This review contains spoilers.
1.2 Make It Stop
The first episode of Kiss Me First wasn’t short on mystery and questions, whether that’s about the nature of Azana, Adrian and Red Pill, or the real lives of Leila and Tess, our wayward heroines. Well, you can strike one of those off the list already because, despite appearances, this show doesn’t seem keen on leaving its audience in the dark for too long.
In general, Kiss Me First has all the hallmarks of a writing team behind other genre-defying – and defining – television, whether that’s Skins or (to a lesser extent) Dates. Bryan Elsley productions don’t play by the rules very often, and it’s what he does within the confines of ‘teen drama’ or anthology ‘rom-com’ that makes the end results so fascinating. We’ve only seen two hours of this latest effort so far, but I’m betting there are a lot more surprises to come.
We begin episode two within Azana, this time from the perspective of Adrian as he bids adieu to the rather disturbingly vacant avatar of Calumny. If there’s one place this episode slips up it’s this storyline, as the audience are essentially waiting for Leila to catch up with what we realised last week. Yes, when Calumny jumped off the ledge within Azana, that was also him jumping out the window of his abusive home.
All of this ties in with Leila’s guilt over her mother’s death, which we discover was an assisted suicide at her request. If Calumny wanted to commit suicide and Leila told him it would be okay, did she contribute to the tragedy even if she wasn’t aware what was really going on? Did she even fully remember the encounter, as suggested by the quick edits of her time inside Tess’ avatar?
It’s not just dark, but pitch black, as Leila admits that she’s felt numb since the death of her mother. That admission is put in stark contrast with the reaction of Calumny’s mother when she sees her son for the first time after his death, and goes some way to explaining why she’s so drawn to the automatic, easier feelings given from the sense band.
Woven throughout this engaging mystery is the growing intimacy between Tess and Leila. While the first episode was understandably about establishing Leila’s character, here we find out a bit more about her new friend. Tess has an unnamed disorder that has a lot of the ups and downs of bipolar, and we come to understand that we met her during one of her ‘up’ days.
That’s expired now, and she’s back to being the ‘difficult’ daughter, friend and girlfriend. We get the sense that Leila is the first person to show her kindness and understanding in a long, long time, and that alone explains why she might want to be friends. Leila’s motivations are a little more complex, with the sapphic vibes present in every action she takes whether that’s smelling her clothes, watching her sex tape, or wearing her lingerie. It’s obsession, but also a yearning for closeness and yet another mode of escape.
The final sequence puts the show in a particularly interesting place, with Adrian – close to being exposed for what he really is – forcing Leila to go to a seemingly utopian part of Azana that contains her mother at a simpler time in both of their lives. As we leave her, it doesn’t look as though she is aware of what’s happened, but we can assume she doesn’t stay there for the remainder of the series.
Dangling mysteries: Did Tess do something she can’t recall during that ‘up’ year? Who was that teacher who approached Leila in the cafe, and what were his motives? Will Jonty become more involved in the dark side of the show, or is he just here for comic relief?
It’s been clear from the start that Leila is uncomfortable simply being herself in the present moment. Whether she’s playing war games in Azana, trying on Tess’ personality or reliving memories of her ailing mother as if they were happening, there’s not a single moment when she’s not trying to get out of her own mind. Can she really resist Adrian’s promise of a life free of pain and regret?
Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, She Did Something, here.