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Series / I May Destroy You

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I May Destroy You is a 2020 British drama series, a co-production between HBO and The BBC.

Arabella (Michaela Coel, Black Earth Rising and Chewing Gum) is a writer struggling to work on her second novel after a smash hit. Then she wakes up unable to piece together the events of the night, and begins to suspect she may have been sexually assaulted. If she can't remember, how could she have consented?

I May Destroy You provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Accomplice by Inaction: Simon is this to Arabella's rape. He ditched the very drunk, very high Arabella in Camden to go hook up with Alissa, his other woman.
  • A Threesome Is Hot: Ultimately Subverted. Terry proudly flaunts the fact that she's had one to her date, but he helps her realize that she'd been tricked into having it. Thus, she later comes to view the threesome in a more harrowing light.
  • Autobiographical Role: Arabella is a loosely fictionalized version of Coel, struggling with assault and a potential Sophomore Slumpinvoked after a first successful work about a dark-skinned black millennial woman similar to Chewing Gum.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Rather than being ugly and unkempt, Arabella's rapist David is shown to be a realistic variant of a rapist. He's superficially charming, good-looking, and well-dressed, with finely coiffed hair. It's Truth in Television that not all monsters look Obviously Evil or repulsive. Likewise, Arabella is attracted to another man who sexually assaulted her, Zain Tareen. In general, all of the rapists shown are pretty good-looking people.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Arabella accepts that she may never find real closure with her rapist, decides to move on, is ultimately able to finish her book. Terry also lands a job in a commercial and is in a happy relationship.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Arabella crosses it in episode 8 after the police tell her that the investigation for her rape case led to no leads and has to be closed.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Thoroughly Played for Drama with regards to Kwame and Nilufer. Bella reacts badly to finding out that Kwame didn't tell Nilufer he was gay before having sex with her, because she's very sensitive about consent after being raped twice. It's having sex under pretences, she points out, but Kwame also asserts that Nilufer literally pressured him into having sex with her — which is true, as shown in the scenes of them in bed. That's also rape-y on Nilufer's side. However, Bella doesn't believe him.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Male on Male: Played With. Malik's rape of Kwame is brief but unpleasant to watch as it's very clear what's happening and Kwame keeps asking him to stop. It is portrayed as similarly traumatizing. However, it takes him longer to realize he was actually raped, and law enforcement does not take him as seriously as they do Arabella.
  • First World Problems: Invoked when Arabella has a breakdown on the bus in Episode 4; she keeps on reminding herself that there's a war in Syria and hungry children out there. Of course, rape isn't really a mere first-world problem. This is expanded upon in her monologue scene.
  • Freudian Excuse: Invoked in the final episode, where Arabella imagines a scenario where David was assaulted and decided to take out his pain by inflicting rape onto others. Of course, this is only in Arabella’s head and it’s likely that David was never a victim in the first place.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: A running theme within the series, especially in regards to the main trio. “The Alliance” (a Flashback Episode) shows this at play, when Terry and Arabella were in college with Theodora. Theodora has sex with Ryan, but he takes photos of the encounter without Theo’s consent. Theo then cuts herself and later accuses Ryan of raping her to explain her injuries. Arabella and Terry believe that Ryan is being framed for rape (which is correct) and reveal the photos to the principal, not realizing that Ryan had taken them without Theo’s consent, to clear him and show solidarity. This exonerates Ryan - who doesn’t get punishment for taking the photos nor is ever found out apparently. Then we later learn about Theo’s history: she was coached by her mother to accuse her father of sexually assaulting her in order for her mum to get custody of her during an acrimonious divorce, which explains (but doesn’t excuse) her actions against Ryan. The episode shows that the characters (Arabella, Terry, Theo) do either morally questionable/outright terrible things or alternately believe someone is completely innocent without the benefit of the full context on the issue. None of the girls are exactly “bad” in the traditional sense because they believe they are doing what’s right even if how they go about it is either out of context or just the way they were brought up.
  • Heroic Seductress: In the three finale's Imagine Spots, Terry distracts David's friend Michael by flirting with him, such as giving him a lap dance, as Bella approaches David. The exception is the third version, where Michael is the one grinding on her instead.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Arabella and Terry, who have been sister-like friends since their school years. They are fond of saying "your birth is my birth, your death is my death" to each other.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: Malik's excuse for raping Kwame in the fourth episode:
