Trolldom is formless. It knows no shape, color nor gender. The unknown about trolling or, in the more pejorative colloquialism, “being a Karen” is the people behind them. All we know of these people are what they present to us- a gadfly on their worst day and a legitimate menace on their best day. Trolling is still an assault. We however can be quick to sometimes be so myopic, we see only the sin and not the sinner. In the sixth episode of I May Destroy You, titled “The Alliance”, the show goes more extensively into why sometimes hurt people hurt people.
We open in on Terry (Weruche Opia) and Kwame (Paapa Essiedu) attending a graffiti art class in support of their mate Arabella (Michaela Coel), who is currently off in the distance on her phone. Speaking of distance, T is truly concerned that Bella isn’t participating while Kwame is aloof. He most likely hasn’t gotten over the police not giving a fig to his fucking plight in the last episode. Terry is concerned that Kwams isn’t more concerned, likening her best friend to a computer in safe mode- one that’s been too overloaded with programs. She honestly need not look any further than to the person on her right for that to hit.
As it turns out, Arabella’s about to head off a support group meeting run by Theo, a high school acquaintance. This hits Terry’s ears wrong, as she quips that it’ll be held in a half-way house. T’s not in support of this decision in any way, but Bella goes anyway.
At the meeting, the woman is introduced to Theodora (Harriet Webb) who formed the support group as a safe space for survivors of sexual exploitation of any kind to talk over their experiences and about what’s transpiring on the inside with no judgment. She’s well informed, saying that one in two women have been abused or exploited in some way and that 89% of the trials result in exoneration. Deploying the names “Bob” or “Barbara” instead of proper names is a must.
One member, Loretta (Shalisha James-Davis) relays an incident where a Bob touched her knee mid-conversation. Another, Sarah (Tor Clark) cosigns to that but when a Bob does that to the small of one’s back. Yet another member of the group explains when she tries to report it, she hears herself out lout and feels she’s undermining herself. Theo explains that belittling the problem makes the job easier for HR, whose job should be much harder for what they get paid.
Arabella comes out and reveals her story. How the rape was drug-facilitated, how she tried to get back on track, how her “workplace partner” sexually assaulted her after, and that “someone” (re: Biago) said it was her fault. What she wants to take away from the group is to learn how not to be raped because if that’s not possible, it can happen again to her and she’s not sure really what type of world that would be. Theo explains that’s why places like hers exist and that she is NOT ALONE.
As the group departs, Bella and Theo get a moment to embrace as Bella regrets not having gotten to know her in high-school. Theo thinks there’s no time like the present.
It’s 2004 and a teenaged Theo (Gaby French) is climbing into her bedroom window. She extracts something stolen from her hoodie along with some wrapping paper. She texts someone named Ryan and flirts. Her younger brother Jack (Eric Madgwick) raps at the door. He notices her getting changed and shows her what he “got” for their dad, I’m sorry, “Martin” for his birthday: a mousepad he took from his office. He asks her to drive to school, so she jams open the protective casing and resumes down to breakfast.
At the table, the birthday frivolities are short-lived, as she gives her wrapped “gift” to Martin (Ian Bonar), and verbally eviscerates her mother (Melissa Batchelor), who knows she was out the entire night. She grills her brother to corroborate, leading him on, as if she groomed him to say the right things. Now the day can start.
Before class starts, Theo’s making out in with Ryan (Josiah Mutupa) but once the bell peals, she takes it a nudge further, escaping with him to an unfinished level of the edifice and they proceed to fuck… that is until Theo hears Ryan’s phone camera go off. She tells him to stop but he takes a few more pictures before he does.
She insists he deletes them, but he swears he won’t share them. He also accuses her of being a psycho for coming at him hard and that he’s not the only one with ‘archives’ on their phones. He also offers her 10 pounds… then 20. She demands 30, but he only has slightly more than 11. He ultimately finds more and offers that along with his backpack. She agrees, only on the promise to be paid afterward.
