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"Jeannette Turner, I hope you rot in Hell."
Kate Wallis
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Cruel Summer is a series airing on Freeform, starring Chiara Aurelia and Olivia Holt.

Taking place over the course of three summers in the 1990s, the series tracks how Jeanette Turner, a mousy teenage girl in a small Texas town, became the most popular girl at school, and then the most hated in the country, with her rise and fall mysteriously connected to the disappearance of popular girl Kate Wallis.


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Cruel Summer contains examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Mallory, played by Harley Quinn Smith, is a big fan of Clerks, directed by Harley’s father Kevin Smith.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Kate's family and friends call her "Katie Kat". Derek calls Jeanette "Jeanie".
  • Alpha Bitch: According to Mallory, Kate Wallis was a major queen bee, and so was Jeanette when she became popular. "Smashing Good Time" indicates that Kate wasn't actually all that bad before the kidnapping, being willing to befriend Jeanette, caring about her mother and wanting to try and let her know about the supposed affair that is happening with her stepfather. She is more of a Class Princess as a result.
  • Aloof Big Sister: Kate has an older stepsister, Ashley, from Rod's first marriage. Despite her attempts to befriend her over the years, Ashley keeps her at arm's length until after the kidnapping.
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  • The Atoner: Ashley regrets brushing off Kate's attempts to bond as sisters and tries to be there for her after Kate is rescued. Kate initially brushes her off because Ashley has refused to involve herself in Kate's life for the near 10 years their parents have been married.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: On her fifteenth birthday, Jeanette wishes to be “pretty and popular” so that everyone will notice her— implicitly wishing she were more like Kate Wallis. She gets her wish, but that is exactly why it becomes so easy for people to believe she set out to “steal” Kate’s life and knowingly left her in captivity.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Derek is supportive and protective of his little sister Jeanette. After they find out that Jamie hit her, Derek brings his dad to confront Jamie and almost physically attacks him. He even prints out copies of Kate’s chats with her sister Ashley— whom Derek is in a relationship with— when he sees them and finds that they might help with Jeanette’s case.
  • Big Damn Kiss: Kate and Mallory share a way-more-than-friends kiss at the end of the season 1 finale.
  • Broken Bird:
    • Kate, after being kidnapped for a year.
    • Jeanette, after having most of the world turn against her.
  • Closet Gay: A downplayed example in Ben Hallowell, Vince's boyfriend; he's in the closet throughout much of the series and hides his homosexuality by getting heavily involved in the school football team.
  • Convicted by Public Opinion: By 1995, seemingly everyone is convinced that Jeanette was involved in Kate's kidnapping, even though the case hasn't gone to trial yet.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Ben and Vince have to hide their romantic relationship due to the general public being far less accepting of homosexuality in the '90s.
    • The reason Ashley initially refused Kate's attempts to bond was out of resentment regarding Kate not being fully aware of the privileges she and her mother have being white. When Kate confides in Ashley that she had suspected Rod of having an affair, Ashley tells Kate how even being suspected of having an affair would be more damaging to Rod's reputation than if it were Joy.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • In "Smashing Good Time", Kate becomes convinced that her stepdad is cheating on her mom and tries to warn her... unaware that Joy is the one who's been cheating, while Rod has been faithful.
    • In “A Secret of My Own,” after months of staying in Mr. Harris’s house “willingly” due to his grooming and brainwashing her Kate sneaks out of his house to visit her own on Christmas Eve, and sees through her hiding spot by the window her parents laughing and seemingly having a good time, strengthening her belief that Martin is all she has. Immediately after she leaves, Joy and Rod make it clear that this is the first they’ve laughed in months, and are quickly reduced to crying out of fear for and missing Kate.
    • Season 1 ends with Jeanette dropping her lawsuit after managing to prove that she didn't see Kate when Kate claimed that she did, and thus clearing her name... only to reveal at the very end that Jeanette did find out about Kate's imprisonment in Martin's basement, several months later.
  • Driving Question: Did Jeanette see Kate while she was kidnapped?
    • The Answer: She did not—Mallory did and mistook her for Martin's girlfriend. But Jeanette later realized Kate was being imprisoned by Martin and may have left her there.
  • Endearingly Dorky: When Kate and Jeannette first meet in 1993, Kate finds Jeannette's dorky fashion sense and nervous mannerisms cute. Jamie would later feel the same way about Jeanette, in a more flirtatious light.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: Kate and Jeanette finally talk, and piece together that Kate actually saw and was seen by Mallory, who at the time didn’t realize it was Kate. Jeanette decides to drop her lawsuit (which would have granted her 11 million in damages) and Kate decides to clear Jeanette’s name, damaging her own reputation in the process. Kate later confronts Mallory, who explains herself and is forgiven (and stopped from running away) by Kate, with the two of them later becoming a couple. Jeanette is interviewed by Marsha Bailey, finally in the spotlight and beloved like she has always wanted, and sanctimoniously declares that she “forgives” Kate. In short, both girls are happy and have proven to not have intentionally lied. And then the final scene of the episode shows Jeanette breaking into Martin’s house sometime in 1994, hearing Kate’s cries for help in the basement, and deciding against opening the basement door, with a terrifying smile. This scene re-contextualizes nearly everything about the show, and in particular Jeanette’s behavior.
