After spending a very long time staking out Ego Death Bar in the hopes of being able to identify her rapist, Arabella (Michaela Coel) finally laid eyes on him in episode 11. Now, in the I May Destroy You finale, she has to decide how to respond to this breakthrough. The show’s finale puts her in her very own Groundhog Day, cycling through familiar scenes up until the moment when she decides how to handle her attacker. Here’s how they played out.
**Warning: details of rape and sexual assault from I May Destroy You are discussed in this article**
Scenario one: a bloody ending
After recognising David (Lewis Reeves) and his friend Tariq (Chin Nyenwe), Bella takes Terry (Weruche Opia) and heads to the toilets to come up with a plan. Bella is agitated and distressed by this development, as if despite her insistence that the criminal always returns to the scene of the crime there was part of her that wasn’t really expecting it to come true. Ultimately, she declares, she wants to hurt him – get her revenge on him for what he did to her. Terry is hesitant at first but soon agrees to an alliance. They call up their old school friend Theo (Harriet Webb) who now runs a group for victims of sexual abuse and head back up to the bar to put their plan into action.
David is at the bar and Bella approaches him, but there’s not even the hint that he remembers having met her before. Terry distracts Tariq by dancing in front of him and, after identifying which pocket he’s keeping his drugs in, Theo does her best pickpocketing while Bella pretends to drink the spiked G&T David’s just given her. Shortly after, she starts to simulate intoxication and begins to totter towards the toilets. As the trio expect, David follows, spying the opportunity to ensnare his prey. Theo has already gone ahead and is laying in wait with a syringe full of David’s own drugs.
Locked in a cubicle, David takes of Bella’s knickers and puts them in his jacket then prepares to rape her. But just as he’s unzipping his trousers, she puts her head up, perfectly lucid and sober. “A criminal always returns to the scene of the crime,” she tells him. “But who’s the criminal – you or me?” As he’s stood there trying to work out what’s going on, she gives Theo the command and suddenly David’s been injected in his ankle, Theo’s arm darting under the cubicle partition.
A successful revenge mission – or is it? Bella grows concerned about the amount of drugs David has been spiked with, wondering if he might die. No one knows what happened, though, so it might be fine – unless the police find her underwear in his jacket pocket and consider it suspicious. So Bella, Theo and Terry follow him to make sure he doesn’t end up in hospital or police custody before they can get Bella’s knickers back. When the opportunity presents itself to retrieve them, though, she can’t resist getting just a little bit more revenge.
“I want to see his penis,” she announces sternly, but as she’s getting a good look he starts to come to. Instead of letting him realise what’s happening, Bella grabs his balls before punching him over and over in the face as Theo chokes him with Bella’s knickers. They continue until his face is covered in blood and he’s unconscious (or possibly dead), Terry watching on in horror. Instead of leaving him in the street to be found and saved, Bella drags him back to hers on the bus, trying to act normal and then shoves him where she puts everything she wants to forget about – under her bed.
Scenario two: a more legal kind of justice
The second time around, Bella and Terry come up with a different kind of plot – one which they think will bring about a more legal kind of justice. In the bar toilets, they hatch a plan to lure him into trying to rape Bella while, unbeknownst to him, Terry will be calling the police. It sounds risky, but they try to pull it off anyway.
To counteract the drugs David is going to spike her drink with, Bella must first take “a lot of cocaine”. Several lines deep and begging Terry for another bump, Bella is wired and ready, and starts to make her move by aggressively dancing in front of David to The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’. He buys her a drink and spikes it; she downs it all, much to his delight. Once again, she starts acting woozy and wasted and once more he swoops in, acting like the hero but with evil intent.
Back in the toilet cubicle, he tries to rape her but Bella scares him by snapping out of her apparent sedation with a casual “Hey David”. “You put something in my drink,” she tells him and he begins to try and work out why she would still drink it all. His diatribe continues to try and make her feel guilty, telling her with his hand aggressively cupping her face: “There’s wars going on in Iraq and you’re making a big old drama cos some bloke slipped a pill in your drink and wants to fuck your brains out in a nightclub?”
