Can’t Miss Episode of the Week: ‘Cruel Summer’ Finale and That Smile
Welcome to our weekly column Can’t Miss Episode of the Week! Every Saturday we’ll be spotlighting a different episode of television from that week that we thought was exceptional and a must-see. Check back to see if your favorite show got the nod — or to learn about a new one!
Not since Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight has a smile so thoroughly creeped us out. In the Cruel Summer Season 1 finale, which aired Tuesday night, the show seems to tie up all of its loose threads into nice neat little bows, but then turns it all on its head with the final scene and the last image of Jeanette Turner’s horrific smile.
In this episode of the Freeform 90s-set puzzle-box mystery series, teen kidnapping victim Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt, Cloak & Dagger) realizes that it wasn’t fellow teenager Jeanette (Chiara Aurelia, Tell Me Your Secrets) who saw her in kidnapper Martin Harris’s (Blake Lee) house. It was actually Kate’s new best friend (and now love interest?) Mallory (Harley Quinn Smith). What follows is a brief moment where everyone is getting along, and things are looking up. The message seems to be that the country tried to pit these two girls against each other, and ultimately failed. We watch Kate and Mallory (because Kate forgives her) dancing in the sunshine to “Only Happy When it Rains” and feel the joy and relief of the characters.
However, since we know this show likes to inject as many twists as possible, this almost-ending where everything is resolved would feel a little off, which brings us to that final scene. You know, the one where Jeanette actually does find Kate in the basement, and doesn’t let her out or tell anyone. As she decides not to open that basement door, Jeanette just smiles. It’s hard to overstate the brilliance of that scene, as we come to the heart-pounding realization that no one will ever be able to find out what Jeanette did that day. Jeanette did know where Kate was being held captive all along, did nothing, and got away with it. She’s been lying the whole time.
So is Jeanette a sociopath? The series has been switching perspectives all season long to show that there are two sides to every story, and no one (except maybe Martin Harris) is purely the victim or villain – a dynamic that society tried really hard to force these women into (something I talked about in my review of the series premiere). Does this now invalidate that? Was Jeanette the villain all along? Well, the theme of the show is that nothing is ever that simple. Maybe, once again, it’s a commentary on what society tells women they need to be. Jeanette has been told her whole life, especially by her mom (Grey’s Anatomy’s Sarah Drew), that all that really matters is being beautiful and popular, and you should go to extreme lengths to get it.
With Kate gone, Jeanette has the life she always wanted, or at least the one she was told she needs to have. So when she thinks about how letting Kate out might threaten that, she makes the selfish choice. It’s a choice that’s going to keep us guessing, and social media speculating about what it really means.
If you’re hoping Season 2 of this breakout show (because yes, it has been renewed) will address this though, you might be disappointed. Showrunner Tia Napolitano has stated that Season 1 was meant to tell a complete story, and they don’t know what they’re going to do for Season 2 yet. They may continue the story of Jeanette and Kate, or they may introduce a new mystery, transforming the series into an anthology. Personally, I prefer the latter. I don’t want to know exactly what’s going to happen now that we know Jeanette’s secret. It’s the thrill of that one final twist that gives the show the punchy ending it really needs.
Other observations that we thought made this episode stand out:
- The song that’s playing in the background of the final scene where Jeanette smiles is Holt singing a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep.” It puts the perfect cherry on top of what’s already a scream-inducing scene.
- The outfit that Jeanette wears on the Marsha Bailey Show calls back to the outfit that Kate wears when she’s on the show. Check out the headband and the pearls.
- Kate’s forgiveness of Mallory shows how much she’s grown as a character. She doesn’t see things in black and white anymore, and the love these two characters have for each other shines through.