  • Exact Words: Jeanette really didn’t see Kate in Martin Harris’s house in 1993. She heard Kate, in 1994, begging to be set free from his basement.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Several characters.
    • In 1993, Jeanette's hair is left in messy, slightly frizzy waves, signifying her status as an awkward, unnoticed nerd. Her naturally dark brown is also lightened into a washed-out looking orange-ish brown to honey brown ombré, possibly to indicate her desire to emulate blonde Kate Wallis. In 1994, her hair is straightened and darkened signifying her becoming the new queen bee after Kate's disappearance. In 1995, Jeanette's hair is messily cut short, signifying her status as a social outcast.
    • In 1993, Kate’s hair is long and golden blonde and always perfectly straightened with curled ends, embodying her status as the most popular girl in town. In 1994, her brown roots have grown out significantly and her hair is left naturally straight, since she was initially unable to touch up her roots while kidnapped and after being rescued can’t be bothered to try to. In 1995, her hair is cut just below her chin with her brown roots still showing, showcasing her firm desire to retake control of her life as well as her darker, angrier outlook and newfound friendship with Mallory, whose hair is a similar cut.
    • In 1993, Mallory’s hair is short, bleach blonde and slightly fried. In 1994, Mallory’s hair is a more natural light blonde with red streaks, and more styled. In 1995, Mallory’s hair is platinum blonde and she now has bangs.
  • Expy: Mallory dresses alternatively, is part of a Two Girls and a Guy trio, holds a hatred for the Queen Bee of their school, and has a falling out with her female friend when the latter becomes an Alpha Bitch and replaces the Queen Bee. The similarities between her and Janis Ian are given a nod by the fact that Mallory’s mother’s name is Janis.
  • Fair Weather Friend: Renee and Tennille are this towards both Kate and Jeanette. For Kate, they replace her all too easily with Jeanette, and after Kate returns they treat her trauma as either amusing gossip fodder or too depressing to be around. For Jeanette, they turn on her the instant Kate’s accusation spreads and become Jeanette’s biggest bullies.
  • First-Episode Twist: Near the end of the first episode, Kate Wallis is revealed to have been found and alive. The trailers and promos that were released before the pilot did not reveal that Kate would be found during the events of the show, and instead, scenes were edited to make it seem as though Kate would still be missing.
  • Gaslighting: Jamie tries to make Kate doubt that she saw him kissing Jeanette.
  • Generation Xerox: Part of Joy's contempt with the Turners stems from the fact that when she and Cindy were in high school, Cindy was the popular one and Joy was the one who wanted to live Cindy's life. A similar conflict would play out with their respective daughters with Jeanette wishing she was living Kate's life and Kate hating Jeanette for seemingly stealing her life while she was kidnapped.
  • Heel Realization: Joy has one when Kate points out that Martin preyed upon and groomed her in part specifically because of the way Joy raised her to be “trusting and blindly obedient.”
  • How We Got Here: The series jumps back and forth between 1993, 1994, and 1995, detailing how Jeannette went from being an outsider to a queen bee to being an outcast.
  • I Can't Believe a Guy Like You Would Notice Me:
    • In 1993, Jeanette is flustered when Kate is nice to her and wishes her a happy birthday.
    • When she first gets invited to hang out with Kate, Mallory is genuinely shocked that Kate even knows who she is.
  • Implied Rape: Several characters make comments implying that Martin Harris sexually abused Kate while keeping her kidnapped. He did, having slept with her while she was underaged.
  • Irrational Hatred: Mallory absolutely despised Kate in 1993, who prior to her kidnapping was shown to be a genuinely nice person. After Jeanette becomes more like Kate, Mallory hates her too. After talking with Kate in 1994, Mallory seems to realize this herself — admitting that she was jealous of Kate’s seemingly perfect life — and the two of them become best friends. And then girlfriends.
  • Jealous Romantic Witness: One of the bigger points of drama in the show came from a recently-rescued Kate seeing her boyfriend, Jamie, kissing Jeannette... who was the very same girl Kate accused of leaving her with her kidnapper, as well as his ex. Kate bottled this issue up for months, and when she finally confronted him about it, he used gaslighting tactics to dismiss the concerns. This whole ordeal only made her emotional issues worse.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Jeanette is cleared of seeing Kate in captivity of 1993, and no one yet has found out that she did hear Kate cry for help in 1994, and left her there. In fact, she's crowned "the most wronged woman in America" on the Marsha Bailey show.
