The following contains spoilers for the finale episode of I May Destroy You.
After airing on BBC earlier this year, the finale of Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You premiered on HBO last night. It concludes what is unequivocally the year’s most unsettling and compelling show, one that Coel has said took two-and-a-half years and 191 drafts to complete, and fictionalized her own experience of assault.
The show’s heroine, Arabella (played by Coel), is drugged and sexually assaulted in episode one, and spends the bulk of the series unable to remember the details of the encounter until the penultimate episode. In the finale, she comes face to face with her rapist, but in keeping with the rigorous curiosity with which Coel approaches the topic of consent, there is no tidy, singular ending.
Instead, we see Arabella enter her chilly backyard, before launching into three different scenarios in which she confronts her rapist. There’s a bloody revenge fantasy; an exercise in radical empathy, wherein her rapist is given space to tell his story; and — possibly the most unnerving — a version in which they have consensual, tender sex. It’s a reality-bending conclusion, one that rejects any conception of a “satisfying” ending and instead asks, what if?
Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz, senior writer: At what point did you realize that it was not reality?
Katja Vujić, associate Snapchat editor: I think even from the first scenario — when Arabella beats David, the rapist — there was a sense of unreality. But I did keep thinking maybe one of them would be the “real” one.
Daise Bedolla, social media editor: The “twist” was spoiled for me in a headline I saw, unfortunately. But even knowing that going in — something about the way the episode was filmed and the music just felt other-worldly.
Sangeeta: Initially I found the first scenario, the revenge fantasy, very satisfying, but there was a sense of unease, especially from Terry. If it did end with her beating the shit out of him and possibly killing him, it would have felt wrong and abrupt, especially after she’d so carefully and thoroughly explored assault and then was just like: “And this is how it should go.”
Katja: Yes! I was like, “This doesn’t quite track.”
Sangeeta: I also didn’t like that Arabella would have to live with being a murderer. That seemed like an unfair ending for her.
Kerensa Cadenas, senior editor: I think it was bold of Coel to end the series like this. The episode’s dream nature actually made it feel more realistic to me. I’ve gotten so used to rape narratives having a “tidy” ending.
Sangeeta: Yes, especially in post-Me Too entertainment. Bombshell comes to mind. And The Assistant.
Jordan Larson, essays editor: That was my hesitation with The Assistant, too – like what’s the point of realism here? What’s accomplished by trying to make this story of harassment and abuse as realistic as possible? It can be so limiting. The end of I May Destroy You feels better suited to questioning and imagining possibilities.
Sangeeta: I agree — there’s an impulse to tell either a takedown narrative, or leave it ambiguous in a way that feels sort of lazy. Like, look how shitty this system is, do you see now? I May Destroy You really investigates how complicated assault and its fallout can be.
Katja: Everything about the show is so rigorous.
Kerensa: The way all the characters have so many complexities that make them both good and bad.
Katja: The show really works to dismantle binary thinking in general — like survivor and perpetrator, gender binaries.
Sangeeta: Coel’s decision to tell David’s side of the story in the second scenario — in a way that was almost redemptive — totally caught me off guard. To put herself in the shoes of this person — this villain — and then empathize with him? That’s a wild exercise.
Katja: That’s why I loved when she says “go” in the third scenario, when she takes him home and sleeps with him. I think what made me love that had to do with the line preceding it — David says he won’t go until she tells him to. It wasn’t until she said “go” and the two versions of him both walked out that I was 100 percent like, okay, these were all happening in her head, where he’s been living. She’s been searching for some kind of justice or rationale or explanation for so long, and finally it’s just like, go. No more scenarios with him.
Daise: Will there be a season two? Where does the show go from here?
Kerensa: I hope there isn’t! But I do hope that people throw money at Coel and let her keep making whatever she wants.