[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from “Kiss Me First,” including the finale, “You Can Never Go Home.”]
“Kiss Me First” has perhaps one of the most head-scratching finales on TV, and not just because it leaves almost every storyline open for a possible Season 2. The episode highlights one of the show’s biggest weaknesses: the VR world created for the series is all but wasted or used in bizarre ways because the storytelling simply can’t figure out what to do with it. Or it ran out of the budget to do anything cooler with it. Either way, it follows IndieWire’s initial review that frames the VR world as anything but fun.
The first major VR confrontation in the finale makes an effort to explore the possibilities of what the mysterious antagonist Adrian (voiced by Matthew Beard) can do with Azana, the virtual world that he apparently made for his mother, who took credit for it and got rich off of it. In the real world, he’s imprisoned Leila (Tallulah Haddon), aka Shadowfax, and hooked her up with an IV to keep her alive while she’s forced to play VR games that seems to involve flames and yelling at her in his avatar form. He’s upgraded the sense band that allows users to feel pleasure and pain (sort of haptic feedback on steroids), and he’s using it almost solely to inflict pain on her.
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He also uses this time for a classic villain soliloquy, in which he reveals that regular folks are so boring and unimaginative with their VR activities. But what he does — which is make troubled people self-destruct and either kill themselves or get killed — is art. In a response that makes very little sense, Leila begins to strip naked. She’s supposedly challenging the fact that he’s obsessed with her and that she’s owning her own powers. Or something like that. The baffling move works, and she’s able to escape the digital torture chamber. Okay then.
Later, she gets her revenge… sort of. In an epic montage, she’s seen pulling an all-nighter hacking away at his code. The end result is the creation of her own Red Pill — the secret world embedded in Azana that’s named after the pill in “The Matrix” — but the difference is that everyone can watch what’s happening now. Against the idyllic backdrop of waterfalls, blue skies, and green meadows, Leila and Adrian have the finale’s second major VR showdown. But the meeting is curiously anticlimactic. They just sit on a rock and talk. The conversation is brief but amounts to her forcing him to finally face up to the fact that he created Azana for his mom and maybe even killed her husband. Keep in mind that no one knows that Adrian exists, but this is all playing out publicly. He’s then forced to talk to his mother, who is watching.
What does any of this mean? Here’s a breakdown of how each of the characters left off at the end of the finale and how that could tee up more story if Netflix renews the show for Season 2:
Other than some mild discomfort, Leila’s big scheme to take Adrian down didn’t seem to accomplish anything. Maybe Azana will have some scrutiny, but it’s a wildly popular game, and the conversation on the rock doesn’t really prove any wrongdoing. But he did get angrier, and that has already fueled his desire to up the stakes of this game he’s playing, which could mean more deaths.
“A new adventure is coming, a high level of difficulty this time,” he says on the phone. “See you around, Shadowfax.”
Azana Name: Shadowfax — This is the name of the magical steed that Gandalf rides in “The Lord of the Rings” that possesses fantastic speed, stamina, and intelligence.
Leila clearly has the hacker skills to match Adrian, but she’s short on strategy. Now would be the time for one of her friends to suddenly prove to be a master tactician. This is, of course, made more difficult because the police still want to take her in for questioning in regards to two of the deaths Adrian is responsible for. When last we see her, she and her pals are on the run, possibly trying to make a new life elsewhere.
On the personal front, this season she’s come into her own as far as starting to own her sexuality. While her interactions have been with men only, her passion for Tess (Simona Brown) can’t be denied, and that could be one direction to explore if the show is renewed.
Azana Name: Mania — possibly a reference to her mental health issues, which appears to be bipolar disorder.
Tess is the one Red Pill convert who is no longer drinking Adrian’s Kool-Aid. But now that she can’t find the happiness that he had promised, she needs another way to manage her episodes, whether that means actually taking medication or seeking some other treatment.
With the exception of Leila, sex on the show was used in a problematic way in these women’s narratives. Tess had an affair with a married man even though she even told Leila that she didn’t enjoy what they did. Now that the affair is over, maybe she can seek out a healthier relationship, perhaps with Leila.
Jonty (Matthew Aubrey)
Azana Name: He doesn’t have one yet, but his name does sound like “jaunty,” which seems fitting.
Jonty isn’t one of the Red Pill members, even though Adrian did manipulate him to get to Leila. While he’s gullible, a total goofball, and a really bad actor (the character, not Aubrey), he does appear to be good-hearted. His chipper attitude is a good balance for the gloomy Leila and troubled Tess.
Jonty is along for the ride out of town, and he wasn’t gainfully employed when he left, so the sky’s the limit as far as how he can contribute. On a more personal level, he did have a tryst with Leila, but it’s not clear if that will continue or if something might happen with Tess. But with the three of them all together in the close confines of the car, they’ll have to figure out a balance.
Tippi (Haruka Abe)
Azana Name: This is the only name we’ve been given for this character. Tippi might be a reference to actress Tippi Hedren or maybe even named after a character who is a Pixl, an ally species from Super Paper Mario.
Tippy is intriguing in that she’s still in Adrian’s thrall and even lied to the press to frame Leila. She’s already proven to be dangerous in the past, so she could be a useful pawn going forward. That Adrian offers her life some other meaning after she’s had a heavy sexual past. It’s never explicitly said whether she was just seeking personal approval from all the men or if she was forced into this through prostitution or slavery, but either way, she’s grateful for not having to do that anymore.
Jack (Misha Butler)
Azana Name: Jocasta — since Jack masqueraded as a woman in Red Pill, the name makes sense since it sounds similar, but it’s also the name of Odysseus’ mom in Greek mythology.
In the guise of Jocasta, Jack fell into a romance with Kyle/Force (Freddie Stewart) in Red Pill. Unfortunately, when Kyle learned of Jack’s true identity in the real world, he became violent and attack him, leaving him near death in the ICU. In the last scenes in the finale, Jack wakes, and if Season 2 happens he could be instrumental in giving some sort of testimony about Adrian and Kyle or at least being a potential ally for Leila & Co. Then again, Jack could have memory issues after that trauma.
Azana Name: Force – this moniker is a no-brainer for this brute.
Kyle, the only American of the group, had some sort of shady past that he was overcoming, and Adrian tantalized him with the concept of a clean slate and new life with Jocasta. Once he learned her true identity, however, he snapped and this led to his easy manipulation into becoming Adrian’s muscle.
It’s possible that he met his watery end after Leila defended Tess in the lake and stabbed him several times, but since Leila looked like a goner also and survived, anything is possible. We never did see a body or an official account of Kyle’s death, so he could return for a second season.
Cyril (George Jovanovic)
Azana Name: Calumny — Cyril sought an escape from his abusive household in Red Pill, and Adrian tricked him into jumping off a ledge in the digital world, but his body followed suit in the real world as well. “Calumny,” a false and malicious statement designed to injure the reputation of someone, could refer to the content of the arguments that took place in his household or how his death is used against Leila later.
Ben (Samuel Bottomley)
Azana Name: Denier — although he pronounces his name DEN-yeh, as if it were French, this could be interpreted as the English word “denier,” or someone who denies. Ben was staying in a care home and was very likely being abused by or groomed to be abused by his mentor, whom he killed along with himself with a pipe bomb. Taken as a person who denies, Ben could be seen as someone who denied his mentor or denied that such a thing was actually happening. Then again, it could also be a hint that Leila was going to be put in the position of denying killing him.