I May Destroy You ending explained: What did the three different sequences mean?
Every little detail has an important message
CW: Sexual assault, rape, trauma
The final two episodes of I May Destroy You were released on Monday. I don’t know about any of you, but I was waiting all week to see how Michaela Coel planned to tie this series together. From beginning to end, the show has gone in so many unexpected directions, to the point where you stop trying to predict what might come next and just let yourself be fully swept up by it. The series juggles a lot of serious themes and complex experiences, so pulling this all together to some form of conclusion in the final 25 minutes felt impossible from a viewer’s point of view. But (of course) Michaela managed it and once again she gave us a hilarious, deeply upsetting and wildly unpredictable ride.
In the final episode, we see three different versions of what would happen if Arabella saw her rapist. The first shows her revenge-driven with a fully developed plan that results in murdering him and hiding him under her bed. The second shows Terry leading with her own plan that ends in Arabella taking the opposite approach: counselling her rapist and supporting him through his arrest. The third sequence feels the most surreal – the club is empty, it’s daylight and Arabella is the one who approaches him, invites him back to her home and they have consensual sex. After this, the scene begins again with Arabella choosing to stay home with her roommate and finish her book.
There is so much to unpack. From important messages around the complex experience of processing trauma, to tiny symbolic meanings within the upside-down toilet sign, we have delved into it all and tried to find some answers. Whether you’re here because you’ve finished the series and are now riddled with burning questions or you’re just desperate to relive those incredible 25 minutes all over again, sit down, pour yourself a large drink of choice and get ready for some much-needed explanations.
The first sequence demonstrates closure through revenge
The first sequence involves wigs, costume, drugging, violence, murder, a dead body under a bed and blood-splattered book notes. It is the epitome of Arabella’s anger and her need to destroy the attacker in the same way he destroyed her – “I May Destroy You” may have been Arabella’s thoughts on repeat when she thought up this scenario.
This is how many victims could imagine they would act if they saw their own perpetrator – their overwhelming sense of anger may manifest into recurring fantasies of killing their attacker. Although this scenario is understandable, it’s definitely not the solution anyone wanted for Arabella so thank God it started all over again.
The second sequence offers her closure through empathy and compassion
On the other end of the spectrum is the second sequence. Although the initial plan is for Arabella to trap the attacker in the toilet so Terry could call the police and get him arrested, she empathises with him and takes him home. Rather than seeking revenge, she rises above the situation and hears him out. She finds a sense of closure through understanding why he acted the way he did.
This scenario is another potential response to trauma. If someone doesn’t fantasise about getting revenge, they may fantasise about finding empathy – if you can understand why someone acted a certain way, then you can more easily move on from it. But still, this version definitely wasn’t satisfactory.
The third sequence demonstrates closure through reclaiming her power
The third and most interesting scenario seemed to playout Arabella taking back power. It’s daylight so she may feel less vulnerable, she’s also the one to approach him, buy him a drink, take him into the bathroom and eventually invite him back to hers.
Not only is she taking back power but the gender roles reverse. Terry is receiving the lapdance, the men’s/women’s toilet sign is joined and upside down, when Arabella and David are having sex he’s laying down and she’s behind him, even the way they act in the morning presents him more effeminate and her more masculine.
This could mean so much. Maybe Michaela is saying Arabella can never really take back control because she’s a woman and that you can only fully and completely hold power in society if you’re a man. Maybe she’s saying truly equal and healthy sex without any forms of exploitation can only be achieved if we dismantle all gender roles. Or maybe she was just trying to fully fuck with our heads one last time.
The looped ending highlights there is no simple answer to trauma
There’s nothing more annoying than a film that spends two hours delving deep into a load of complex, upsetting and very real themes and then offers a “happy ending” conclusion. It’s not realistic and it’s always really disappointing. Michaela doesn’t do this.
She gives us various possible endings that are all equally right and wrong, just and unjust, and then she finishes it there. Moral of the story: there is no simple solution to trauma. Instead, there is a painful net of hate, vengefulness, a need to regain the power that was taken and a desire to find some level of understanding. Michaela doesn’t neatly package any of this up because she’s telling the story of real life experiences and in these experiences, you rarely find easy conclusions.
As Arabella clears under her bed, she also processes her trauma
Okay so, the bed. A big ol’ symbol in this series and one that features a lot in the last two episodes. We know that the bed has significant meaning because in one of Arabella’s therapy sessions her therapist says that as she (A) represses her trauma (X), she also physically puts a hard line between the two (A/X) by storing stuff under her bed – the clothes she wore the night she was raped, the pregnancy scan, Zain’s clothes, etc. It’s only in the final two episodes that she starts to work through this, which Terry pushes her to do as a form of “cleansing”.
But then it goes even deeper. When Zain comes over to help her finish the book, she asks him to take two bags from under the bed with him (at this moment she comes to terms with what he did). In the first sequence, she puts David’s dead body under the bed (suppressing anger from the trauma). And in the third sequence when she asks David to leave, the dead David comes out from under the bed and leaves too and takes a bag with him (here she processes this trauma).
Arabella actually finds closure through her writing
Though we see three ways Arabella could try and find closure, when none of these endings happen it becomes clear she finds it through finishing her book. Michaela highlights this through the design of Arabella’s book cover – it’s an A and an X overlapping. This is the same symbol her therapist drew after the A/X. She merges the two letters to show how Arabella must stop repressing her trauma and instead face and process it – Arabella and her trauma must become one. This symbol, therefore, represents Arabella moving forward from her trauma and so her book is literally a physical copy of her doing just that.
If you’re still not convinced by this theory, then think about the last few seconds we see of the series. She’s holding up her new book, we see the cover, we see her happy and then we see a shot of her on the beach the first time she was with Biagio. This is maybe the happiest, most peaceful time for Arabella and one she reflects on a lot. She then walks away smiling – beaches, the sea, blue skies – all big signs of freedom, relief and closure.
You can watch I May Destroy You on BBC iPlayer here.