“I May Destroy You” Is the Future of Trauma on Television

By Samuel Still, Assistant News Editor–

**Warning: Contains Spoilers**

**TW: Sexual Assault**

With a mix of surrealism, humor and provocative emotion, the finale of HBO’s I May Destroy You sets a new standard for the depiction of sexual assault on screen.

Created, written, produced and co-directed by Michaela Coel, I May Destroy You begins with Arabella (played by Coel), an East London millennial who has scored herself a publishing deal after her first book that she posted on social media made her a viral sensation, yet she struggles to write her second book. On the night she is supposed to submit a draft to her agents, Arabella decides to go out and party with some of her friends, eventually ending up at a bar where she is subsequently drugged and raped by an unknown assailant.

Jumping back and forth in time, each episode of I May Destroy You analyzes how past and present traumas impact the professional and personal life of Arabella and those around her. Arabella’s increasingly erratic behavior causes her to struggle with writing her book and alienates her from her friends. As her trauma continues to shape her life, Arabella goes on a journey of self-destruction as she sacrifices her own mental wellbeing to pursue the mystery of uncovering who assaulted her.

The mystery comes to a head in the penultimate episode of the season when Arabella, who has been staking out the bar where her present trauma began, spots her assailant at the bar. This revelation leads directly into the final episode of the season where viewers are presented with a sequence of three dream-like scenarios in which Arabella confronts her rapist.

Each scenario represents a different ending for Arabella’s story. The first is a revenge fantasy where Arabella becomes the conqueror rather than the conquered. The second is one of sympathy as Arabella comes to understand the traumas that her assailant also has within him. The third scenario shows Arabella having a one-night stand with her attacker except this time she is the one in control. Each scenario represents a different potential form of catharsis and healing for sexual assault survivors, but as the finale’s epilogue shows, none of them are the methods for Arabella’s healing. Arabella recognizes that, for her, healing means choosing not to confront her rapist and instead choosing to live her life without letting her assault define her. So, she chooses to let go of the past and move on towards the next phase of her life. It is a powerful ending to a beautifully haunting series, and it is a finale that is going to be remembered for years to come.

I May Destroy You eschews traditional story structure. It uses non-linear storytelling and dream-like sequences to represent the fragmented mind of a sexual assault survivor. On the surface, the series is about assault and trauma, but it also speaks to more; it is a story of healing and redemption, and its unique, daring approach to discussing rape is breathtaking and illuminating. I May Destroy You is the blueprint from which future film and television creators can build upon to tell the stories of assault survivors, and, for viewers who take the time to watch and think about the show, it is a lesson in radical empathy that feels especially timely and necessary.

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