Another teen mystery has hit Freeform!
Cruel Summer is a thriller that unfolds over the course of three summers in the 1990s. One teen goes missing and is presumed dead, while another one essentially takes over her life.
Admittedly, I was skeptical about the series considering the “missing teen” premise has been explored thoroughly (and quite chaotically) on Pretty Little Liars.
But it’s evident from the pilot that Cruel Summer has no intention of dragging out the mystery of Kate Wallis’ disappearance the way PLL did with Alison DiLaurentis’s.
There really isn’t much of a comparison between the two shows as Cruel Summer embraces a very serious and, oftentimes, dark tone.
The series sets the scene by introducing Jeanette Turner on her 15th birthday.
The pilot unfolds in three timelines spanning 1993, 1994, and 1995. All of the action happens on Jeanette’s birthday, but the celebrations are vastly different from one another with each passing year.
In 1993, Jeanette is a vibrant and nerdy 15-year-old who is woken up by her doting parents to celebrate the day. She hangs with her friends Mallory and Victor at the mall, she gives popular girl Kate a compliment, and the trio breaks into a newly sold house to play hide-and-seek. It’s all very innocent and fun.
In 1994, Jeanette has ditched the ’90s waves and braces for a more sophisticated look that pulls inspiration from Kate. She’s also ditched her former besties and replaced them with Kate’s… and she’s dating Kate’s ex-boyfriend, Jamie. In other words, her wish of becoming cool and popular has come true by essentially assuming Kate’s life.
At this point, we know Kate has been missing for quite some time, but no one suspects Jeanette had anything to do with it.
In 1995, Jeanette’s reality is much darker and hopeless. She’s the most hated person in America, her picture-perfect family has crumbled (it’s unclear what happened to her mom and brother, but her father, Greg, is dating the local bartender), and Jeanette is gearing up to stand trial for her role in Kate’s disappearance.
Her lawyers want Jeanette to be more “likable,” but with the world turned against her, that’s nearly impossible. As she notes, even her father resents her.
Three years, three very different realities.
Flip-flopping between the timelines is easy to keep up with, and while we’ve been given a full picture almost immediately, it’s clear the rest of the season will find audiences filling in the blanks and between the lines.
Throughout the pilot, we wonder “what happened to Kate?” and “how is Jeanette connected?” but we can put our minds at ease because, by the end of the episode, we’ve been given many of the answers.
Kate turns up alive, and it’s revealed that she was abducted and held captive by the assistant principal, Martin Harris.
That was quick!
It’s a surprising revelation considering 15-year-old Jeanette broke into his house and Martin seemed pleasant and kind. I guess those are always the ones you have to watch out for!
In her first TV appearance post-abduction, Kate also reveals that Jeanette saw her in captivity but never got help. Instead, she assumed her life as Kate waited to be rescued for months on end.
The episode ends with Kate deadpanning the camera and telling Jeanette Turner to rot in hell, which I guess is fitting, but it begs the question: when did Jeanette see Kate?
And more importantly, did she know what happened to Kate and ignore it so that she could have her “perfect” life? Is Jeanette guilty?
It’s unclear if Kate was already missing when Jeanette and friends broke into Martin’s house, but the moment where Jeanette explored the basement and looked around did stand out.
However, I assumed the scene happened shortly after they saw Kate at the mall, which likely means we haven’t seen the moment Jeanette allegedly saw Kate in captivity and ignored it.
Cruel Summer is not like other teen thrillers; it’s a well-executed series that hooks you from the very beginning, especially if you have a soft spot for the 90s (butterfly clips and all) and love untangling a layered mystery.
Kate Wallis’s abduction may be the crux of the story, but I’m just as invested in Jeanette’s motivations.
We know Jeanette’s life drastically changed throughout the course of three years, and I’m intrigued to see it pan out. Did the public and media turn her into a villain when there’s a logical explanation for not reporting Kate’s whereabouts (did she not actually see her?) or did Jeanette bring this upon herself because of her obsession with Kate?
What did you think of the Cruel Summer pilot premiere? Will you be tuning in again?
Let us know in the comments below!
