Leila’s story goes from dark to total blackout in the second episode of Kiss Me First. The Finger Guns Review;
Full spoilers for Episode 2 below. See our review for Episode 1 here;
Kiss Me First is once again proving the genre-bending television can find success, and showrunner Bryan Elsley (Skins), is in no mood to worry about your presumed takes on what you’re expecting the show to be. From the outset, episode two promises to tell a rather bleak tale about the balance of life and virtual worlds, and where you need to find your place in both of them. It remains fascinating that we’re seeing this through the eyes of a young woman who seemingly can’t feel anything.
‘Make it Stop’ begins with Azana, the online world Leila goes to escape the perilous reality she has built for herself. It’s here we see the consequence of the last episodes cliffhanger, with the mysterious Adrian saying goodbye to the now lifeless avatar of Calumny, who Adrian convinced to jump off the top of a building to ‘bring him peace’ – played out in Azana by him leaping off a ledge. Adrian appears to have little remorse, as he believes it was in Calumny’s best interests. How this will play out remains to be seen. Leila spends the majority of the episode searching for answers regarding what actually happened.
Leila begins in a flashback to her mother’s last days, picking up some kind of lethal medication from a local pharmacy. We discover this is for an assisted suicide request. It’s in this moment I at least began to see a bigger theme resonating through the show, with Adrian having ‘assisted’ with the death of Calumny, it made me think that the Red Pill – the group of players that Leila discovered hiding in Azana – had been keeping their eye on Leila since this moment, and have accepted her into their group knowing full well what she did, even if Leila isn’t fully aware of that (it remains to be seen whether or not it was wise to tell Tess outright that she did in fact kill her mother).
Leila admits to feeling numb, having turned off her feelings after killing her mother. There’s a terrific moment where Leila meets Calumny’s mother, sitting next to smashed up car her son seemingly landed upon when he took his fatal jump. A scene follows where Leia and the mother goes to mortuary to see Calumny’s body. She breaks down and yet Leila has little feeling, despite being a source for comfort in that moment. It begins to build up a feeling that she only can truly let go within Azana, and her feelings are only truly allowed to run free within a world that his not her own.
On a more personal level, the ever-growing relationship between Tess and Leila is what holds the show together. Both are on dark, lonely paths and find solace in each other, even though it’s still a bit of a mystery how Tess happened upon Leila in the first place. Leila learns that Tess owes her roommate a significant amount of rent, and behind Tess’ back Leila pays it herself. Tess still finds herself out on the street and at the front door of Leila’s home, looking for a place to sleep. It’s explored a little earlier in the episode – via a therapy session with a first look at Tess’ not so strong relationship with her mother – that Tess suffers from a disorder which puts her up and then crashing down, which points to bipolar, though it’s never strictly explored fully. Her medication goes in the trash as quickly as her mother has driven away. Tess and Leila is perhaps an unlikely friendship but one that seems to be blossoming, though Leila’s constant search of answers about Red Pill behind her back brings me to think that this friendship may not particularly end very well.
Still, that’s a way off. For now we’re exploring Leila’s behaviour around Tess, and behind her back. She’s become enamoured with Tess, wearing her clothes, sniffing them, checking her computer files and finding a sex tape, and then watching it all without Tess’ knowledge. She offers to be kind and understanding towards Tess which at first is dismissed, seeing as many who have got close to Tess in the past have eventually had to leave her alone due to her lack of compassion to others. It’s there, she says, but it can’t be trusted. The obsession that Leila builds towards Tess, could it just be from the fact that Tess has shown any interest in her at all? Her wanting to be alone but not wanting to be lonely is something that is relatable, and in a brief scene where Leila is watching a video she made of her mother before she died, she quietly says ‘I made a friend, Mum’. Leila is treading the line, but doing it because companionship could be the only way through her grief.
In that final moments of the episode we return to Azana and the place where Calumny took his final jump. Leila is shouting for Adrian, who appears out of nowhere and pushes Leila off the ledge (with what looked like..the Force?). Instead of dying in the game, Leila awakens as herself, but as a child on the beach with her living and breathing mother. We can’t imagine Leila will be staying there for very long, but how she gets out of this one we’re not entirely sure just yet. Maybe she won’t want too?
Visually once again the episode is beautifully filmed, whether it be in Azana or the real world. Every frame of Azana looks like a wallpaper – including a wonderful sequence where Leila is ice-skating – and the characters remain engaging in their avatar forms. ‘Make It Stop’ built up a solid bit of backstory for Tess and Leila, and lays a foundation for what’s to come.
You get the feeling a happy ending for all involved may not quite be on the cards.
Kiss Me First is on Channel 4, Monday’s at 10pm. It will be distributed outside of the UK on Netflix.