    What can I say? I'm a bad boy.
  • Imagine Spot: Arabella imagines three confrontations with David, her rapist, in the finale:
    • In the first scenario, she teams up with Terry and Theo to drug David and beat the shit out of him.
    • In the second scenario, Arabella takes David home where he confesses some vulnerable truths about himself, before being arrested.
    • In the third scenario, Arabella takes David home and sleeps with him, with her being in charge the whole time.
  • Innocently Insensitive:
    • Terry is this to Kwame when she gives a speech about how Arabella only seems fine after being raped because he's not paying enough attention to her signs of trauma. Her speech is completely astute and insightful, which is why it's especially heartbreaking for Kwame to not have anyone else realise he's just been raped too. But it's a tricky situation anyway, because focusing your attention towards someone you already know to have been raped is not a bad thing at all.
    • Kojo, Arabella's dad, frequently makes cutting remarks to his children that he clearly thinks are all in good fun, not realizing how uncomfortable this makes them.
  • It's All About Me: Biagio gets enraged about Arabella's rape because he, as a drug dealer, has to go to the police station to deposit a DNA sample.
  • Karma Houdini: David, Arabella's rapist, is never arrested. And neither is Malik.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: The premise of Arabella's third Imagine Spot in the finale. Instead of Terry playing Heroic Seductress by distracting Arabella's rapist's friend with a lap dance, Michael is the one grinding on her. Arabella also takes David home and their sex acts that are at first pretty standard cis, straight sex acts suddenly shift to something more unusual (Arabella, a cis woman, penetrating a cis man).
  • Moustache de Plume: Gender-Inverted. After Arabella publicly outs him as a rapist, Zain is kept on by their mutual publisher — but he publishes under a female pen name to deflect any association.
  • Nonconformist Dyed Hair: Arabella has pink hair in the present and purple hair in the past. She's a free-spirited feminist writer.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted hard in the third episode. Arabella is remembering a night three months earlier when she visited her friend in Italy and the two hooked up with different guys at a local bar. She was having her period, and before they go out we see her changing her maxipad. Then, just before having sex with her hookup, she remembers it's that time of the month and tells him. He's OK with period sex, despite her warning that she has a heavy flow, and after he puts a towel on the bed we actually see her remove her used tampon. But only what happens next kills the mood: she passes a blood clot onto the towel, and we see that on screen, too.
  • Rape as Drama: Reconstructed. Arabella was raped, but as it's based on Coel's real-life experiences, it also shows a lot of the details, such Arabella switching between being seriously traumatized and making jokes and behaving "normally", and her repeated insistence on not calling it rape. This also goes for the other victims of rape or sexual assault, like Terry. At one point, Terry very casually mentions wanting to visit Arabella's support group for rape victims after finding out that she'd been tricked into having a threesome. Though the request is nonchalant, it's clear that the incident had an effect on Terry too.
  • Sarcastic Confession: When at the police station to give statements regarding Arabella’s rape, Arabella (who is there alongside Terry and Kwame) is asked what her boyfriend Biagio does for a living. Terry nonchalantly tells them that he’s a drug lord, which earns looks from Arabella and Kwame. She then states that she’s kidding.
  • Sexy Shirt Switch: Arabella does this with Zain's shirt following their first night together where he took off his condom without her knowledge or permission during their initially consensual round of sex. They seem to have fun together as she's still in denial that it was rape, but she soon realises that Zain is a rapist, even if it was a "subtler" form of rape.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Played for Drama. Alissa believes she was spiked, and this matches up with Arabella's experience.
  • Token White: The main cast is black except for Arabella's roommate Ben, former classmate Theo, and one of the officers investigating the case, Beth. None play a very large role besides how they interact with Arabella.
  • Tragic Villain: Invoked in Arabella's second Imagine Spot in the finale, but also Played With. In this version, David was a victim of rape himself. While it's a sympathetic backstory, he also confesses that he's committed many different types of rape. Being an Imagine Spot, it's also doubtful that he really did have a tragic past.
  • Tuckerization: Arabella shares her surname, Essiedu, with Kwame's actor Paapa Essiedu.
  • Unsettling Gender-Reveal: Downplayed. In the penultimate episode, Terry learns that her date Kai is a trans man. Although she is initially a little unsettled and uncomfortable by this revelation, she moves past it and they end the show in a relationship.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: A very serious version. Arabella can't remember what left her with a head injury or how she ended up in the toilet.