The initial intrigue, of Coel’s character Arabella trying to piece together the missing memories of her date rape in a club, never fades from view, but other story strands are interwoven, making such an incident feel even heavier.
Episode five sees a new blistering truth come to light, once Zain, a work acquaintance Arabella had slept with, proves to be his own kind of dangerous criminal – rape doesn’t have to be cinematic to be true, there are “nice guys” who still commit harmful acts.
Arabella, so fearless and forthright at all times, takes to a public platform to call out Zain for what he has done. It feels like the kind of climax you’d imagine the protagonist to then wake up from, something most everyday dramas would only direct as a daydream. “Not rape adjacent, or a bit rapey, he’s a rapist,” Arabella makes sure to clarify. Coel isn’t taking any prisoners – and why should she?
But the brilliance of I May Destroy You lies in its subtleties, too. Arabella’s best friend Kwame is wrestling with his own secrets, and while Terry, Arabella’s other best friend, is doing everything to keep spirits up, his discomfort feels raw and unstable – a true masterclass to the complicated dynamics that come with suffering and friendship. How much is too much?
Episode six sees Arabella keep pushing forward, seeking out her own kind of relief, the sort that Terry’s words of encouragement can’t quite stretch far enough for. She goes to a support group chaired by a girl she went to school with. Here, a flashback fills the episode and shades Arabella and Terry’s characters as well as that of Theo, their former classmate.
Theo, when introducing the support group, speaks of sexual abuse, assault, grooming and exploitation. Such a distinction matters, as her own story reveals the shady politics of teenage boys, and girls, who push their privilege too far and cause irreparable damage.
She is scorned, but then makes her own violence too. “White girl tears have high currency,” Terry and Arabella say when it seems some plotholes emerge in Theo’s story. The racial politics are fraught – making this an uncomfortable but deeply stimulating watch. How did the colour of Theo’s skin give her an upper hand? Do such hierarchies hold as much water when women, years together, come together because no one deserves to be alone?
I May Destroy You asks questions out loud that until now have lingered in the subconscious. And this is only the halfway point – Arabella still has answers to find, truths to discover about her own relationships, self-worth and confidence and shame and desire and satisfaction to untangle and grow with. With six more episodes to go, it’s likely there’s a hell of a lot more explosives to come.
I May Destroy You continues Mondays and Tuesdays at 10:45pm on BBC One
|What||I May Destroy You episode 5 & 6, BBC review|
22 Jun 20 – 22 Jun 21, ON BBC ONE AND IPLAYER
|Website||Click here to watch on iPlayer|