In this episode of Kiss Me First, Leila begins her investigation of Adrian and Red Pill, while Adrian draws Leila further into the Red Pill world that he’s creating. Tess and Leila grow closer in the real world, and learn each other’s difficult truths. Adrian insists that everyone in Red Pill will get what they need, though it’s not clear that Adrian is actually able to judge what they need, as opposed to what he thinks or wants them to need.
The episode begins with Calumny’s grayed out, dormant avatar standing alone in an empty field. Adrian rides up to it on a motorcycle, touches it, says, “Do widzenia,” and it dissolves. He rides away again.
In a flashback, Leila buys Axabutol from the pharmacy. The pharmacist is concerned about the potency of the medication and wants Leila to speak to a pharmacist, but Leila refuses. Axabutol is a fictional drug, as far as I can tell, but meant to be an opioid.
When she gets home, Leila’s mother, Myra, asks, “Leila, can you come? Did you see the chemist? Did they give it to you? Because I think… We talked about this, haven’t we? [Leila: Yes.] I want to decide when, Leila. Yes? I want to decide.” Leila nods her head yes. “I want to decide.”
Leila has been crying throughout the conversation. Now she’s still crying as she goes back to her room, where the camera eye is glowing red- Adrian is already watching her. We hear Myra repeat, “Leila, can you come? Leila? Leila? Leila? Leila?” And then a whispered, “Something’s wrong.”
Leila wakes up in her bed in the present day and looks for the picture of her and her mother first thing. Then she goes to the desk and picks up Tess’ earrings. She remembers dancing with Tess and turns on the computer to enter Azana Planet.
She apparates in the field next to the Red Pill forest, but can’t get through the barrier into Red Pill. Carmen drives up in a jeep and tries to convince Leila to join her in fighting the Haltz, machines that take players’ credits. Leila’s not interested, but Carmen starts fighting the battle right next to her anyway. Leila watches, but doesn’t participate. Just as the firepower is getting intense enough to hit Leila/Shadowfax, it freezes and disappears, leaving Adrian standing nearby.
He says, “Look at them all, throwing away their lives on killing and masturbation, and paying for the privilege.”
Leila: How are you doing this?
Adrian: I’m very good. Have you not worked that out yet?
Leila: What do you do?
Adrian: Everybody needs something. Let’s call it change. In Red Pill, we try to give it to each other. Mania needs a friend.
Leila: Why me?
Adrian: Because we saw you. Maybe you’re different to all those other idiots.
Leila: How do you know I’m different?
Leila: Do I join Red Pill?
Adrian: If you can show us who you really are.
Adrian: Work it out. Might be more fun than this kiddy b*llsh*t.
He gives her hundreds of points, then sets off an explosion and throws her out of Azana Planet, leaving her with no points.
That was Leila’s official invitation to join the group/swallow the Red Pill. In The Matrix, choosing a pill meant not just choosing which view of life to pursue, but also whether to follow a leader, Morpheus, and his agenda, or to continue living a normal life. The choice was a one way ticket. If Leila continues to interact with Adrian and Tess, she’s buying into Adrian’s version of the world and agreeing to follow his rules and agenda.
Adrian just told Leila several important things that make him sound like a cult leader: 1) He drew a line between all of the other idiots in the world who throw their lives away, and the people who’ve passed his tests and been accepted into Red Pill. His people are inherently better. 2) He told her that he has special, instinctual knowledge that no one else has, so he knows what’s best for her and the Red Pill members. 3) But he kept what she’d need to do to get into the group, what the group does, and what he and the group could do for her very vague. He just dangled the promise of a better life and used demonstrations of his power as bait. All he would say is they get what they need, as determined by him. 4) We saw in episode 1 that the members all consider themselves losers and messes, and no one, including Adrian, tells them they aren’t. There was no positive message in Red Pill. 5) We saw Tippi quickly turn Leila in for trespassing, to make sure that someone else got in trouble for bringing her there. Members are rewarded for turning each other in. 6) The members were all waiting for Adrian to tell them what to do next with their lives in the real world and help them solve their problems. He chooses Tess’ friends and strongly influences Jocasta and Force’s decisions about their relationship.
