‘Cruel Summer’s Olivia Holt & Blake Lee Break Down the Most Nerve-Racking Episode Yet

Cruel Summer Episode 9 Blake Lee Olivia Holt Martin Kate
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[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Cruel Summer Episode 9 “A Secret of My Own.”]

Cruel Summer reveals just what happened after Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt) was the one to step into the house of the man who would become her captor Martin Harris (Blake Lee) in the June 8 episode.

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Running parallel to one of Kate’s therapy sessions in 1994, we follow Kate and Martin in 1993. By Day 21, she is in his bedroom. By Christmas on Day 119, fed up with being stuck inside, Kate sneaked out of the house and spied on her parents, catching them at one of the few moments they’re not missing her before returning to Martin’s. And when she decides she wants to go home comes the moment we were waiting for all episode: He locks her in the basement, refusing to risk the truth coming out about where she’s been.

In 1994, Kate’s therapist explains to her about grooming. “He saw your unfulfilled need to confide in someone, then positioned himself as the singular person to fulfill that need,” she says. “Groomers pose as saviors. When in reality, they’re predators.”

Holt and Lee take TV Insider through filming the episode and tease what’s next.

How did you film this episode? Still out of order?

Blake Lee: Our director, Alexis Ostrander, tried very hard to do it as chronologically as we could. Of course, there were a few scenes that we had to do out of order. Olivia, correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like the Christmas dinner was the last day, right?

Olivia Holt: I think so.

Lee: Those scenes that really change everything throughout that episode. She was very, very adamant about, “Let’s shoot those as in order as we can so that we can really build to that last moment.”

Blake Lee Martin Harris Cruel Summer Episode 9

Freeform/Bill Matlock

What conversations did you have with each other, the writers, and the director about the heavy content of the episode?

Holt: Lots of conversation, even before shooting the episode, because I think we really wanted and needed to lock in and solidify a lot of the dialogue and the montage seems to showcase Martin and Kate’s relationship. But ultimately it was a lot of conversations about the theme of the show, which is gaslighting and manipulation and grooming. All of those things were so important. I think those conversations were probably the most in-depth and the heaviest for all of us.

Lee: I remember before we shot this episode, Olivia and I went and met at a park in Texas. We just went scene by scene and talked in length about every scene and about the grooming process and how Martin would have done it and how it would have made Kate feel. We went into it in our own headspace and got on the same page. Then before we started [filming], we spent a day with Alexis where we broke down each scene. It was very collaborative, kind of experimental. It felt like we were shooting this indie film or something. It didn’t feel like we were shooting a TV show. We were so just in this bubble. It was amazing.

Olivia, you also had those scenes in therapy. Talk about Kate’s state of mind in the two timelines in this episode.

Holt: We call it a bottle episode, so it’s very different from any of the episodes that we’ve seen. And I think Kate is a lot happier in this episode than we’ve seen her in other episodes just because of her relationship with Martin. She trusts him. He believes in her. He believes in her worth. I think she really admires him and looks up to him in a lot of ways, so there’s a lot of happiness that we see.

Martin Kate Dinner Cruel Summer 109

Freeform/Bill Matlock

But there’s also a lot of darkness that we see and that’s in the therapy scenes. So there’s no real middle ground. There are no gray areas in this episode. I feel like it’s just constant either happiness or depression. I have a hard time compartmentalizing from work to my personal life, so it was tricky. On days that were heavier, I would come home and needed an hour to decompress before I went to bed. But then there were days that were more fun and that Blake and I actually had such a great time filming it. Overall, it was a challenging episode, but in the best possible way.

Lee: For sure. I think we grew so much as actors and just as friends and people. It was such an incredible experience. I’m so grateful that we got to do it.

How would you say Kate’s doing psychologically in 1994 at the end of the episode and how does that set up what we’ll see in the finale?

Holt: Ultimately what we see Kate go through is just elements, bits and pieces of what happened in ’94 to how she’s doing in ’95. That’s all setting up what’s going to happen in the finale. We’ve already seen the teaser of Kate and Jeanette [Chiara Aurelia] meeting. That meeting is what’s going to change everybody’s [perspective]. We’re seeing both sides of the story — Jeanette’s [and] Kate’s. And so the audience has to make a decision: who they believe, do they believe in anybody or are both Kate and Jeanette lying? We’re going to get an answer in the finale, but I think what’s leading up to this moment is everybody has already come up with a theory, has already formed their own opinion. And now they’re going to find out if they’re right or wrong.

