When Cruel Summer final left off, we lastly realized precisely how Jeanette Turner went from a geeky, wide-eyed teen to the “most hated person in America.” According to her fashionable classmate Kate Wallis, Jeanette knew she was being held captive by their assistant principal, Martin, however did nothing to assist. But this thriller is a two-hander, and within the pilot, viewers solely caught glimpses of Kate by Jeanette’s perspective: As an unattainable golden lady in 1993, and as her vindictive accuser in 1994.
So whereas the primary episode belonged to Jeanette, Episode 2 (titled “A Smashing Good Time”) begins to tease Kate’s facet of the story. Once once more, it opens on the identical date, unfold throughout these three fateful summers: In 1993, she’s a sunny 16-year-old being stage-managed by her overbearing Southern Belle mom, Joy (Andrea Anders), who affectionately calls her “Katie Cat.” A yr later, she sits shell-shocked in her bed room, as Joy’s solely concept of consolation is re-piercing her ears. And by 1995, a decidedly grungier Kate dances in entrance of automotive headlights… fittingly, to the Cranberries tune “Zombie.” And like Jeanette’s birthday was the most important occasion anchoring every timeline within the pilot, “A Smashing Good Time” unfolds round three iterations of the Wallis household’s unique Garden Club occasion.
It stays to be seen if Cruel Summer can maintain its precarious non-linear narrative, however thus far, it’s a surprisingly efficient manner of showcasing how Jeanette and Kate’s dramatic transformations may’ve occurred even with out such gratuitous trauma. Unlike a few of her highschool queen bee counterparts, Kate doesn’t appear to have a lot curiosity in flagrantly breaking the principles or trampling folks like ‘93 Jeanette, who’re already a lot decrease within the social hierarchy. In reality, when Kate comes throughout 15-year-old Jeanette on this episode, she appears nearly envious of her adolescent awkwardness.
As a Wallis, Kate isn’t allowed such moments. We be taught that her father died of most cancers when she was a bit of lady, leaving her and Joy little or no. But that every one modified when Joy remarried Kate’s stepfather, an enthralling soccer coach named Roy (Benjamin J. Cain Jr.) who helped them reclaim their household’s picture-perfect popularity as soon as and for all. So it’s an unstated crucial that Kate uphold the Wallis title, and because the strain of appearing as an extension of Joy’s personal ego builds, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine 1995 Kate may need resorted to petty acts like getting a stomach button piercing to spite her mom even when she hadn’t been kidnapped. Cruel Summer wouldn’t work in addition to it does with out its very succesful leads, and watching Holt’s prim sweetness bitter into misplaced bitterness makes for one of many present’s extra fascinating performances.
But even earlier than Kate and Jeanette’s bitter rivalry varieties, this episode takes pains to arrange an intergenerational battle between the Turner and Wallis ladies. After Kate and Joy coincidentally find yourself on the similar step class as Jeanette and Cindy again in ‘93, Cindy eagerly pulls them aside with an embarrassed Jeanette in tow, grasping for a conversation starter by guessing at the exact shade of boxed hair dye Joy uses. “A Smashing Good Time” fleshes out more of Cruel Summer’s rising class dynamics, as Joy rebuffs Cindy by cooly mentioning that she wouldn’t know, as a result of she will get her hair completed at a salon. When Kate tries to cowl for her mom’s remarks by complimenting the “You Go Girl” necklace that Jeanette’s associates cobbled collectively $7 to purchase, it’s clear Jeanette’s shyness isn’t the one issue holding her again from the exclusivity of the favored crowd.
It can be simple to imagine that Joy appears to be like down on the Turners for his or her earnest desperation to slot in. And since their decrease center class background resembles the life Joy would’ve had if Rod hadn’t come alongside, possibly there’s some internalized classism there. But she appears genuinely bothered by Cindy’s overzealous friendship makes an attempt, suggesting a longstanding resentment that viewers already know will finally kind between their daughters.
Cruel Summer leans into its thriller by slowly turning teen drama tropes on their heads, together with one of the vital tried and true of all of them: A love triangle. After Kate returns and Jamie impulsively punches poor Jeanette, he guarantees he’s nonetheless Kate’s boyfriend… however not earlier than admitting he and Jeanette formally met whereas he was placing up lacking particular person posters. Yikes! While ‘94 Kate is hesitant to talk to the police about her kidnapping, she changes her mind after catching Jamie sneaking off to speak to Jeanette after the ‘94 Garden Club party. Jeanette claims Kate only blames her because of trauma — apparently she saw Martin gunned down in front of her — and pulls Jamie in for a kiss, only enforcing Kate’s conviction that Jeanette took her place. So a heartbroken Kate lastly agrees to talk to the detectives on her case, and as proof that Jeanette noticed her in Martin’s home, she slides her classmate’s beloved “You Go Girl” necklace throughout the desk.
But issues are by no means as they appear in a twisty drama like this, and towards the top of the episode, we get our first trace that Kate’s account won’t be completely dependable. In ‘95, she logs into a private chat room with a user called Berenice4 to ask what would happen if people found out she hadn’t been fully trustworthy. The Wallis household’s meager makes an attempt to maneuver on from the shadow of their trauma are obliterated as soon as a newscaster publicizes Jeanette has determined to sue Kate for defamation. We catch a glimpse of Kate in a purple homecoming gown, pounding on Martin’s basement door at the start of her kidnapping. It’s a flashback that lastly envelopes Kate too, as she lastly lets out a guttural scream.
While the primary two episodes stuffed us in on how Jeanette and Kate modified so dramatically, Episode 2 additionally gave the background characters simply sufficient texture to engulf your complete city of their case. Kate turns into satisfied Rod is having an affair together with his fellow council member Candace, solely to be taught that Joy is dishonest on him along with her previous flame Scott (Joshua Colson). After she drunkenly catches them within the kitchen, a horrified Kate runs out the door… solely to come across a too-friendly Martin for the primary time. Jamie’s finest buddy Ben, who primarily served as Jamie’s wingman within the pilot, can also be rising as a suspicious determine. After convincing Jamie to listen to Jeanette out in ‘94, he meets with ‘95 Jeanette’s lawyer Denise and admits he does blame her for what occurred to him… no matter that’s. Cruel Summer could also be Jeanette and Kate’s story, however as a way to get on the coronary heart of their battle, the thriller must spiral out additional and additional.
Abby Monteil is a New York-based author. Her work has additionally appeared in The Daily Beast, Insider, Elite Daily, Thrillist, and others.