I think that Leila senses these red flags, since she isn’t jumping straight into anything. But she wants Tess, so Adrian chose the right bait to entice her to ignore her best judgement. Like he said, he’s good, plus he has the run of the internet and has already done his research on her.
When Leila pops out of VR, Jonty is practicing his acting warm ups. She asks why he’s not at work and it turns out that he is now a job seeker, instead of an employee, because of creative differences over a marshmallow. Perhaps it’s best not to ask for the details, so Leila doesn’t. He is, however about to play Tony Blair in a Fringe Show, so, yay! He got a role! But- I’m going to guess it won’t even pay as well as the coffee shop job. Leila reminds him that she actually needs his rent, which surprises him. For a moment, he thought she was his mother, when he wasn’t ogling her bare legs.
Later, Leila tries to call Tess several times, but she doesn’t respond. Leila, who is nothing if not plucky, goes to Tess’ house to see what’s up. I guess she has Adrian’s order to be Tess’ friend, so she’s not worried about rejection.
When she gets there, Tess’ boyfriend, Connor, stumbles out of the front door, still zipping his fly. She tells him she’s a friend of Tess, which surprises him, then Leila tells him Tess said they have too much anal sex. He says to tell Beyoncé to stop sticking it out. Then he gets a call from his wife. Lovely guy.
Leila finds Tess inside waiting for her. They go to the kitchen, a room Tess says she hardly ever enters. Tess says that she got back together with Connor, even though he’s a jerk, because she gets horny when she takes too many pills. She didn’t respond to Leila’s calls because she gets unreliable now and then. At least she’s being honest about trying to push Leila away.
Leila asks why Tess gets unreliable. Tess explains that she has up times and down times, that last anywhere from a day to a year. People get tired of dealing with her mood swings and unreliability.
Just then her roommate, Polly, comes in for a show of tiredness. Polly insults Tess some, demands the £620 that Tess owes her, and threatens to call in her dad if Tess doesn’t pay up. She’s got some words for Leila as well, suggesting that Polly wasn’t the nicest person even before she got tired.
Leila gets ready to leave for work, but before she goes, Tess apologizes for not returning her calls. They agree to try to be friends and that Leila will come to Red Pill. Leila starts to ask if Adrian chose… but doesn’t get a chance to finish. She probably wanted to know if he chose her to be Tess’ friend. Tess says she’ll call tomorrow, if Leila isn’t tired of her yet. Leila says that she doesn’t tire easily.
As she rides to work, Leila watches her video of her mum, and tells her that she made a friend. She looks up at the sky and sees the clouds turn red, a double moon, and a hawk being followed by several smaller birds. This is an image from Azana/Red Pill. Her two worlds are blending into one. But is it fantasy/metaphor, or does she really see it? Does the sense band affect the users’ neurology in some way even when they aren’t wearing it?
At work, Leila checks Calumny’s profile status and discovers he’s been deactivated. She remembers her part in his fall. Then Zehra yells at her to get to work.
In Red Pill, Mania jumps into the lagoon and swims deep, where the monsters are. Her band turns red, telling her to go back to the surface.
Tess is in a therapy session with Beam, the most unhelpful therapist ever, who feels that Lithium is the only acceptable treatment for her illness. Tess’ mother is there too, and is mainly upset that she has to drive 2 hours to attend Tess’ therapy sessions. To be sure, Tess has a real mental illness, probably some form of bipolar disorder, and keeps going off her meds. But these two aren’t actually interested in helping her. Beam is interested in milking as much money as possible out of her mother, and her mother is interested in blaming her.
Mum complains about Tess’ overuse of computer games, and Beam decides that inpatient treatment might work even better than Lithium!! He could make it okay with her college. Tess doesn’t want to do inpatient treatment, but she also has dropped out of college. Her mother has a fit.
Both Mum and Beam seem to think that all of Tess’ actions are specifically designed to upset her mother. Beam makes her promise to take her Lithium, for her shrieking mother’s sake. Mum/Marion still manages to complain about the amount of money Tess has cost them, and that she made her dad sick. Tess apologizes. It’s clear that nothing she does will ever sway her mother. Her role as family scapegoat was decided a long time ago.
