I May Destroy You





Paul Asay

TV Series Review

Sometimes, the words just don’t come.

Arabella knows that as well as anyone. She’s one of London’s hippest young new writers—the voice of a new generation, some say. Her book was a smash—on Twitter anyway. She’s one of the few scribes who might be recognized on a city street. Loved your book, a fan might say. Can I take a selfie with you?

But one good book does not a career, nor a fortune, make. She’s still living in a modest flat with a pair of roommates, and she’s under a lot of pressure to finish her second book … and to make it, of course, brilliant.

But as the deadline creeps closer—from months to weeks to tomorrow morning—the right words still elude her. So when a friend calls her up and asks to spend an hour (or several) drinking with a few friends, what’s the harm?

Now, afterward, she’s still not sure what harm it was … what harm it has become. The night is hazy, the incident … was it real? Imagined? What happened?

Sometimes, the words just don’t come.

An Inescapable Haze

Arabella has few tangible bits of evidence that something went horribly wrong that night: a cut on her face. A broken phone. Most tellingly, perhaps, a state of drugged delirium. And she finds, in her fragmented memories, one shard of something: an encounter/attack by an ATM.

The series will explore, and some would say, exploit that moment. And through Arabella’s hazy lens, I May Destroy You becomes a story very much of the moment itself. As The Atlantic’s Sophie Gilbert writes,

[QUOTE] The most obvious way to interpret I May Destroy You is as a brilliant, explosive consideration of modern sexual mores, and of how flimsy the line can be between gratification and exploitation. But [Michaela] Coel, who created the show in part based on an event that happened to her, is also aware of how exploitation can play out in art—how one woman’s traumatic experience can easily be manipulated and transformed into sales figures or a social-media storm. Or a television series. [END QUOTE]

No Age of Innocence

I May Destroy You doesn’t end its exploration of 21st-century relationship and rape with Arabella’s experience, by the way. While that certainly is the engine that drives the train, plenty of cars are towed behind.

Simon, the friend who invited Arabella out that evening, had been on the verge of developing a consensual threesome with his longtime girlfriend and a complete stranger just moments before. But as the evening progresses, who shows up to share Simon’s space? The “stranger,” not the girlfriend. Meanwhile, as Arabella tries to write, she’s joined by her own friend—the well-meaning Kwame, a man who idly flips through dating profiles of other men. When one of them calls, he’s out the door, knowing the evening will culminate in sex.

And that’s just in the first episode.

Sex seems a fairly disposable commodity in this version of London, less casual, it seems, than a too-long look on the subway. (And we haven’t gotten into the show’s drinking, drug and profanity issues.)

We live in an age much different from that of 80, 50 or even 20 years ago. Back in our parents’ or grandparents’ time, sex was widely held as a precious thing.

For years, perhaps generations, society has rebelled against that notion, pushing against it as so much puritanical prudery. And in Arabella’s world, we see some of the dividends our curious age has wrought.

Oh, certainly, sexual assault knows no chronological limits. It’s been an unimaginable horror in every age. But the confusion as to what it even is … that, perhaps, is an issue particularly attuned to a time when “will they or won’t they” is less suspenseful than “who’s going to pick up the dinner check.” As Gilbert wrote, I May Destroy You does indeed explore “modern sexual mores.” It does so with wit and, in its own freewheeling secular way, introspection. But it exploits its story, too. There’s no getting around the fact that this show is inherently all about sex and physical relationships that, at their worst, become crimes; and even at their “best” in this show, they’d break God’s heart a little.

Episode Reviews

June 7, 2020: “Eyes Eyes Eyes Eyes”

Arabella returns from Italy—a working trip to finish her book but, in reality, a lengthy rendezvous with her would-be boyfriend. Her book deadline is in four days, but her editors encourage her to give them a draft the following morning. Arabella’s prepared to work all night to finish it—but when the words don’t flow as she wants them to, the young woman decides to accept an invitation from a friend to party for a bit instead.

We see portions of her evening out in a haze of nightclub lights and booze and hazy memories. She seems either wildly drunk or drugged at one point, knocking things over and literally crawling to the door. Then, the next morning, even though she does finish her book, Arabella isn’t quite all there. She can’t even remember how to get home. But she does seem to have a fragment of a memory of someone having sex with her. (We see the hazy moment from Arabella’s point of view, her partner/assailant moving above her.)

In Italy, Arabella clearly spent lots of time with her beau and references at least one juncture where she gave him oral sex. But her Italian paramour seems unwilling to commit, and Arabella commiserates with her roommates (one a gay man). Meanwhile, Arabella’s friend, Simon, is being pushed into having a threesome with his longtime girlfriend, Kat, and a “stranger” named Alissa. Their initial meeting together does not go well, and both Alissa and a piqued Kat go home. Later, it’s revealed that Simon is actually having an affair with Alissa. A man—a friend of Simon’s—was apparently supposed to be Arabella’s date for the evening, but he seems displeased with how short she is.

Another friend of Arabella’s, a gay man named Kwame, spends time with Arabella as she tries to write, scrolling through pictures of would-be dates for the night. He leaves and notes that he’ll be worthless once he “ejaculates.”

Arabella sits on the toilet twice, doing her business. (Nothing critical is seen, but she clearly has her pants down. At one point, she seems to roll a marijuana joint while sitting there.) She smokes cigarettes incessantly, and we see her and others doing tequila shots. They down a variety of other alcoholic beverages as well. Walking with Simon outside, Arabella snorts something that Simon apparently was hiding in a ring.

The f-word is spoken a dozen times, and the s-word is used another three. We also hear “d–n” and “n—er.”

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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