“Don’t Forget the Sea” and “That Was Fun” take place on either side of a life-changing ordeal, showing the before and after in clear terms as themes of consent define both installments.
This recap of I May Destroy You episode 3, “Don’t Forget the Sea”, and I May Destroy You episode 4, “That Was Fun”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The beauty of Michaela Coel’s unflinchingly grounded I May Destroy You is that it’s basically a whodunit. There’s no murder, obviously; the crime committed was a sexual assault, and the victim is also the investigator, whose job is to piece together evidence from half-truths and fuzzy memories fragmented by substance abuse and the brain’s own defense against trauma. But the appeal for an audience is very much the same. Coel’s Bella isn’t a detective by trade, but by function. She represents the audience’s desire to suss out what’s what, but also their fear of potentially being in the same predicament. The fact that so many watching the show have been and perhaps will be in a similar situation is what layers that whodunit formula with a potent reality. It’s just as difficult to look away from as it is hard to watch.
The latest two episodes work as a double bill, occurring a while before and a little while after Bella’s assault, showing the stark difference in perception that one experiences in the aftermath of trauma. I May Destroy You episode 3, “Don’t Forget the Sea”, is set three months prior, in Italy, where Bella is living it large at a writer’s retreat where she meets her confusingly long-distance boyfriend Biagio (Marouane Zotti). Pre-assault Bella looks different, but she also is different, like fundamentally. She’s freer, happier, carefree, without even the pressing concern of a looming deadline, as in the first episode, weighing her down.
You might wonder, then, what the point of this episode is, especially since it takes place right after that crushing second installment when Bella finally entertained the possibility of her own assault. But the theme of consent winds quite clearly through “Don’t Forget the Sea”, and the stark contrast between Bella as we left her and Bella as we see her here, wildly partying with Terry (Weruche Opia), is integral to understanding how we see her in the following half-hour.
I May Destroy You episode 4, “That Was Fun”, picks up two months after Bella’s assault. She’s in therapy, but she isn’t really any more forthcoming with her traumas than she was in the police station when she instinctively tried to dismiss the notion that any trauma had even occurred. A character in therapy is a classic, even clichéd device, but Coel presents it in such an earnest way that it feels fresh. With her, the audience navigates the lasting effects of an unclear violation, and they’re forced to examine that violation alongside her. It’s a bizarre, powerful effect.
All throughout, the flashes of Bella’s assault in the cubicle become clearer, like additional pieces are being slotted into the jigsaw. There’s that sense of a whodunit again. But in many ways I May Destroy You works as a kind of contemporary dating drama, the topic of consent intertwined with sexual awakening as characters embrace their sexualities and modern experimentalism in their relationships. Coel is sweeping out some dark corners of her own psyche here, but she’s doing it so that the like-minded can move into that headspace. It might be hard to watch, but so are most things worth watching.
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