Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Arabella faces her dark side in a thrilling I May Destroy You

Michaela Coel (left), Weruche Opia
Michaela Coel (left), Weruche Opia
Photo: Natalie Seery (AP)
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Last week’s episode, “Line Spectrum Border,” concluded with Arabella walking into the sea. Biagio was Bella’s last attempt to be the person she was before her assault and it failed. After Biagio’s rejection and her case being closed, Bella descends into the waves, accepting her loss of control. I hoped the moment could represent a baptism or a rebirth for Bella, but “Social Media Is a Great Way to Connect” shows us just how removed Bella is from truly dealing with her issues.

Rather than being baptized in the waters of Italy, she has come out as a flattened version of herself that largely exists online. Social media lets others project their security and justice onto Bella and she accepts it because she’s been denied her own justice. As the episode opens, the fake social media-focused version of Bella looms above her literally, wearing the long wig she wore in those Happy Animal videos. Bella replaces Biagio’s affection with more social media adoration and nearly destroys herself and her friendships in the process.  

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The episode immediately outlines Bella’s hypocrisy and need to cling to uncompromising boundaries. Bella is still haunted by memories of her assault, but now the faces of various white men fill in the face of her attacker. Perhaps these are the faces of men people in her group talked about or people she’s read about online, either way, Bella has drawn a line in the sand against Single White Men. Despite the fact that Ben, her Single White Male roommate has been a pretty great guy so far. I think Ben doesn’t even cross Bella’s mind when she’s ranting about Single White Men. At this point, she sees life in black and white. Anything that doesn’t fit into her idea of good and evil or victim and abuser, is ignored. Ben is a nice guy and doesn’t take Bella’s rants personally, but Bella’s rules fail when they’re applied to more complex experiences.

Sure, Bella gets to feel “right” about sticking to her boundaries, but there are consequences. For example, she might be right about her doctor using a racist form, but she’s so focused on this microaggression she doesn’t realize the stress she’s under or the threat to her physical health. Luckily, Terry is there to get the details, but “Social Media Is a Great Way to Connect” shows us how quickly Bella is willing to turn on Terry. Bella has been cruel to Terry since they were in high school, but social media has inflated her ego. Now Bella leads “movements” and tells Terry she should just shut up and listen since she’s not a rape victim. Of course, we know that isn’t true. Terry has also been sexually assaulted, but it falls outside of Bella’s strict definitions so it’s ignored.

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Kwame, however, gets the worst of Bella’s scorn even though she does know he’s a victim. I think it really hurt Kwame to see Bella be admired by a black, gay male victim after Bella failed to support him after his assault. If Bella is such a hero, why didn’t she do anything for Kwame? Instead, she made his pain worse by locking him in a room and then tried to avoid accountability by acting like she didn’t remember. Bella is so quick to judge Kwame over a perceived violation of the boundaries she created that she doesn’t even realize Kwame was also a victim in the situation. Of course, he made mistakes, but his date did force him to keep going after he asked her to stop. Like Terry said, it’s not a good situation for either one of them, but it doesn’t suddenly place Kwame firmly on the side of abusers.

Kwame didn’t make anything uncomfortable for anyone but Bella. Bella is so upset at the idea that she could’ve perpetrated abuse, she doesn’t even let Kwame voice his feelings on what she did. Terry calls her out on locking Kwame in the room and Bella gets angry so quickly, Kwame can’t even speak honestly. I think Bella spirals because she knows Kwame is right. Kwame’s situation forced her to realize her own mistakes and hypocrisies, but not before one final push for that sweet social media admiration.

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It’s terrifying watching her roam the streets on her phone. She doesn’t pay attention to her surroundings and it feels terrifying like that night in Italy with Terry or the night of her assault. What if someone online figures out where she is and finds her? What if someone on the street bother her? Will she end up in a bar or in a dangerous situation? Even though she’s just walking and reading tweets, the scene gets increasingly tense.

The real Arabella’s is still there though and it guides her to her therapist. After the misstep with Biagio, I’m happy Bella did the right thing and went somewhere safe. It almost feels too neat to simply have Bella take a social media break. From her outing of Zain to the giant purple heart she imagines after Biagio judges her, there’s been a lot of care put into the relationship between Bella and social media. However, pairing the situation with her outburst against Kwame helps heighten Bella’s realization that something is wrong. Kwame, Bella and Terry’s friendship is strong enough to survive this and seeing how close she came to throwing it away is enough to convince her to make a change.

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I also don’t think it’ll be that easy for Bella to give up that flattened image of herself. Long-wig Social Media Bella makes another appearance as Bella finally faces her past, but now she realizes how ridiculous she sounds. Bella is so good at pushing things under her bed and out of her memory that she forgot about an abortion she had. If Bella didn’t take a break from social media, it definitely would’ve stopped her healing process. She would’ve kept distracting herself with everyone else’s problems rather than facing her own. After opening the bags from her case, the episode ends with Bella going back to the bar where she was assaulted for the first time. She looks directly at the camera. Bella may not be distracted anymore, but it’s still hard to say what she’s focused on next. 


Stray Observations

  • Arabella didn’t know what doxxing was? Really? I know they just had to define it for the audience, but it was the first clumsy use of social media on the show to me.
  • I like that Bella is all about her rules and boundaries this episode, but no one else’s rules apply to her. She vapes and uses her phone through the entire Paint and Sip event, even though she’s not supposed to.
  • The tweets about Bella got more and more claustrophobic. It was impressive how they captured that feeling as people went from supporting her to diagnosing her.
  • I don’t think Bella even stopped to wonder if she was making the right choice about her abortion. I think she just did what she thought she had to do and moved on. Her assault has compounded all of these moments where things were out of her control. Life has been washing over Bella for a long time. 
  • I’m glad the episode concludes with Bella, Kwame and Terry as friends again. I was worried they’d drag their drama out, but it’s more interesting watching them work through this.
  • Kwame is dating men again! 
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Ashley Ray-Harris is a stand-up comic and writer.

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