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Series / Kiss Me First

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Kiss me First is a 2018 British Science Fiction Thriller distributed in the UK by Channel 4 and worldwide by Netflix.

Leila is a lonely young woman. Her single mother just passed away and she has to rent the spare room in her house and take a job at a small internet cafe to make ends meet and maintain her habit of Azana, an MMO Wide-Open Sandbox computer game. There, she finds "Red Pill", a group of youths who gather in areas inaccessible to other players, created by their leader Adrian, who seems to have unusual freedom and control within the game. Leila soon meets and befriends Mania (Tess). But all is not what it seems. As events develop, it seems Adrian's intentions aren't as charitable as he claims and his influence over the members of Red Pill is leading them in dangerous directions. Now it's up to Leila to fight and expose Adrian before he drives the whole group to self-destruction.

Series-wide tropes include:

  • Bait-and-Switch Lesbians: Everything about Leila and Tess's relationship — from the cover, the promotional material and pretty much all of their initial interactions (including sleeping topless together) — seemed to be leading up to a romance between the two. Instead, Leila pairs up with her tenant Jonty with no romantic chemistry or lead-up to the pairing whatsoever. She breaks up with him later, but the lack of follow-up between her and Tess is still incredibly jarring.
  • Britain Is Only London: Leila, Tess, Jonty, and Calumny all live in London, and Ben is a bus ride away on the Island of Sheppy.
  • Coolest Club Ever: Tess works at one of these and invites Leila and Jonty in after meeting with Leila in person.
  • Covers Always Lie: Both the title and some of the promotional image suggest a romance-heavy story, particularly between Leila and Tess. In fact, romance is reduced to a few subplots and in some cases is only implied.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Calumny, Ben, and Tess all live within reasonable driving distance of Leila.
  • Date My Avatar: Averted with Tess and Leila—while their first several interactions are online, they meet in person before the end of the first episode.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Zigzagged. Drugs are first seen when Leila and Jonty go clubbing with Tess and are depicted as just another element in a wild fun party night. Later, it becomes clear that Tess actually has a substance abuse problem and even uses them to self harm. Tippi talks about providing sexual favors in exchange for drugs and both of them take red pills provided by Adrian which are implied to facilitate his control over them.
  • Dysfunction Junction: All the members of Red Pill have less than happy lives, which has left them with deep mental problems.
    • Calumny's mother is a victim of Domestic Abuse by his father. Every time we see him in his room there's very aggressive yelling audible in the background. To make matters worse, Calumny is convinced something in him triggers his father's violent behavior and thus he's to blame for his mother's suffering.
    • Denier is in an orphanage where it's heavily implied he's molested by a member of the staff.
    • Mania has a mental condition and substance abuse problems. When her father had a stroke, she was high and never called an ambulance, resulting in him ending up stuck in a vegetative state, which causes a rift in her family worsened by her unwillingness to follow the instructions of her psychiatrist.
    • Force is a high school or college dropout living in a somewhat remote location, has violent tendencies and seems unhealthily obsessed with his in-game girlfriend.
    • We know little about Jocasta, who seems to be the only one in an economically comfortable position judging by the nice apartment and the maid. However, Jocasta's parents seem completely neglectful of their child and the contrast of the real world and videogame identities implies they're either a repressed gay boy or a closeted trans girl.
    • Leila is an orphan struggling to make ends meet after seeing her mother waste away. The worst part? She was the one to end her mother's suffering by her request. Downplayed, however, in that she's also the most level-headed member of the group.
    • Tippi used to grant sexual favors to get drugs.
  • Gender-Equal Ensemble: Save for Adrian, who's the leader, Red Pill is made up of three girls (Mania, Jocasta and Tippi) and three boys (Force, Calumny and Denier). Adrian himself is balanced out when Shadowfax joins, making a total four and four. It might be averted if you consider Jocasta a boy or still played straight if you consider her a trans girl. The series doesn't make clear what Jocasta identifies as.
  • Hollywood Hacking: Subverted. While there's little that the audience can see of the actual hacking, it seems to involve much more coding, exploitation of system flaws and attempts at various known tricks and much less Rapid-Fire Typing and Techno Babble than what is usually portrayed in visual media. In particular, the unfettered access Adrian has to Azana is not because he's a fantastic hacker or even because he implicitly invented it, but because he possesses a special peripheral that grants access to the game's base code. When one ends up in Leila's hands, she's capable of similar manipulation.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: It's all but explicit text with Tess and Leila, but their relationship is never canonized.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Adrian fosters a sense of gratitude and loyalty among the members of Red Pill by making them feel that they're chosen because they're outstanding and bestowing them gifts made especially for them. He then uses that same loyalty for dark purposes.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: All the avatars are remarkably similar to the real people they represent. Up to and including Jocasta, who looks just like Jack with long hair and more feminine body proportions.
