Every Question 'Cruel Summer' Needs to Answer in the Finale
We may know what really happened now, but there's still so many questions left unanswered.
This article contains spoilers through the first nine episodes of Freeform's Cruel Summer. If you've seen the Season 1 finale, read our recap and analysis of what happened.
In Cruel Summer, the new teen series created by Easy A writer Bert V. Royal, helmed by longtime Shondaland scribe Tia Napolitano (Grey's Anatomy, Scandal), and executive-produced by Jessica Biel (The Sinner), Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia) goes from being a sweet 15-year-old who likes riding bikes and hanging out at the mall with her friends to being the most hated girl in America by age 17. The psychological drama examines how teenage girls must figure out their own identities and how they fit into the world—and the way the world weaponizes them for it—but does so in a juicy, twist-filled manner.
Set primarily over three summers in 1993, '94, and '95, Cruel Summer tracks the damage that unfurls in a small Texas town when a popular high schooler named Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt) goes missing and returns home a year later. Kate, who had been purportedly abducted by the new-to-town vice principal, finds that her boyfriend and two BFFs have gotten close to Jeanette, and melodrama ensues: In a nationally televised interview, Kate alleges that Jeanette saw her while she'd been in captivity and failed to report it to the police, a charge that Jeanette vehemently denies. But since Jeanette, in the year since the abduction, had transformed from an awkward, unpopular 15-year-old into, essentially, Kate herself, the residents of their small town of Skylin, Texas, begin to question which of them is telling the truth. By Jeanette's 17th birthday, the two are facing off in a legal battle as well as the court of public opinion.
It's all completely addicting, a rare gem of a teen series that still manages to tackle trauma and the ways society can vilify young women for their emotional complexities. The thriller hinges on a mystery that feels like it could never be solved, with the way teenagers keep secrets and wield lies. Jumping without warning between the three time periods, the show drops clues in virtually every scene, with red herrings, misdirection, and the quaintness of '90s technology, making it very challenging to determine who's telling the truth and what really happened. Before the finale of Cruel Summer airs on Freeform on Tuesday, June 15 and hits Hulu the next day, we're breaking down every question the series still needs to answer. Join me as I break down the many theories about what went down in Skylin, because it feels like the break between episodes takes as long as dial-up.
So, did Jeanette see Kate?
It was one girl's word against another for much of Cruel Summer, with varying degrees of evidence on both sides regarding whether or not Jeanette actually saw Kate. Kate insisted she saw her and had her "you go, girl" necklace as evidence; and it was revealed Jeanette held onto her dad's realtor's key to Mr. Harris' (Blake Lee) house, and broke in more than once.
After a long season of speculation, Episode 9 finally revealed that Kate did, in fact, see Jeanette when she broke into Mr. Harris' on Christmas Eve in '93. When she saw him at the mall, she simply couldn't help herself but take it as a surefire opportunity to break in and get yet another adrenaline rush. Although she went into the house and Kate saw her, it definitely doesn't appear as if Jeanette saw Kate. Kate ran upstairs when she heard someone opening the front door and saw it was Jeanette from the top of the steps, but Jeanette was only in the house for a brief moment. It seems like she only went in to steal something—in this instance, taking the snow globe—and left. It doesn't seem like Jeanette saw her, but maybe next episode will reveal she did catch a glimpse of her and we didn't catch her reaction. Although, more likely, it will turn out that both of the girls were telling the truth—it just happened to be shrouded in secrecy, with Kate telling the authorities she was in the basement at the time and Jeanette never admitting to trespassing.
Did Mr. Harris make Kate think Jeanette saw her?
Kate didn't reveal herself to Jeanette when she broke in because she was scared and unsure who was coming in. She also didn't mention the incident to Mr. Harris because she was quietly hoping that Jeanette would go to the authorities, so she could get out without having to confront Mr. Harris, who she was increasingly frightened of. The next day, on Christmas, is when Mr. Harris locked Kate in his basement. In her emotional distress, she could have fixated on Jeanette as her lifeline out of captivity—hoping that she would get help—which ultimately disappointed and enraged her when she did not.