Tess nearly empties her bank account to pay Polly off. Polly warns Leila that Tess will screw her over and that Leila isn’t Tess’ type. Leila is direct enough to ask who is Tess’ type. Polly says, “Anyone who’ll sub her, f**k her, deal her drugs, drive her to hospital. You up for any of that?”
Leila doesn’t answer, though I’m pretty sure she’d consider one or two of the options. Tess’ illness has been out of control lately, and she’s using all of the unhealthy methods available to cope. That doesn’t mean that Polly has to put up with her abuse of their friendship, or that it’s up to her to save Tess. But you get the sense that she never was very understanding. Then again, Tess clearly isn’t trying very hard.
Leila goes to Tess’ room and gets a bit stalkery. With Tess’ sense band on, she looks up the meaning of Calumny’s last words. Azana says that do widzenia= goodbye in Polish. Adrian watches her through the computer camera as she answers a call on Tess’ pnone from Connor. He has a little while free and wants to come right over. She tells him no, to go be with his wife. Then she leaves.
When Marion drops Tess off at home, she tells Tess that she hopes her new friend is strong. As soon as Tess is out of her mother’s car, she immediately tosses out the Lithium.
At work, Leila runs into her old Math teacher, Mr Adams. He’s not teaching any more, and sounds suspicious when he tries to explain why he left. He says he’s moved on, retired in a way. That sounds like he could have been forced out due to impropriety. Abusing students, perhaps?
Mr Adams asks what she’s been doing, if she’s still gaming and building machines? When she says she was never that good, he says that she always had a certain mathematical flair and was different from all of the other idiots. He thought she should have gone to university. Azul calls Leila back to work, so Mr Adams gives her his number in case she ever gets serious about math and computers again.
He used some similar language to Adrian. Was that a coincidence?
When Leila gets home, she finds Tess there waiting for her. Polly threw her out, even though Leila paid her rent. Jonty is excited to have Tess as a roommate. They have a dance party, but Jonty passes out early. Leila gets a late-night package delivery of her very own sense band from Adrian. She’s been fully accepted into Red Pill.
Tess and Leila gear up and dive in. Leila’s Shadowfax outfit has been stripped of her weapons and defensive gear. No combat in Red Pill. She also has a little skirt and a bare midriff now. It’s creepy that Adrian modified her body/avatar himself, and made it more feminine, instead of telling her the rules and letting her make the changes according to her own taste.
They find the others on the beach at Mania’s lagoon. Force is telling them that he got into an argument with his father about high school and his father threw him out of the house. Now he’s living in a friend’s old trailer. He’s lying on the sand with Jocasta and Tippi, while Adrian and Denier sit together on a rock.
The rest of the group are excited to hear that Mania and Shadowfax met in real life. Tippi is jealous. Force says that he’s saving his money so he can fly to London and meet Jocasta. Jocasta is uncertain about the idea. Tippi and Mania laugh about how much Jocasta and Force hated each other when they met. Tippi says they should consummate their relationship already, so they can start hating each other again already.
They ask what Adrian has for Shadowfax, since newbies gotta dance. Adrian turns the lagoon into an ice rink. Tippi says that Shadowfax is a controller queen and predicts that she’ll break her neck. The others are more supportive. Shadowfax is an amazing ice skater, and skates for hours. Tess gets tired, leaves Red Pill and gets into bed.
Shadowfax finds Adrian in a secluded area, waiting to talk with her. He tells her that she’s done well. Mania seems to be doing better already. He worries about her.
Shadowfax tells Adrian that Calumny’s profile is gone and she can’t find him. Adrian suggests that he’s taking a break. Shadowfax asks if he’ll come back. Adrian says that maybe they gave Calumny what he needed and he’s found some peace. Leila asks, “Peace?” Adrian says, “You can have that, too. The thing you most need.” Leila asks what that is. Adrian says, “Don’t you know?”
Leila prepares to leave. Denier is waiting to talk to Adrian. Adrian suggests that Denier and Shadowfax get to know each other. He says, “It might be rewarding.”
I feel like every other word that comes out of Adrian’s mouth is code for something. But he’s also using the con man’s trick of being vague and hoping they’ll give them the answers he needs to manipulate them further.
Leila leaves Red Pill and wakes Tess up. They chat about their mothers, then Tess gets undressed and ready to go to sleep for the night. Leila tells Tess that she’s beautiful, but Tess says it doesn’t count for much in the end.
