Michaela Coel has created something pretty special with I May Destroy You.
Her exploration of a sexual assault in may different incarnations is deeply personal to Cole, whose story sounds very similar to Destroy’s protagonist, Arabella, played by Coel.
Arabella is a force of nature. She and her friends live on the edge with a healthy appetite for sex, drugs, and success.
A writer who found an audience after the release of her work online, Arabella is under contract for a second book, but with all of her partying, she’s not writing nearly as much as she should be to keep her agents or the owner of her contract satisfied.
We first meet Arabella and her best friend Terry (Weruche Opia) on an Italian vacation. The two women are ride or die, and they’re not the sort to allow something like Terry ditching Arabella for a threesome spoil their friendship. Their love for each other is above all else.
That’s good because Arabella will need all the friends she can get after her drink gets spiked leading to a rape that Arabella cannot fully recall.
What follows is a full exploration of sexual assault and rape and everything in between including areas that are rape adjacent or a little rapey, too.
Arabella makes no mistakes when it comes to her rape, fearlessly going to the police to report the matter, where she’s met with two female officers who explain the ins and outs of rape charges.
Arabella’s journey for justice is prevalent during the first season, but even more important is the spectrum of emotions Arabella undergoes as she deals with what happened.
I’m not doubting that Coel could have explored what that means without being raped herself, but what she suffered clearly fuels Arabella, too.
Arabella’s trauma forces her to question everything, and she goes through a period when she reconsiders drinking for fear someone will spike her drink again or she will not be in control of herself.
She becomes more aware of herself and the differences between sex and making love. She eagerly gets involved with men, never allowing the crime to turn her away from her sexuality or her desires, but she also recognizes that behavior that she might have allowed in the past will no longer stand.
Getting rape opens an entirely new world for her in which she views what was differently than what is after her rape.
But relationships are not her own focus, as she cannot speak with Terry or their friend Kwame (Paapa Essiedu) with honesty because they haven’t been changed in the same way.
Arabella seeks out like minded people who share her new reality because its easier to talk with aq stranger or an acquaintance who has gone through what you did than those you love who haven’t.
It’s an emotional moment when Arabella talks at a support group admitting she’s there to learn how not to be raped because the thought that she can’t learn that and that at any time she could get dragged into the bushes and raped again is unfathomable.
There was a profound statement that hit me hard about assaults and reporting them when someone said belittling your problems makes the jobs of those you report them to a little easier.
There are layers of assault and the assaulted on I May Destroy You. But by the time Kwame realizes he’s been a victim, as well, Arabella is so deep in her own pain that she fails to see his, and just as she was unable to tell the guy who dumped her in Italy that she was raped, Kwame is unable to tell Arabella he was a target, too.
Nothing is off of the table, and even seeing someone taking advantage of Arabella on social media has meaning that wouldn’t ordinarily emerge.
Arabella buries her pain in social messaging and gets swept up in the burgeoning power she has as an influencer, too.
There are so many different aspects of the modern day world in this tale that it shouldn’t come as any surprise that by the final episode, Coel provides resolution to the season arc in an entirely unexpected and dramatic fashion.
Coel is transcendant as Arabella with a passionate performance in which she bares her soul. She doesn’t flinch with her acting any more than she does with her writing.
She surrounds her self with a cast equally as talented. Opia is lovely as an actress with incredible stage fright, and Essiedu tackles Kwame’s assult and his unhealthy way of dealing with it quite admirably.
Whether you count yourself in the one in three who gets assaulted or not, put I May Destroy You on your TV schedule. They may live large, but the characters tug at your heart. Coel doesn’t allow Arabella to be a victim, and her fighting spirit prevails.
Coel already had a hit with her series Chewing Gum, and the strength of I May Destroy you proves she’s got more than one trick up her sleeve. Expect to see more from her.
I May Destroy You premieres tonight on HBO at 10:30 ET just after Insecure.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.