Cruel Summer Season 2: Who Did Luke Page on the Dock?
Cruel Summer Season 2 Episode 9 revealed that after Megan (Sadie Stanley) and Isabella (Lexi Underwood) departed the cabin on the evening of Y2k following their plot to get revenge on Luke (Griffin Gluck), he untied himself from the bedframe and escaped the cabin, making his way down to the dock, where he used his pager to call for help.
The penultimate episode ended at that moment, sparking the question—who did Luke page?
Mere moments into Cruel Summer Season 2 Episode 10, it’s revealed that Luke called his brother, Brent, for assistance. The two don’t have the best relationship, but it’s clear that Luke called someone from his family because he had a lot he wanted to get off of his chest that no one else would understand, including that he filmed and accidentally released the sex tape, meaning he’s no better than his jerk of a brother, and that he lies just like his father, Steve (Paul Adelstein). It’s a moment that indicates that Luke is truly feeling the guilt and weight of his actions.
Things get heated before Luke brings up his mother’s deadly car accident, which he’s harbored much of the blame for, which really upsets Brent. The duo then get into a bit of a scuffle—and one thing leads to another and Brent shoves Luke, which causes him to lose his balance, hit his head on the railing, and fall off of the dock into the dark and frigid waters.
Brent initially thinks that Luke is just joking around, but when he realizes that his brother isn’t resurfacing, he jumps in and tries to search for him, coming up empty-handed.
When he breaks the news of the accident to his father, Steve assures him that he’ll take care of it and that nothing will happen to his one and only remaining son.
Eventually, the guilt of that night consumes Brent, particularly as the Sheriff’s investigation ramps up and he learns that Megan has been charged with murdering Luke, so he disobeys his father’s orders of “being grateful” and decides to turn himself in, giving Megan the full confession privately as the Sheriff watches from another room, right before arresting him and soon after, Steve.
The news reports read “The Chambers Family Scandal” shortly after, with Luke’s death igniting the destruction of his family.
Cruel Summer Season Finale Review – Endgame (210)
Cruel Summer attempted to wrap up the mysteries of the second season, but while there were some reveals that had us absolutely flabbergasted and gutted, we were left with plenty of questions that weren’t even addressed and simply brushed off, almost as if the writers forgot they were even a part of the story.
WARNING—Spoilers ahead. Stop reading if you have not watched the episode.
Cruel Summer Season 2 Episode 10 revealed what led to Luke Chamber’s death, including his final moments on the dock and who he reached out to for help that night.
While I initially anticipated Jeff’s arrival after Luke sent out an SOS page, it was actually his brother Brent who came to save him after his hellish New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately, things didn’t exactly go as planned as the two of them began bickering, with Luke harboring plenty of resentment for his family—particularly his brother and father—which eventually led to the accident.
In the scuffle, Brent pushed Luke, who hit his head on the railing and fell into the water. At first, Brent assumed his brother was just joking around, and by the time he realized he actually went under, he couldn’t find him in the sea of darkness.
Brent immediately told his father, Steve, what transpired, who vowed to keep his one and only son safe from harm, explaining his determination to pin Luke’s death on literally anyone else. He was desperately looking for a suspect so that it would never blow back on his own flesh and blood, proving that Steve may be one of the show’s biggest villains… next to Isabella, of course.
Admittedly, the reveal that Brent led to Luke’s death on accident was kind of, well, lame. It wasn’t one of the popular theories going around, and it wasn’t entirely disappointing, but it didn’t have that “holy crap” gut reaction that I was expecting from the show–it felt tame in comparison to all of the other possibilities. I found myself waiting for that Cruel Summer twist, a la the reveal that Jeanette Turner did actually know Kate was being held captive all along.
And thankfully, it finally happened, sort of saving the season—which was pretty convoluted–in the process. After Megan was arrested and then exonerated in Luke’s murder following Brent’s guilty confession—proving that the Chamber’s way isn’t always the right way and that his father was the source of problems and pain for both the boys for quite some time—Megan decided to give Luke a proper goodbye at the dock. She knew, even after that terrible night when they got their revenge on Luke, that in a moment of crisis, he would head to the dock where they always spent time together, and after Brent’s confession, she had proof that Luke’s love for her never faded despite everything.
