I May Destroy You - Series Review (HBO)
Michaela Cole’s new series will absolutely destroy you – but in a good way.
I just finished watching Michaela Cole’s twelve-episode series, I May Destroy You. This heart-breaking but surprisingly humorous series was born from creator Michaela Cole’s trauma, as she is a survivor of sexual assault. This series isn’t just about consent, it’s a story about personal redemption in love, career, and with self.
Arabella is a newly famous writer who ascended to fame with her Twitter book, "Chronicles of a Fed-Up Millennial." The book’s success got her a deal with a major publisher, who now wants a follow up. In Arabella’s family are best friends, Terry, Kwame and housemate Ben. Terry is an actress waiting for her big break, Kwame is looking for love in all the wrong places, and Ben is living his best (?) introverted life in London.
As Arabella, Michaela Cole does a great job of making the main character vulnerable and funny. Even when Arabella is screwing up, instead of smacking her on the hand, you just want to help her out of her situations. At first glance, Terry, played by Weruche Opia, is the responsible and caring friend, but she has a savior complex and the truth is optional for her at times. Despite Terry’s shortcomings, we root for her journey towards becoming a working actress. Paapa Essiedu, who plays Kwame, does a masterful job in his portrayal of a love-starved workout instructor who also struggles to accept his status as a male survivor of rape. Essiedu flickers across the screen with equal parts cadishness and vulnerability. And finally, Ben, played by Stephen Wright, is the least developed character. Besides his never-ending patience with Arabella and tending to his plants, we don’t know much about him other than the loneliness he doesn’t reveal to anyone else.
I LOVED the way Cole used various elements to propel the story forward. For instance, we get a sense of Arabella and Biagio’s casual relationship by the way Biagio hauls Arabella’s oversized luggage to her car. While he’s doing this, he tells her flat out – ‘I will call you when I feel like calling you.’ Arabella is trying to make her relationship with Biagio far more committed than it really is. Arabella will soon discover that the price of making Biagio carry her baggage is too high for both of them.
After leaving Italy, Arabella goes out with friends to the Ego Death bar. On the night of Arabella’s rape, we hear “It’s Gonna Rain” by Rev. Milton Brunson. At first, this song seems uplifting, but read the lyrics:
Can't you see the clouds gathering Don't let it be said too late There's a brand new feeling in the air Better run to the ark before the rain starts
This isn’t an uplifting song. This is a warning. Through music, we see that all is not well with Arabella. “It’s Gonna Rain” swells as Arabella stares off into space, knocks over glasses that shatter, and falls into people. Arabella has been drugged, but she doesn’t know it yet. If this song represents her descent into her suffering, then the next time we hear a choir scoring Arabella’s actions she has emerged from the Italian waters and is back in London ready to integrate her trauma so she can heal and be whole.
After Biagio confronts Arabella with a gun after she broke into his apartment, Arabella tries to drown herself near the beach where she first fell for Biagio. After an emergency appointment with her therapist, Arabella understands that she cannot stuff her hurt away, she has to embrace it.
One thing I did not like was the underdevelopment of Ben. All we know of Ben is that he’s a quiet avid gardener. We never know how he feels about his friend and roommate’s self-destructive path even as he bandages her head wound. It’s like Ben is a tool to track Arabella’s progress and growth. At the end of episode 12, we see Ben’s dead plants grow rapidly. Soon after that, we see that Arabella has finally completed her book, which bears the sigil that represents the integration of her conscious and subconscious.
The major themes I took away from I May Destroy You are integration of the more acceptable and “unacceptable” parts of ourselves and our journeys.
We hear and see Arabella, her family, and friends consistently deny their own pain, even as the world traumatizes them. Arabella grapples with whether or not she was raped. After the first attack, she rationalizes not going to the police because people are suffering from starvation. After Arabella’s second assault, she brushes off Zain’s admission that he removed the condom without consent.
Kwame hesitates to report his rape to the police because of the false idea that ‘men can’t get raped.’ Furthermore, the way the detectives downplay his suffering makes Kwame further retreat into himself.
Arabella’s mom is in denial about her crappy “husband” who is sleeping with her friend. Arabella’s mom even makes him the big man plate for his birthday. I say unless he was paying ALL of the bills in my household, he wouldn’t get spit. And let’s not get me started on how he would fail to see his children. Trash. He and his split ends-having, sweaty-looking mistress can have each other.
And Ben googles how to deal with loneliness on his phone but won’t deal with it in real life. Instead of working through whatever is prohibiting him from connecting with others, he seems to live vicariously through Arabella and her friends.
If I had to rate I May Destroy You, I would rate it: R. The sex scenes aren’t graphic, just uncomfortably real in certain parts. If you’re squeamish about period blood and people being high out of their minds, this isn’t the show for you. The heartbreaking portrayals of abuse, sex and drug use push it to the R rating.
Gabrielle Glenn is a proud plant mommy, writer and producer living in Los Angeles, California. Her work has won awards at the LA Webfest and has been seen by millions of people on The Paramount Network, BET, and Oxygen.