Leila gets undressed, but leaves her bra on, unlike Tess. Tess tells her to take more off. Leila says she can’t, but then screws up her courage and does it anyway. Tess notes that Leila needs “unwinding” and Leila agrees, bu she doesn’t want to unwind with Jonty. Tess says that Myra left Leila with some serious repression. Leila laughs about her “silly old moo” of a mom, but then gets serious. She tells Tess the truth about her mother’s death: “She was sick. She didn’t want to be alive any more. So I killed her. I gave her a lot of drugs… and she just went. That happened… I’m okay.”
Tess looks seriously disturbed when Leila says she killed her mom, then doesn’t believe her when she says she’s okay.
Leila asks Tess about Calumny, and describes the place in Red Pill that Calumny jumped from, calling it Sunny Heights. Tess says that Sunny Heights is where Calumny lived in the real world. She says that Calumny’s life is pretty awful, just like the rest of them. But there’s a place where they’re all going to meet up someday and be together. That place will be wonderful.
Tess tells her that Adrian says that there’s an amazing place that they can all go if things ever get too terrible. They just have to ask, and they can go there, and nothing bad they’ve done will matter anymore. Leila looks unsure about whether to believe in this promised land.
Just in case we weren’t clear that Leila is attracted to Tess, maybe even a little obsessed with her, Leila wakes up early the next morning and secretly goes through Tess’ stuff in the living room while Jonty sleeps on the couch. She smells Tess’ clothes and tries on her slip. Then she finds a file on Tess’ computer labelled “Connor” that’s a video of Tess and Connor having porny anal sex.
Leila only watches the sex tape for a minute. Next she looks up Sunny Heights, where Calumny lived. She finds it, and takes a bus to see the high-rise for herself. When she gets there, a crime scene is taped off, where someone jumped off the building and landed on top of a car.
Calumny’s mom, Maja, is sitting on a bench nearby. Leila goes to her and she says Calumny’s real name was Cyryl. She’s never met any of Cyryl’s friends. The police are letting her see Cyryl’s body today for the first time. Leila goes with Maja and comforts her as she breaks down over Cyryl’s body.
Later, when they’re back in Maja and Cyryl’s apartment, Maja tells Leila that her husband ran away when the police came to investigate Cyryl’s death and saw marks on her body, so she’s safe now. Cyryl had tried to stop the violence himself, but couldn’t. Maja is confused, because the police insisted on looking at Cyril’s computer, but it was empty. Everything had been erased.
Leila asks if the police took his computer away, but Maja tells her no, they didn’t. Maja heard him talking to people on the computer all the time. Leila asks if she can see the computer. Maja agrees, and asks Leila’s name. She says that she wishes she’d had a girl, because girls won’t hurt you.
Cyryl’s room is small and plain. He has an Azana “You are Free” poster on his wall, and spray painted “Do widzenia” in blood red in big letters on his wall.
Leila logs into Red Pill as herself and lands at the rock outcropping that Cyryl jumped from. She calls for Adrian to come out of hiding. He does, but he makes her hover over the long drop that killed Calumny/Cyryl as he talks to her, with her sense band glowing red. He’s making this hurt.
Adrian: You can have it, too, Shadowfax. Didn’t I promise you? The thing you need most. I never break my promises.
Then she drops with no warning, preparing to die as she falls hundreds or thousands of feet. Instead, when she gently stops, she’s standing on the beach from her desk photo and her avatar has become a child. Her mother is there, calling for her. Leila runs into her mother’s arms.
I’m not thrilled with Jonty’s habit of subtly undermining Leila in this episode. Connor is also unbelievably rude, but we’re supposed to think he’s a jerk, whereas we’re supposed to like Jonty. Thankfully Leila isn’t swayed by either of them.
It’s hard to completely tease out Adrian’s motivations. Tess needs someone to take care of her and stick with her, and Leila misses her mother and having someone who needs her. In that sense, Leila and Tess are made for each other. But they’re also at risk of an unhealthy relationship, with Tess becoming too dependent on Leila and Leila being the only functional adult in the relationship. What is Adrian hoping will result from this friendship? Probably nothing good.
