Review: I May Destroy You Is A Necessary Conversation On Consent
I May Destroy You should come with a content warning, given its upsetting subject matter. But its distressing theme is handled with plenty of care, nuance, and sensitivity. Created by and starring award-winning British actress Michaela Coel, HBO’s bold, new comedy-drama tells the story of Arabella, a young writer living in London. One night, while out partying with friends, her drink is spiked. The next morning, she finds bruises on her hips and legs, a wound on her forehead, and the events of the previous night are all a blur; just a hazy memory of a man standing over her in a bathroom stall.
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The story may confront the experience of sexual assault, but I May Destroy You explores so much more than Arabella’s state of victimhood. In addition to depicting her road to recovery from the traumatic incident, the show deals with the developments in her relationships, from questionable romantic partners to supportive best-friends. It delves into issues of identity, such as race, class, gender, and sexuality, and how all these ties into the way millennials today navigate dating, sex, friendship, hopes and dreams, social life, social media, family, self-care, and self-reflection.
The scope of the discussions in the show is broad and ambitious. But it is not confusing or pretentious. In one scene when Arabella is reading out an extract from her upcoming book, she confesses: “Prior to being raped, I never took much notice of being a woman; I was busy being Black and poor.” She discusses intersectionality and the patriarchy, but without resorting to abstract, intellectualizing phrases. The show frames such issues in honest, realistic, and human terms. And it does not shy away from moral gray areas, frequently calling into question the definitions of sexual consent and exploring the boundaries and motivations of abusers and victims.
The cast of fleshed-out characters expresses a wide spectrum of emotions, which is carried by strong performances from the three leading actors. It is an absolute pleasure to watch Coel convey Arabella’s lively and thoughtful personality, portraying her not only as a protagonist we can root for, but also as a truly relatable person, in all her flaws and complexities. We can laugh with her, cry for her, even get annoyed with her at times; she is a victim and a survivor but is by no means a saint or martyr.
The portrayals of Arabella’s two best friends, Terry (Weruche Opia) and Kwame (Paapa Essiedu), are no less impressive. The friendship between Arabella and Terry provides perhaps some of the most tender and heartwarming scenes in the show, with all their inside jokes and the way they gain strength from each other’s banter and supportive presence. Another notable highlight is Essiedu’s performance as Kwame, a gay man who often engages in anonymous hookups with strangers on the dating app Grindr. Like Arabella, he is also a victim, but struggles to talk about the experience, and the confident air he once carried begins to disintegrate into fearful vulnerability.
The show’s exploration of “millennial problems” means that it would resonate more with a younger audience, but you don’t have to be a millennial to appreciate the engaging story and ideas the show addresses. I May Destroy You is undeniably entertaining and intelligent. The investigation of the rape case may be the main storyline, but it is all the discussions and tensions surrounding her rape and recovery that really make the show so moving and thought-provoking.
I May Destroy You premieres on June 8 on HBO Go, HBO, and Cinemax.