Michaela Coel in I May Destroy You (2020)

I May Destroy You Concludes With a Look at the Myth-Making We Do to Survive

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I May Destroy You concluded its run in the United States last night on HBO, and with it one of the most compelling depictions of trauma in fiction, through the lens of Black British actress, writer, and director Michaela Coel.

**Spoilers for “Ego Death” the season finale of I May Destroy You.**

One of my best friends once told me that closure is a myth and “Ego Death” is an example of the myth-making many of us have to do in order to survive massive trauma.

Arabella, who has been returning to the “scene of the crime” for weeks now, imagines what would happen when finally confronting her rapist. She imagines three different scenarios: one where she brutally beats him to death after drugging him with the same drugs he used on her, one where he is arrested after having semi-humanizing conversation, and finally, one where they have sex, with consent, that ends with her on top of him.

All of these situations give Arabella the chance to act out ways to heal through violence, through compassion, and through sex, but ultimately, they allow her to work through the pain that has stopped her from moving forward with her life. In the previous episode, we saw that she lost her book commission, and that seemed to be the event that most profoundly shook her up. We know Arabella is a great writer and is able to come up with things on the fly. The fact that she can’t write at all, even though she needs to for survival, only highlights how survival is not her priority anymore.

Pain is fueling her, and because she has been kept from closure via the justice system, only fantasies remain.

I May Destroy You is one of the few shows in the post-Me Too era to really tackle the dynamics of race and queerness in that conversation. Through the character of Kwame, we see a depiction of Black gay male sexual assault and its aftermath. With Terry, we see how with more knowledge and information, situations we convinced ourselves were consensual can be more complicated than that. We even got, with Theo, the dynamics of white women accusing Black men of sexual assault out of a power play.

The show also wasn’t afraid to tackle issues of how much information a person is required to share before sleeping with them, taking off a condom during sex, and most importantly, it wasn’t afraid to make Arabella a complicated human being.

Society has trained us to see victims of sexual assault of having to fit a template, and Arabella, while clearly experiencing trauma and PTSD from what occurred to her, also had moments of cruelty. Coel, being a survivor herself, has said things in interviews that show her own complex relationship to what happened to her, and that comes across in Arabella.

“Ego Death” ends on a happy note, in many ways. Terry has her commercial, and Arabella has finished and published her book independently and stopped going to that bar, choosing instead to reinvest in her friendships. But she will carry this with her always. It changed her life, forced her to unpack layers of trauma from her childhood, and caused her to be in a shit-ton of financial debt. But she is making steps towards healing. What that means is not one thing, but Arabella has not been destroyed, and that is a beautiful note to end on.

(image: BBC/HBO)

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Princess Weekes
Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.