In episode 5, The Witch Is Coming, Adrian speaks directly to the audience for the first time, perhaps trying to seduce us into joining his next venture, after Red Pill is done self-destructing. He shares his personal manifesto, giving viewers insight into his motives and background. As it turns out, the theme of episode 4, friends (and family) let us down, is the theme of Adrian’s life, one he’s reenacting in his cults. Each suicide or murder is a proxy for his own issues. As a real life human, he remains invisible, perhaps because he wants to erase himself most of all, but can’t until he’s done with his revenge on the world.
Take a life, any life. Take your life. Think about all the people you’ve encountered today. This week. This year. Then think about how many people you’ll encounter in your entire existence. Family, friends, colleagues, enemies, lovers. The ones who stuck around. The ones who got away. Fleeting, stolen relationships. Endless friendships that ended. Consider the ones you loved and couldn’t tell, or were afraid of, or secretly yearned to humiliate, or maybe suck out of the world. Then consider how it would be if it were all possible. If you weren’t lost, buried in your stupid life. But making it, shaping it and molding it until you had everything you deserve. And you were loved as you should be.
This is what the cult and the game offer. If you play along with Adrian, he promises that eventually, after you’ve done everything he asks, he’ll be the one who’ll love you forever, unconditionally, in the beautiful mansion next to turquoise waters that Tess is arriving at now. It’s the sort of place that’s owned by the very wealthy, who can afford to mold and shape their lives, and pay people to stay with them. But, as the Beatles taught us, even the wealthy can’t buy real love.
Tess arrives at the happy place on a sailboat and gets dropped off on the dock. Tippi, who refuses to use her real name, comes out to greet her. She’s Adrian’s most devoted acolyte, and welcomes
Tess Mania with a backhanded compliment worthy of her leader: “You’re prettier than I thought you’d be.”
In other words, let the competition to be Adrian’s favorite begin in earnest! Tess ignores Tippi’s message for the moment. She asks for Adrian, but he’s not there. Tippi says they have to be patient. She takes Tess to the house, and smiles a creepy, half-crazed smile at her when she tells Tess that they made it!
Tess makes her way upstairs to find her room. There are bedrooms for Force and Jocasta as well. Tess finds her own, where there’s a little white dress laid out on the bed for her to wear. Tippi is wearing the same sun dress, but in light blue. Nope, not a cult at all. Also, Tess is definitely winning as Adrian’s favorite, since she’s in the “virgin sacrifice white” model.
Tess sees Leila in the mirror for a moment, telling her to, “Run away.” She knows, deep inside, that things aren’t right here. But she wants the happy place to be for real so badly that she ignores her instincts, puts on the white dress, and joins Tippi again.
Tippi has made a gorgeous meal and is excited that Tess likes her food. She plans to feed Adrian really well when he gets there. Then, she tells Tess that they’ll burn Tess’ stuff after dinner. When Tess asks why, Tippi just says, “Because you need to. Boy, do you need to.”
Cults typically want new members to leave everything from their old lives behind, because the cult will be everything to them now. Burning old possessions adds a purifying aspect, which is typical of Adrian.
They burn Tess’ clothes, wallet and money. Tippi also wants to burn her passport, but Tess lies about it being in her wallet. Then Tippi takes out a 50 year old bottle of whiskey and a red pill. Adrian wants them to take one everyday. Tess asks why, again. Tippi says that they need to trust Adrian, the way he’s trusting them. Tess takes the pill, but clearly has some reservations.
Force and Leila are speeding toward Croatia on some European highway in a sports car. Leila asks Force to pull over so that she can relieve herself. She goes behind some bushes, keeping an eye on him the whole time. When he hurries her along, she decides it’s time for her to take over the driving. She races off at high speed, while Force looks on admiringly.
Tess saved her denim jacket from the ritual burning. She hides it in her closet, which is otherwise full of identical white dresses. As she’s moving stuff, she discovers a cassette player and recording from Adrian, with instructions. Tess is thrilled to have a special communication from Adrian, just for her. Adrian tells Tess to take “him” for a walk outside.
