I May Destroy You is a British series from the BBC, now streaming on HBO Max. It’s a story about sexual assault and recovery, about consent, about friendship, and about facing your own truth. Powerhouse talent Michaela Coel starred in, created, and co-directed the series with Sam Miller.
I May Destroy You takes a non-linear approach to telling the story of Arabella (Michaela Coel) and her efforts to remember a sexual assault, make sense of it, relate to other people’s assaults, and process the troublesome memories from her past. It’s hard work, it’s laid bare, it’s honest, and it’s real. And, sometimes, it’s funny.
The story is semi-autobiographical. Coel suffered a sexual assault when she was making Chewing Gum. In an effort to survive that, she’s created this challenging and frank work of art.
I consider Coel one of the most talented and important creatives in the industry today. Her performances in Black Earth Rising, Been So Long, and other works absolutely cemented my opinion on this, and I May Destroy You is further proof.
The story begins with Arabella and her best friend Terry (Weruche Opia) in Italy. We see hard partying and drug use. Arabella hooks up with the guy who sells drugs, Biagio (Marouane Zotti). They have a relationship of sorts. Terry engages in a threesome that she later learns may not have been what she thought it was.
Back home in London, Arabella has a book draft to finish. Her publishers are getting impatient. Her first book was a series of Twitter posts. Now she’s under contract to write a novel. She can’t write. She gives herself an hour to take a break. She meets friends at the Ego Death Bar, is drugged, and is raped.
Her memory comes back in bits. She goes to the police, but they can’t put together enough evidence to figure out who did it.
She goes to therapy, sobers up, and attends group sessions for survivors led by her old high school enemy Theodora (Harriet Webb). Arabella has always been a bit mental. The twists and turns that she goes through to dig out of what happened to her bring up events from high school and her childhood. Those need to be unpacked as well.
Her editors assign Zain (Karan Gill) to help Arabella get her novel going. Zain instead becomes a sexual predator himself. Now she has two assaults to survive.
Kwame (Paapa Essiedu) is Arabella’s other best friend. Terry and Kwame are there for Arabella through every stage of her struggle, even when she’s unbearable. Kwame’s a gay man who has a sexual assault story of his own. It takes a while before Arabella can even see his problem.
All these situations, and others, allow Michaela Coel as the writer of the series the freedom to expand the sexual assault theme with subtle nuance and depth. Who is guilty, who is innocent, who is free of blame? What happens to the unbearable memories? What, exactly, is consent? It gets deep.
Arabella’s not writing that overdue novel, but she’s turning herself into a social media influencer. She gives advice to rape survivors everywhere. Her ego grows and grows. That makes it harder for her to see what’s happening with Terry and Kwame.
After a few months pass, she stakes out the Ego Death Bar, looking for the man who raped her. Criminals always return to the scene of the crime, right? When she finally sees him, her memory comes rushing back. Is Arabella ready to make a good choice at this point? Good choices haven’t been her strong suit.
The TV-MA rating for this series is well-earned. It’s frank and often graphic. It’s both pain and love, suffering and redemption.
Here is a preview.
Have you watched I May Destroy You? What did you think about it?