I May Destroy You

Holy. That season finale.

I won’t go into specific details but please don’t read any further if you’re avoiding any amount of spoilers.

I’d just like to comment on Michaela Coel’s talent for crafting a narrative structure. The recurring motif of the season, or perhaps more accurately the allegory that underpins Arabella’s process of healing, was the writing of her new book. It’s not a secret that the show involves a healthy dose of metatheatricality: in some ways the character of Arabella reflects a real-life experience of Coel’s as she was writing a TV show. Arabella herself is writing a book, the progress of which coincides with her own personal journey of surviving sexual assault.

Such layering gives rise to an incredibly fascinating season finale, where a breakthrough in the writing of Arabella’s book coincides with her healing process, and therefore, perhaps, suggests that Coel comes to terms with her own personal experience as an artist and decides to share that with her audience.

Those of you who haven’t yet watched I May Destroy You may be a tad confused. But suffice it to say that this show is a great example of writing that captures your attention and successfully envelops you within its structure. This is especially important in theatre, I would argue, and Coel’s theatre background likely comes into play a great deal here.

To write a play is to write an experience, because we are all in the room together (typically) and are actively playing a sort of game. And when I say “write” I don’t just mean the playwright sitting down at their laptop and tapping out the words. The writing process also includes decisions in the rehearsal room, and ultimately such a process largely involves defining the structure, or the “game” of the piece. What sort of experience are we crafting for our audiences, and what are the specific rules we’re putting in place in order to guide their journey? What decisions set parameters and define a new world in which we’re placing our characters — the vessels through which audience members carry their own lived experiences?

The playfulness and gorgeous fluidity of the final episode, though starkly different from the rest of the season in many ways, “made sense” to the viewers. We were conditioned, throughout the season, to accept the balls that would be thrown. “Whoa, that doesn’t fit… Wait a minute, she’s referencing that thing from a couple episodes back… Ah, yes, of course, that does make sense.” And perhaps this game, or this experience of piecing things together, is mimicking the complicated nature of dealing with trauma. By layering in aspects of a dark reality into the fictional narrative structure, Coel allows us a glimpse into the gruelling process of acceptance.

Anyway. You should watch the show.

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