S1: The following podcast contains explicit language, I want to tell you my secret now, I see.
S2: Shilat, greatest fable I am. What’s in the box? Yo, yo, yo, yo, yo.
S3: Hi, and welcome to Slate spoiler specials. Today, we’re going to be spoiling I may destroy you, my Callicles. Incredible, phenomenal. Like there are not enough good words or things to say about it. Drama about rape, consent, friendship, empathy and so much more. I’m Willa Paskin, Slate’s TV critic, and I’m joined today by Angelica Bastiano, staff writer at Vulture, who has written about the show. And I think we’ll get into some of what she wrote as we discuss it. Hi, Angelica. Welcome. Hi. Thank you so much for having me. I’m really, really excited to talk about the show because there’s actually so much to talk about. Just feels really dense. I’m sure we could talk for a really long time. We will talk for the time allotted. So Maquila will produce the show she wrote every single episode she directed most of them. It’s based on her own experience and she stars in it, too. As Arabella Aidoo, a young writer and Twitter sensation who is working on her second book and who at the end of the very first episode is drugged and raped at a bar. Her memory of the incident is only hazy, and the whole series is concerned with the fallout of this event, but not in any narrow sense. It’s set in a vibrant social world, a black British world populated by Arabella’s friends over the course of the series also deal with issues of assault and consent. It’s very dense, very intense, very carefully constructed. Every detail signifies. And it’s also sometimes very funny because there’s so much to talk about that I thought that what we could do is to talk really specifically about the finale, which needs like even more unpacking, I think, than the episodes that preceded it, and use that as a way to jump into the threads and themes and characters of the series as a whole. That’s how good that sounds. Great. Okay, good. So just to set it up a little bit in the penultimate episode of the series, Arabella remembers what happened to her the night of her rape. And the finale is a kind of triptych like there are three versions of what happens after Arabella remembers. And at first it sort of seems like they’re taking place in reality, but they are, in fact, taking place in her imagination. Or maybe that’s what get into the book she’s writing. So I just want to jump in. Do you want to tell me what happens in the first sort of the first scenario?
S4: The first scenario is really fascinating because I think it presents David, her rapist, as a predator and a very clear sense. All of them have a very similar beginning. So it begins with Arabella realizing as she’s looking into the bar called ego death, that she’s looking at her rapist and she starts to remember things. And so her and Terry Rush inside the bathroom and Arabella’s freaking out. She’s trying to figure out what to do. But she has a plan. She’s very planned out. She even has a wig to wear. That’s how, you know, a black woman is ready for something. And so in the bathroom, she’s talking to her friend Terry about the plan and they’re going to rope Theo into it. Theo has become a friend for Arabella and proves instrumental in figuring out a solution for Arabella. And the solution they come up with is to drug David and make him feel the same way that Arabella felt, which is out of control. And it ends up ending in a very bloody fashion where Theo is strangling David with Arabella’s underwear and. Arabela is pounding into him like with her fist while he is completely drugged up and barely conscious, and she ends up putting him under her bed, which is the place that we’ve seen in the show where she puts a lot of things she doesn’t want to face. So that’s the basic arc of how that first fantasy goes totally.
S5: And so E-. Alex Young, your colleague, wrote this profile of McKayla Cole, where she’s sort of in an Airbnb in Michigan trying to write the finale and her Airbnb hosts like Recommences Margaret Atwood, short story to her. And she’s like, does it end in murder? The host is like it does. And Mikhalkov is like, I’m trying not to go that route kind of. And what I think is interesting about these three stories is I think McKayla Cole is kind of working through some of the clichés of how we resolve assault narratives. So this first one is like revenge, right? She’s going to beat the shit out of this guy. She takes him home on the bus like a woman on the bus is like boys will be boys, like not understanding the scenario and she shoves them under a bed. We’re like, we see this pool of blood. Like she’s she’s murdered him and and hit him under a bed. And as you were saying in the language of the show, which I think is really important to understanding this episode, the bed and everything, you hide under it, all the monsters that you put there like that is really unhealthy. Right. So there’s this sequence in Episode nine where she’s talking to her therapist and she sort of says in passing, like, I’m just shoving everything under the bed. Like Arabela makes this metaphor explicit. Mechanical uses the exact same language in the profile as well. Like we do this, we divide the world into dualities. Below the bed, above the bed, evil, good friend, foe me, not me. And that’s actually we have to get into what’s under the bed and like, really excavate it and look at it and sort of try to become an integrated with that under the bed shit or we’re doomed. So it’s just like strictly the symbolics of the show. Shoving him under the bed is like an unsatisfying conclusion, even though kicking the shit out of your rapist is like in pop culture, like kind of a revenge conclusion, you know, but like, it’s not good enough. I think the rest of the show will show us that there’s a lot that’s left out, that it’s not good enough, that it’s not good enough for Arabella, basically.
