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

I May Destroy You takes a detour into the past in its third episode

Michaela Coel (left), Weruche Opia
Michaela Coel (left), Weruche Opia
Photo: Natalie Seery (HBO)
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“Don’t Forget the Sea” takes place 3 months before the events that have defined I May Destroy You so far. Bella’s assault is the show’s catalyst, but the series isn’t rushing to uncover the mystery or consequences of Bella’s trauma. This might be frustrating to viewers who are invested in justice for Bella or uncovering the mysteries of Shady Simon, but it’s what makes the show feel authentic. The healing process is full of detours and that’s exactly what “Don’t Forget the Sea” provides.

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Isolating Terry and Arabella in a foreign country places a spotlight on the strengths and flaws of their friendship. Near the end of last week’s episode, “Someone is Lying,” Terry got upset when Arabella mentioned an incident in Italy that was similar to the night of her assault. “Don’t Forget the Sea” doesn’t leave us wondering and presents the very night in question in full detail. It’s not Terry’s retelling or Arabella’s version of events, but an objective look at the shifty nature of consent and safety women often face. Despite the joyous, black girl magic start, there are moments of “Don’t Forget the Sea” that feel like a horror movie.

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When Terry leaves the club, stumbling alone while taking directions from her phone? I held my breath. As Biagio watched Arabella lose control, I wondered what he might try to do to her. Michaela Coel’s script wants you to imagine the worst possibilities before revealing something more deceitful. The threesome Terry mentioned last episode wasn’t exactly a thrilling moment of sexual liberation. Instead, Terry was manipulated by two men who clearly knew each other. They lied so she’d feel like she was in control. It’s consent by coercion and it’s blatantly manipulative. Terry wanted an exciting sexual adventure and that is absolutely fair. But as Terry watches the two men walk away, she realizes they do know each other; she only thought she was in control of the situation.

Much like Bella’s attack, it makes Terry question herself. She may not want to view it as assault simply because she doesn’t want to believe she could be manipulated. Maybe Terry was tired of Bella ignoring her. Maybe she was just coming down from drugs and wanted to get laid. Maybe she just wanted her moment of substance and depth and was tired of being in Bella’s shadow. None of that means she deserves to be blatantly lied to and tricked into a threesome.

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Since Bella was drugged, her assault is considered “clear cut” by people who look for any reason to discredit a victim. Terry’s assault, however, would probably make those same people say she was asking for it. Coel’s script makes it clear Terry was never asking for that. It’s a moment that expands our cultural understanding of assault. Undoubtedly, Bella’s healing process will force Terry to reckon with her own encounter.

Ok, phew, so that’s the scary part of the episode! I know you’re tired of me saying Michaela Coel is an incredible writer, but the tonal shifts in “Don’t Forget the Sea” are so well done. Even though it’s odd Biagio says he’s going to a house party and then shows up at the club Bella’s at, he apparently just wants to make sure Bella gets home safe. While Terry is on her own murky adventure, Bella is peeing on sidewalks, throwing up and drunkenly singing. She realizes Biagio isn’t a slimy drug dealer and he might just be a good guy. She sobers up a bit and puts the moves on a sober Biagio. Even though they try to have sex, they...don’t thanks to an incredibly graphic blood clot.

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Instead, Bella sneaks into a resort with him and they spend the night talking by the sea. It’s beautiful. It’s romantic. The way Marouane Zotti looks at Coel makes you gasp. And then Biagio says, “When you get in trouble one day, don’t come crying to me.” And we’re brought back to Bella’s current situation. Bella certainly has troubles to deal with now and Biagio’s lectures on drugs and club safety etiquette probably won’t provide the emotional comfort she needs. It explains why Bella didn’t want to talk to Biagio last episode. Maybe she knows how he’ll react. Maybe she just thinks she knows how he’ll react.

When it comes to Terry, “Don’t Forget the Sea” doesn’t let Bella off the hook. Last week, Bella said she shouldn’t have been left alone because she was on more drugs, but she was only on more drugs because she didn’t share! Terry was put in a vulnerable position because of Bella’s selfish choices. Coel and Weruche Opia have more than enough chemistry for the show to dive into their friendship and I hope it does. I May Destroy You continues to introduce new perspectives and stories rather than going for the obvious. We don’t know how the events in “Don’t Forget the Sea” will impact things 3 months in the future, but it’s clear some kind of reckoning is coming.

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Stray Observations

  • After months of quarantine, it felt so good to watch Bella and Terry party. I miss clubs. I miss dancing. Kudos to Sam Miller’s direction. Perfectly captured the fun rolling tilt-a-whirl feeling of drugs and the fear of being a woman alone in public.
  • Ok, maybe Biagio is great and I understand why Bella is so into him, but something felt odd about his guardian angel moment. He said he was ashamed of being a drug dealer. Maybe he was watching Bella because he didn’t want her to die or get in trouble with his drugs on her. Maybe I’m being too suspicious and I should accept the the beauty of their relationship? Something tells me to trust Terry on this one.
  • Loved that Arabella had a different colored wig to let us know we’re in the past.
  • So...that blood clot scene. Like I said...the tonal shifts are well done. I can’t think of another show that could pull that off. I laughed. I looked away.
  • Arabella dancing on all the tables and her pad showing was an iconic moment.
  • I think Terry’s comments about how she has little power as an actress highlight that she threw the audition in last week’s episode on purpose. She may not have the power to call them out for making racist requests, but she can decide not to work with them. Also, the questionable power dynamics of her threesome have probably made her rethink her agency and boundaries. Weruche Opia is firing on all cylinders. She brings such a softness to Terry.
  • Ok, Biagio is hot. Incredibly hot.
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Ashley Ray-Harris is a stand-up comic and writer.

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