Joining the ranks of HBO’s steadily growing slate of socially current television series is Michaela Coel’s “I May Destroy You.” The series premiered Sunday with the first of 12 episodes titled “Eyes Eyes Eyes.” The show centers around Coelas Arabella, a confident twenty-something Londoner with a promising writing career. Her life is seemingly perfect with great friends and burgeoning success until she is drugged and must piece together memories from the night it happened.
The first episode introduces viewers to Arabella and her eclectic group of friends. When we first meet Arabella, she’s returning from an unproductive stint in Italy that her editors funded, hoping she’d finish a draft of her follow-up to her debut successful novel. In an office in her hometown of London, she struggles to crank out the draft she failed to complete in Italy. Arabella’s Google search of “How to write quickly?” is something any college student scrambling to meet a deadline can relate to.
Arabella admits temporary defeat after her friend Kwame (Paapa Essiedu), who was keeping her company, ditches her for a last minute date. Arabella sets a timer for an hour in an effort to limit her procrastination and sets out to the bar to meet her other friend, Simon (Aml Ameen) who she’d initially turned down to work on her writing. This is where the mystery of the series begins.
After a few drinks, what was meant to be a harmless hour of fun with her friends quickly goes awry. The continuity of the episode begins to fragment, audio and visuals are asynchronous and scene cuts are disjointed and abrupt as Arabella stumbles out of the bar and leaves the audience scratching their heads.
Outside of the engrossing nature of the mystery of the series, Arabella’s addictive dynamics with everyone around her draw the viewer in. From her romantic relationships to encounters with fans of her popular first work “Chronicles of a Fed-Up Millennial,” you find yourself wanting to know more.
Her relationship with her long-distance Italian boyfriend — who she visits under the guise of writing so her editors pay for the trip — is among the most compelling. The boyfriend, Biagio (Marouane Zotti), is archetypically ‘foreign’ and mysterious. He feigns disinterest as they separate at the beginning, rebuffing her wishes to label their relationship. But as her Uber takes her to the airport, Biagio calls her and says, “Don’t forget the sea, she’s gonna be asking for when you come again,” effectively winning the heart of any viewer previously unimpressed by his aloof attitude.
“I May Destroy You” is also intriguing in its lack of reference to the diversity of the show. The cast is predominantly Black and also features LGBTQ characters. Some may find it detrimental not to address the representation of the show, while others may find it welcome. It is refreshing to watch a show where a Black protagonist’s primary personality trait is not being Black, and a gay character’s defining characteristic is not being gay.
“I May Destroy You” seems as though it will approach difficult topics in a manner similar to the graphic and unwavering methods of its network mate, “Euphoria.” At the end of the first episode, as Arabella completes her draft without realizing it, it becomes increasingly clear that she had been drugged at some point the night before, hence the dissonant audio and visuals and abrupt cuts and jumps. (Her editors kindly describe the latter part of the draft she completed in her drugged stupor after somehow making her way back from the bar as “abstract.”)
The episode concludes with Arabella opening the door to her room and the bang of her doorknob against the wall prompting the recollection of her being sexually assaulted which she only addresses with a “Hmm.” It leaves the audience confused, concerned and curious about the previous night’s events. Then, the screen turns to black and you’re left scrambling for another episode that won’t be released for another week.
The only pitfall with the episode was a seemingly random background storyline documenting Simon’s failing relationship and his partner’s unsuccessful attempt to spice it up. The storyline, in this individual episode, ends with Simon being a predictably disappointing boyfriend who cheats on his partner. While the storyline may round out as the season progresses, in this episode, it felt like an unnecessary addition that took the focus away from Arabella. Instead, more scenes about Arabella’s time in Italy with Biagio could have presented a compelling inclusion.
In spite of this less intriguing storyline, the majority of the episode successfully drew me in and made me yearn to know about Arabella, her friendships and her personality. The cut on her forehead and the unintelligible conclusion to her draft are pieces of the puzzle that the audience and Arabella alike will try to piece together as the series progresses. Coel simultaneously provides the audience with too little, too much and just enough information to not ask but demand the viewer’s attention.