Michaela Coel just discussed the writing process behind her hit show I May Destroy You, and revealed the inspiration behind that ending. Warning: this article contains detailed spoilers and discusses rape.
Since it landed on BBC iPlayer last month, every episode of I May Destroy You has sparked discussions over issues we really should be openly talking about more in 2020.
Michaela Coel’s nuanced exploration of consent, race, sexuality, social media, gender, dating and millennial life in the digital age has led to viewers asking questions from all angles. Situations aren’t always black and white, even when they should be; Coel unflinchingly explores these blurred lines through flawed characters.
Speaking on the Obsessed With… I May Destroy You podcast this week, Coel expanded on this, saying: “Nobody is right and nobody is wrong – I wasn’t interested in answering those questions… There aren’t any good or bad characters in this series.”
This unique and powerful writing is what’s kept so many fans gripped. But the finale, Ego Death, is perhaps the episode that will stick with us the most.
Recap of I May Destroy You final episode
Episode 12 takes the focus back to the main storyline of the series: Arabella’s rape.
It starts with Bella appearing to recognise her attacker, David, at the same bar where she was drink-spiked and assaulted. What happens next is played out through four different scenarios.
In the first, Bella, Terry and Theo conspire to give the rapist a taste of his own medicine by drugging him, brutally beating him up and strangling him with Bella’s underwear. She then takes an unconscious David back to her flat and rolls him under her bed.
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In the second scenario, Terry orchestrates a plan for Bella to take lots of cocaine and trick David while waiting for the police to turn up just before he assaults her again.
However, David breaks down on Bella, apologises and appears to reveal he was also once abused. She takes him back to her flat, where he also confesses to previously spending time in prison for rape.
The police arrive and he begs Bella, who is crying, not to leave him while they take him away.
In scenario three, the bar they are in is silent and drenched in sunlight. Bella offers to buy David a drink and he cannot believe she is interested in him.
They make out in the toilet cubicle, then Bella takes him back to her flat for consensual sex. In the morning, he watches her. “I’m not gonna go unless you tell me to,” he says. “Go,” she replies – and he leaves, followed by the bleeding version of David, who crawls out from under the bed.
In the fourth and final scenario, Bella doesn’t go out and confront David. Instead, she stays in with her flatmate to watch TV shows. It then flashes forward to the launch of her second book.
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What does the I May Destroy You ending mean?
In fitting with the rest of the series, this brilliant yet slightly confusing finale lets the viewer make their own judgments. But using four alternative endings perhaps suggests there is no “solution” or “satisfactory ending” after rape.
Would beating David to a pulp really bring Bella justice? Could she actually forgive him if she learned he was also a victim? Would a reverse in roles make her feel more empowered? Is letting him go actually the only real ending she can give herself?
Coel has also gone into more detail on the inspiration behind the ending on the Obsessed With… I May Destroy You podcast, saying: “I think I was watching Russian Doll when writing the ending.
“There was an end where we cut to people in a white box who were basically giving their opinion on the ending to the show… like a real Twitter, sharing what they thought!”
She also gave fans another reason to watch the series all over again, revealing: “There are Easter eggs littered all over that show and I think you have to rewatch and rewatch and rewatch to really begin enjoying it.”
One thing’s for sure: people will be talking about this finale for quite a while. You just have to look take a look at Twitter to see why.
“I cannot get over the extreme strangeness and brilliance of the I May Destroy You finale,” tweeted one viewer. “I don’t think I will ever fully understand it, but I mean that in the best way. I just want to talk and talk about it.”
“If anything the season finale of I May Destroy You highlighted how messy dealing with trauma can be,” another fan added.
And this Twitter user said: “In all honesty the I May Destroy You finale was the most beautiful and relevant and innovative and… ugh I can’t come up with the right adjectives to describe.
“It was just amazing. The most amazing amazing writing and execution I ever did see. This has changed the game.”
If you, or anyone you know, needs help and support, you can call the Rape Crisis national helpline on 0808 802 9999 (open 12pm - 2.30pm and 7pm - 9.30pm daily). You can also find your nearest centre here or visit the website for more information here.
Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…