This review contains spoilers.
Kiss Me First Episode 3
So far on Kiss Me First, the action and story has been very focused. We’ve seen the world of Azana through the eyes of Leila and, to a lesser extent, Tess, and because of this grounding in reality it’s been incredibly easy to suspend our disbelief when it comes to the massive, planet-sized digital world that exists in this near-future reality.
It’s for this reason that the opening of episode three works so well. Having been left on the apparent cliffhanger of Leila transported to a world where she is still a child and her mother still alive, we’re thrown into what we can assume is the original launch event of Azana. We meet Ruth Palmer, the creator of the game, and later see that she has been convicted of the manslaughter of her husband and partner. There are no more details given, but we can make some guesses.
A lot of lip service is played to just giving up the game, but it’s obvious from what we’ve seen so far that it wouldn’t be that easy for Leila and Tess. They need the game as much as they need each other, and what we’re seeing right now is what happens when the thing we rely on stops giving us what we need.
Leila is disappointed that Tess wants and craves things outside of their little bubble, and Tess feels stifled and, frankly, confused by Leila’s love. They’ve been thrown together by forces they don’t understand, and now they have to deal with their own demons.
While Tess is becoming less opaque as the series goes on, Leila is doing the opposite. Just when it seemed like we had a handle on what drives her – love, the desire to protect, loneliness – a much darker, more sinister side of her personality has emerged. Is this just the game giving her the confidence to fight for her life instead of just existing as an extension of her mother’s illness, or is it the mystery allowing her to be as ruthless and angry as she’s always felt inside?
The easy reading of the episode’s title is relating to Tess and her breakdown over yet another relationship lost, but I’d apply it more to Leila and her slow, steady unravelling.
Azana itself remains an intriguing backdrop to this human drama, dropping in more and more details about the remaining occupants of Red Pill. Ben, this week’s victim, was being groomed by a member of a paedophile ring, before building a homemade bomb from the electrics his abuser had given him.
But Adrian isn’t just in the game anymore, whispering into the ears of his vulnerable subjects, and his presence has trickled into the real world. First he calls Jonty pretending to be Leila’s estranged father, and then he starts watching Tess from the streetlights. In our connected world, a virus on one machine can spread wherever it wants, and perhaps Adrian is getting more powerful with every death he contributes to.
One completely uneducated guess right now is that Adrian is some sort of AI that’s developed over time from something his deceased co-creator planted. Maybe it was intentional, or maybe it has grown sentient over the years and is taking its desire for revenge out on the game itself.
But then I can’t help wondering about Leila. She feels responsible for her mother’s death despite it being her wishes, and now two people from Red Pill have died from their own desperate actions. They were intent on escaping their pain in the real world, and Leila inadvertently encouraged them both. Is Adrian a manifestation of her own guilt and pain, teased by Tess’ accurate statement that none of it started until she came along?
It’s easy to enjoy Kiss Me First as a fun meditation on how human nature and technology can react to one another, but there’s so much texture and mood to these first three episodes that elevates it above its various story elements.
While admittedly I could do without its fascination with naked female bodies, the questioning of identity amidst grief, mental illness and trauma is so interesting, and a theme that only gets more timely every week as the dark side of technology filters into our individual worlds.