S6: Yeah, I had a slightly different reading on the first fantasy, as you know, I think this is an experience a lot of women deal with. And I’ve had the experience of having my drink drugged at a bar I used to be very comfortable at. I never got fully my memories back of the incident, but I have played out many of these fantasies in my head of what I would do to the various men who have done things like that to me. And I agree that, you know, beating up a guy and killing him and leaving him off this earth completely like wiping him off the face of the earth is satisfying in one respect, but in another, it doesn’t heal. Your emotional wounds is not a clean ending. So in that regard, I did in some level, like because it’s so visceral seeing Arabella beat him up. But I think the reason why is unsatisfying is not that it’s a cliche, but that it’s too simple for a complicated subject.
S5: Totally. I mean, that’s totally right. That’s great. I think also what we’re seeing happen is like we’re in Arabella’s like thoughts, right? Like we’re in her contemplating all of her imaginings, all of her fantasy is all of our fantasies, you know, something like all of her thinking about what could happen. And so, of course, this happens, like even though it is a cliche, like, of course, cliches are cliches because they’re real. Right. So, like, so, of course, one of the like she’s like, all right. The first thing I’m going to imagine is like revenge. I’m going to get this guy. But as you say, it isn’t enough, not just because it’s a cliche, because it doesn’t it doesn’t help her. Right. She’s still stuck with all this shit. Whether or not she ever confronts him in real life, like the impact is there. Let’s go into the second one.
S6: There’s a specific detail in the second one that I found really interesting. Yeah. The second one sort of flips things in a certain regard. You see the same arc of her looking into the bar, seeing David, realizing who he is and like putting everything together and her entry once again rushing to the bathroom. But this time Arabela doesn’t have a plan.
S1: It’s Terry who has the plan, which involves Arabella snorting a lot of cocaine, which is an interesting choice because she has to pretend to be drugged at some point.
S7: I didn’t actually quite understand. I was like, Terry, this plan is a little wacky. Like I just like with a real Terry plan where you’re like, I don’t follow like the why this has to happen part.
S5: But OK, I think that my goal is throughout the show really suddenly and in a great way, doing this thing where she’s just like, I’m not having this. It’s like you deserved it because you party thing. Like I’m just not having I’m not going to engage with it. So it’s like Arabela is like a person. She has a life like she does drugs in a casual way sometimes. And often it’s really fun. Like that doesn’t mean she deserved anything. And I’m so going to, like, just steamroll that as just to like have it multiple times, like be like just not consider that part like in such a such a willful way that you obviously like is considering it. And to me this is like just a sort of hyped version of that where it’s like it’s kind of almost comedic. Right. Like even when she’s talking to this rapist, it’s so tense, but she’s just like so intense and like dancing and like the version of her who was raped is dancing behind her. There’s just like a lot going on. But it’s none of it is like a responsible person doing coke, you know.
S1: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s also really fascinating when she’s in the bathroom with Terry instead of just saying rape is she says rape her.
S6: And there’s something about that change in language that changes the meaning and makes it active and somehow more pointed in a way. I thought that was interesting. And also the moment her former self dancing by her is so striking and totally puts you in the mind of, oh, this is complete fantasy. So as it continues, she pretends to once again be drugged because he buys her a drink. She stumbles into the bathroom with him. He starts to once again try to take off her underwear, tries to rape her. And once again, she turns round and she’s like, you know, that’s not going to happen. And what’s interesting is he shows a violence at first, pushing her against the wall of the bathroom, holding her face, calling her a whore. But then it turns and he’s talking about himself. Yeah, Terry is outside of the bathroom calling the police so they’ll get him. But when the police come in, they’re gone. And Arabela has taken him back to her apartment and she’s showing him kindness and she’s curious about his life. And he talks about being in prison and having to take therapy with that and all the rapes he’s done, he’s begging for her to stay near him while they hear the sirens of the police coming and eventually the police bust into the apartment and drag him away. But is that satisfying?
