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New series “I May Destroy You”: Like a knockout blow

The sensational British series goes as far as hardly any other in its mixture of drastic and comic. Author, producer and leading actress Michaela Coel processes her own experience of abuse.

Deadline. Arabella stares into a rather empty text document, smokes a joint, copies a tweet, just a few more hours, just one more night. She googles: "How to write quickly", and doesn't write anything, then goes out after all, just for a moment - in the Ego Death Bar.

... the moment in life must come when everything breaks. The next morning she is back in the literature agency in Soho, this time typing and typing like a bot, the laptop does the washing, sends it off. If that's not an ego-saving measure. Later that day, an image pounds in her head: a toilet cubicle, a man bent over her, a man who ... rapes her ?! Tinnitus acoustics, Arabella looks confused and says, "Huh."

Huh. That's the starting point of "I May Destroy You," the critically acclaimed HBO BBC series that is actually their series: Michaela Coel. Coel plays Arabella, wrote the screenplay, the 33-year-old British directed some of the twelve episodes and is a producer. But stop: is it even possible to speak of a “starting point” in the following scenario?

Arabella Essiedu, Bella for short, extremely talented, party drug consuming, currently pink-haired author in her early 30s with a crush on an Italian dealer, who achieved some fame on Twitter and on this basis published her first book "Chronicles of a Fat Millennial", lives beautiful precarious in a flat share in London, alienated from family, turned towards friends - and this Bella does not understand at first that something is breaking in her world, in her.

In six hours, the realism of sexual abuse is explored microscopically.

There's the blood on her forehead and shirt, there's the man in her head. She does not yet know that she was anesthetized with knockout drops and therefore cannot remember anything. And yes, to come back to the question: This narrative chaos is a starting point for a pretty sensational series, half detective portrait, half blown generational portrait, with hardly anything comparable that already exists. "I May Destroy You" is so radical, so comical that it thwarts any form of serial escapism, devastates it. On the one hand, there is a permanent bang here, inside the heroine, musically, in the discourse about racism, mobile phone messages are constantly being faded in, and - much more important - you never know what happened, what is true.

"The series calls for introspection," says Coel to "Vulture". “We're all good at looking outside, we can do that. But don't forget to look inside. "

Since she is in a blackout, Bella has no choice but to search for the truth, scanning Uber bills for clues, asking her friends what was going on that night. At the police station she says that "memory" is not the right expression for what she describes, better: "the man in my head".

“I May Destroy You” does not show a clear, conventional perpetrator-victim constellation - but a lot of sexual violence. When Bella's literary agents put an author with a Cambridge degree at her side in the hope of better results, she is abused again. During sex, the author secretly removes the condom, a criminal offense, as Bella later learns.

Perhaps that's why Coel drafted the script in 191 and knocked out a million dollar deal with Netflix because it should have given up the rights.

Her promiscuous friend Kwame (in the dating app he is called “Fun Now 97”) is raped by a playmate shortly after the consensual sex. These parallelisms to Bella's initial trauma can be found schematically - or realistically.

In six hours of broadcasting, the realism of sexual abuse and its consequences are explored so microscopically that it is hardly surprising that it is Michaela Coel's own story. In 2018, Coel made public that she was drugged and sexually abused shortly before the second season of her series "Chewing Gum" was released. Perhaps that is why Coel wrote 191 drafts for the script, according to "Vulture", and turned down a million dollar deal with Netflix because it would have had to cede the rights to the streaming provider. Because this is actually her fictional story.

In fact, the three black main characters, Bella, her best friend Terry (Weruche Opia) and Kwame (Paapa Essiedu) are constantly asking what it actually is: a perpetrator, a victim. In fact, despite all the reflection on borders, it is never questioned that Bella has become a victim. You just have to look in their face to know what's going on, that's where the real action takes place; Sometimes it is full of fear, sometimes calm, sometimes angry, then distant, amused.

As in a psychedelic documentary stream of consciousness, you can see Bella smoking weed in the toilet, becoming a social media activist for the fight against abuse and at some point sitting with her therapist disguised as a Halloween devil. She advises her to paint pictures, delete Instagram, self-care and so on. Quite wonderful: Bella paints a very colorful bird, yoga works moderately, and instead of cigarettes, she now loves a vaporizer.

After nine months the police closed the case, her rape is now a cold case. So Bella will not receive any answers from the outside, but from within; the longer the series goes, the more Bella looks at, studies and dissects her trauma. At some point she dares to look under her chaotic bed, there is the bloody shirt from that night, and some other repressed things. The cryptic title "I May Destroy You" can be read in many ways - I could destroy you, I may destroy you. Bella mustn't, Bella can't be destroyed.

"I May Destroy You" on Sky.