CN: This article contains mention and discussion of sexual assault and trauma, as well as spoilers.

Bill Murray confused. Bill Murray depressed. Bill Murray hysterical. Bill Murray…a reformed enough man to bed Andie MacDowell and be freed from a purgatorial existence? Admittedly, this is a rather basic summation of Harold Ramis’ film Groundhog Day, but nevertheless it’s a template so entertaining that the title has become eponymous for any time-looping on-screen escapade. But with the final episode of Michaela Coel’s recent BBC/HBO series I May Destroy You creating its own time loop, how does the light-hearted trope hold up in a narrative about consent and sexual violence?


Coel is by no means the first to be influenced in some way by the 1993 classic. There seem to be more examples of the Groundhog Day trope in the last 27 years than the number of times we hear Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe” in the film itself. No genre has gone untouched, from action’s Edge of Tomorrow to horror’s Happy Death Day, to even the ending of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2. I concede that the last example doesn’t fit the trope exactly, but kudos must go to Stephenie Meyer for ending a 3.3 billion-dollar franchise with a time-bending prank.


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The trope’s enduring success is down to its fantasy. The supernatural cause of the time-loop, or how it gets resolved, is never the most memorable part. Instead, it’s the joy of an infinitely repeating day, a writer’s playground that the audience and eventually protagonist share in. It’s a world free of consequences; bosses can get punched, true love declared and even Carlisle Cullen’s head can be severed and held up to an audience of screaming Twi-hards, without any narrative clean-up required. Win-win.

Nevertheless, it was still a surprise to many to see the trope appear in the final episode of I May Destroy You. In the episode, following Arabella (Coel) finally processing her experiences into a plan for her book, we see her recognise her attacker and remember her assault fully. She hatches a plan which leads to her beating him to death, before she appears suddenly back on her terrace deciding whether to go to the bar. This version ends with him arrested by the police, before a third, abstract version, in which Arabella bluntly rejects him after consensual sex. After a final reset, she chooses not to go to the bar at all. Time moves on.


Speaking on Sophie Duker’s (excellent) Obsessed With podcast, Coel describes her process in writing this ending. She recalls talking to her Airbnb owner about the show’s different potential conclusions, testing the woman’s reaction to multiple versions. I think the difficulty of this task is that it’s a show about sexual violence and consent. Coel needed an ending, and so needed some sort of resolution or closure to the experience of being raped. But the problem with trauma is that it has its own time-looping effect. Long after it’s over, the experience of it still loops, as evident in Arabella’s recurring flashbacks throughout the series.

“Arabella experiences a kind of ego death again in the final episode, but this time it’s self-instigated and consensual.”

Despite this being the umpteenth time we’ve seen a Groundhog Day-esque narrative, these loops are far from a storytelling cop-out from Coel. Yes, the trope is a writer’s playground, but this time the writer is Arabella herself. The final episode is where Arabella is finally in some sort of control - she can write her own ending.

I May Destroy You finds its ending by tackling a question sexual assault survivors know all too well – what can fix this? Granted, legal punishment for rapists feels more impossible than ever, with recent news finding an increase in reported rape cases yet decrease in their prosecution. There’s even the chilling reality that the face of the trope himself, Bill Murray, has continued to maintain an grumbly-yet-ultimately-charming Hollywood persona, despite reports of his alleged emotional and physical abuse.

These uncomfortable realities are never far away throughout I May Destroy You, but the finale engages with that particular persistent thought: what would you actually do or say to your attacker, if you could? And would that fix everything? (This is not, I must clarify, to negate the importance of legal justice for survivors, but to highlight how trauma can never be simply “solved”.)


The final episode, then, is Arabella’s attempt to find some sort of ending for her own experience. Naming the bar and the episode itself ‘Ego Death’ is important. This psychological term is most often used in relation to drugs and psychedelics when the user experiences a loss of a sense of self. Arabella’s drugging and assault in the bar in the first episode makes it a place of ego death; she is severed from both agency and memory.

Arabella experiences a kind of ego death again in the final episode, but this time it’s self-instigated and consensual. With each hypothetical imagining, she can enter the bar, lose her sense of actual self and confront a different aspect of her trauma with revenge; bodily harm, emotional breakdown – even romantic rejection. She can answer the big “If” on her own terms.

“Yes, the trope is a writer’s playground, but this time the writer is Arabella herself.”

Because unlike Groundhog Day, or its many iterations since, Arabella isn’t stuck in a loop. The repetitions in I May Destroy You don’t include the cliché moments of déjà vu, smashing alarm clocks or fists shaking at the sky. I mentioned earlier how the most forgettable part of the Groundhog Day-style narrative is its resolution – the cause revealed, usually with a clumsy moral message (did I mention the part about bedding Andie MacDowell?). Coel completely bypasses the need to identify the great divine power in control of Arabella. Because Arabella is the writer, the power controlling herself.

Coel’s decision to end I May Destroy You with a looping narrative does not come from indecision and it provides more than just the vicarious pleasure of seeing a groundhog drive Bill Murray into a ravine. It’s the entire meaning of the show’s title; firstly a statement of possibility, that Arabella has the potential to cause destruction, but also of authorisation, that Arabella has given herself permission to embrace this destruction, whenever it suits her best. Even if it’s the next time around.