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First Season Of HBO's 'I May Destroy You' Comes To A Close

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: And at this point, Noel and I are going to take over the show for a few minutes because we have both been riveted, obsessed - shall I use that word? - by an...


MARTIN: Yeah, totally. We can use that word - by an HBO series that's wrapping up its first season tonight.

KING: It's called "I May Destroy You," and it was created by and stars Michaela Coel. She plays a young woman named Arabella, a writer who's Internet famous. She's written a first book. She's trying to write another book. And one night, she goes out to a bar just to take a break, and someone spikes her drink and then rapes her.

MARTIN: Right. She doesn't know who. She only has flashes of memory. She spends the rest of the series figuring out what has happened, or at least trying to, which makes it sound like a detective story, but it's not. It's about so many things - identity and race, power. And, yes, it's about sexual assault. And as a result, this is not going to be a conversation that everyone may want to hear, but we're going to talk through what makes this show so very compelling.

KING: With Angelica Jade Bastien. She's written about the show for the entertainment news site Vulture.

So can I tell you guys the thing that stood out to me? So, Angelica, you wrote a piece for Vulture about your own experiences with sexual assault and how you thought about them as you were watching this show.


KING: And the thing that kept going through my mind was, I actually know this woman. I have multiple friends that this has happened to. And that was the weird part - was feeling like there's this show about this woman who's had this experience that at this point - I hate to say it - it just feels like so many of us have been through this or been through something like it. And it's like, damn, where does this stop?

BASTIEN: That's a loaded statement. Where does this stop? I don't know. I wish I had an answer. But I think shows like this are really important because they deal with the lived reality of this experience and portray it in a way that's honest and beautiful and heart-wrenching and necessary. And hopefully it starts conversations in people's own lives about what they've done and what they've experienced.

MARTIN: Michaela Coel's character, Arabella, is trying to write through the experiences that she has had, not just with a rape, but with a subsequent sexual assault - what she comes to understand to be a sexual assault. And I want to play this tape because this is a moment where she makes a decision that she is going to name her assaulter in a public forum. She's gotten this writing award. She stands up to accept the recognition, and this is how she uses that moment.


MICHAELA COEL: (As Arabella) I believe he is a predator. One woman has come forward and informed me of the same experience. So I'm not the first. If I don't take this opportunity to say this now, certainly won't be the last. He is a rapist - not rape-adjacent or a bit rape-y. He's a rapist.

MARTIN: And she actually says his name - the character's name in this. I mean, there's a lot here, Angelica. It's her taking power, right?

BASTIEN: Oh, totally. I think that's a good way of describing that moment. It's such a striking moment because of that. You know, with the experience of sexual assault and losing that control over your own body, over your own life, you do try to find ways to feel a sense of power again. So that's why I really love that specific moment.

MARTIN: But there's also in that - Noel, I'd be curious as to what you think about this. It's like she realizes that she can create an identity out of this. And all of a sudden, she's, like, invincible. She posts this stuff online, and social media just affirms her, for the most part. There's some bad haters out there. But all of a sudden, it's more complicated because the show - she's a hero, but she's not without criticism. She's not without mistakes.

KING: Well, the thing that kept coming to my mind as she gained more fame and more attention, I just kept thinking, she's drunk with power. She's positioned herself as the voice. And this is - again, what makes this so impressive is that Michaela Coel allows you to look at her and be a little critical and be like, Arabella, come on.

MARTIN: (Laughter) What are you doing?

KING: What are you doing?

BASTIEN: Oh, yeah. Arabella is a really fascinating character. What's really smart about the show is Michaela Coel isn't afraid of letting Arabella be unlikeable and make very, very messy mistakes in the process of her healing, which I think is really necessary to see. I think there's this script that society thinks victims have to go by, but healing is not a straight line. It's a weaving process throughout life.

KING: That reminds me of this other area of divergence that made the show feel realer to me than most. And that was she goes to the police. She goes to the rape unit, and they try so hard. They're - it's two women who were interviewing her. They're so sympathetic. She breaks down in tears, and they're like, you're OK. And then her publisher, who really wants her to finish her book, assigns her to a therapist. And I want to play this moment where she's at the therapist's office because I found myself rewinding this again and again. Let me play for you guys what I'm talking about.


ANDI OSHO: (As Carrie) It's helpful to identify people you trust. And then from there, try doing relaxing, creative things together.

COEL: (As Arabella) Like?

OSHO: (As Carrie) You could go for walks, yoga, jogging, meditation, painting.

COEL: (As Arabella) Painting?

OSHO: (As Carrie) Handicrafts.

COEL: (As Arabella) I don't even think I know what handicrafts is.

OSHO: (As Carrie) Coloring in.

COEL: (As Arabella) My friends aren't really going to be...

MARTIN: (Imitating British accent) Handicrafts.

KING: Handicraft.

MARTIN: (Imitating British accent) Coloring.

KING: And Michaela Coel gives her this look that is, like, confusion. What are you suggesting I do? You want me to knit? And it was this moment where it's like the therapist is so well-meaning. The therapist is there to help. But nothing's really going to help.

BASTIEN: Yeah. I mean, this is an experience you have to just sort of see your way through. And, you know, it's great to have support and a therapist, but this is an experience that is both common and also singular to the human being who is dealing with it. So normal accounts of self-care, while helpful, they're not going to solve the whole story that is healing from sexual assault. Sometimes it's hard to find closure, which is what makes the final few episodes of the show really, really striking - is how she approaches what closure would look like.

MARTIN: Angelica Jade Bastien writes for Vulture. The finale of "I May Destroy You" Season 1 is on HBO tonight. Angelica, thank you so much for talking with us.

BASTIEN: Thank you. Thank you guys for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.