‘Cruel Summer’ Boss Reveals What Wasn’t Part of the Original Plan for Season 1

Cruel Summer Season 1 Finale Jeanette Kate Court
Spoiler Alert
Freeform/Bill Matlock

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Cruel Summer Season 1 Finale, “Hostile Witness.”]

Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt) and Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia) head to court in the Cruel Summer Season 1 finale, and the truth about who knew what about the former’s kidnapping does come out — but not in front of the judge and lawyers. Rather, it’s revealed inside the house of Kate’s captor, Martin Harris (Blake Lee) … but not all at the same time.

When the two girls meet away from the public and their families, in Martin’s house, Jeanette reveals that she wasn’t the one who looked in from the street the night she snuck in. Kate had assumed Jeanette saw her in the window, but it was her friend Mallory (Harley Quinn Smith) — who was Jeanette’s friend first — on the street. Kate confronts Mallory, who admits she realized it was her after the rescue made the news. Kate forgives her, and by the end of the finale, they’re happy — and together!

Also revealed in the finale: Kate’s the one who shot Martin, to save her own life. “Annabelle” was actually his family’s gun.

Then, after Kate publicly says she was wrong to accuse Jeanette of seeing her in Martin’s house, the other girl becomes “the most wronged woman in America” in 1995. But the final moments flash back to 1994 — and Jeanette in Martin’s house, hearing Kate calling up from the basement and identifying herself.

TV Insider turned to showrunner Tia Napolitano for answers.

Chiara Aurelia Cruel Summer Season 1 Finale Jeanette

Freeform/Bill Matlock

For 10 episodes, you made us question everything. Then in the final moments, you keep doing that… but you also reveal that Jeanette knew Kate was in that basement. Why?

Tia Napolitano: We made a commitment early on to give the audience every piece of the puzzle that we knew. So we really wanted to leave it all on the field. And from a character study, I just thought that was the weirdest, most interesting complex choice of a thing to let us understand about Jeanette.

Looking at that reveal, what did you want to say about who Jeanette and Kate are as people considering there was this question of who’s the victim throughout the season?

It’s funny. The show really makes you say, who’s the victim and who’s the villain? The actual takeaway is life isn’t that simple. People don’t fit into bins that way, at least not for the most part. And I think good people can make bad choices and those bad choices snowball, and someone’s bad choice might be to steal a pack of gum at the store, but Jeanette obviously is a much, much larger crime of opportunity. And I think what you take away from that depends on the viewer.

Olivia Holt Cruel Summer Season 1 Finale Kate Wallis

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In the end, both Kate and Jeanette get what they wanted. With Kate, she thinks she has all the answers and she’s seemingly finally happy with Mallory. After her birthday at the roller rink, I had a feeling they might get together by the end of the season. When did you know that was the plan?

Once Harley, who plays Mallory, and Olivia, who plays Kate, got in a room together doing scenes, they had this chemistry and we knew that Mallory was queer. We didn’t know at first about Kate and they just consistently delivered this amazing magic between them and we knew that we wanted to honor that story in a real way. And we waited until Kate has processed her trauma. She did get somewhat of a happy ending. She’s in a good space so that their first kiss could be coming from a place of pure joy.

Did you always know Mallory was going to have been there that night?

No, that came shortly around the time we rolled camera on Episode 2, we had kind of added that wrinkle to the final reveal.

Kate does still have to deal with the fact that she shot Martin, which you could say is another way he made her a victim, by it being something else she really didn’t have a choice in, right?

Agree, 100 percent. She was left in a situation where she had to do something terrible in order to literally save herself and potentially her own life. And the fact he left that to her is another layer of trauma.

Cruel Summer Season 1 Finale Jeanette Turner Court

Freeform/Bill Matlock

Jeanette seems to have everything she wanted by the end of this: her secret’s safe, she has her boyfriend, the public likes her. Where did you want to leave her after the journey you took her on this season?

Season 1 is truly designed to tell this story completely. It wasn’t designed in specifics to plot for a Season 2 because no one’s ever guaranteed a Season 2. And now we have one and that’s really exciting, but the sky’s the limit. We’re just starting to talk about it.

Vince [Allius Barnes] and Ben [Nathaniel Ashton] seem to be working their way back to each other, maybe, but Ben needs to earn Vince’s trust back. Can he?

That’s a good question. I love that we didn’t just get them back together because that would’ve been the easy thing. We love them as a couple. You see them dancing in that secret bar and in a way that just breaks your heart and makes your heart swell at the same time. I wanted to make sure that Vince stood up for himself when Ben comes back to him. Vince is such a good friend to Jeanette, and he was a great boyfriend to Ben, but he was hurt. I love that he was able to say, I might still love you but you need to do right by me and prove it. And I think the look Ben gives at the end of that scene says to me, I’m going to do the work ’cause you’re worth it. And I love that.

Allius Barnes Cruel Summer Season 1 Finale Vince

Freeform/Bill Matlock

What did you do want to do with the two families when it came to supporting Jeanette and Kate and questioning whether or not to believe them?

It’s easy for families to rally around a member within that family and say. “I’m on their side.” What Cindy [Sarah Drew] does is very difficult. She truly questions Jeanette, and I think depending on who you are, you might hate her for it for a minute. But what she sees in Jeanette is whatever’s weird within Jeanette is also a little weird within Cindy. And I think she recognizes that and worries for her daughter and tries to say, “Confess to me and I will help you.” And Jeanette doesn’t. So that was the most complex and interesting way to me for us to treat the family surrounding these girls.

Was the plan always to have Kate’s sister Ashley [Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut] behind that user in the chat room?

That was always part of it. That was always the intention there. How it got revealed was sort of not. We didn’t know how we were going to roll out that secret. We didn’t know that Derek [Barrett Carnahan] and Ashley were going to get together, that he was gonna steal the chat logs. That all came into play later down the line.

Cruel Summer, Season 2, TBA, Freeform