Spoiler free review of season 1 is HERE.
In episode 1 of Netflix’s Kiss Me First, we meet Leila, a quiet, introverted young woman who has spent the last few years at home caring for her dying mother. With her mother gone, Leila moves out into the world. Sometimes it’s the virtual world and sometimes it’s the physical world. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where one world ends and the other begins.
Once her mother has passed on, Leila begins forming new relationships and trying to figure out where she fits in the world. She’s intelligent, strong and willing to continue looking out for other people, but she’s also sheltered, a bit innocent and can be impulsive.
We meet Leila for the first time at her mother’s funeral. She and the priest are the only ones there, besides Myra in her casket. Afterwards, Leila brings Myra’s ashes to the river, but doesn’t throw them in. Instead she brings them home and puts them in a prominent place on the mantle.
When Leila gets home from the funeral, the medical service is at her apartment collecting all of Myra’s adaptive care devices. The nice nurse mentions how much she liked Myra, and how her death seemed sudden. She asks if Leila has someone coming to stay with her, and Leila says yes, friends.
The van driver hurries the nurse along and that’s the end of her concern for Leila. Once she’s alone, Leila rattles around the apartment, places a framed beach photo of her mother and herself when she was little on her desk, then stares into space. She tells her mother’s ashes that everyone’s gone.
Eventually she turns on her computer and gears up for a virtual reality session. In the Azana Planet gaming universe, Leila is a warrior known as Shadowfax. She finds a gaming friend and has a hand to hand battle with her in a field on the edge of a forest. When they’re done, the friend, Carmen, thinks she’s won but the points show that Shadowfax won.
Carmen asks where Shadowfax has been for the last three weeks, then boasts that she’s going to “tear your tits off” the next time they fight. Leila chuckles uncomfortably. She and her mom probably didn’t talk that way to each other.
Carmen notices a woman watching Shadowfax from the edge of the forest. She’s watched her before. Shadowfax gets up to talk to the woman. The woman steps out from behind a tree and smiles, letting Shadowfax see her. When Shadowfax tries to cross the tree line into the forest, she receives an electric shock, is thrown out of the game, and her points are taken away.
Leila gets an “access denied” message when she tries to reenter Azana. She gives up, and turns to her bed to change her clothes. The computer’s camera, which looks like a glowing red eye, activates and watches her, while we hear the sounds of typing on a keyboard. The video of Leila cuts out before she removes her bra.
Someone has control of her experience inside Azana and control of her computer, and they’re watching her.
The next day, Leila adds up her expenses and realizes that she can’t afford to live on what her mother left her. Her Azana fees are about a third of her projected monthly expenses. The company must be raking it in, while convincing people they can’t live without it.
She goes out job hunting and ends up asking for a job at the Big Bites Cafe, where the owner, Azul, gives her a break because her mother died. He has her clean tables for the afternoon, then hires her to come in twice a week at minimum wage.
On her walk home, Leila stops to admire the sunset and sit on a bridge, watching a phone video she made of her mother. Her mother tells her that she’s “precious, the most precious.” It’s obvious that they were close and she misses her mother.
The woman who was watching Leila in Azana is still in the VR world. She dives into a blue-green lagoon, and swims as deep as she can, then floats there until the collar she’s wearing glows red and she feels like she’s running out of oxygen. She quickly swims to the surface so that she won’t drown, then back to shore, where a man is waiting for her.
He asks if she likes what he built, and she agrees that it’s perfect, saying the others will like it, too. He says that he built it for her, calling her Mania. Mania tells him that she saw the girl again, and asks if this girl is really the one. The man says they can look for someone else if Mania wants, but Mania says she’ll make it work with Leila.
The man says, “Cool. Now swim.” Mania does. The camera pulls away so that we can see the entire lagoon from above. As Mania peacefully floats on her back in the water, a giant, sinister sea creature swims just beneath her.
Mania returns from VR to real life. She has a version of the same collar on.
Leila has advertised for a roommate to help pay the bills. A young man named Jonty comes to the apartment to interview for the position. Leila is very serious, with her list of questions and conditions written out in her notebook, ready to be checked off. Jonty has a sense of humor, and Leila’s not quite sure what to do with it.
Jonty is an aspiring actor who works in a coffee shop, makes a marvelous mocha, and is researching life.
Leila: Mum always said you should make the best out of a bad situation.
