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

I May Destroy You takes Arabella back to Italy

Michaela Coel (left), Marouane Zotti
Michaela Coel (left), Marouane Zotti
Photo: Natalie Seery
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I like that “Line Spectrum Border” starts with Arabella in group therapy. It’s the singular moment of calm before the absolute hurricane that is this episode. Arabella is in this tranquil, safe environment where she can very clearly identify an issue, put that issue into words and explain it to others around her. She speaks with authority. It’s a skill that has made Arabella a powerful voice both online and within her support group, but once Arabella leaves, everything is out of her control and it sends her spinning. “Line Spectrum Border” throws her and Kwame into that unclear area Arabella described, but shows just how difficult it really is to find that space where rules and clarity really exist. Kwame and Arabella both cross massive boundaries this episode, but are also harmed in return. What seemed so clear to Arabella in one environment doesn’t work when she’s dealing with the realities of the world.

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Because I have been suspicious of Biagio since the beginning, I’m going to need a lot of time to gloat about being right. So, let’s start with Kwame. He explains to Terry and Arabella that he wants to date “females” (Kwame, using the term females is never a good sign!) because men feel dangerous to him right now. Also, sexuality is a spectrum, even if Kwame is disgusted at the thought of “vags and boobs.” It’s not that Kwame can’t experiment with women after his assault, but the notion that women aren’t capable of similar sexual harm or assault is naive. In fact, Kwame’s date ignores him when he asks her to wait as they’re making out. Imagine that scene if Kwame was a girl who said “Wait, I’m not sure…,” but the man kept physically engaging her.

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His date also fetishizes him as a black man multiple times and asks him to be rough with her, which causes him to remember his own assault. Obviously, women can’t keep him safe from his triggers. Afterwards, when Kwame is speechless and clearly upset over their sex, she doesn’t even ask how he feels. Also, she’s homophobic! She calls gay men appropriators of women and berates Kwame when he admits he’s gay because he no longer fits her stereotype of the hypersexual black man. This woman is obviously horrible and has the ability to harm Kwame.

The thing is, she has a right to be upset too. Even with a character so clearly problematic, Kwame had multiple opportunities to share his true intentions. Kwame didn’t identify as bisexual. He identified as a gay man who was temporarily riding the flow of the sexual spectrum so he could use women as a healing device. I don’t think people who sleep with the same sex have to disclose this if they sleep with the opposite sex, but Kwame was happy to let her know he was gay when it came time to defend his use of the f-word. If it mattered so much to his identity then, why not before they had sex? She said racist things before they even got to her bedroom, but it was her homophobia that crossed Kwame’s line.

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Kwame’s discomfort with her saying the f-word, while encouraging her to say the n-word instead of ninja is just another example of how complex and unclear the intersections of race, gender and sexuality truly are for individuals. Last episode, Arabella said she thought of herself as black and poor before she thought of herself as a woman. Similarly, Kwame thinks of himself as a gay man before a black man since he was willing to let her say the n-word and racially fetishize him, but put up a boundary when she used the f-word. That may be Kwame’s boundary, but other black men might’ve raised a red flag the moment she kept bringing up her interest in black guys. The boundaries and lines are always shifting.

There is one boundary that is firm across all cultures though: don’t break into someone’s house. Romantic comedies often play off what Bella did as cute and quirky and passionate, but it’s not. What Bella did was a serious invasion of privacy. Biagio was ignoring Bella’s calls, which makes it clear he did not want to see her. I think when Bella found out Biagio did go through with the DNA sample, she got hopeful. A lot of time has passed since Bella’s assault. Both of her Rapebuster detectives are now hugely pregnant, which is some beautiful imagery around motherhood, protection and the state. Bella, like Kwame, is ready to be loved again. Zain wasn’t about love or the sea, it was about regaining power. Bella wanted Biagio and pink wigs and the beach, so she went to Italy to recapture that moment.

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She also fully manipulated Terry into buying her ticket. At this point, Terry and Bella are pretty even in terms of being bad friends, but I hope their relationship isn’t moving into toxic territory. Bella used Terry’s concern against her and that’s not what good friends do.

“Line Spectrum Border” is the first time Bella has really faced legal difficulties when it comes to her attack. Up until now, the system has been on her side in a way that isn’t particularly realistic to experiences most victims have around the world. She was believed, police took her seriously and a suspect was quickly brought into custody. To some extent, this has probably made it easier for Bella to heal since her attack. But even with that support, DNA and CCTV footage, Bella still can’t get justice and that’s devastating to her progress. The case is closed but she isn’t given any closure. She tries to be the person she was before the attack, but she can’t go backwards. Her pink wig is falling apart and Biagio is clearly not ready to accept the girl underneath.

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“Line Spectrum Border” makes Biagio’s decision to lock Bella out an absolute surprise. Even though he was upset, I thought he might give her a chance when he asked her to read to him. But once he asked if she came alone and how long she was staying, I realized he had other plans. It’s such a sudden twist that Bella’s anger feels justified even though she broke into his apartment and he had every right to ask her to leave. Sure, he could’ve used his words to tell her he felt like this was a violation, but he clearly thinks she’s “crazy” and didn’t want a discussion.

Again, if you reversed the genders in this situation, you wouldn’t blame a woman for locking a man out who turned up in her apartment randomly. Still, this doesn’t justify Biagio pulling a gun out on Bella. Terry was right when she called Biagio a controlling hypocrite and that’s the exact type of escalation she feared. Bella thought Biagio cared about her and wasn’t capable of hurting her, but I honestly believe Biagio wouldn’t have had a single issue with actually shooting her if he needed to. I think this is the last we’ll see of Biagio and good riddance. Like Terry, I understand that the dick was probably bomb (and he’s hot), but he can’t give Arabella the emotional intimacy and affection she needs to get through this. Reality has hit and Arabella is drowning.

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Stray observations

  • Kwame’s face when they said “vag and boobs” was hilarious. Kwame, please leave the “females” alone though.
  • Terry needs to let go of her guilt because Arabella is going to manipulate her to hell if she keeps this up.
  • Kwame’s date was the worst kind of white woman. She was really an old school homophobe! That hat was ugly too!
  • Again, I loved the pregnant detectives.
  • The final shot in the ocean is my new favorite of the season so far.
  • Fuck you, Biagio! I hate being angry at attractive men!!
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Ashley Ray-Harris is a stand-up comic and writer.

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