Adrian says that he’s always loved this place, as if it was his family’s home.
Tippi watches Tess walk away with the recording of Adrian. She’s angry and lies down on her bed, a butcher’s knife at her side, and seems to go into a hallucination.
The car’s preprogrammed GPS has led Leila and Force to a phone booth. Adrian sends them to a small cabin to spend the night.
Adrian’s recording continues to tell Tess how special she is to him. He moves on to explaining that self-doubt has ruined her life, and that’s why monsters chase her. She comes out onto the real life version of the lagoon, just as he tells her that monsters won’t chase her there. Tess is overcome with emotion and goes straight into the clear water.
When she gets back to the house, Tippi is chopping vegetables like she wants them to die. She asks where Tess has been. In response, Tess plays part of Adrian’s recording. Adrian’s voice tells Tess how special she is and how much she means to him. Tippi storms out of the room, while Tess pretends to feel bad. Playing that message for Tippi was a deliberately cruel choice, maybe her revenge for the comment about how pretty Tippi thought Tess wouldn’t be.
Tess finishes preparing dinner and brings it outside to Tippi as a peace-offering. Tippi confesses that she thought she’d be special here, not a little runaway drug hooker anymore. Tess reminds her that they’re both runaways, and passes her the day’s dose of drugs and alcohol.
How long before Adrian starts needing them to do small favors for him, sexual or otherwise? The other two of the three things Tippi was trying to escape have already followed her here, but in exchange she now has a pimp who pretends to care about her.
Tippi says that Adrian shared secrets with her, too. She stops the witch, then he’ll come.
Once they get to the cabin, Leila asks Force what the rest of the plan is. He says that they’ll get to the happy place the next day, grab Tess, and leave. She asks why he’s helping her. He tells her that she helped him work things out. He sees everything clearly now. He also tells her that there’s no “after” the plan for him. And that things didn’t work out with Jocasta because, “People. They’re not what they seem. They lie.” He tells her that what the lies were about don’t matter now.
Leila says that she’s cold, inviting Force into bed with her now that she knows he and Jocasta are broken up. I have a hard time making sense of this next part. I guess they’re two desperate, lonely people who turn to each other for comfort and sex. They’ve only been going at it for a minute or two before Force calls Leila “Jocasta”. She angrily tells him not to do that, grabs her clothes, and goes outside.
Adrian is waiting. It’s not clear whether he’s there in person, or is speaking through electronics and pretending to be there. He never shows himself, so I don’t think he’s really there.
He tells her that the car’s GPS is programmed. She should leave for the Croatian mansion now, if she can. She tries to leave, but Kyle hears her and drags her out of the car. He beats and chokes her, telling her not to run away from him. The deal is that he takes her there. She hits him, hard, with her bag, until he’s stunned, and takes off without him.
Tess wakes up in the middle of the night and tiptoes upstairs to figure out what woke her. She discovers that Shadowfax now has a bedroom. Tippi, whose room is next to Shadowfax’s, wanders into the hall in a trance, carrying her butcher’s knife. She whispers, “The witch is coming.”
Tess is very freaked out. The happy place really isn’t all that happy.
Most games are complete sh-t these days. Badly coded, cynical cr-p. Half the time, you’re just walking through it like an obedient moron. It’s all so routine. No. A real game is something you’re not sure you can actually win. Otherwise, where’s the fun? Otherwise, what the f–k is our existence all about? A boring drone trudge towards oblivion. What we need is meaning. To play for something you might actually not want to lose. Like, for instance, your sanity, your friends, your life.
And so, we definitively establish Adrian as a narcissistic psychopath who can’t feel anything with any depth, gets bored easily, and uses other people to fill the void inside himself. He gets his kicks by slowly ruining other people’s lives, and watching them to see if they have any interesting, unusual reactions. He justifies his “games” by claiming that he’s been hurt in the past, and everyone else has dark intentions, deep down, that he’s helping them fulfill.