And that’s when she spotted a secret camera in the trees, which, quite frankly, should’ve been something they checked first. Unless it was a neighbor’s private camera, wouldn’t the town know that it was there? And if Megan hacked it so easily, why couldn’t the cops? Either way—once she did, she saw the heartbreaking truth that Isabella actually killed Luke and then spent months lying about it and pretending she had no idea what happened to him.
Somehow, after everything he went through, including the gunshot wound that hit all too close to his head, all the drugs and alcohol in his system, and the fall from the dock into the frigid cold and dark waters, Luke survived and made it back to shore. He barely had any strength, though I imagine that if he simply pulled himself out, he would’ve survived. Unfortunately, upon getting to the shallow water, he encountered Isabella, who evilly, and with no remorse, pushed his head into the water with her shoe, ensuring that he drowned, before kicking his body into the lake. She’s truly a monster—and, in that moment, proved that Luke was right about everything; she’s addicted to the drama and has an obsessive personality. She was obsessed with Megan and wasn’t happy unless she had her all to herself. We all imagined that Isabella played a role in Luke’s death, but I never expected her to be this cold-blooded.
It was a heartbreaking scene to watch; Luke wasn’t a saint by any means, but he didn’t deserve what happened. He was a complex character because he didn’t have great role models, he carried around a lot of guilt after his mom’s death, and he couldn’t run away from the person he was trying not to be. No one should ever be defined by their lowest point, and I fully believe that the situation would’ve been a wake-up call in terms of his behavior and would course-correct given the chance. We saw it happen with Brent, so I fully believe Luke would’ve been able to change.
Wherever Isabella goes, death and trouble follow, and honestly, Megan is lucky that she was able to shake her, it’s just a shame lost Luke in the process. If it hadn’t been for that revenge plan on NYE, he probably would’ve survived.
The season was sort of sloppy—possibly the creative forces trying to live up to the success achieved in season 1—that as the credits rolled, there were so many unanswered questions and untouched storylines. What happened to Megan’s baby? Did the stress and guilt of what happened to Luke cause her to have a miscarriage? Did she end the pregnancy shortly after?
And why was Ned such a huge focus of the season when he barely played a role in anything that happened aside from being Megan’s coding mentor? I fully expected him to have a connection to the Chambers family as Steve’s brother or Luke’s real father, but he was just some man in the woods that Steve wanted to frame. He wasn’t even a good red herring since he just fell off the map at the end despite there being so much potential at first when he and Megan exchanged glances after they pulled Luke’s body out of the water.
The same goes for Jeff—why was he such a heavily featured character when he didn’t have any involvement after breaking up with Megan? They could’ve done so much more with him, and it often felt like they didn’t know what to do with him so they just stuck him in here and there to confuse fans. The same goes for Parker.
Megan’s mom, Debbie, wasn’t the greatest parent, but it would’ve been nice to see her in the final episode fighting for her daughter and coming to terms with the fact that her boss and former boyfriend, Steve, was fine with letting her daughter take the blame for something his own son did while keeping this nightmare going for so long despite knowing that neither Megan nor Isabella was guilty of the death. At least they acknowledged Debbie’s illness with Megan telling Brent her mother was in remission, but since it added nothing to the overall plot, it was just a random storyline.
It almost feels as though the season finale was incomplete.
However, the one thing the series did do really well was Brent’s confession–and his decision to confess to Megan, fully knowing that it would destroy the rest of his life, as it was such a great character development. It took Brent from the biggest jerk in town to a guy who did the right thing, despite his own father telling him to be grateful for the second chance. Given Brent’s upbringing and the values that have been instilled in him—and the behaviors he’s gotten away with—it would’ve made so much sense for him to just let Megan take the fall while he walked away with his freedom, so it was a nice surprise when the guilt consumed him and he realized that he didn’t want to repeat his father’s mistakes. Brent couldn’t let Megan take the fall knowing how much she meant to Luke, and especially since she was someone Brent also cared about in a brotherly way, so he made up for all of his terrible behavior by taking responsibility and bringing down the Chambers empire. He understood that his father’s wash-your-hands-of-it-and-take-no-blame approach was responsible for the demise of his brother and his mother (who was driving drunk yet their dad allowed Luke to think he was at fault for her death), so he put a stop to it before any more damage could be done.
