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Millennial pursuits and trauma at their most honest

I May Destroy You is not afraid of making you shift in discomfort on your couch, writes Naledi Sibisi
Thu, Aug 27, 2020

As a writer, I have developed a love-hate relationship with the anxiety and adrenaline rush of impending deadlines, and my inspiration refusing to show up. Add a reckless night of heavy drinking and partying to the equation and I am a walking story that will not end well.

This is the exact chaos and anxiety that is felt in the pilot of I May Destroy You. Arabella, played by Michaela Coel, who also created and co-directed the 12-episode series, is a young writer based in London. In the beginning, Arabella is about to pull an all-nighter because she owes her agents a book draft as a follow up to Chronicles of a Fed-Up Millennial. She gathers herself, opens her laptop and stares blankly at the screen while smoking a cigarette then inevitably takes a break, as procrastination goes. She then decides to meet with her friends at a bar aptly called Ego Death. When that decision is made, there is a looming feeling I have that something is about to go horribly wrong.

Between the shots, drugs and a broken wine glass on the bar floor, coupled with how the party scene is shot, everything feels as chaotic as it would be in reality, and I am NERVOUS for Arabella. I am nervous for her because the bar starts to become blurry and then it cuts to black. When I next see my pink-haired princess, she is sitting at her desk with a cut on the right side of her forehead. I am not sure how, but she manages to make her deadline.

Sitting with her agents, her forehead starts to bleed as they sift through her work. She cannot account for what happened to her. She later makes a call to retrace what happened the night before, how she left and what happened to her forehead. "Yo, T. I just got spiked, you know." Now, I am terrified for her because I suspect I know how this story ends. She later goes to the bathroom and while she is in the cubicle, she has a very vivid flashback. There is a man standing in a bathroom cubicle sweating and aggressively thrusting. We see her face as the realisation dawns on her. Many of us have been Arabella.

I May Destroy You gives us a captivating picture of how we tend to navigate very casually through our trauma. Arabella, pursuing her writing career through all this, I reckon, is a bigger metaphor for how we can rewrite our collective story. The series takes us through the aftermath of her attack and the triggers that follow. It is the closeness to the reality of that chaos that resonates with me. We experience moments where she feels unsafe, where she takes up new hobbies to distract herself and then shaves her hair only to put her wig back on.

Above that, Coel created a narrative that does not make her a victim of her trauma. What I appreciate is the way the story is shot and told because there are necessary conversations we have to continue to engage with as far as sexual assault and consent are involved. As the series comes to an end, it does not feel as chaotic anymore because we have worked through these emotions with her.

There are very few moments of stability and the series feels chaotic because fundamentally, this is a psychological narrative; this is the relatable content. It is the reason why you experience emotions that range from triggers, to anxiety, to hope in anticipation for how her story ends and how she chooses to complete it.

I May Destroy You is now available on Showmax, new episodes every Wednesday.


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