S5: OK, so my read of this is like, so David, in the bathroom like this, these are the kind of things that he says he’s a first. He’s like, you’re a whore. He’s echoing some of the language that Arabel actually had when she was first talking to her therapist. Or she’s like, I tell myself, like, people don’t have cell phones. People are starving in Iraq. And he’s sort of he sort of says that same thing like you think anyone cares about you. Like there’s all this horrible shit going on and some bloke wants to fuck you in a bathroom like you’re nothing. But then he turns into this language that’s very like don’t tell any. And David, if you tell anyone, I’ll kill you, you’re worthless, David, you’re worthless, and he’s sobbing and it becomes very clear that he’s using language. I was used to him and he the implication, I think, is that he has his own history of sexual trauma. Right. If you think about the first scenario is kind of like walking through one of these, like the first come to mind trope of like what you imagine, which is like the sort of revenge scenario. This is like another really common one. Right. Which is like what have your rapist is a person like it’s almost like they’re saying maudlin and trite about it. But you could imagine so many like like a mediocre play. Right. That ends where you’re like, oh, we can understand horrible people because they are also wounded and abused. I’m not saying that. I think this is trite and cliche. I think she’s playing with this. Mm hmm. And I think one of the things that’s really interesting is that to me, this has become a real third rail thing to, like, imagine the humanity of an attacker. And I think that’s because generally we’re just like in the media and so much fiction is like so predisposed to over imagine the identity of an attacker. Right. To like to suppress the humanity of the victim, to make them not the focus and to overfocus on the attacker and like who they are. But I think one of the things about the show is because it’s 12 episodes, because it’s so rich and so deep, because Michael has so obviously, like not been the suppressing the humanity of the victim. Like it’s about her. It’s about her friends and all these ways, like she can do this. She can, like, look at this without it feeling like like you’re like, oh, you’re doing this because Arabela is thinking these thoughts. Right. Like she wants to know what this why did this happen? Why would someone do something like that to her? Like that’s what is happening in her mind. And she’s like allowing herself to explore that. So you see this exploration you don’t really see of all of this sort of thing in a way that’s not icky. You know, usually it is icky when you explore some of these questions. But I do think it is also, as you said about the first one, there isn’t a little unsatisfying about it because it’s like it’s too much about him. Right? Like she’s totally silent in that scene where they’re in her house. Like he’s just being like, I did all these even like darkly comedic where he’s, like listing all the various different kinds of rape that he’s done. And he’s like, why aren’t you scared of me? I’m totally weirded out like you should. Why are you letting me sit on your bed? It’s all about him still. Like it’s not about her. And there’s a power in that right. Like it to be able to be the one who’s listening and to be in control. But it’s still like it’s not about her and like he’s in her brain, like it’s about how she resolves, not about about him. I thought this was very interesting.
S6: Yeah, I think is a very interesting fantasy in the sense that I completely agree with your reading. It’s definitely, you know, very focused on him, very focused on the why he would do things. And it’s easy to point to past traumas as the cause for someone perpetuating trauma. I will just say I’m the kind of dame who does not believe in forgiveness because I don’t care if you’ve had trauma in your childhood. Guess what most people have. That doesn’t mean that you can go around hurting people, get into therapy people. I’m saying this for everybody, get into therapy, help us out, especially men. Do more therapy men. Anyway, I’m just dating again in this pandemic. And that just I just want to say that message, but it’s fascinating to see her show a kindness to him and be sympathetic to him. And I think one reason why that ending of him being dragged away by the police is so unsatisfying is because the system doesn’t really work for women in this regard.
S5: And the show has sort of underscored that. Right? Not working for her, not working for Kwame. Like not working really.
S6: Exactly. So that’s why the ending is unsatisfying.
S5: I am curious. So like I hear you, but my sense is mechanical, like is big into forgiveness.
S1: I think she really, really is. Yeah.
S5: Yeah. I want to just like read a line again from Alex Young’s profile of her where she sort of talks about dividing people into these two, you know, making a line and not looking over the line and how you really have to look over the line. And she says, like, daring to empathize, daring to help other people as well as being helped. It will do you good. It’s about you. I think you see this even more in the next one. But some of this thing where she’s, like, willing to be empathic and forgiving and kind, like it’s it’s like for her own benefit. And I think you see some of that starting to percolate in real seriousness in the second scenario, right. Where she’s like, what do I get out of? Like, actively imagining how to you could have turned out this way, even though, like, obviously she has no idea how he turned out this way. Obviously, it’s not exculpatory. Right. It’s just but she’s starting to like do that work. And actually this just to like use this is like a tangent while we’re thinking about rapists. OK, so just to set up Zane. So as the show begins, Arabella is. Salted and this really violent, dramatic way, and then sort of in the third or fourth episode, she’s introduced to a writing coach, this Cambridge graduate, who she can’t stop taking the piss out of her being a Cambridge graduate named Zane, who the first time they have sex, like, oops. Oh, I thought you said I couldn’t have a condom. I thought you knew, like, doesn’t wear a condom. And they start to date and then while they’re dating, she hears this podcast episode that like, oh, that’s a shady thing men do. That’s basically rape. And she is in a pretty intense state of mind for understandable reasons. And she like accuses him, outs him of this rape in an extremely public format at a writers conference.
S3: Essentially, she annihilates him. She gets a lot of positive reinforcement for that on the Internet. It’s sort of what makes her kind of like even more of like a warrior for abused women sort of in the public eye. In this penultimate episode, she encounters pain because she reads this novel that she loves. She wants to get in touch with the author. She’s having trouble with her own book. And it turns out that Zane is the ghostwriter of this book because he he couldn’t publish under his own name. So was published as this woman named Della. And he basically shows up. She shows up and they use this language where she’s like, you’re not under my bed anymore. You know, I might be a little scarier than when last time you saw me. And he’s like, you are pretty scary last time I saw you. But she accepts his help, right?