As Adrian shows us who he really is, Leila arrives at the mansion. Unlike Tess, who arrived in a picturesque sailboat, Leila drives up to locked chain link gates with a rusted lock and an old sign that says, in several languages, The Mount- Private Property. Leila squeezes through the opening in the gate, and makes her way through the woods to the house. There’s lots of food left out, maybe for Adrian. Leila eats some, and calls for Tess. Then she falls asleep on a chair.
When she awakens, Tippi is staring at her. She tells Shadowfax that they’ve been waiting for her, then shows Leila to her room. The room is Adrian’s childhood bedroom and has been left as is, with all of his things intact. There’s a printout of Leila in her underwear hung on the wall, taken from her bedroom webcam, indicating that Adrian has used the room recently. The electronic static and clicking that indicates that Adrian is watching, starts up. Leila takes out the protocol box and tells him that both the box and Force are broken.
Leila goes back downstairs without changing into a cult uniform and finds Tess and Tippi at lunch. She tries to push Tess into leaving the mansion with her, but Tess refuses, even after Leila explains that Adrian plans to kill her. Tippi says that it was Leila who killed Calumny and Denier, and that she probably hurt Jocasta and Force. When Leila denies hurting them, Tippi pulls out her trump card: she knows that Leila killed her mother, so why should she believe that Leila wouldn’t kill the rest?
Leila stares at Tess, who must have told Tippi (unless Adrian was listening in at Ruth Palmer’s house). Sharing that secret is a huge betrayal, but Leila doesn’t give up on Tess. She holds Tess’ arm and tries one more time to convince Tess to leave with her before something terrible happens.
Tess shouts “no” and pulls away, shaking, as if she’s accomplished something huge. She looks slightly crazed and defiant. I don’t think she cares what happens to her anymore, as long as it doesn’t hurt too much. She walks out of the room.
Leila stands up as if to follow, but Tippi orders her to sit down. Leila tries to get Tippi to see the truth. It goes about as well as you’d expect. Tippi reveals that she used to have sex for drugs and attention. Now she doesn’t have to have sex ever again. Leila may be telling a version of the truth, but, Tippi tells her, “Your truth doesn’t count.”
Tippi can’t see that she’s still selling herself to someone, who’ll want more from her than just sex in the end.
Leila goes upstairs to find Tess. In the hallway, Tess tells Leila that she should put on a dress. The symbolism is unmistakable, and Leila becomes my hero when she doesn’t let it go by unexamined.
Tess: Because he’ll forgive you.
[Get back in your box and behave like a proper, good little girl, even if you have to stay suicidal and stoned at all times to do it. The important thing is that the rule-making patriarchy will be happy with you. Life will be peaceful and easy, in a pretty place. Just don’t look inside.– No matter how hard we try, no matter how long the women’s movement goes on or how many waves it reinvents itself into, women can’t get past the tendency to fall into this trap.]
Leila: What if we don’t? What if we did none of this? Didn’t take those pills? We danced. We got drunk. We had a laugh. Don’t you remember?
Tess: It was a lie.
Leila: No, it was the best thing that ever f–king happened to us. I saw what Adrian’s gonna do. He’s gonna do something to you. Something horrible.
Tess: We can’t stop it now.
Leila: We can. Someone sent me a warning. This person, Ruth Palmer. I have it with me. It’s a black box.
Tess: Red Pill.
Leila: Tess, he’s gonna hurt you.
Tess: It’s real. Red Pill, it’s real. It’s right here, Shadowfax. He gave it to me. He chose me. I’m special. It’s me. You were a test. And I passed.
Leila: Okay. Okay. You win.
Leila: I said you win. Stay. Be his f–king virgin bride.
Leila walks away. Tess cries as she goes.