As this continues, upstairs Terry is calling the police. When they arrive, she directs them to the toilets but, when they search every cubicle, they find no sign of Bella or David. Instead, Bella’s taken him back to his house and is unexpectedly listening to his troubles in her bedroom. He’s telling her about his time in prison and his criminal history – “just different kinds of rape”.
During their conversation, he shares some vulnerable truths about himself. He questions why Bella isn’t scared of him, despite what he did to her and what he’s done to many others. “It’s like, if you’re not scared, I don’t know how I’m meant to be,” he explains, almost crying. When the police show up at Bella’s, he begs her not to leave him. She hugs him tightly before an officer bursts into the room and drags David away.
Scenario three: Arabella reclaims the power
Scenario three is even more unexpected than the last. This time, it seems like Bella doesn’t know he’s her rapist, or perhaps that’s something that never happened in this realm. Terry is fixing her makeup and sharing her thoughts on the threesome she had in Italy – another example of consent that I May Destroy You tackles. In each cubicle, Bella sees a character from her past – the woman she met at the hospital when she was raped; Terry, Theo and herself when they were at high school.
Once Terry’s finished, they head back upstairs to find the bar empty except for David and Tariq. This time, Bella approaches David not as someone to get revenge on or to trick into something, but as someone she’s interested in romantically. She buys him a drink and then acts as if she’s about to kiss him, but whispers something in his ear instead. She heads off to the toilets and he follows her, walking past Tariq dancing for Terry in a strange role reversal.
After making out in the cubicle, Bella and David head back to hers and have consensual sex, where Bella is fully in charge. In this scenario, she holds all the power – from being the one to buy the other a drink to their sexual dynamic. In the morning when they wake up next to each other, she doesn’t relinquish that power. “I’m not gonna go unless you tell me to,” David tells her. “Go,” she responds, and he gets up and leaves, followed out by the bloody body hiding under Bella’s bed. It feels like by reclaiming her power in this way she’s exorcised the demon hanging over her.
Scenario four: the real ending?
This time around, Bella ditches Ego Death, telling her housemate Ben (Stephen Wright) she’s not going back. It’s the only scenario where she can move past that night and head into the future – one where she’s finished her book, Terry’s advert is shown on TV and Bella has a packed reading in a bookstore. As she prepares to begin reading the foreword to the crowd, the scene cuts to her on a beach in Italy before abruptly ending.
‘I May Destroy You’ ending explained: what does it all mean?
That’s really up to your own interpretation of the episode, but there are several ways to look it at. Throughout the series, Michaela Coel explored the complexities of consent and the various ways it can be exploited or ignored. The term “grey area” is often thrown around in conversations about consent and the fact that the show’s ending is its own grey area reflects the issues that can arise from our sexual relationships. Can Terry really have consented to her threesome in Italy if the men involved lied to her about knowing each other? Would everyone consider sneakily taking off a condom in the middle of consensual sex – aka stealthing – rape?
The ending of I May Destroy You also points to the fact that trauma isn’t just neatly resolved and then forgotten about. Not one of the endings will bring about closure for Bella that simply and quickly – attacking David might feel good in the moment and seeing him taken away by police might help her feel like justice is being done, but in the long run, she’ll still have to deal with what happened to her and the mental and emotional toll that will take on her. Lashing out, calling the cops, and even trying to understand where he was coming from or who he is as a person are just temporary fixes on the long path of recovery.
That Bella finished her book and successfully published it herself without any retribution falling at David’s door might be one of the least satisfactory endings suggested in the finale, but it’s probably the most important one. Rape convictions have fallen in the UK, with only 2,343 prosecutions being made in the UK on rape charges between September 2018 and September 2019. For many people who are assaulted through rape or other forms of sexual abuse, there isn’t a tidy ending that allows them to move on as their attacker gets punished. That Bella, Terry and Kwame (Paapa Essiedu) could all go on to be successful and happy from an ending with no resolution is a powerful message to send to other survivors – what happened to you doesn’t define you or your future.