    • Furthermore, Joy is still happily married after her affair is exposed. Mallory is quickly forgiven for seeing Kate through the window and not saying anything (half justified by the fact that she didn't see her face and only saw a "woman living freely," then didn't want to spill Kate's truth in spilling her own — still let Jeanette take the fall, however), Ash suffers no consequence other than her family’s anger over being BereniceIV, Jamie suffers no consequences for gaslighting Kate and hitting Jeanette unless you count winding up with Jeanette as a consequence, which some may, so on and so forth.
    Kate: Why am I the only one?
    Joy: ...The only one of what, baby?
    Kate: The only one who suffers any consequences around this town.
  • Mood Lighting: Used to visually distinguish between 1993, 1994, and 1995. Scenes set in 1993 have warm, bright lighting and high saturation that reflects the relative innocence and happiness of the characters, while the 1995 scenes have cool, dark, high-contrast, and low-saturation as the characters are at their lowest, and the 1994 scenes are visually somewhere between the two.
    • Orange/Blue Contrast: Never in the same scene, but rather used to create a visual and emotional contrast between 1993 (orange) and 1995 (blue).
    • Unnaturally Blue Lighting: All the 1995 scenes have a strong blue tint to highlight how cold and miserable most of the characters have become.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Kate is horrified to learn that it was Mallory, not Jeanette, who saw her and apologizes profusely to Jeanette— even suggesting that Jeanette follow through with her lawsuit and take the eleven million dollars.
  • Mythical Motifs: In "You Don't Hunt, You Don't Eat", Martin recounts the story of Cassiopeia, who angered the gods and then tried to force her daughter to pay for her arrogance. The same episode shows how Joy is harping on Jeannette's supposed culpability in Kate's kidnapping - which has in turn resulted in Kate being sued by Jeannette for defamation - in order to distract people from the fact that she was the one who unwittingly allowed Martin Harris to get close to Kate.
  • Not Helping Your Case:
    • When Jeanette releases a statement to the public that she is suing Kate for defamation of character, she becomes an even bigger target for everyone's scorn on account of the fact that she is suing a kidnapping victim.
    • On the other end of things, the reason Jeannette has a case is because Kate named her on national television even after learning that the police didn't have enough evidence to charge Jeannette with anything.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • In the first episode, Jeanette is stunned (and visibly terrified) to hear that Kate has been found and is alive.
    • At the end of the second episode, Kate goes into shock before screaming after she learns that Jeanette is suing her for defamation.
  • Opportunistic Bastard:
    • After Kate has gone missing, Jeanette basically takes her place — even dating Kate’s boyfriend. Kate takes it a step further and alleges that Jeanette saw her in the basement she was held captive in and kept quiet about it so as to maintain her status as Kate’s replacement.
    • Joy has been gleefully using Kate's trauma as an excuse to renew her feud with the Turners, which has the added benefit of obscuring the fact that Martin only got close to Kate in the first place because Joy invited him on the family hunting trip.
    • In "An Ocean Inside Me", Tanya Peterson, Tenille’s mother, uses an exaggerated version of her date with Martin Harris in 1994 to get attention, and before Jeanette blackmails her plans to do the same by revealing that she had seen Jeanette in Martin’s house on that date.
  • Pædo Hunt: Martin has been grooming Kate prior to kidnapping her. Him making Kate believe that he was the only person she could trust was what made Kate go to him when she runs away from home.
  • Parents as People: The parents in this show are depicted as flawed but ultimately loving their kids.
    • Greg Turner is all too passive and enabling of Jeanette— even suggesting Jeanette make a wish to become prettier and more popular, rather than assuring her she’s fine as she is— and keeps secrets from Cindy with Jeanette. He is still supportive of his daughter after a year of the family being ostracized and losing his job, even willing to risk millions that he doesn’t have to clear her name in court.
    • Cindy Turner is quick to become suspicious of her own daughter over gossip, leaves her family in the middle of a crisis, tries to convince Jeanette to drop her lawsuit against Kate, and is a main source of Jeanette’s desire to be popular. She also comes to realize her own responsibility in Jeanette’s changes, and the finale reveals that she was entirely right to be suspicious of her daughter.
    • Joy Wallis puts a lot of pressure on Kate to be “perfect,” and essentially an extension of Joy herself, while also being classist and rude to those of lower social status than herself. She also coldly dismisses her daughter’s concerns that her dad is cheating and cruelly shuts Kate down when she realized her mistake and tries to apologize, all to keep Kate from snooping and discovering Joy’s own affair. When Kate (having caught her cheating months before) can no longer keep the affair a secret and tells Rod, Joy paints Kate out to be a liar and eventually slaps her. Despite all this, Joy does genuinely love her daughter and is heartbroken and worried sick when Kate is missing, and seemingly learns the error of her ways when Kate calls her out in 1995.
