July 27th 2020
Today I finished watching Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You. It’s a remarkable, intelligent, thought-provoking piece of television that, at the outset, is about the sexual assault of a young London-based writer called Arabella.
The primary story details the year-or-so after the rape, and documents Arabella’s journey to find out the truth of what happened to her on a night she doesn’t remember.
Aside from the story, the most compelling thing about I May Destroy You is how multi-dimensional the characters are. They all make choices that you/I disagree with. They do stupid, unexplained, self-destructive things. And that’s the point. Because the characters are likeable, when they do harmful things to other people in the show, it makes you question the morality of their decisions. And you want to make excuses for the bad things they do, because bad things have happened to them.
Except, should you? Each character has a story that incites an internal ethical debate. Watch it. Find out. Though if you’re going to, don’t read the next bit.
The final episode is executed flawlessly, and works on every level to portray the message that Michaela Coel tried to present throughout the series. The series climaxes with four alternate endings. It’s up to the viewer to decide which one they prefer.
Although that sounds potentially cliched, the setup is that throughout the series Arabella is attempting to write a novel, and then with the payoff, we realise that the previous 11 episodes of what we’ve just watched was her new novel playing out as its written. Episode 12 shows Arabella literally rewriting the events of the climax, and coming up with an ending to her story in real time. And her story is the story.
Choose your ending: 1) she finds the rapist and beats him to death, 2) she finds the rapist and gets him arrested, 3) she finds the rapist in a parallel universe where this is the first time they’ve met except the gender roles are reversed and she sleeps with him on her terms only to finally gain power over the situation, she gives up trying to search for him him and finds peace, maybe.
Again, the concept of ‘choose your own ending’ sounds tacky, but its execution is perfect. And it’s kind of satisfying, because in real life you don’t get to rewrite how your story ends again and again until you find one you’re happy with. You don’t get to manifest your destiny.
Until tomorrow, you’ve just got to sit around and wait for it to happen to you.