S5: She brings him back to her bedroom and they, like, storyboard her book and he really helps her. One of the other thing that’s amazing about this show is about help. It’s so great where it’s like you can accept and have help in that in no way undermine your genius. Like, Arabel is obviously the genius, but she needs some structural help. But like and he gives it to her, but he doesn’t like he’s like I thought it was about consent and she’s like, so he doesn’t get it. He just like giving her the tools, like do her thing. And then she thanked them when she says, like Bardella, thank you. But what did you make of this whole like the same thing is to me that’s almost like because that’s not just happening in Arabella’s imagination. Like, it’s just a complicated thing where it’s like. Yeah, like I accuse you of being a rapist. I think you raped me, basically. But I’m also like going to have this interaction with you.
S6: It made me really uncomfortable because maybe partially because I just can’t imagine extending such grace because it takes a strong person to be able to accept help from someone who’s hurt you in the past. So there’s something that left me very uncomfortable about it in some way. But then I also thought it was really daring and complicated in a really fascinating way that allows for a more gray area of experience, which I thought was fascinating.
S5: Read like one of the implications is like it’s a less bad rape, right? I mean, which like seems like a crazy thing to say to you, but I think actually is kind of maybe a I think Michali calls sort of getting at like all of this is bad, but it’s not all the same that like.
S6: No, it’s not. There’s levels to this shit.
S5: Right. And she’s saying like the same level as like we’re not going to be friends, but like, I need something and you can provide it for me. Like, I can take it from you. You owe me. You owe me. And I can be in the room with you.
S1: Yeah. And again, that takes a strong dame to be able to do that, even though Arabella can be a bit of a mess.
S6: And, you know, I hate talking about likeability and women. I like unlikable woman. I am probably sometimes unlikable and in various ways. But she crosses boundaries. She makes mistakes, but she’s still able to extend grace to people in a really beautiful way. And that’s what really struck me about the Zayn interaction. But it also left me uncomfortable because I was like, wow, I don’t think I could ever do that with someone who did something like that to me. I’m a bridge burner in that regard.
S5: Yeah. Do you find her likable, Arabella? Mm.
S6: That’s a hard question to answer because, you know, I don’t know if I find her likable or likeable in. Any sort of clean way that I can point to either and be like, oh yeah, I totally love her or oh my God, she I totally don’t like this character. I really like her character. I can see parts of myself in her character, which is really striking because that’s very rare for me as a critic to be like, oh, I can see myself in someone on screen. And I’m not talking about being a black rettig and seeing a black woman on screen. I’m talking about seeing your emotional self in like your spirit on the screen. And so that’s why this was such an emotional experience for me.
S1: So I’m definitely bringing my own baggage to this conversation when it comes to a character like Zane, because I’ve been in positions like that. And you have bridge partner, is how I put it.
S5: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting because I think just like on the sheer question of likeability, like I think the show is so deft, I just felt for a while we were like in unlikable female characters. The show would just like be trying so hard to, like, shove in your face that they were unlikable, whereas like all the anti-hero shows, you know, it was like they were like, we really want you to love them even though they’re evil. And like this feels to me like it’s progressed past the like in your face anti heroine thing where it’s like she’s so human and like there’s so many things about her that are so appealing. And like, she’s so obviously it’s so immensely talented. Like you can tell how much fun she is. Right. Like how like loyal she is. And you can also see the way that like the things that are amazing about her, like her total intensity commitment is also what’s like impossible about her. You know, like when you’re like, oh, like now we’re in some like social media, like whole and like this is exactly what’s like obsessive and great about you. But it’s this is like now totally what you can see it all and like it just felt like it was beyond like it was beyond these questions in a great way. Like it’s just like she’s complicated but she’s lovable and like we’re with her, like, you know, she has our full interest and like, you want what’s best for her.
S1: Exactly. Yeah, I agree. It’s definitely beyond the questions of likeability and likability when it comes to female characters, which is definitely very striking and allows for a wider range of human experience.
S3: Yeah, this is maybe like a total like this is the real third rail of talking about I May Destroy You, which is mentioning the show girls.
