Destroyed I Am. Thanks, Michaela.
Well, not actually destroyed. A bit frayed at the seam is a tad more accurate. But you get it.
For those who may not catch the title, I’m referring to Michaela Coel’s latest HBO show I May Destroy You. And let me say, the show’s name is quite fitting for both the characters and the audience watching. In terms of relatable content, I truly believe a good chunk of the scenarios depicted have been experienced by you or someone you know intimately. Which is both sad and oddly captivating. The entire series really is a train wreck that you can’t take your eyes off of. No matter how disturbing the images. I’ll try not to spoil too much. But in writing this, some things might slip. So if you haven’t watched & plan to at some point, beware.
I May Destroy You really hit me and I haven’t figured out if that’s a completely good or bad thing. Like, is this that beautiful eye-opening kind of realization that heals or am I just REALLY messed up by it? Triggered would be the base word of my choosing. The imagery itself will jar your mind into unpleasant places if you let it. Much like the constant flashbacks experienced by our main character, Arabella. And the topics are so intentional in their creation that you can’t help but focus. Even if that means opening a door in your memories that you hadn’t for a while. It’s raw in all the ways you’d expect from a show about sexual assault, but also in ways we often ignore. Which got my wheels turning back to interactions I’ve had with men in my life throughout the years. Realizing now that quite a few of them made me uncomfortable. But that discomfort was often never expressed. Or if it had been at the time, it was quickly tucked away & never mentioned again.
The show drove me to put a mental magnifying glass on things previously overlooked. Sometimes seemingly small in the moment. Like an unsolicited dick pic that me and my girls can laugh about later. Or maybe something on another level. Like a condom being removed after explicitly asking for one to be used. There it was. One of those moments where Coel pulled me in with a scene depicting that exact situation. I too could relate to this type of devious behavior. And that scene, along with the ones to follow shed a bit of light on a corner of my memory I had left in the dark. At the time of the incident I brushed it off as just something guys did. The whole “boys will be boys” thing. Immaturity at most. I realize now I didn’t put the weight needed behind how inappropriate it was. Much like Bella, I didn’t acknowledge how it crossed a serious line in regards to my body & the access I was willing to give until much later.
That leads to the more heavy memories. Etched deeper in the skin. The ones that stick with you for longer than you’d like to admit. Like being harassed, aggressively coerced and physically assaulted on two separate occasions by a guy I thought I was just dating casually. Why? Simply because I wasn’t ready to have sex with him. He thought he was owed my body and felt a right to react violently when he didn’t get it. But somehow, even though he was the problem, I was left with lingering feelings of guilt. I wondered what I did to trigger such a response. For a while, I blamed it on the idea that maybe I had led him on and placed myself in that situation when I shouldn’t have. A tease as some would call it. Thankfully, I escaped a much darker fate. But the “what if” has always stuck with me. Because honestly, many women don’t. If we’re speaking statistically, 1 out of 6 women. And my naïve thoughts in dealing with the situation would not have yielded a safer result. I just got lucky. Blessed really.
I’d like to say that particular thought process is just a small failure during my youth, but in reality it’s a systematic issue. These are the lies told to women when dealing with sexual advances, misconduct or assault in a massively messed up patriarch. We are either thrown away and dismissed as liars or shamed into thinking it’s some fault of ours. It’s always, “what did you say/do/wear to provoke?” and never “they should not have done this.” And that’s part of what makes the show manifest into something a bit scarier and more real. Far past entertainment. It highlights the dangerous wiring of our overall thought process around sexual assault and the like. The tendency to victim shame is just another layer in the show to peel back. Siting that if we (referring to any victim) didn’t do “this” and “that”, we wouldn’t be in compromising positions. Often ignoring the actual villain in the story.
Case in point, Bella’s extremely emotional and triggering video call with Biagio, her on again/off again Italian paramour. Where he screams that if she hadn’t been drunk and on drugs, she wouldn’t have been raped. At no point did he offer comfort to a woman who had been violated. And there was visibly no anger toward the actual culprit or the disgusting offense inflicted upon the victim. I could go on for days with all the locked away thoughts this show provoked. Or the terrifying statistics women face every day just because we have a vagina in a world that prefers to misuse, punish or abuse them. But I’m not one for trauma porn. So back to the point.
Simply put, the show is a masterpiece in artistic storytelling. Even with all its uneasy aspects and dark backdrop to reality, Coel executes the story so well and doesn’t softly usher her viewers into the depths of assault. She washes over us with it. There were moments I felt I was drowning in emotions over these fictional characters. But they felt very real to me. In each one, I saw a friend or family member. Those experiences are all around me. That’s part of the reason I had to watch each episode in sections. I was overwhelmed in the artistry of it and wanted to fully indulge, but also turn it off in certain spots because of how uncomfortable it made me.
Yet, there’s a sense of beauty and relief in this story. Coel found a way to reconstruct her personal trauma into such an unfiltered display of art. She doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable & traumatic parts. Or the awkward moments that find themselves woven into us in the weirdest ways. The realness of it is what struck me. While rape is a cornerstone for the show, she also touches deeply on other forms of assault that many consider lesser offences, but still carry such weight. She does a masterful job of portraying fully flawed characters that not only find themselves in unfortunate situations, but often don’t fully accept them for what they truly are. Which leads them to make bad decisions consistently. Which as humans, we tend to do. A lot.
But even in her risky decision making, I never lost the overwhelming theme of restoration for Bella. Her character did what she thought she had to in order to continue some semblance of a normal life. She fought to find control again in the midst of chaos. And she kept going. No matter how imperfect that process may have been in wake of her trauma. And that, no matter how ugly and chaotic some scenes tended to get, made the show for me. The deep dive into just how messy recovery and healing can be. There is no one road that leads to it. The road is often unpaved in parts, nonexistent in others. Sometimes just dirt where things can get hazy. And you’re bound to hit bumps, construction and one-ways. Along with a slew of unexpected twists and turns. But where Bella truly succeeded as a character was her ability to not be the perfect victim. She didn’t fit in any box or magically transform into this healed being after her abuse. She was weak and strong. Sexually free, yet broken. Stuck in one episode, but evolving in the next. It was a treat to watch.
All the way to the end. I’m not sure if I May Destroy You will return for another season or if this chapter is closed. Either way I am content because Michaela did what needed to be done. And though my mind was slightly in shambles afterward, I found a few moments of healing myself while reconnecting the pieces. So Michaela, thanks for that too.