I believe Adrian intends for Tess to be his virgin sacrifice, rather than his virgin bride. He gets off on power and control, not sex. But Leila’s point, that Tess has now wholly given herself over to the cult, is true. Tess, like Tippi, has given up thinking for herself or grounding herself in reality. She’s taken the easy way out, and now believes whatever Adrian or Tippi tell her, without question.
Tippi listens to the recording Adrian left for her, in which he also tells her she’s so special. But, there’s something quite big he needs her to do before they can be together. He asks her to do his dirty work and implicate herself, right on cue.
Leila sits in her room and asks Adrian what he’s going to do next. He responds by activating his toy train, which is set up on the floor, and playing videos from his childhood. His adult voice asks how she likes his house, then says that he wanted her to see, so that she could understand. She stomps on the toy train. He’s not going to convince her that an unhappy childhood justifies what he’s done.
Onscreen, she’s shown a birthday party, with Adrian, age 5 or 6, looking unhappy. Ruth brings out a cake with 6 candles. Next he’s programming a computer, as Ruth tells him to integrate the base language, so that he can go anywhere. He still looks unhappy. Adrian is at the lagoon, opening a present. It’s a protocol box, like the one Ruth sent to Leila. Ruth tells Adrian that it’s something very special. Adrian finally smiles and says, “Thank you, Mummy.”
Adrian is Ruth’s son, and a computer prodigy who she exploited from a young age. He probably developed some or all of Azana Planet himself while he was still a child, but Ruth took credit for it. That’s why he can endlessly manipulate the software and can’t be stopped. He has backdoors no one else knows about.
Adrian moves on to Tess, speaking to her through an old radio. When Tess says that Leila loves her, he tells her that Leila has been lying to her and hurting people. Then he asks if she wants to be pure, which is his code for dead. He sends her to the lagoon and says he’ll be waiting for her.
He also sets her free. From what, or for what, he doesn’t say. Freedom was what Leila was talking about when she brought up the night that she, Tess and Jonty went to the club together. They were also free, happy and together the night Tess moved into Leila’s house.
Then he tells Leila that the latest level of the game has begun, and shows her Tippi and Tess. Tippi is following Tess in order to kill her, of course, and thinks both Leila and Tess are tests for her. Leila catches up to Tippi and takes her down easily. She’s still Shadowfax, and has done a lot of fighting in Azana Planet.
Tess gets to the lagoon, but Adrian isn’t there. She’s the only one who’s surprised that he won’t show himself. She cries for him and gets into the water to look for him. Force is nearby waiting for her and follows her into the water. He becomes the monster from the deep that’s been stalking her all along, and tries to strangle her. Leila catches up and stabs him multiple times with Tippi’s favorite knife.
He bleeds into the bright blue water like there’s been a shark attack.
Leila floats face down on the surface of the water. Tess lies unconscious on the shore. Force is underwater.
Everything’s a fraud. The world’s f–ked up. Lunatic’s are in charge now. But think about it some more. Life is just an adventure playground. Jesus! Don’t take it so seriously.
Adrian ends by telling the viewer to take a red pill. On a different sort of show he’d turn out to be a demon or the devil. On this show, he’s a particularly wealthy, connected, sadistic, seductive serial killer. Like the devil, he gives his victims what they think they want, then lets them choke on their own sins.
Adrian’s choice of dresses for Tippi and Tess says it all, as far as Adrian’s plans for them. Tess can be revirginized, but Tippi can’t, quite. He needs Tippi to stay unclean so that she can do his dirty work for him. In return, Tippi gets to be close to Adrian, though she’ll never be the special prize he fights over. She’ll always be useful, but ultimately expendable. And Tippi will always believe that she’ll become the special one, if she just tries hard enough.
Tess is turned into Adrian’s “damsel in distress” bait for Leila. Adrian’s battle with Leila has become his primary interest in the game, while Tippi vs Tess has moved to a secondary position. Force and Jocasta are on hold, but I don’t think he’s done with them.
I don’t believe either Kyle or Jack is dead. The maid saw a puddle of blood, but no Jack. Force may have been the one to bring Jack to the hospital, once he came to his senses and realized what he’d done.