S5: But like, you know, there is like that famous moment in the first episode of Girls where like Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham says, like, I think I might be a voice of a generation. And it’s like and I always sort of thought, I don’t know what’s true, but I kind of think McLachlin Arabella’s like the chronicles of a fed up Millennial. I think it’s like a little riff on that, a little bit like she is a voice. Like she is like that’s the premise of the show. Kind of it’s like this woman is the voice of her generation and it’s not like overdetermined, but it’s like it’s the next level. Do you know what I mean? Like, it’s not it’s not like some satire has some self-heating thing. It’s not like them and a heroine thing. It’s like, no, no, this this is about that girl. They’re really complex, but not in some, like, fraught way. Like that’s like the premise. And I, I love that for it. I just feel like it’s like it’s just like I feel like it’s sort of like building but it’s it’s like building on and I mean, you know, whatever people think about girls, I think it was an important and good show and various moments anyway. That’s like a little we could maybe leave Hannah or last name out of our mouths for the rest of us. OK, so one of the things that really struck me also about sort of the like. Talent like skill like thought that went into structuring this is that the show has like this mystery in it, right? Like who raped her? And there’s so often that kind of mystery can run away with a TV show like we’ve seen it happen so long where what you’re in it for is like what happened? And she does this really daft thing, which is like it’s sort of almost seems like it’s going that way, like through episode four or five or six. So it’s not like the point, but like she’s regularly seeing the police. There’s a real, like, detective vibe to what’s happening or like not vibe like a thread. And then she just pulls it out. Right. As far as she knows, the police tell her they found him. And so for the whole middle of the show, she, like, deflates that tension. So you have to actually not be in the show. And it’s like what happens way so that when we do find out what happens at the end, all this pressure isn’t on it. Do you know what I mean? Like, it’s not for this giant reveal. And I thought that was just like so smart and so well done. And also this just reminded me, like, it’s so embedded in shows like this, like the what happened next? Like who did it that like at some point I was like, are they about to make, like, Ben the rapist? Like there was all those moments with her roommate where they’re like doing like shots of him and he’s like, so nice. You’re like, are you almost creepy? And like, of course, that’s not what the show is to be so corny. But I just felt like I was like in another kind of show, like, that’s what you’d be doing. And I almost couldn’t tell if she was like playing with it on purpose or she’s like, I’m just not making that kind of show and I don’t want to get caught up in, like, a whodunit. And so I’m going to solve this problem. Or you’re not like audiences aren’t doing that work when they shouldn’t be.
S1: Yeah, I think probably my was definitely conscious of that and of clichs with sexual assault and consent narratives. And she definitely seems to be consciously avoiding them, subverting them, deflating them, to use your word. So I think that’s a really fascinating observation as well.
S5: All right, let’s do scenario three.
S1: The last one, the third scenario, it’s a little different from the first two. We see Terry and Arabella in the bathroom of ego death, the bar. And Terry mentions her Italian threesome, which was a point of contention with regards to consent because she feels like they may have tricked her and actually knew each other. And a woman comes into the bathroom that Arabela kind of recognizes and then she starts opening the bathroom doors.
S3: So, yeah. So the woman in the bathroom, I think it’s the woman that she saw when she had gone to the hospital after her rape and she was out on a balcony and this woman came out smoking a cigarette and sort of explained to her why she was there. And it’s a fairly horrific story. And that’s who we see in the bathroom now, although she looks a little different than she did when we saw her initially.
S1: And so we see that woman bleeding from the groin and in a hospital gown. And then she opens the second bathroom door and she sees the childhood versions of Terry herself and Theo laughing. And her and Terry talk a little bit more before they go out to the rest of the ego death bar. And what’s different about the bar is it’s empty of people. For the most part. It’s daytime, right? It’s daytime. You see the sunlight streaming in. You see David and his friend Michael. David is at the bar. His friend Michael is sitting down on a couch, which Terry comes up to. And then you see Arabella and David interacting. It’s her who comes up to him and it’s her who buys the drinks and asks for them. And she’s definitely more in control of the narrative in this regard. And it gets to a point where she whispered something in his ear and then they go into the bathroom and in the bathroom, they start making out very heavily and then it cuts to her and him naked in her bed, in her bedroom. And they have a very interesting sex scene because the climax of the sex scene is because she’s topping him. Yeah. And they’re in the throes of pleasure. And what’s fascinating about her stopping him is it’s a reversal. It’s her gaining control of her sexual narrative once again and gaining control of who she is and her intimate spaces in life. And so when she wakes up in the bright of morning, he’s still there and he says he won’t leave until she tells him to, you know, and she says go. And so when he leaves, he’s completely naked, walking out of the bedroom. And what trails after him is his blood. So that we saw from the first fantasy and that first. Fantasy, David is carrying the ultrasound and the the clothing, I think, associated with that moment in Arabella’s life, right.
S5: I think he’s carrying like the investigation bags and this ultrasound of this abortion that she had sort of sort of blacked out. And as mentioned in an earlier episode, there’s so much gender reversal in particular happening this episode, like when David and Arabela leave the bar, you see. So in each of the three scenarios, Terri has been doing this sort of like lap dance, essentially for David’s coconspirator to distract him. And in this one, he’s dancing for Terri, sort of like very awkwardly and slowly, but like that’s what he’s doing. And in the language of the sex scene, I think it’s very was like she’s copying him, but it’s like she is the male role. That’s one of the things that’s interesting about it is like it’s pretty it’s pretty like straight up. It’s like overt about penetrating him, right? Yeah. And the whole thing, like, you know, in the second scenario she stumbles over her drink like orange and gin or whatever, and then he does the exact same stuttering in this one like it’s pretty romantic and be right. Like when he wakes up in the bed, he’s not like he’s like, I’m going to I’m going to stay here as long until you tell me to go. Like, it’s not like he’s like, oh, this is OK. He’s like so post-coital. He’s like, yeah, she’s like get out of here. And he does he listens. Right. He does what she wants.
