As the second episode of I May Destroy You wrapped up, Arabella (Michaela Coel) was falling asleep after a terrible day figuring out what really happened to her the night she went out with friends. She reported her findings to the police, and with her two friends — Terry (Weruche Opia) and Kwame (Paapa Essiedu) — in her room, she finally dozed off as Terry brought up something that happened to her on their trip to Italy months ago.
It’s only the third episode, but a bold show like I May Destroy You isn’t afraid to jump back in time just as the main story is taking off. “Don’t Forget the Sea” begins a world away from Arabella and Terry’s troubled present, in Ostia, Italy, three months prior. Arabella is in much happier times, typing away at a sidewalk cafe when she gets the good news that her best friend Terry has just landed. Arabella’s hair is a bright and lively purple, not the faded pink and frayed ends of a writer who hasn’t had time to touch it up. Reunited at Arabella’s temporary home to write her follow-up book, Terry marvels at her friend’s luck. “When’s my own privilege arriving?” she asks. Unlike Arabella’s burgeoning writing career, Terry has yet to hit her big break in the acting world — part of her disappointment in episode two is rooted in yet another failed audition. But the hint of sadness in her voice does not last long. Arabella reaffirms her loyalty to her friend with a full-body embrace, and the pair’s conversation moves them into the kitchen, where they cook themselves a savory weed-laced meal that leaves them in a blissful feel-good haze.
Dazed and bemused, they stumble through the city and crash land in a restaurant where their first waiter is less-than-thrilled about two potentially disruptive customers. Fortunately, a young woman who’s about their age recognizes their state and offers some free fries and to connect them to a source for more drugs, Biagio (Marouane Zotti), who viewers might recognize from his brief appearance in the pilot as Arabella’s maybe-boyfriend. Once they’ve restocked with new drugs for the night, Arabella and Terry go back to get ready. Out on the town, once again, their differences come out. Terry reveals herself to be the more cautious of the pair, while Arabella isn’t afraid to mix and match drugs for a rowdy night out. She’s so out of sorts that when Terry tells her she’s calling it a night, the message doesn’t quite get through to Arabella. Their brief but pivotal separation sets up the two young women to find men to bring back to their fancy rental. This is when Arabella really bonds with Biagio, and Terry meets two charming men at a bar on her way home and gets swept away by the moment, realizing only later that they had lied to her.
“Don’t Forget the Sea” is Terry’s episode as much as it is Arabella’s. Opia shows a formidable range, from her slapstick scene of a very high Terry sliding out of her chair at the restaurant to the crushingly silent moment when she realizes the men’s deception. She not only matches Coel’s energy with her own brand of cool (albeit one laced with uncertainty), her performance also allows the nuances of their characters’ friendship to shine through. They’re physically affectionate, casual about privacy, and seem open to talking about everything with each other –– until they’re not. They’re both up for some nightly mischief, but Arabella’s more likely to party until closing time, and Terry’s more likely to call it a night before her friend. Terry’s looking for smart men who study quantum physics, while Arabella’s just fine with fun hook-ups for now. The beginning of the episode draws out the two friends’ uneven standing in their creative careers, a feeling that silently feeds into Terry’s insecurity and perhaps begins some form of resentment.
As I May Destroy You continues to explore modern dating life, it brings to light another murky situation about consent via Terry’s encounter with the two men who duped her into believing they didn’t know each other and convinced her into having sex with both of them. It’s not a clear-cut case of assault like Arabella’s, it’s one of manipulation and coercion, one that may get more than a few viewers talking about morally grey situations like it. Yes, she consented to sex, but it was under false pretenses. The episode’s director, Sam Miller, even has the camera look at each of the men trading knowing glances at the bar and in her room, telling the audience more than what Terry knows. After the two men leave, she watches the pair walk away as friends outside her window. Her momentary exhilaration shatters, leaving behind a haunted look on her face. She’s perhaps too ashamed to tell her best friend in the next room over what happened, choosing instead to keep up a carefree veneer. Months later, those pent-up feelings pour out of her in Arabella’s room.
Back on Arabella’s side of the evening, her night seems to be going swimmingly with the handsome drug dealer who accompanied her home –– that is until she belatedly realizes that she has her period. What follows is an uncomfortable but painfully funny sequence about period sex that vacillates wildly between hilarious, romantic, and mortifying with lightning speed. Biagio insists that he doesn’t mind that she’s on her period, but Arabella sure does. Her behavior and body language shift from enjoying the moment to shutting things down when Biagio holds up one of her blood clots. Kind of difficult to get back in the swing of things when your partner starts asking questions about bleeding. There’s so much physical and emotional unease wrapped up in period sex that the instant shot of cringe comedy makes the scene feel like it lasted longer than its brief few minutes. I guess it’s hard to forget the “red” sea in this case.
“Don’t Forget the Sea” is another sparkling example of Coel’s top-notch writing. Coel’s Arabella and Opia’s Terry come across as longtime friends who could complete each other’s sentences and feel comfortable with each other. Their performances seem so effortless, with the lived-in affection of very close friends — playfully leaning on each other, embracing and holding onto each other without hesitation. Although the ending of this episode makes it seem like their relationship is about to change, another crisis three months later will cause Terry to step up for her best friend. One question going forward in the series is whether Terry will trust Arabella to do the same for her?