is able to get her story back on track. It becomes clear that the story Arabella is writing, is her own, but how it will end is left for the final episode.
The final episode is an exploration of all the possible endings that Arabella contemplates putting into her book. This fantasy-like episode sees things take a turn for the worst, justice brought on and moving on symbolised. In the very end, there is a resolve for our main crew and after the emotional ride, honestly, they deserve it. I dare not say much because this episode cannot be summarised like the rest, it can only be experienced. It is a testament to the creativity of Coel and all those that believed in her vision. The writing is sublime and each scenario we encounter tells us a little about what justice can look like in the eyes of a victim, but overall what healing can look for that same person.
The soundtrack is one of the many features that strengthens this already brilliant production. It’s safe to say that we are provided bops on top of bops, and for the most part, the music is London centric. The characters we are presented are most likely listening to the music that plays to the backdrop of their lives.
Hair, costume and makeup are executed very well in the show and they corelate with representation. Black beauty is normalised and the different facets Black women come in are represented. There’s no othering when it comes to the different hairstyles, the use of wigs or a fascination around hair in general, which I’m sure other Black audience members loved. The fits that we see Kwame in are wonderful and really show what it’s like to be dripped out and fashionable in your own way.
Despite the seriousness of the themes presented, I May Destroy You is capable of making you laugh and not making you feel bad for it. I’ve always admired Coel’s writing skills, especially when it comes to comedy – I mean have you seen Chewing Gum?!
The best of her comedy writing talents are gauged through the brilliant one liners in each episode, so I thought I’d share a few of my favourites:
- “They’re gonna play Hamilton!” – Arabella on drugs, in an Italian nightclub.
- “He’s an Italian drug lord.” – Terry to the officers handling Arabella’s case.
- “You’re Black!” – Arabella meeting Susy Henny for the first time.
- “Are we boyfriend and girlfriend…could you say yes?” – Arabella to Biagio when she is saying goodbye to him.
- “Would you like to come back to mine?” – Arabella to Zain (one of her rapists), in the moment it felt like a trick question.
This is probably the best drama series I’ve watched all year. Not only does each episode have great rewatch value, but there is a conversation which it generates that I haven’t been able to stop talking about. Michaela Coel goes above and beyond with this story; it is powerful in its writing and represents black millennials in such a free-spirited and moving way. There is a combination of seriousness and humour that she gets right and this helps create the iconic moments of the series. As a show it feels like having a mirror put up in front of you and seeing fragments of your world being reflected as the content is relatable – work struggles, the volatile dating culture, grey encounters etc. The overarching message is that we are all capable of being victims and there is no one way to react, but overall there is more to our stories than just the worst parts, all the moments that intertwine matter and we should be proud of every aspect to our stories.
The fact that this story had to end is the greatest shame of it all. Season after season, I would happily follow the lives of these brilliant characters brought to life by even more amazing actors, but I understand that good things come to an end, and if this is the end, I am satisfied. As a show it has been brilliant in depicting Blackness and just how normal and complex life can be for Black people, something which a lot of shows neglect when they solely focus on stereotypes to depict Black people. It’s a marvellous show and Michaela Coel deserves all the flowers for bringing this amazing story to our screens and providing us with many talking points for the rest of the year.