S1: He listens, boundaries are put up and he respects the boundaries. Yeah. I think it’s so inspiring and like weirdly sexy, this whole fantasy. And I remember the first time I watched it, I’m now seeing the finale maybe about four times at this point. The first time I watched it, I remember being like, what the hell? And then I sat with it and I thought, who wouldn’t want to reverse the scenario? And that way, you know what I mean?
S5: And imagine themselves as someone in power rather than the power taken away from them in a violent way, as what we’re saying about like Michael Ecoles, like uncanny, like kindness and enlightenment or whatever is like it’s not just that she has the power. It’s like it’s so like love it. Like it’s not just like, you know, she’s had the power in actually each of these scenarios. Right. Like she killed him. She listened to him like she’s always the one in control. And each of these is like, imagine fantasies. But in this one, it’s like it’s so gentle, like I mean, it’s like it’s like she’s literally like, I want to try to like, have a. It’s not like a do over because this thing happened, but like the thing that’s it’s like what’s going to heal. This is like love instead of like like it’s the opposite of rape. It’s so it’s like it’s pretty. It’s a lot like it is like it is like you just like someone said to you, like the end of the show is going to be like her having like very loving sex with her rapist. You’d be like, I’m sorry.
S7: That is why I’m like that is a crazy way to end show like this. But I kind of like thinks you like it more.
S5: You get like you’re with her enough that you get enough like what she wants from it. Right. It’s like she wants to have sex with this guy or like it’s like she wants to be like whole. Right. She wants to live in the life. She wants to live when there’s no shit and monsters under her bed. She wants to like it’s this is the thing versus the first scenario where it’s like, but what about her? Like, how does she keep going and like.
S3: This is like her answer is like imagining a world where like. This could have been our interaction, right?
S1: Exactly, and I think it’s so smart how she structured this and the arc of these fantasies. I agree that she definitely has control in all of them. But it’s just really fascinating seeing how she takes control and this specific fantasy and the gender reversals, as you said, it’s just really striking. And she pulls it off. It’s also really intimate in a beautiful way. Mm hmm. That I really loved. I’m just in all of my political life. I think she’s a genius.
S5: She is a genius also. I mean, as you say, that just made me think it is true. Like and no point in the series does Arabella, like, turn off sex. Mm hmm. Which like she really could you could imagine, like, of course, that would be a totally normal, like, common reaction, but that doesn’t quite happen to her like it does when the first time she’s sleeping with Zane. Right. She there’s someone she has there’s some time she’s having sex with someone where she is freaked out about it initially, but she like does it anyway. And then sort of it seems like that abates. Yeah. It’s really like it’s really beautiful. And the part that comes out of this is also really beautiful in a different way. And we’ll talk about it a second. But I just really feel like she’s enlightened. I don’t know what to say.
S1: I think she is enlightened. I’m definitely not there with my I’m still, you know, stuck in the first two fantasies of revenge and trying to figure it out. I definitely haven’t gotten into the sexual intimacy.
S5: Well, I actually also think that that is like a key point, which I think because we’ve been with her so much and it’s such like so personal and so specific to this character that it doesn’t feel prescriptive. Right. Like McKayla Goldthorpe telling us, like it would help everyone who’s been raped. Like, imagine having sex with like that can be what you say. And it’s not that’s not what I came across. It’s like this is about Arabella, right? Like this is. Yeah. This is about her imagination. What’s like useful for her?
S1: Yeah. It’s a show guided by specificity. Right. And that’s what makes it so great. And that’s also what makes it, I think, relatable for a lot of people. You know, when you try to aim for being universal, that’s you trying to please too many people and you’re going to get a messy work that maybe when it’s an Oscar, because a lot of crappy movies won Oscars, but it’s not going to, you know, stand out and be a good work of art. So, yeah, I’m just really in all of this last one. What I like about these fantasy isn’t about the show itself is it’s also a tremendous acting showcase for Michelago. And her face is just so expressive and she’s able to move through emotions and different tonalities at a clip in a way that really is very striking. You know, I really love studying acting because it forces you to embody a different person and live in their skin and what MARKELLE Local does is create such a full body performance. There’s moments when she’s dancing in the club, which are absolutely hilarious to me when she’s high on cocaine and just like losing her mind and talking about being a firestarter because the song is playing and my Chalco is willing to let Arabella be messy and even make facial expressions that may be seen as not unattractive, but like just large. And she’s able to both paint broadly in her physicality, but also have specific quiet moments in her acting like the moment when you see her look through the bar and see her rapist is just so striking, is just her face becomes almost a mask of shock and realization and fear and desire. And it’s been one brief moment. It’s just a beautiful showcase for her acting.
