Michaela Coel’s challenging and brilliant show continues to ask hard questions and offer no easy answers, delving into greyer territory than ever in its latest pair of episodes.
This recap of I May Destroy You episode 7, “Happy Animals”, and I May Destroy You episode 8, “Line Spectrum Border”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous two episodes by clicking these words.
Even when there’s nothing awful happening on-screen, I May Destroy You is nevertheless the kind of show you watch through your fingers. Its latest pair of episodes, “Happy Animals” and “Line Spectrum Border”, felt in some ways like a reprieve; they didn’t contain any actual rape scenes, at least, and the fact that feels like an easy-going lark in comparison to usual just goes to show how thoroughly unflinching this show has been in its explorations of sex and consent. It’s also missing the point, since both episodes continued to raise difficult questions and, in providing no easy answers to them, offered just as many scenes that were difficult to watch. Hands remained splayed across faces, ready to close off the audience from the harsh truth of what they were seeing.
This is why Michaela Coel’s work here is vital; it’s insistent on unpacking the ambiguity of its themes. Far from coming down on one side of an issue or another, its stance is that there is no side, only a teetering middle so narrow and unaccommodating that whichever way you tip is mostly just a question of your own balance – and I suppose some prevailing winds in either direction. These are the social and personal influences – past and present experiences, the people around you, whoever it is you might have been or aspire to be – that color a person’s perspective on everything from writing to veganism to being gay to being raped; all matters that are grappled with in these episodes. At one point Coel’s Bella makes explicit the idea that nothing is clear, nor could it be.
I May Destroy You episode 7, “Happy Animals”, is mostly about Terry’s birthday party – but is it, really? I’d argue not, although Terry features strongly and continues to be a grating presence, entirely by design. She’s the classic best friend who wants the best for those she cares about but can only view their own experiences through the lens of her own self-involvement. In caring so intensely about Bella and Kwame, she also, inadvertently or otherwise, wants to exhibit some degree of control over their lives that she can’t exert upon her own acting career. Her resentment over Theo’s presence at the party reads as bitterness, and perhaps bullying, but it’s really a defense mechanism – she sees the presence of an outsider as another potential avenue for trauma.
Bella’s trauma has, somewhat unavoidably, become a component of her work; one of the strongest scenes in “Happy Animals” is when she details her own rape directly from her book. But the relationship between this content, the expectations of her editors, and the confines of her contract is abrasive and ill-fitting. She is required by her signature on a piece of paper, and indeed the wider world, to move on with her life as though her assault never happened, but the wider world now only exists when viewed through the prism of that assault. She’s being told to put aside something that has become integral to her identity, all while editors excitedly discuss its alchemical potential: trauma into content, blood into gold.
I May Destroy You episode 7 applies the same idea of interconnectedness to Bella’s newfound work for a vegan charity, the “Happy Animals” of the title, since environmental concerns are explicitly tied to black oppression and systemic racism. Things get no less complex in I May Destroy You episode 8, “Line Spectrum Border”, in which Kwame, still scarred by his own rape and the police’s disinterested handling of it, seeks the supposed safety of women, and Bella, at a loss after being informed by the police that her case has reached a dead-end, returns to Italy.
Neither of these decisions goes well for either character. Kwame goes on a date and subsequently sleeps with a liberal white woman who has a thing for black guys, but their romance is fraught by flashbacks to Kwame’s assault, and their post-coital conversation is remarkably awkward as substitutes for the n-word start cropping up, as do postulations about how gay men appropriate femininity. When Kwame reveals that he’s gay, he’s suddenly treated as the manipulator, this short-sighted woman the victim of her own concocted reality in which rapping “ninjas” is being an ally, but only one marginalized group is worthy of that kind of sensitivity.
Things are no better for Bella in I May Destroy You episode 8. Dismayed at having been failed by the official system, she seeks some solace in Biagio, and gets none – eventually being driven from his doorstep with a gun. In trying to act as though she can continue to live as she once did, without her assault defining her, she’s reminded again that she can no longer be separated from her trauma. Returning to Italy was an attempt to return to her own life before it was knocked off-course.
The fact this doesn’t work for Bella is key to the harsh truth of “Line Spectrum Border” and of I May Destroy You in general, which is a challenging and important drama that deserves to be seen and discussed by as many people as possible. You might only be able to watch it through your fingers, but that’s better than not watching it at all.