Fun Fact: Red Pill is not just a reference to The Matrix. It’s also faction of the men’s rights movement that espouses extreme misogyny and enforces adherence to its core beliefs to the point that ex-members refer to it as a cult.
Leila was simply one of Adrian’s variables for Tess, a way to keep the game interesting. Would Leila and Tess drive each other to murder-suicide, or would Leila’s demands drive Tess right into Adrian’s trap? Tess chose option B. She didn’t pass a test, she chose the method of her death.
But, like so many women before them, Tippi and Tess are exhausted from fighting everything that a racist, misogynist world has thrown at them for their entire lives, in addition to their own family histories and mental illnesses. Adrian promised them each a princess narrative, with himself as their prince. All of us little girls are raised to believe that we’ll live happily ever after, once Prince Charming picks us. They just need to win the competition to be Adrian’s most special favorite, and everything will be perfect forever. Girls understand a talent and beauty competition. If the talent to be demonstrated is murder, then so be it.
Adrian finds Leila especially intriguing because she doesn’t follow the usual narrative. She isn’t looking for Prince Charming and she isn’t guilty about her mother’s death. He gave her both Jonty (the sweet, nice prince) and Force (the rough, bad boy, rape fantasy prince) as potential boyfriends, and she tossed them both back. She’s not desperate for love and approval like his usual mark.
Just as Calumny predicted, Adrian discovered Leila’s secret, that she killed her mother, and used it to make her look like a serial killer, then used Tippi and Tess to twist the knife even further. Leila was hurt by his machinations, but the only part that she took personally was Tess’ betrayal of her secret. She’s steadfast in her own morality, and Adrian can’t sway her from what she knows is the truth. She hasn’t taken the red pill or drunk the kool aid that says that she has to question and blame herself for everything. That makes her a rare, dangerous woman.
I don’t have to point out what a bad idea the red pill is, right? It’s like voluntary roofying. The pill is probably a combination of an anti-anxiety med, a sedative and a light hallucinogen, to keep them happy and magical. That type of combination, in a strong enough dose, combined with a vacation in paradise, would mask the symptoms of mental illness, for a while, so the Red Pillers would all think they were fixed.
On Tess’ recording from Adrian, he says, “I always loved this place. When I was found and brought here, I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. ”
What does that mean, when he was found and brought there? Was he adopted? Kidnapped, then recovered and taken into hiding? Given up for adoption then given back to his birth mother, Ruth? Did Ruth search out children with certain aptitudes and acquire them from their parents, either legally or illegally?
Ruth went to jail for manslaughter, based on the death of her husband. Did Adrian kill her husband and frame Ruth, the way he’s framing Leila? How did he end up owning the house in Croatia, while Ruth is still alive? Did he force her into a settlement?
Force is still in love with Jocasta and still has some loyalty to her/him. He hasn’t hesitated to turn on anyone else that he was done with, like his father or Leila. But, when Leila asks about his relationship with Jocasta, he doesn’t share Jocasta’s secret or even take the opportunity to rant about her and insult her. The only thing he complains about is the broken trust.
Building trust between them had been the most important building block in their relationship, so losing that, and finding out the way he did, was a severe blow to Force. He’s also a violent murderer, who put Jocasta in the hospital, so I’m not rooting for them to get back together or anything. But maybe they could eventually have a conversation that would give them closure.
I’m not completely sure whether Leila has the knife during the underwater fight, or she’s just punching Force. That’s a lot of blood for punches to produce, especially since the water would stop her from getting much momentum going, so I went with the knife. If anyone has examined the fight more closely, let me know.
Leila always takes Force out more easily than she should be able to, which makes me wonder if it’s part of Adrian’s plan, if this is all a fantasy, if Force doesn’t like to fight girls, or if he thinks he’s in love with Leila now and doesn’t want to hurt her too badly.
Images courtesy of Netflix.