This review contains spoilers.
1.4 Friends Let Us Down
The first three episodes of Kiss Me First were admirably restrained in their storytelling, letting characters discover things about themselves, each other and the overarching mystery at a pace slower than has become the norm on television. A lot of subtle work has been done by the writing and the actors, but I’m sad to say that episode four was the trade-off.
We’re nearing the end of this first series, and Leila must become an active player if we are to arrive at a satisfying conclusion. The problem is that she has had a complete character switch in a far too short space of time, and we’re expected as an audience to take a lot on faith.
The slow burn of Adrian’s true intentions made it believable that he could hold vulnerable people under his thrall, but that all goes out of the window here as he may as well be laughing maniacally down the phone to Leila within the episode’s first five minutes. He’s so clearly evil that it’s hard to buy into Jonty’s involvement, even if he does think he’s speaking with Leila’s father.
The other problem is Tess, who we see very little of this week as she drifts from place to place in search of something or someone to take care of her. Banished from Leila’s house, she first takes refuge in Azana with Adrian, like a junkie looking for her fix. Once logged in, Adrian proceeds to turn her against Leila by revealing her admittedly unhinged behaviour earlier in the series.
Not only did Leila log in as Tess and pretend to be her, but she can also be seen encouraging Calumny to jump. With all Tess knows, Leila has to be looking pretty manipulative right now – so adamant that Adrian was killing their friends from within the game, it now looks like it may have been her all along.
Tess eventually goes back to her family home, which we caught a glimpse of earlier in the episode. The tragic backstory here is that Tess was too drugged up when her father had a stroke that she didn’t manage to call an ambulance. Now severely disabled, Tess’ mother and sister are his caregivers and Tess is in and out of their lives when it suits her.
That’s one side of the story, of course, but it puts Leila in an interesting position. She knows full well how difficult and lonely being a carer can be, and here she is finding out that Tess has shirked her responsibilities when it comes to her own family.
But it all puts Tess is a very passive position in contrast to Leila, not only feeding into the white saviour narrative but also painting people with mental health problems as in need of saving.
The antidote to all this is Kyle, who is smart enough to know that Adrian is up to no good but willing to go along with it anyway. That’s a position that’s interesting on multiple levels, for the rest of the series as well as for parallels to the real world. If Azana was to exist in our reality, it would make sense that an AI would make quick work of recruiting the internet’s violent sociopaths to its ranks.
Another fascinating little wrinkle in Friends Let Us Down is the founder of Azana, who is living a completely offline life after being released from prison. Desperate after she discovers she’s wanted by the police, Leila tracks her down and asks her how to stop Adrian. The scene perfectly captures the juxtaposition of an older generation hoping the young can fix their mistakes, all the while condescending to them.
Killing is not a bond that will draw them closer, she says, and Leila can’t tell what’s real and what isn’t anymore because of the digital world she helped to create. It’s hard to argue with her logic, even if it is deeply flawed, and Leila’s fixation on stopping Adrian leads her into a car with Kyle despite what she knows about him. If she’s not safe anywhere, why not put her trust in an honest murderer? At least he’s upfront.
Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, Off The Rails, here.