I don’t know if Brent has a good case since Luke’s death was an accident and he was simply covering it up because of his dad’s advice, but I hope he doesn’t serve a long stint because we all know the person who deserves to pay the ultimate price in jail is Steve.
As for Isabella, she proved to be the second worst terrible human in Chatham as she spent months gaslighting Megan, and the moment Megan shut down any shot of their repairing their friendship, she bolted. It’s evident that Isabella only stuck around because of her obsession with Megan, hoping that her loyalty during this time would be enough to convince Megan that they should be friends again. When she realized their “summer romance” was over, she not only framed Megan by giving the cops the video of what happened at the cabin with Luke (which she was supposed to destroy), but she also heavily edited it so that it would make Megan look guilty, incriminating her in the process.
She then she skipped town, never to be heard from again, allowing Megan to take the fall for Luke’s death. This proves that nothing Isabella has said this whole time can be viewed as the truth, and she likely played a role in killing her best friend. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was because she was standing in the way of her relationship with her brother. Maybe Lisa didn’t approve of the romance so Isabella saw an opportunity to get rid of her and made it look like an accident.
Isabella is clearly unhinged as she doesn’t even seem too phased by what transpired in Chatham either as she immediately sets her sights on another helpless victim on her flight to Ibiza, this time introducing herself as Lisa. And the delusional cycle continues.
We don’t know what happened after Megan got all the clarity she needed and realized Isabella tried to frame her after she killed Luke thinking that no one would ever know the truth, but I’m hoping that she uses her expert set of hacking skills to find Isabella/Lisa/or whatever her real name is and take her down once and for all. She seemingly keeps getting away with murder, and she needs to get what’s coming to her. I could see this storyline getting a second season with Megan’s revenge driving the plot.
What did you think about this season? Did it live up to the hype of season 1? Are you surprised by how it all turned out? Did you suspect Isabella from the beginning? Share your thoughts now!
Cruel Summer Review – The Miseducation of Luke Chambers (209)
The penultimate episode of Cruel Summer Season 2 reveals what happened after the gunshot went off in the cabin on Y2K, breaks down Luke’s character arc, and further fuels the theory that he’s still alive/faked his own disappearance.
I still can’t fully explain the body that they pulled out of the water when they “found him,” but I’m not so certain that Luke died.
Isabella definitely pulled the trigger, which grazed Luke’s ear, narrowly missing him, though it seems she didn’t actually want to hurt him and was shaken up by the whole incident considering her past.
Fans also got to see what happened once Megan and Isabella left the cabin on Cruel Summer Season 2 Episode 9, shortly after Megan informed him about her pregnancy. Yep, that’s right, Luke did know about the child, and his response was what seemingly sealed his fate and helped Megan—who initially wasn’t comfortable with leaving him drugged and tied up alone—come to terms with the decision to walk away.
Luke’s a complex character because it’s very easy to hate him, however, it’s much harder to show some grace and understand where he’s coming from. The episode, aptly titled “The Miseducation of Luke Chambers,” aimed to help fans see the progression from the good guy next door to one of the most hated people in Chatham, emphasizing that the pressure and expectations simply got the best of him. It’s not an excuse, obviously, but Luke was trying to live up to plenty of expectations placed on him while making a name for himself outside of the Chambers one, all while also being a good boyfriend and the kind of guy that others looked up to. There were a series of poor decisions made that led to his downfall and eventually made him the villain in everyone’s story.
Luke spent so much time navigating what people wanted him to be that he didn’t have the time to figure out who he was—nor did he truly understand the consequences of his actions at times. He struggled a lot with his identity, particularly after the sex tape was released, having a hard time reconciling who he is, wants to be, wants to be viewed/is viewed, and what he wants to accomplish in life.
Then there was the sex tape of it all, which didn’t just have a profound effect on Isabella and Megan—it also took a toll on Luke while triggering the demise of his relationship.
