I May Destroy You (2020)
I May Destroy You (2020): Provocative, Metafiction Packed Finale
By: Domonique Cox-Salberg
Michaela Coel’s “I May Destroy You” chooses to tell its finale through a metafiction structure, crafting a unique story and performance indeed unlike anything else on TV. It is creative, thought-provoking, visually piercing, and provocative, a precedent of what raw honesty and creative freedom look like within our current storytelling realm. A re-counting of assault has been done many times before as it is unfortunately widespread, still, it has never been expressed in the way it has in, I May Destroy You. It was written by a survivor of sexual assault, the creator and star, Michaela Coel, and for the first time, I felt this was a story only someone who experienced it could truthfully tell. By the end, I felt gratitude for her bravery.
Quick jump to the following sections:
There are other compelling works made by rape survivors like the recent, The Tale (2018) starring Laura Dern. However, I think Coel’s efforts transcended this type of content and opened it up for new and illuminating discussions. She spent years writing and contemplating a painful, demoralizing, and soul-aching personal experience to bring us as close as we can to understanding victims of assault. Not only that, but Coel also added other forms of sexual offenses for us to question, explore, better define, and challenge what consent means in our culture and from different perspectives. The show does so by focusing on various situations where sexual consent can be stolen. It is disheartening that something so terrible is common, but even malicious acts have nuance.
After eleven enjoyable but stressful episodes of carefully crafted build-up, Arabella’s story has ended. Thrust back into the infamous bar where it all began, Ego Death, Arabella’s battle with her attacker, and inner demons has come full circle. Therefore, using the metafiction technique (alluding to the artificiality of the work and going against narrative conventions) and what Arabella has learned in the penultimate episode about story structure from Zain, Coel crafts fun and provocative finale. Struggling with writing for much of the season, Arabella has finally set her sights on the most crucial element a story must have: resolution. Titled, “Ego Death,” this episode presented an ending that took form through multiple (or circular) narratives, giving us three possible resolutions or ending-within-endings. We saw Arabella live out multiple scenarios that were equal parts engrossing and disturbing.
Arabella’s Surreal Resolutions
Arabella changes into different outfits and wigs, and once with her natural bare head to deliver a conclusion that is much in line with the shows thematic concerns as a whole. Knowing that trauma can become repetitive inside a person’s mind, Coel made sure to convey that through Arabella’s experience to the point of emotional overload. Appearing to recognize her attacker, David, the first scenario has Arabella, with Terry (Weruche Opia) and Theo’s help, scheme to give the rapist a taste of his own medicine, tricking, drugging, and mercilessly beating him. While encompassing so many callbacks and symbolic nods such as Theo strangling David with Arabella’s knickers or smiling benevolently on the bus while a passenger is responding, “Boys will be boys!” Ending the first scenario, Arabella roles the bloody David beneath her bed and leaves him there.
The second scenario presents to us the most daring expression of Arabella’s trauma. It involves Terry being the confident instigator and a coked-up Arabella dancing in front of David—and with an unseen person dressed exactly as she was the night of the attack. In a pink wig and red-and-white jacket. David ends up taking Arabella into the bathroom, and after he is caught, he whispers then cries, excuses reminiscent of Arabella’s own early attempts to heal herself. As when she would compare her assault to foreign war and famine to downplay it and move on. She takes him back to her apartment, explaining why he may be the predator he has become; Arabella sympathies with David and hugs him just as the police break down the door. In this situation, it is where Coel conveys the nuances of the predator, David’s, malicious acts by humanizing him and giving him a personal history. Evoking our empathy shows that labels like “good” and “evil” are never enough for a person in their true complexity.
The third and last ending is perhaps the most surreal, intriguing, and stylish using gender-bending to parody Arabella’s first time with David. Only this time, the bar is shot in daytime and empty of anyone but Arabella and David’s two closest friends. David proceeds to mimic Arabella’s former insecurity when ordering her drink and appears surprised and smitten by her assertive nature that was once him. Then, Terry is no longer the object of a hetero-erotic male fantasy, as David’s friend is now the one dancing and feminizing himself for Terry’s pleasure, bringing the entire setting into a state of absurdism.
Meanwhile, Arabella and David engaging in casual consensual sex in the bathroom. After they are transported into her room to have more sex, the switched gender roles are further reversed in her most intimate, private space. Arabella has gained the control she lost. Morning comes, David—and his former bloody imagining—are told to “go” by Arabella. In surrealist fashion, the third David walks out and into Arabella’s heavenly lit hallway naked, followed by battered David crawling from under the bed to leave her troubled psyche. Dreamlike in all the best ways.
However, Arabella does leave us with one more thought to ponder where she is once again where the episode started. Instead of heading to the physical scene of the crime, she opts to stay home with her roommate and focus on emotional healing. The closing frames show that she decided to bring her fractured memories into a brilliant, original, and timely narrative. Eventually published, it contemplates the power dynamics between sexes, genders, and sexual orientation, and by the end of the series, it makes the audience do so too.