  • In Name Only: The series is a very loose adaptation of a book with the same title, and the only real similarities between the book and the series are that two characters, Leila and Tess, meet online via Adrian and his group The Red Pill. The book's plot is that Leila joins a forum called The Red Pill, having been recommended it by a fellow World of Warcraft player, and she is asked by Adrian to impersonate someone online so that this other person can commit suicide, this being how she meets Tess. While Tess explicitly has Bipolar Disorder, she's also a much older woman than Leila is, and there's no lesbian relationship between them; they never meet in person and Tess never even sees Leila's face. This doesn't stop the book from having front covers based off of the TV Series' Azana sequences, and headers saying "As seen on Channel 4", though.
  • Internal Reveal: Force learns Jocasta's real identity just one episode after the audience does.
  • Lonely Funeral: Leila is the only one to attend her mother's funeral, which may suggest her mother had been bedridden for so long she no longer had other relationships, or that Leila didn't tell anyone her mother had passed.
  • Love Triangle: Lowkey. Given the tension between Leila and Tess, it's hard not to see Tess as a potential love interest for her, even after Leila hooks up with Jonty. Additionally, Jonty also thinks Tess is quite attractive.
  • Meaningful Name: Most of the usernames hint at the people they represent.
    • Mania alludes to one of the two components of the bipolar disorder, which Tess is implied to have.
    • Force is the most physically imposing of the group, and later becomes The Brute.
    • The most famous Jocasta is Oedipus' mother/wife. Like her, this Jocasta is in a relationship that wouldn't exist if both members had all the facts. Also similarly, things get bloody when the truth comes out.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Leila's former teacher gives her instruction, refuge and confidence. So of course he gets killed.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Leila and Tess appear partly naked in several scenes. Many of them aren't even sex scenes-Tess sleeps topless and gets Leila to do the same.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Invoked by Leila in an attempt to persuade Ruth Palmer to help her. Leila claims they're alike since they both have killed someone. Ruth makes it clear she doesn't see it that way and that it doesn't mean there's some sort of bond between them.
  • Odd Friendship: Tess and Leila are consistently shown to be very different people, but develop an intense, quasi-romantic relationship over the course of just a few episodes. This may also be a case of Opposites Attract
  • One-Steve Limit: All members of Red Pill have one word usernames with no punctuation, numbers tacked onto the end, or any of the other ridiculous efforts typically required to come up with a free username. When Leila searches Azana for "Adrian", the program tells her no such user exists. Probability that no other Azana user in the entire world has used "Adrian" as part of their username? Low. This may be justified as Adrian was apparently the programmer of the system, and could thus put in backdoors to let him reserve the name or block others using it.
  • Papa Wolf: He's not her father, but the manager of the internet cafe offers to rough up whoever's bothering Leila when she admits to being distracted by personal problems. When she's in trouble later on, he provides her assistance without so much as a question.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: All the members of Red Pill are in tough situations and find in the group the acceptance and understanding that their real lives fail to provide.
  • Red Is Violent: The name of the group, Red Pill, fits, given what happens over the course of the show.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Downplayed. While the events don't allude to a specific real case, hate groups such as Neo-Nazis are known to recruit from troubled youths in the internet, giving them a sense of community, belonging and purpose, and then weaponizing the loyalty thus gained into hate and violence. One of the most obvious allusions is that "red pill", the way the group in the show calls themselves, is also an expression used by these sort of groups to refer to "enlightenment" to the truth and rejection of the "indoctrination" to ideas like "women, LGBT and people of color also deserve to have equal rights."
  • Rom Com Job:
    • Leila and Jonty both work in coffee shops, with the latter seeking acting work. Tess is a dancer in the Coolest Club Ever.
    • Leila is also able to support herself comfortably on part-time, minimum-wage (under the table) work and Jonty's rent money. However, as it's never mentioned how much money her mother left her, or whether or not the house is paid off, this may not be unrealistic.
  • Sequel Hook: The end of the final episode left the show wide open for a season 2 arc.
  • Sex Starts, Story Stops: Leila decides to have sex with Jonty without really any buildup beforehand, and especially as until then she'd been heavily implied as having a shared attraction with Tess. She later almost has sex with Kyle too, just after having met him, but backs out. It's possible she's trying to fill a void this way.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The main character's username is Shadowfax.
    • The group call themselves Red Pill after the scene in The Matrix. Leila even makes an internet search where she learns as much.
    • Jonty occasionally does parts from movies to practice his acting. He imitates the main character of Taken in one scene.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted. Most of the members of Red Pill are in situations that make it difficult to get professional help. Tess, however, has a family with the means and concern to take her to a psychiatrist. Too bad Tess is antagonistic to him and refuses to be admitted to the clinic or even comply with her outpatient medication.
  • Twofer Token Minority: The two people of color in the main cast, Tess/Mania and Tippy, are both girls. Tess is Black, Tippy gets revealed to be East Asian (apparently of Japanese ancestry, with her legal name being Tomiko Toshima).
  • What the Hell, Hero?: When Leila demands Tess choose between her and Adrian, Tess fights back, reminding Leila that they are friends (and thus, should treat each other better). Leila responds by saying "Friends get tired", a direct callback to Tess' fear of abandonment—this causes Tess to break down into panicked tears at the thought of Leila abandoning her, and really seems to cross a line from Tough Love to outright cruelty.
  • Wide-Open Sandbox: Azana is an entire planet for gamers to do anything they can think of.
  • Wrong-Name Outburst: Kyle does this during sex. His partner is not amused and immediately storms out of the room.