Jonty: Leila, I am that situation. I really am.
I feel like it might take them a while to learn to communicate effectively, never mind how to flirt.
Leila shows him her mum’s room. She’s cleaned out the wardrobe, but otherwise left her mum’s stuff in place, and wants Jonty to live with it set up there, like a shrine. Jonty is so desperate for a place to live that he agrees, and says that it’ll help them remember her. He’s ready to move in now. His stuff is outside.
Later, when Leila’s getting ready for bed, she hears Jonty practicing one of his soliloquies for his acting auditions, the “You talkin’ to me?” speech from Taxi Driver.
As Leila enters her room to get into bed, her credits are in the process of being restored to her Azana account. Her screen shows her a bit of the forest scene, complete with hawk flying through. Then it switches to the Azana home screen. It’s an invitation. She enters VR and touches the force field at the edge of the forest. It dissolves, allowing her into the golden and green forest that’s filled with life.
A hawk flies overhead and a boy, Calumny drops to the ground in front of Shadowfax. Startled, she beats him up a little. He complains that it hurts, which leaves her confused. They aren’t supposed to have strong physical sensations in the simulator.
Calumny explains that the place they’re in is different. If she’s there by accident, she should go back. In this part of Azana World, “what’s inside you, what you’re hiding, it will come out.”
Shadowfax still wants to see it, and to find the girl who’s been watching her. Calumny tries again to talk her out of it, saying that if you like everyone too much, then not being there will be hard. Shadowfax doesn’t see why that would be a be big problem.
Calumny gives up and shows her where everyone else is hanging around at the lagoon. It’s called Red Pill. He brings her down to the water level, and the group, also known as Red Pill, come over to meet her. They describe themselves as the losers, who meet there mainly to talk. This is a place where their real life problems don’t matter.
There are two girls, named Tippi and Jocasta. The boys are named Force and Denier. Then Jocasta points out Mania who’s a little ways down the shore line. Most continue to give Shadowfax a hard time for having broken into Red Pill, especially Tippi and Force. Jocasta acts as peacemaker and Denier keeps his distance.
Mania and Shadowfax shyly say hi to each other and begin to talk, but then Adrian shows up. Tippi quickly tells him that Shadowfax just showed up there on her own.
“Hello. Someone been bending the rules? Wow, a hacker. Well done. Shadowfax, it’s nice to meet you but there are certain rules, mainly about being invited. So we have to say goodbye, for now.”
She thrown out of VR again, with all of her credits exhausted. Adrian is controlling her Azana use. He also manipulated the way the others saw her entry into Red Pill, making it seem like she’s a hacker who can beat him, instead of the invited guest that she was, and making it seem like he was sad that he had to make her leave, instead of showing them that he was completely controlling the situation.
Once Leila is thrown out of her computer again, she’s also told that her Azana credits are exhausted and she’s been denied access. Jonty knocks on the door to see who she’s talking to, but Leila reminds him that he promised to stay out of her room. She looks at the photo of her and her mom at the beach, and tells her mom that something’s happening.
Calumny leaves Red Pill and goes back to the real world. He hears the sound of his parents arguing, and is very distressed.
The next morning, Leila searches for the Red Pill team members.Their profiles don’t give her much information to work with. Mania has been a member since 2013, has no associated teams, and is associated with Halloween destruction. Calumny has been a member since 2009 and is associated with dream nightmares. Force has been a member since 2010, associated with hand to hand combat. Jocasta has been a member since 2012 and is known for the infiltration station. Denier has been a member since 2015 and is known for hand-to hand combat. Tippi has been a member since 2013 and is associated with city breaks. Finally, Leila searches for Adrian. Azana search can’t find an Adrian within the entire network.
Adrian didn’t just hack into Azana World to make Red Pill, control Leila’s use of the game, and then hack into Leila’s computer to watch her. His identity is a hack that can’t be trusted as well. On top of that, we now know that the things he says can’t be trusted either, and that he outright manipulates situations in order to manipulate the group.
Leila notices that she’s late for work and takes off. Jonty offers to make her breakfast as she’s on her way out the door, but there’s no time. At the diner, Leila uses the computer to do more research whenever she has a free moment. Zehra, the waitress, yells at her to keep up with her work, but Azul tells her she’s fine. He pays her for the week and asks her to clean up a few more tables before she leaves, then to come in an extra day next week. As Leila is finishing up with the last table by the front window she sees real life Mania outside watching the diner.