S5: She’s willing to be scary and intense in a way that I think is rare in women, rarer and still in black women, that that’s like a register she’s willing to have. And she does have it. And like, you know, you think about sort of the scene where she’s like the angel of death, right? Like, well, she’s dressed like that Halloween sequence and she like, yeah, I really get so furious at her friends and she’s so insistent. She’s so righteous. It’s like a part of her character. It’s a part of everyone. And like, you just but you don’t see people like embodying that and doing it all, like on TV that much because it’s such like a third rail for women to do. I think I completely agree. She’s like an amazing physical comedian also. Like, she’s just so cultish and like funny and like she just really like she’s just going to do her like she’s right. She’s not like there’s nothing she’s not going to let her body do if it’s kind of like put it over. I mean, she’s so moving. I mean, she’s really all and all the stuff like that she does with her hair, like when she gets her shaved head. I think this is also I think she’s sort of like, I know this is going to seem aggressive to some people, kind of. And she’s like and fuck it like that’s where this character is. Also, fuck you for thinking that kind of like there’s just like a lot of stuff about like where I think it just seems like she just gets everything that people are bringing to it and she’s playing with that and knows that and wants to do it anyway. And in that way, it’s like she’s an amazing actress, but it’s like she’s always everything all at once, like she’s always the person who show it is, too. Like she’s always the writer, she’s always the director, she’s always a producer. And it’s in her performance. You can see it, you know, like she knows how it’s hitting. Yeah, definitely.
S1: There’s a sense of control and confidence and everything she does in this show, it’s it’s very striking. Also visual choices in the show. The use of color is really beautiful and evocative. There’s so much she’s doing with this show from top to bottom on a craft level that’s just very smart and beautiful and striking totally.
S3: So let’s take the last turn in this episode. So she has as far as final imagined sort of healing kind of thought process about what’s going to happen if she was to confront her rapist.
S5: And in between each of these scenarios, we sort of see that she’s sitting in her back yard, her back, not quite her yard, like their cement backyard. Oh, yeah. With Ben, her white, sexless, very kind, agoraphobic roommate. And this time he’s like, oh, are you going to go back to the bar? And she says, like, no, basically, like, I think I’m done with that. Like and and then we see her and her group of friends on the couch watching Terry’s and we’re in her commercial and we’re in the commercial. She sort of actually reenacts the scene we see at the exercise studio where she gets the job. It’s like it’s like her getting the job in the commercials. We see her do it like a couple of times, the actress. And then and then it ends with a reading. Right.
S3: So we go to a bookstore and Arabel Cereal has finished her book that she’s been writing this whole time. It’s called January 22nd, which I actually assume is the date of her. Right. But I don’t know that that’s true. And she’s very nervous. Right.
S5: Like she’s sitting in this there’s a lot of people independently published so she doesn’t get back in the good graces of her crummy big time book dealer. And she starts to read. And when she starts to read. We jump out and we jump to her on the beach in Italy, right with the hair she had sort of at the beginning of the show and like the implication I think is like she wrote the show, like she finished her book. Her book is the show. It’s like that like and this is also I mean, this is all these things that we’ve seen in this episode are like she’s obviously been working towards being able to write this book, the whole show, like the whole series. But she really like in that last it’s like how she gets there, gets there. Right. It’s how she it’s like the ending of her book. It’s the ending of her show. It’s like a full circle.
S1: Totally. I love the ending for Arabella, you know what I mean? It’s just really it’s just really beautiful because you want to see her healed and move on and write her book and live her life more fully. And I think that’s what this ending suggests, not a clean healing, because she’s had to process so much, but a healing nonetheless.
S5: She’s never going to be like, quote, past it, like there is no and like with it. And also like with these three endings, there’s no like one conclusion. It’s like she’s going to take these loose ends and she’s going to make her story. Right. And that’s like what she needs to be able to do as an art. Like, that’s what she wants. She’s an artist. She wants to tell her story and she figured out a way to do it without having to, like, tie it all up and pretend it’s neat and pretend it’s like concluded. Right. But it’s like it’s still satisfying. It’s it’s an ending. You know, it’s like a it’s a multiple endings. And they work as this one ending. And also it’s sort of so poignant thing pointing about it, which is like because the show is so good, you know, like, oh, she wrote a book that good. Like, you know, like that is that which is really nice. Or you’re like, oh, like you’re Stargirl. Like your book is a show like. Yes, totally. Totally. And that would have been the ending if the show weren’t as good, but it’s a it’s a it’s like I have it’s like it’s an extra bonus or like we knew you were grounded.
S1: Yeah. It’s it’s also such an earned ending, in my opinion. Like the show, you know, has been building up to a sense of catharsis. And that’s also what I felt with watching these fantasies. Like that is cathartic to kind of use fantasy, to imagine a better life and a better resolution than the one we get in reality. Yeah, I think the use of fantasy is really interesting in the show, specifically with the finale and the moment when she sees her past self. That’s what made me think, oh, this is a form of catharsis for her. This is working out all these issues, all these feelings, all this contradictory notions that are bubbling up inside of her. And she’s using fantasy to work it out because a lot of times. I’m going to be honest, I don’t think closure exists, and I think sometimes trying to look for closure only makes us more afraid and sadder in life because we look at healing as a finish line like, oh, I’m going to get to a point with all this therapy and all the things I’m doing where sometime in the future I’m going to be healed and I’m not going to hurt in the same ways I hurt now over something, over some trauma. And that trauma can be so many things. And so what’s striking about the ending and the use of fantasy in that regard is it allows you to move through different emotions and different possibilities in a way that I think a more clear cut narrative wouldn’t allow you to do totally.