After he tried to tell his dad he didn’t want to go to Branson, his dad got angry and concerned about his “reputation,” informing Luke that he needed to do things the “Chambers way” and stop being ungrateful. Luke then decided to embarrass his dad by airing one of Brent’s sex tapes at the party without realizing that he accidentally pulled his own with Megan, which he had previously secretly recorded. And thus, Luke did this to himself and the people he loved, though either way, it was a bad plan that was bound to hurt a lot of people.
And it all, in some way, led to the life-changing moments in the cabin.
His reaction to Megan’s pregnancy bomb, though shocking to her, wasn’t unexpected for a teen boy who didn’t even consider it to be a real possibility. And in that moment, he became the person he never wanted to be by suggesting that they call his dad who will have a way to “take care of it.”
Megan had a lot to lose, but she also had some time to come to terms with the pregnancy, but she dropped in on Luke at arguably the worst time—it was a high-stress situation, he was under the influence and drugged, and he was scared out of his mind. There was no reality in which his reaction would be supportive and comforting.
After Megan and Isabella left that evening, Luke was able to free himself, but it was terrifying watching him make the decision to leave the cabin and trek through the woods and toward the dock, especially knowing how directionally challenged he is. In his inebriated state, I was expecting him to just collapse in the woods, and when he eventually got to the dock, I thought he was going to fall in. There was even a moment when all the mean things people said about him were echoing through his mind, and I was sure he was considering suicide.
I actually don’t know why he didn’t just sleep it off in the cabin and find his way home the next day, but I don’t think he was in the right state of mind to think logically.
By the end of the episode, Luke was still alive and used his pager to get help from someone who he was surprised answered to the “SOS” noting that he “didn’t think” the person would come.
The mystery savior is not revealed in the final moments, but my guess is that it’s Jeff, considering the convo he had with him a few scenes prior that seemed to resonate with Luke. Jeff has always been connected to the story, and it seemed like he played a bigger role within it, so I think he was there that night. I’d even go out on a limb and say that he saved Luke and helped him escape. Maybe that’s why he was buying all that food that he said was for college when Megan confronted him a few episodes prior!
As I was mulling over the possible connection, I thought that maybe the Sheriff is Jeff’s father, which would explain his disdain for Megan—who dumped his son—and his desire to help Luke, his son’s good friend.
Could it be that the Sheriff is launching a fake investigation while knowing where Luke is this whole time? Is it possible he did enroll in the Coast Guard and faked his own disappearance after realizing both Megan and Isabella turned on him and that a child was about to ruin everything for him?
Again, it doesn’t explain the body they found in the water, but it does make a lot more sense than Luke’s death.
Megan and Isabella would have no knowledge of what happened to Luke if they never heard from him again after leaving him stranded at the cabin, so while they’d feel guilty about the events that led up to his disappearance—and try to keep their involvement a secret—they likely wouldn’t know the truth.
There’s always a possibility that Luke reached out to either one of them, though I doubt it, or he could’ve pinged Brent, his dad Steve, or even Ned? I still can’t shake my theory that he’s somehow related to the Chambers family—possibly an uncle—and Luke would consider that he wouldn’t come due to their NYE altercation. Is Luke hiding out somewhere in one of the secret rooms in his cabin?
Or maybe it’s his secret pen pal that has been mentioned in passing but never elaborated on.
Either way, it’s got to be someone that Luke trusted could help him out of this situation, and someone that he never told about Megan and Isabella’s involvement.
However, the person he called might also be the person who killed him, if we’re going by the theory that Luke did, in fact, die.
And so, going into the final episode of the season, the question that’s top of everyone’s mind is what happened to Luke?
Of course, we’re also curious about Megan’s baby as she didn’t seem too keen on the idea of aborting it. What happened with that storyline?
How do you think it’s all going to end? Has Luke been playing an elaborate payback trick on everyone this whole time? Share your theories now!
This season isn’t as great as the first—and their commitment to the ’90s aesthetic is not as on point—but I’m intrigued in this case, and hellbent on finding out what happened, all the same.
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