Mania waits for Leila to leave work. Since Adrian told her where Leila lives, she’s already been to Leila’s house and talked to Jonty. Mania tells Leila that everyone in Red Pill liked her. Leila asks about Red Pill, the place, since it’s not an official part of Azana. Mania says they’re hiding there. Leila only found it because Mania wanted her to. Mania wants to be friends. She invites Leila to the club she’s working tonight, giving Leila a flyer and telling her she can decide later. Then, as she walks away, Mania says that she thinks their first meeting went well, and things will start to get better now. Leila asks for Mania’s real name. She says it’s Tess.
When Leila gets home, Jonty is wearing Speedos because he has an audition the next day. He tells Leila that she’s his good luck charm and inexplicably does Liam Neeson’s nightmare skills speech from Taken, except he leaves out the nightmare skills part. He just promises to get his daughter back, one way or the other.
According to Jonty, Tess loved his Liam Neeson impression. She even gave him her phone number. Leila is taken aback at that. She goes upstairs to her computer and wonders why she was chosen. Then she looks up red pill and finds the Wikipedia reference to the red pill and blue pill from The Matrix. The blue pill allows one to stay in the illusion while the red pill allows one to see the truth, even if it’s difficult.
While Tess is researching, Adrian watches her through her webcam. He zeros in on the photo of her and her mother at the beach.
Calumny is in a street racing section of Azana Planet. He ends by purposely driving straight into an overpass at full speed, which would kill him in real life. He’s wearing the same collar that Tess has, both in the real world and in the simulation, so he probably felt the pain of the accident. When his “death” throws him out of the simulation, Calumny becomes aware of his parents having a violent argument in Polish. His mother is screaming in pain and furniture is crashing. As Calumny gets up to leave the room, we become aware that we’re seeing him through Adrian’s webcam view. Adrian starts laughing after Calumny is gone. He’s getting exactly what he wants.
Brief streetview shot of Leila’s apartment building from a surveillance camera angle.
Leila is trying to put on makeup as she gets ready to go to the club. Jonty comes in and tells her that they’ve both been guest listed. Leila is disgusted with her own attempts to look like a sexy clubber, so Jonty, with his theatre make up training, takes over for her.
At the club, Jonty quickly wanders off to buy drinks, leaving Leila alone to find Tess. She sees her dancing up high in a cage. Once Tess spots Leila, she comes down to earth and they go to the coat room to talk. Leila has a lot of questions, but Tess doesn’t have many direct answers. Leila wants to understand what’s going on and why Tess wants to be friends. Tess says that she thought Leila would like the club and that they could just have a nice time for now. Leila asks who Adrian is and why he’s in charge. Tess says that Adrian understands, and he made Red Pill for people like them, people with “stuff”.
Tess thinks that maybe she and Leila need each other. Then she tells Leila that she’s pretty. Leila says that no one thinks she’s pretty, doubting Tess’ sincerity. Tess says,”You need someone who’s not going to judge. Don’t you want that? To not be judged, whatever you did?” Tess takes off her earrings and puts them on Leila.
They go back out into the club, where Jonty is waiting with green shots. After the three have danced for a long time, Tess signals for Leila to go home with her. Tess lives in a big, nice house. Once they’re in Tess’ bedroom, Leila asks where she’ll sleep. Tess replies that Leila will sleep in the bed with her, of course. Leila says she’s only ever shared a bed with her mum.
Then Leila notices and admires Tess’ computer. Tess says that her married boyfriend bought it for her before she dumped him. Too much anal sex.
Leila picks up the collar that Tess wears in Azana Planet/Red Pill and asks what it is. Tess answers that it’s a sense band. Leila is surprised to see it, because they’re illegal. Tess explains that Adrian does something to the Red Pill sense bands. They allow users to feel pleasure and pain. She thinks that you have to have some pain to keep it real. When Leila undresses and gets into bed, Tess curls up around her. Leila asks what’s messed up about her. Tess says, “Everything.”
Calumny sits crying as he enters VR. As soon as he puts his gear on, Adrian finds him and takes him somewhere. Meanwhile, Leila gets up and uses Tess’ VR set up while Tess is asleep. The sense band gives her a shock and some kind of sensory stimulation when she puts it on. She uses Mania’s sign in so that she appears as Mania in Red Pill. She apparates near Adrian and Calumny, but out of sight. Calumny is still crying, and Adrian is comforting him.
