Review: I May Destroy You - Eyes, Eyes, Eyes, Eyes (Pilot Episode)

Written by, starring and executive produced by Michaela Coel, I May Destroy You is a BBC/HBO TV drama. This review is based on the pilot episode, titled ‘Eyes, Eyes, Eyes, Eyes’.

The majority of the first episode of I May Destroy You is set and filmed in London, but the very first scene is in Ostia, Italy on a non-descript road. We meet the protagonist, Arabella (Michaela Coel), as she is leaving Italy and saying goodbye to the Italian man that she has an unclear relationship with. Based purely on body language and dialogue it seems that their arrangement is confusingly one-sided: Biagio refuses to come to London to see her, for example, and before she gets in the taxi to go to the airport, she has to ask, “Are you going to miss me?” It seems she can’t even pin him down for a time for them to speak – “When I’m ready to call you, I’ll call”. Despite this unwillingness to commit to Arabella, Biagio still thinks it appropriate to comment when Arabella receives texts from another man. Of course, this could be a sign that he cares. It could also be a sign that he is possessive and a jealous partner. The person he was wary of was Arabella’s friend, Simon, so this also serves as some subtle foreshadowing too.

The phrase ‘make yourself at home’ is taken to a new level when the action moves to Hackney, London, as Arabella greets her housemate from the loo whilst simultaneously catching up with her literary agent on the phone, insisting there are only “minor revisions” to be made to her next piece of writing (hint: that’s not strictly true…). It’s an awkward call, intensified by the palpable social chasm between black, young, free-spirited Arabella and an uptight middle-aged, middle-class, white couple. In Arabella’s words, “It’s all a bit corporate, innit?” As a character, Arabella is the perfect antithesis to corporate greed, conservatism and oppression. She is outspoken and independent but knows when to bite her tongue to make the inescapable perks that come with having bourgeois contacts work in her favour, even if the line between exploiting a young woman’s talent so that they can profit from it and providing said young woman with the tools so that she can enjoy more success is a thin one: both scenarios result in the already-rich and powerful lining their pockets.

The events that follow the first five minutes build on the theme of exploitation – the exploitation of youth, of talent, of women, of ethnicity, of bodies, of innocence. Even the footage on the TV when the characters are at home alludes to the exploitation of natural resources by referring to deforestation in Ghana. It’s an interesting thread that runs through the episode and is fitting for a show set in the United Kingdom in the present day where unchecked exploitation of the working classes and underprivileged is a becoming more and more commonplace in an increasingly divided country.

It’s been a while since there has been a television show that reflects what it is like being young in England with such authenticity. Skins, Misfits or Shameless were all well received by different audiences when they aired and I May Destroy You feels like it has the potential to have a cultural impact of the same size, if not bigger. The way that subject matter such as sexuality, consent, mental health and relationships is dealt with sets the rest of the series up with a shock – “Cheers to women with anxiety” being just one example which highlights all of these problems in one self-depreciating line of dialogue.

Ultimately, the protagonist of I May Destroy You is compelling to watch and the frenetic nature of her life is fascinating to observe. At the end of the episode, a discomforting low angle shot of her face denoting darting eyes in response to a flashback lets the audience know that there is much more of Arabella left to unravel. Like the name of the fictitious book that Arabella published through Twitter, ‘the chronicles of this fed up millennial’ are positioned with anticipation in this pilot episode.

As the writer and creator of I May Destroy You, Michaela Coel has crafted not just a social commentary, but a social justice commentary, righting the wrongs that so many experience through the depiction of fictitious - but all too familiar - events on screen. It feels like a important outlet for the untold and hushed stories of those who have undergone mistreatment in various forms. Just the fact that IMDY has been financed and produced is a little step towards justice.

 

Verdict: Michaela Coel proves that bleak situations don’t have to be without humour and heart. A gripping pilot episode which sets viewers up for a intense binge of this innovative British drama.

Overall? ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Binge-worthy? 📺📺📺📺

Accolade eligibility? 💡💡💡💡💡

Study-worthy? 📚📚📚📚

 

Released on 8th June 2020 in the UK. Accessible via BBC iPlayer.

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