In its final two episodes, I May Destroy You proves itself the most searing and important drama of the year.
This recap of I May Destroy You episode 11, “Would You Like to Know the Sex?”, and I May Destroy You episode 12, “Ego Death”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous two episodes by clicking these words.
Like a memory, I May Destroy You changes the more you think about it. Throughout its riveting, daring 12-episode season, it has constantly distorted itself – its tone, its genre, its style, its subject – with each revelation and fuzzy, half-remembered truth. Its final two episodes, “Would You Like to Know the Sex?” and especially “Ego Death”, take this idea of a dream-like mosaic to a surrealist extreme as the final few pieces are put in place and Michaela Coel, after exploring the dangerous territories of sexuality, consent, race, class, and trauma, arrives at her final, unexpected destinations of empathy and understanding.
Coel’s writing throughout has been a tour through realities that remain fenced-off to the privileged. Whereas most examinations of these topics insist we look but don’t touch, this one removes the safety glass and compels an audience to feel what its characters are experiencing. I’m not a woman, nor am I black or gay or especially traumatized, yet every Monday morning for the past six weeks I’ve been forced to navigate this show’s subject matter as though I were any or all of these things. It’s an impossible task, of course, but I feel as though I’m a little more open-minded and thoughtful for the attempt – and, crucially, more cognizant of my own privilege than I ever was before.
This, I think, is the great triumph of the show, but it’s also a masterclass of acting and storytelling; in I May Destroy You episode 11, which neatly concludes some on-going character subplots such as Kwame’s addiction to anonymous hook-ups and his failed straight-sex experiment and Terry’s pursuit of an acting job, Arabella sends an ill-advised DM to a fellow author in the most ridiculous way possible, and the stinging embarrassment of it is felt so strongly that “Would You Like to Know the Sex?” could easily pass as a pure sitcom.
But there’s an ulterior motive since there always is, and that DM leads Bella to a reunion with Zain, who, under a pseudonym, wrote the novel that Bella enjoyed so much that she was compelled to reach out to its author for help in finishing her own. It begins a theme of understanding, of taking back control and ownership of one’s own trauma, which is taken to something of an extreme in I May Destroy You episode 12.
“Ego Death” might be the boldest half-hour of television I’ve seen all year, a formal experiment which is so loose with structure and linear time that at first, it’s difficult to figure out what’s going on. But the show has never been temporally consistent and has always been better for that, so by the time Arabella’s realities begin overlapping – a version of her rapist leaves her apartment happy and naked while another, having been drugged and viciously assaulted by Bella, Terry, and Theo, crawls out from under her bed and leaves with him – you begin to understand what Coel is doing by so completely exploding convention.
By ending this way, with Bella’s trauma taking on multiple lives of its own, each controlled by her, I May Destroy You becomes a powerful exploration of how to tame psychological chaos; how to reduce trauma to something manageable rather than an all-consuming, inescapable maelstrom. Many have pondered what the show’s provocative title might mean, and who it might be directed at, ever since the premiere – I like to think that Coel was addressing her own trauma, a reminder that while it might never leave her, it’ll never control her again.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.