“I May Destroy You” Is As Nuanced And As Good As It Sounds

TW// The following post discusses sexual assault/abuse and the trauma that comes along with it.


Memories. Everyone loves them. They’ve been painted with rose-colored glasses on, with pastel pinks and perfect brush strokes. That one time you made the best love of your life.. that one time with your friends you’ll never forget… that one time you cuddled with your mom like you were a kid again… that one time. Memories. They’re just invasive parasites to me. I mean, not all memories, of course, but the bad ones seem to be more invasive than the good ones. They’ve left me only with a sour feeling about them now. Even ones I don’t remember seem to haunt me.

I just started I May Destroy You yesterday. I also just got caught up with I May Destroy You yesterday. Written by and starring Michaela Coel, I May Destroy You is a new, HBO show that chronicles a young writer named Arabella (Coel) as she deals with the aftermath of being sexually assaulted at a bar one night. I May Destroy You explores the “perfect victim,” linear healing, and different forms of sexual abuse all in one. One line that really stuck out to me was, “The problem is when people don’t know what is a crime and what isn’t a crime, they don’t report it and people get away with it.” It’s actually a line I’ve repeated many times to others while I explain to them why this show is a necessary watch. This one line seems to sum up so much of what the show is about, yet the story continues in so much nuance and complexity that this detail also doesn’t even cover the half of it.

Image still from I May Destroy You- Michaela Coel is sitting in group therapy, looking back at the camera
Image Courtesy of HBO

Boundaries. I May Destroy You crosses boundaries.. or rather it displays crossed boundaries in all kinds of scenarios. And it shows how those crossed boundaries are, or can feel like, one of the most personal violations to your body and soul. Whether it is rape, un-consensual humping, or asking about a Black girls hair during a fucking interview. And like Terry (Weruche Opia), we can laugh and play along in those set traps, stuck between violation, expectation, and self-preservation. I mean our hair isn’t even respected! Boundaries are crossed all the time, and many times we get so “used” to our boundaries being crossed that we’re gaslit or convinced into thinking it’s not that big of a deal anymore. Kwame (Paapa Essiedu), one of Arabella’s closest friends, is the “cool” friend. He let’s things roll of his shoulders like water. Like a feather in the wind, he seems almost untouchable, but he isn’t. Like many of the characters and like many people, Kwame swallows his pain like cheap vodka- only occasionally letting you see that he actually never swallowed the vodka, he’s been holding it in his mouth this whole time. Small glimpses of his deeply buried trauma seep through in powerful moments that connect you intensely with the character. We’re all holding that vodka in our mouths, or swallowing so much to the point of irreparable nausea and stomach lesions. The uncomfortable burning you feel every time someone pushes past your boundaries, but you don’t say anything or you laugh it off, is something only you know the pain of.

Boundaries. Boundaries and memories. I mentioned earlier how memories were a parasite. They have no respect for boundaries. Arabella and her friends are constantly berated with memories. The show itself is littered with flashbacks, for backstory and intent purposes, but they also tie-in to this narrative of memories. They can come and go as they please, without your consent. And after going through something like sexual assault, even the good memories can feel like a burden- like some twisted joke about a time (a safety) you’ll never have again. Memories you’ve forgotten you ever had can find their way to the surface during something as simple as family dinner (see ep. 10 of I May Destroy You.) You can think you’ve gotten them under control, but anything can trigger an unwanted memory. Even when you think you’ve got them at bay, they can feel like a looming shadow around every corner. Your mind may not be directly on it, but it’s waiting for just the right moment to pounce on your sliver of sunshine. You don’t even realize you’re waiting for the clouds and shadows, but you are- with clenched fists, raised shoulders, tense body, and all.

Image still from I May Destroy You- Michaela Coel is looking into the camera, drenched in water
Image courtesy of HBO

As I watched through the first episode of I May Destroy You, I was this tense. Memories that I’ve spent years mulling over seemed to hit me harder than usual. Like “Ah yes, this kind of thing happens so often, and I can’t save the world. I cant even save myself. I can’t protect my sister… I couldn’t even protect myself.” I almost minimized my pain compared to the “bigger picture” and self-blamed like Arabella did. As shown in the show, healing isn’t linear, and even after the years, there’s still so far for me to go. However, after the initial “shock,” was this intense need to keep going and finish. I continuously found Coel’s story and writing informative, assuring, and just, real. I felt that, in so many ways, she showed what I have such a hard time saying. It’s a tough watch at times, but so worth it. I May Destroy You is as nuanced as it sounds, but it’s also as good as it seems.

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