He takes his pictures and cums, she tosses his phone out of the high window, taking the money along with his bag. She grabs a knife from the cafeteria and heads to the bathroom.
In the middle stall in the bathroom, she is flanked by a teen Terry (Lauren-joy Williams) and teen Arabella (Danielle Vitalis). Even back then, their friendship was thick as molasses, from Terry talking about a pretty girl with a good demeanor to Arabella talking about the logic of why she’s so nice to everybody.
Back in music class, Arabella seems the star student, answering what a crotchet is whilst chowing down on popcorn. When Terry asks what she’s eating on, she asks for some but is scolded for talking out of turn. Terry then notices rivulets of blood coming down Theo’s legs, as she’s sobbing, head in hands. Terry brings this up to the Miss Mott (Beverly Longhurst) and she reveals that she “didn’t want to,” that “he made her,” and that “he had a knife.”
Ryan admits to the Headmaster Mr. McHale (Mark Weinman) that they had sex and that “he didn’t even want to hit it” before admitting that he did. Now, Ryan’s a prick, self-admittedly, but because he’s black and Theo, a white girl is with the medics bleeding, he’s not even admitted his “one phone call,” which in this case would be a friend named Marcus. So because she claims he raped her at knife-point, he has to be detained until the po-po arrives.
Meanwhile, back in the halls, Terry, holding court, relays the events lain before her eyes as if they were happening in real-time. With another teacher coming through, they disband and she tells them to stay tuned to Terra TV for more updates. Even back then, she was born a star… though Arabella thinks Terra TV would only be good for Halloween, as it would be the only day of the year they would let her nutter ass out. Again, thick like molasses.
Back in the schoolyard, Arabella and Terry meet with Marcus (Jay Lycurgo) as he questions if his friend could even do that. Bella and T recite the same mantra: “the blood doesn’t lie.” She counters with “the shots don’t lie” and proceeds to show something more compelling: photo evidence. Now both T and Bella have a new mantra: “it’s the blood that lies.”
It all came down to color for them at the time. Bella says that if either she or T staged a similar thing, they would merely get detention. As Terry would put it so eloquently, “White girl tears are high-currency,” and because their teacher was white, she empathized quicker. Arabella builds on that and reveals that Miss Mott thought she was intimidating the other students with her intelligence and were she to sob, her tears would be seen as “weapons of mass destruction.”
Marcus isn’t revealing the truth though, as he has a whole gallery of like photos from Ryan and other girls and that would put him away… so Bella asks for him to forward a photo of Theo. To paraphrase the ole’ Shampoo song: “Uh-oh, you’re in trouble. Someone’s come along and it’s burst your bubble.”
Ryan makes an exonerated exit and his crew congratulates him. Not for what he did. As teenagers, that didn’t go through their minds even once. They were happy that one of their own made it out without a police escort on a false premise. That was enough to get happy. Welcoming him back into the fold, a teenaged Arabella exclaims, “Do or die, The Alliance is spicy!”
As Theo, escorted by her mother does the walk of shame out of school, she’s clowned by the crew and one lobs out a comment about her father. There is something brewing in her when she under her mouth calls them “fucking African monkeys.”
Back at her house, Martin, truly in concern asks her why she would do such a thing. He is flummoxed after all the things she and her mother have been through and the “disgusting” things her father had done to them that she would put an innocent peer in that situation.
This was Theo’s lashing out, as her father never molested her nor had he hit her mother, Martin’s wife. News to Martin, he becomes more aghast to learn that Theo was groomed to lie as a seven-year-old because her mother wanted sole custody. The only difference is that Martin made more than her dad. She likes Martin just fine, but she misses her real father. She’s experienced trauma, no doubt.
We now get back to Theo’s opening speech and we can hear some keywords. “Abusers”, “Groomers” and “Exploitation” but this time in another meeting. This makes the record sound broken because we hear as the audience the vinyl pops and clicks.
The question is… does Arabella?