S5: Just what you’re saying made me think like I think one of the things that’s so moving about the end is like it’s not about like not being hurt or like it’s not about not having pain. It’s not about not having all these horrible, messy, difficult emotions like it is, in fact, about having all those things, learning how to like see them to be part of them, to have them be part of you and then like be able to do your life’s work anyway. Right. Like like the thing is, like the happy ending of this, it’s not. Is that like he didn’t keep her from doing her work, like she’s an artist. This is who she is. Like the rape is a tragedy alone. But like the long tale of rape is like what if it had kept her from doing her work? And like that’s part of that’s like that’s like part of the what’s going on in the show. Right. You can’t write or she’s writing and it’s a mess. Like it fucks her up and like that way that she can’t. Right, like she can make art anymore and like so it’s not that it’s like resolved in some concluded way, like, obviously really painful. I’m going to be with her forever. But like, she’s a place where she can, like, use it. It’s material like she’s gone where she can make material out of it. Like what’s more like empowering than that. Like you just not empowering, like a cheesy word, you know. But it’s like she’s like, I will take this pile of shit and I have like made literally something just like genuinely spectacular out of it. That’s like pretty amazing.
S1: You know, that is pretty amazing. It’s also inspiring to watch as a writer in the sense that I don’t think she’s quite arguing. It’s all worth it in a sense, but that we can make beauty out of trauma and, you know, still be who we are and still move forward and still meet our goals and still express ourselves and not let that trauma completely swallow us whole. And I just found that really inspiring about the finale.
S3: One hundred percent. And one other just last thing is that, you know, the cover of the book is this image, and it’s an image that she drew with her therapist. A therapist is sort of drawing a picture of her. It’s like an A for Arabella over a hard line. That’s like the bed, the dividing line over this axe. That’s everything I just want to think about. And Arabella sort of puts them all on top of each other like a star. And it’s like questionmark. Like that’s where she wants to get right. That’s the cover image of the book. Like this integrated self. Who can think about all the bad things that all the good things and be this new thing.
S5: It’s also metalic presumably it’s like, you know, the Callicles making the show. That is also the book, like it’s all these things, but it’s very like it’s really great and it’s really like and in that way it’s like it’s like the show like I mean, like this show is so dense. Like I just feel like in that way it’s very writerly, like it’s like if you push on any detail like it’s there, like she thought about it, the depth is there, like it connects to something else. Like there’s no line, there’s no word, there’s no image. That’s not like considered.
S3: That’s really amazing. When that happens, it’s not easy.
S7: You know, it’s it’s not there yet in my own work. But it inspires me. A very few people ever got there. Yeah, no, I think it’s like that’s like it’s like mastery.
S1: I could talk about this show endlessly, like there’s so much to it down to the portrayal of the police and their, you know, as two women who are on her case, which is also an interesting choice to her friend Kwame and all the consent issues that he dealt with. There’s just so much packed into this show that you can talk so much about it. But in terms of the finale, the final thing I want to say is maybe a message to people out there. You can turn your trauma into something beautiful. You can survive. There you go.
S5: Yes, the message of that episode of the series Pinelake, important message and then the fact that she put it in a show that it’s like literally fun and interesting to watch for every minute of it is like that, like, you know what I mean? Like, that is like there’s a lot of people with messages, like there is not a lot of people who, like, have the skill to, like, put that message in something that’s like works as like a piece of entertainment, know exactly. Which makes it sound but like it does like it works at every level. It’s like it’s really great. Yeah.
S1: Well, yeah, it is impressive as hell, especially because you’re right, like a lot of times when we see consent issues and rape depicted, it can either feel exploitative or like an after school special that’s like sanitized and doesn’t deal with the undertow of emotion at all, which is so conflicted, you know, after an assault, like, there’s so many different feelings that go through you. So I think, you know, Michael Cole is a genius. Black women rule the world.
S7: That’s what I have to say. Going to end right there. It was really great talking to you. Thank you so much for doing this. Yeah, good. This was so fun. Good. It felt deep, right? It was like good. It’s good. When you talk about something deep, it’s like you can be deep with it. Exactly.
S8: OK. That’s our show. Please subscribe to the Slate for the special podcast Feed. If you like the show, please rate and review it in the Apple podcast or whatever. You get your podcast. If you have any suggestions or movies or TV shows, we should spoil or give any other feedback you’d like to share. Please send it to Spoiler Dotcom. Our producer is Rosemary Bellson. For Angelica Baskin. I’m Willa Paskin. Thank you for listening.