    • Rod Wallis, Kate’s stepfather since she was ten, is otherwise an example of Good Parents, but when Joy insulted and slapped Kate, he allowed himself to be cowed into not intervening when Joy pointedly insists that she decides how to discipline “her daughter” when she’s misbehaving. He regrets this and makes it plain to Joy that he will have a hand in raising ‘’their'' daughter.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Kate's friends and boyfriend effectively substitute her with Jeanette after Kate is kidnapped. Martin taunts Kate about this at one point, saying that Skylin has seemingly moved on from her.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Jeanette always specifically denies having “seen” Kate in the basement. Since she actually heard Kate in the basement, months after the event Kate alleges she saw her, this is Technically True.
  • Rewind, Replay, Repeat:
    • When Jeanette is watching Kate's interview in which she accuses her of finding out that Kate was kidnapped but did nothing about it, Jeanette continuously rewinds and replays Kate condemning her.
    • In "Proof", Martin confiscates Mallory's video tape which has footage of him leaving his house. At the end of the episode, he watches the tape and continuously rewinds and replays the video of him, where the viewer can faintly see Kate through the window. After affirming that the tape could incriminate him in Kate's disappearance, Martin proceeds to Destroy the Evidence.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Kate was wrong about Jeanette seeing her in December of 93, as it was actually Mallory, however, it turns out that Jeanette later did find out that Martin was holding Kate captive, and Jeanette left her there for apparently the reason Kate originally claimed: to steal her life.
  • Skewed Priorities: When she confronts Jeanette, Kate yells that Jeanette “stole [her] life” and is suing her, rather than Jeanette allegedly leaving her in captivity while she was kidnapped.
  • Shout-Out: Whether it's the time period or whether Mallory's actress' father is the director but Clerks is mentioned.
  • Sports Hero Backstory: Kate's stepdad Rod was a major football star back in the '80s. While his career is over now, he's still one of the most influential people in Skylin.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Kate's stepsister Ashley had a history with Jeannette's big brother Derek before their families' feud got in the way.
  • Stargazing Scene: Played for Horror. On the night of the family hunting trip in 1993, a distressed Kate ends up sitting out and looking at the stars, having a sweet and emotional chat...with Martin, the same person who grooms and later kidnaps her for months. As this fate is already well-known, this scene is used to show how Martin manipulated her, turning a normally nice moment horrifying.
  • Suburban Gothic: Skylin is a peaceful middle-class suburb where seemingly everyone has skeletons in their closet.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: In "An Ocean Inside Me", Tanya Peterson plans to testify that she'd caught Jeanette in Martin Harris' house in 1993, potentially threatening Jeanette's libel case against Kate Wallis. Jeanette tracks her down and points out that while this is true, what's also true is that Jeanette overheard Tanya admit to paternity fraud, which is much easier to prove. Tanya decides to cancel her threats against Jeanette's lawsuit.
  • Unreliable Expositor: It's not entirely clear if either Kate or Jeannette are being completely honest about what happened during Kate's imprisonment. And even after their heart-to-heart in Martin Harris' house, Jeannette was still being completely dishonest.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Somewhere between 1993 and 1994, Jeannette and her best friend Mallory had a major falling out, and by 1995, Mallory flat-out hates Jeannette's guts and is now friends with Kate.
  • Wham Episode: "Happy Birthday Kate Wallis" reveals that after extensive grooming by the adult, Kate willingly went to Martin Harris' house on that fateful night that she disappeared, believing that he would protect her from Joy. She didn't expect him to keep her imprisoned for a year. The episode also reveals that Joy was the one who sent the threatening message to Kate in 1995, thinking that it would scare her so that she'd clean up her act before she went to court, and the end of the episode sees Jeannette getting a log of Kate's chatroom correspondence, allowing her to find out that Kate's been lying.
  • Wham Line: Throughout the first two episodes, it seems that the trial Jeanette’s lawyer is preparing her for in 1995 is one of Kate pressing charges against or suing her. At the end of the second episode, however, it is revealed via a news report that it is actually Jeanette who is suing Kate, for defamation.
  • Wham Shot:
    • In an online chat to an undisclosed person, Kate asks them what they think would happen if people found out she hasn’t been “completely honest.”
    • The final scene of the show, Jeanette hearing Kate in the basement, and leaving her there. Topped off by a bone-chilling smile.
  • Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Martin Harris, the new Assistant Principal seems like a nice, normal man — he turns out to be Kate’s kidnapper.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Jamie punches Jeanette in the face, giving her a black eye, when she tries to talk to him after Kate is rescued— presumably after Kate told him of her accusation against Jeanette.

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