In the real world, Calumny is on the rooftop of his building. In Red Pill, Adrian leads him out onto a stone outcropping over a very high drop. Adrian says,”You’re here now. Do you like it? You’re here now. You can forget what happened. Everything’s good.”
Adrian calls Mania to come out of the shadows and join them.
Adrian: Calumny’s had some problems again, so I made this. It seems like a problem, but it isn’t really. It’s just a matter of confidence.
Calumny: I make my father madder. It’s me. Something in me makes him beat her. My mother, she can’t take it… I’m scared of falling.
Adrian (to Mania/Leila): Tell Calumny this is nothing.
Mania/Leila (walking toward Calumny): It’s okay. It’s nothing. It’s fine. You can do anything.
Adrian (backing away from Calumny): See, Mania understands.
Calumny: You’re right. I’m not scared now.
Adrian: Where’s the harm in daring? Isn’t that right, Mania?
Calumny: Sunny Heights never looked better. Do widzenia.
He jumps. We’ve seen him standing on the edge of his high rise apartment building rooftop, but we’re not shown what he’s doing in real life at this moment.
Adrian: Shadowfax…Is she one of us, do you think?
Adrian: Good. We’ll see. I think she did something. Maybe she’ll tell us what it was. Goodnight…Mania.
He walks away and disappears. He definitely knew it was Leila.
Tess wakes up alone, but Leila has left a note on her pillow saying thanks. Tess smiles. Leila takes the bus home, still wearing Tess’ earrings.
While applying for the job, Leila tells Azul she can fix any computer.
She also tells him that she’s never had a job before, since being the main caretaker for your own relative doesn’t count as a job or as experience, even though it would if someone else was paid to do it.
Jonty practices the famous speech from Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese’s 1976 neo-noir psychological thriller. This is not a coincidence. The reference is being used for foreshadowing. From Wiki:
In Scorsese on Scorsese, the director talks about how much of the film arose from his feeling that movies are like dreams or drug-induced reveries. He admits attempting to incubate within the viewer the feeling of being in a limbo state somewhere between sleeping and waking.
Sort of like the virtual reality dream state used in this neo-noir psychological thriller.
This is the Speech from Taken. Jonty only uses the bolded part. Like Taxi driver, this is foreshadowing:
I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.
The films referenced in the episode have to do with children, especially girls, being kidnapped, prostituted, and abused. The adults, especially men, are willing to become as violent as it takes to save them. They also have themes of antiheroes, obsession and mental illness.
The first time Shadowfax visits the group in Red Pill, Jocasta tells the others to stop being so literal about every word Shadowfax says. Shadowfax asks if Red Pill is a combat team, which they scoff at, saying they’re not into fighting, mainly they just talk. But most of them don’t seem especially close. Tippi is with the group but doing her own thing, and is very suspicious and combative. Calumny and Denier each stick to themselves. Jocasta and Force are close to each other, but both are guarded. Nobody actually acts like this is a place that they’re comfortable and honest in.
By the end of the visit, we learn that everyone in Red Pill considers themselves a loser, or “unusual” in some negative way. They are a vulnerable population who come to their supposedly safe little corner of the universe to hang out with friends who share their sense of alienation and desperation. But their leader, Adrian, who hand picks members and sends them an invitation, seems to have his own unspoken agenda.
Adrian’s authority is unquestioned and everyone wants to please him. He spends time alone with each member and gives them gifts within the program, ensuring that their loyalty is to him more than to each other. Calumny is the only member who seems to see a downside to Red Pill. He warns Shadowfax about getting too involved.
Adrian’s avatar has a much more expressive face than anyone else. He also seems to always be watching, day and night.
The episode title is open to multiple interpretations. Did ‘she do something’ in terms of accomplishing something? Did ‘she do something’ in terms of being guilty?
Did ‘she do something’ sexual while they two women were in bed together? We aren’t shown anything explicit between them, but both practically drool over the other, and they’re very physical at the club and on the way home, even without kissing. They go to bed in their underwear, with Tess topless and wrapped around Leila. And they’re both pretty happy in the morning. But Jonty kisses Tess at the club, and Leila doesn’t seem to think anything will happen. For whatever reason, the show is coy about this and leaves it up to the viewer to decide.
Images courtesy of Netflix.