Olivia Holt Cruel Summer Episode 9 Kate Wallis

Freeform/Bill Matlock

How much will Jeanette not alerting the authorities and not helping Kate out of that situation without knowing she needed to [after breaking into Martin’s house and not seeing anyone] come up in the finale?

Holt: She sort of describes why she doesn’t. I think something that’s important to know is that the trauma that Kate has gone through has made everything a little bit fuzzy because she’s blocked it out. There are some pieces of the puzzle that she hasn’t quite put together. I think she needs time to process that. When speaking with her therapist, there are moments where she’s like, “I don’t remember that, but I vaguely remember it, but maybe we should go further into it. But I also am nervous to step into that space again, because I don’t want to relive all of those moments.” I think there’s an intention and a reason behind everything that Kate does. And I think the decision to not immediately go to the authorities is because of that, because she’s still trying to piece all of the puzzle together.

Olivia, we get that heartbreaking scene of Kate going home but returning to Martin’s after she saw her parents seemingly doing fine without her. But if she hadn’t seen that, was she ready to go home? Or maybe the right question is did she know she was ready?

Holt: I think she was definitely homesick. She hadn’t been outside. She was watching Martin leave and go to work and go to the grocery store and go outside of the house every single day, and I think she was craving that. I think she missed her parents. I don’t think that that was her making a decision to go home. I think she just wanted to see them and to see how they were doing without her. It is really heartbreaking because unfortunately, she caught a moment of them laughing and enjoying each other’s presence, and then the second that she leaves, they break down because they miss her and she misses that moment. I think she sort of decides her life with Martin actually isn’t that bad. Being in the house isn’t that bad. She could wait until she’s 18. That’s not that bad.

Episode 9 Blake Lee Martin Harris Cruel Summer

Freeform/Bill Matlock

Blake, I was waiting for Martin to open his eyes when she returned. Had he been waiting for her to leave but expected her to return because of everything he had said and done up to that point?

Lee: In that moment, when she leaves the house that night, I genuinely think he’s not aware until she’s coming back, but I do think it’s one of those things where he’s not living in reality. It’s this fantasy world [where] they’re playing house behind closed doors. Every moment, he’s trying not to rock the boat. Everything’s perfect. So as he’s seeing her kind of start to crack, everything’s falling into place. That moment when he realizes that she’s gone, I would imagine that it’s not a surprise. Yes, he’s believing his own lie. As he’s groomed her, he’s kind of believing it himself in a way. In order for him to be able to do it and to keep this girl in his house, I think he has to start to believe this lie. When she starts to leave, it’s him just realizing it’s the beginning of the end and he’ll do anything he can to keep her there.

And speaking of the end, Blake, that chilling look in Martin’s eyes at the end, when he locks the basement and then after. What did it say in the script for that scene?

Lee: I’m going to paraphrase right now, but it was something along the lines of, “Martin, in a moment of panic, he’ll do anything to keep her. He locks the door, turns up the music, and numbs the screams with this music.” It was just him trying to block it all out. I think he doesn’t want to see her in pain or hear her.

Olivia, what is Kate feeling in that basement? Anything other than shock?

Holt: A lot of shock. I don’t think that she actually can pinpoint an emotion because it’s nothing that she has experienced before. Confusion, shock, I think eventually anger.

Olivia Holt Cruel Summer Season 1 Kate

Freeform/Bill Matlock

Lee: You’re so good in that scene. Because you were playing so many emotions and it’s so heartbreaking to watch and it was so heartbreaking to listen to. I remember Alexis had you come in to do the screaming off-camera. You weren’t working that day. And it was so awesome. That you were just talking about, where I turn up the music, you came in and you just screamed from the other room and banged on the door. It was really scary and really heartbreaking because that was the first time I had heard that.

Holt: Yeah, it was heavy shooting that.

Other than shocking, can you describe the finale in three words?

Lee: Suspenseful, exciting, and fulfilling.

Holt: Can I agree with Blake? [Both laugh]

Lee: Everyone’s minds are going to be blown. We leave you questioning and guessing everything until the last moments.

Cruel Summer, Tuesdays, 10/9c, Freeform