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

I May Destroy You embraces Arabella’s imperfections

Paapa Essiedu (left), Michaela Coel, Weruche Opia
Paapa Essiedu (left), Michaela Coel, Weruche Opia
Photo: Natalie Seery (AP)
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This week’s episode, “Happy Animals,” gets I May Destroy You back on track, chronologically. Arabella is still attending Theo’s support group, which has helped her articulate not only her own struggle, but the system that her struggle exists within. She explains that all of these women are viewed as crazy by men who’ve created their own boundaries and definitions of assault in their heads. Arabella is right about this, but she doesn’t necessarily understand that she’s guilty of the same behavior. Since her assault, Arabella has created a line between survivors and non-survivors which has made her incapable of seeing that people like Terry and Kwame actually are survivors.

Bombarded with social media attention, she’s become self-centered. Or, it’s probably more accurate to say she’s being self-centered again. I May Destroy You hasn’t tried to hide the fact that Arabella is imperfect. She let Terry wander alone in Italy because all she cared about was doing drugs. She locked Kwame in a room, even though she knew he was taking a break from dating because she didn’t take him seriously. She didn’t support Terry when she got stage fright at the reading summit. Even last week, when we saw Terry and Arabella in high school, Arabella made jokes about Terry’s looks. Arabella is not a very good friend and “Happy Animals” is explicit about that.

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Why would Arabella even invite Theo to Terry’s birthday given what Terry said in last week’s episode? Terry clearly doesn’t trust Theo and Arabella knew that, but didn’t care how it might make Terry feel at her own birthday party. Arabella and Theo doing coke in Ben’s room while they completely ignore him was hilarious, but it’s also symbolic of Arabella’s worldview right now. She doesn’t care about anything beyond herself at the moment. When Kwame and Terry are cleaning up, they look tired of Arabella as she goes on about their births being her birth. She has no idea what they’re going through. Luckily, Kwame finally tells Terry about his assault. Their irritation towards Arabella has driven them closer and I’m glad they have each other.

Because, well, Terry is still a good friend. Even though it’s revealed that Terry was the one who told Simon to lie and leave Arabella at the club, it makes sense when you consider Italy. It’s not that Terry was trying to get back at Arabella, there’s no way she could’ve known Arabella was drugged. But now we know why she feels so guilty and has dedicated herself to Arabella’s healing process. I also think Terry is right to be skeptical of Theo. If Theo is willing to let Arabella be exploited for a paycheck, what else is she willing to do? If Theo had been upfront from the beginning, then it wouldn’t have been an issue to me, but she willingly put Bella in a position to be used.

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Bella doesn’t seem to notice when she’s being exploited. Her friends have to explain that white people’s conservation efforts usually only rely on profiting off of black people, not helping them. The many followers Bella has online are starting to ask her for financial help and assistance with legal fees. Terry points out that Bella is making some positive changes in her life, but she does still do coke and smokes in this episode. With every improvement, Bella also takes a few steps backwards. I think her friendship with Theo will make her regress even more. Arabella may be able to express herself more in her writing now, but she’s still struggling with money and deadlines.

Arabella’s visit to Susy’s office is a reminder that there are still very real financial consequences to Arabella’s healing process. She needs more time for her book, but her publisher is more concerned with contracts, deadlines and the appeal of rape as a topic than Bella’s actual needs. Arabella clearly though Susy would support her out of black girl sisterhood, but Susy doesn’t do that. Susy fails to meet Bella’s expectation. At the same time, I like that Susy is pushing Arabella to accept the responsibilities she agreed to in her contract. While social media has provided Bella with some support, hopefully, she doesn’t forget her original tribe. I have a feeling Terry wouldn’t have any patience for her missing deadlines.

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Stray observations

  • Arabella grappling with the intersection between her race and gender was a great moment. Theo’s support group has helped her find this new tribe, but Terry’s birthday party and Theo’s actions show the limits of white feminism.
  • I thought the boy who was hitting on Kwame was really cute and I’m mad Arabella put him in that position. Kwame also shared the story of how he lost his virginity, which was also dark, but sadly typical of the queer coming-of-age experience. Arabella continually saying that issues of assault are female-centered obviously hurts Kwame and ignores his reality as a gay man. I need Arabella to get it together and be a better friend.
  • Terry looked amazing in that orange dress.
  • I honestly love Ben, Arabella’s boring white roommate. He just stays in his room mostly.
  • Arabella eating the fried chicken was hilarious.
  • Simon wasn’t hiding anything super shady, just Terry’s lie.
  • I interviewed Michaela Coel for Elle! We talked about some of my favorite show theories (I have a lot to say about cardigans on this show), trigger warnings, Insecure and more. Even though the series has finished airing on the BBC, this interview doesn’t have any spoilers!
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Ashley Ray-Harris is a stand-up comic and writer.

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