Tess says to Leila that Leila’s keeping Tess alive, which is a huge burden to put on a friend.
Leila tells Tess that she tries to be sad about her mother, but mostly she doesn’t feel anything. With a death after years of chronic illness, Leila would have done most of her grieving before her mother’s passing. The time after the death would be a time of relief and adjustment.
We get confirmation in this episode that Leila assisted with her mother’s death, at her mother’s request. She doesn’t seem to be having nightmares or any particular regrets. She just seems to miss her mom, which is normal, so I don’t think she feels much guilt. Why should she have regrets, after watching her mother’s suffering and deterioration for years? She saved her mother from more pain and indignity.
But then Adrian drags up all of her emotions by recreating their beach trip, trying to manipulate her into feeling something she doesn’t necessarily feel. It’s healthy for Leila to miss her mom, but also to move on and form new relationships. It’s not healthy for her to get stuck in the past. At the least, Adrian is using this to distract Leila from what she’s learning about him. At worst, he’s trying to take her on the same journey he took Cyryl, and possibly others, on.
Maja doesn’t give any indication that her beatings had anything to do with Cyryl, only that he couldn’t stop them while he was alive. The idea that they were caused by Cyryl’s presence sounds like something that came from Adrian’s twisted thinking. And, in its twisted way, it worked and gave Cyryl what he wanted, but in a horrific way. He is at peace, and his mother is safe. His absence did stop the beatings. Adrian was perceptive enough to figure out how to coordinate all of that.
But I don’t get the sense that Cyryl’s suicide was originally his own idea, given the way he tried to warn Leila, and it certainly wasn’t the best or only solution to the issues. Adrian is/was currently working closely with Tess, Denier and Cyryl. Cyryl strays from Adrian’s control by warning Leila, and within a few days, he’s dead. That’s not a good sign.
Then there’s the police investigation of Cyryl’s death and his computer. They seem to think that there was something suspicious about his death. And Adrian seems to think he should hide what he and Cyryl were up to, since he wiped the computer. Since, as far as we know, Cyryl is the first to die in Red Pill, it makes me wonder if there have been earlier iterations of Adrian’s cults in which people died.
Do widzenia is more closely translated as “see you later” or “so long”. Azana gave Leila a more final sounding translation, when Calumny hadn’t actually said last words that sounded all that desperate. That could have been Adrian controlling the Azana search response and trying to make Leila feel more guilty. Thanks to foo for pointing out the translation difference in the comments.
With all of their rules and restrictions, laws and codes, ultimately cults are about grasping and preserving absolute and unconditional control.
Cults are fueled by and thrive on control. The willingness to surrender control comes from excessive devotion to the leader and the leader’s vision. The leader’s personal agenda is presented as a universal elixir, one that will eradicate both personal and global moral, ethical, and spiritual maladies. The follower’s faith becomes both the provider and the enabler…
To maintain the unity and cohesion of the cult, there is a clear separation between those ‘inside’ and ‘outside.’ Members are holy, special, chosen; outsiders are unholy, ignorant, toxic. Contact with the outside world — often including family — is discouraged, and family is redefined as the group itself. In this new family, subjugation and subservience is expected and obedience and control is demanded. From one’s sexuality to one’s personal hygiene, the leader possesses unquestioned, absolute authority over its members’ lives. For a cult leader, it is imperative to seem infallible, to possess the answers, the solutions, the only route to salvation.
Is it a Cult? The Top Ten Signs the ‘Group’ You’ve Joined is Not what It Seems
- The leader and group are always correct and anything the leader does can be justified.
- Questions, suggestions, or critical inquiry are forbidden.
- Members incessantly scramble with cramped schedules and activities full of largely meaningless work based on the leader’s agenda
- Followers are meant to believe that they are never good enough.
- Required dependency upon the leader and group for even the most basic problem-solving.
- Reporting on members for disobedient actions or thoughts is mandated and rewarded.
- Monetary, sexual, or servile labor is expected to gain promotion.
- The ‘outside’ world — often including family and friends — is presented as rife with impending catastrophe, evil, and temptations.
- Recruitment of new members is designed to be purposefully upbeat and vague about the actual operations of the leader and group.
- Former members are shunned and perceived as hostile.
Images coutesy of Netflix.