That very well could explain the misunderstanding, or is it possible Mr. Harris manipulated her into thinking no one would ever save her? Maybe Kate eventually told Mr. Harris she saw Jeanette break in and threaten that she could come back, or help was on the way. Then, because he saw at school how Jeanette changed over the course of the year and the way she stepped into Kate's friend group, he could have told Kate about it and made her think that Jeanette would never want Kate to return. Even a year after being home, she's still processing what happened, so it's likely her mind had trouble sorting through what was or wasn't reality when she was at her most vulnerable.
Was Mallory involved in any way?
Mallory has been at the top of fans' suspects list ever since the beginning—considering how domineering she is in her friendship with Jeanette, her anger issues, and the general air of shadiness about her. It certainly seemed like she knew something in Episode 8 when the mysterious snow globe first made an appearance once Jeanette went to her house and demanded to see it after recognizing it as the sound saved on Jamie's (Froy Gutierrez) answering machine. Now that we know Jeanette stole the snow globe from Mr. Harris and presumably gave it to Mallory as a sort of token of her breaking-and-entering accomplishment/Christmas gift, it seems like Mal might really be in the dark about everything. She, of course, lied to Jeanette about having it, but maybe that's just because she didn't understand the significance—which, to Jeanette, was to prove Kate wasn't always in Mr. Harris' basement. Hopefully time will tell that she's simply learned how to be a better friend and support system to those in her life, and not all that manipulative and devious as she's made out to be, but is there a more damning reason she's become the least favorite character?
How was Kate found?
The series still hasn't shown how Kate was actually found. All we know thus far—which is what we've known since the beginning—is that the authorities found her and shot and killed Mr. Harris during the police raid. So, who was it that eventually got her out of there? Did the detectives (after a year) finally connect the dots to Mr. Harris' constant lying and fishiness, or did somebody else come forward with a tip?
Maybe Mallory is involved in a way. If she made a copy of the prank video from Episode 8 that featured footage of Kate in Mr. Harris' house, she could have revisited it in '94, noticed Kate in the background, and then told the police. Mr. Harris destroyed the one she brought to school, but if there was a backup, it's certainly a possibility. Although, you would think she would've turned in the evidence, and there's been no mention of it.
If that's not the case, or Jeanette never saw Kate and came forward with a guilty conscience months later, the show will still need to address exactly how Kate was rescued from captivity.
Who is Annabelle?
Even just before the finale, the show hasn't dropped many clues regarding who the mysterious Annabelle is. We first learned about her at the end of Episode 4 in '95 when Kate was hoping to face her trauma head-on by listening to the tapes from her therapy sessions. Despite Mallory warning her that it can be overwhelming, she did anyway, and it reminded her that in one psychotherapy session she unearthed the memory that there was someone named Annabelle who was involved in her kidnapping in some way. She tells her therapist that right before she was rescued, Mr. Harris' was acting as if "something was different, something was wrong," and then says, "And that was when I met Annabelle." Kate seems to have suppressed the memory up until that moment, and we still don't know much about her, but there are a few possibilities.
The simplest (and most likely) explanation would also be a bit of a narrative cliché—namely, that Annabelle is a disassociated identity of Kate herself, caused by the trauma of her awful situation. That would explain why she's spoken about her as if she's another person, but their stories are so similar and entwined. Kate has been through a lot, and now that it's clear how much she's had to process—going from a groomed subject of Mr. Harris' who was led to believe their relationship was consensual to being held in captivity—it would make sense that she would dissociate from those instances of abuse.
It's still unclear what the case is with Annabelle, so it's also possible that she could be another victim of Mr. Harris. You may recall that in Episode 4 Kate told a "ghost story" about "a girl named Annabelle" around the campfire while on a hunting trip with her family. She basically iterates what happened to her on the same trip in 1993 when Mr. Harris came along and intentionally formed a relationship with her—saying a man abused Annabelle and the trust of the grown-ups around her in order to do "something unspeakable." It seems as though she's referring to herself and trying to stir things up, but maybe someone else's similar story has been haunting her.
It's also worth noting that in Episode 7 in the '94 timeline, Kate has a strong reaction to a news report about an unnamed girl who came forward after Kate was found, saying that Mr. Harris also abused her. She exclaims that the girl is lying for 15 minutes of fame and Mr. Harris denied the allegations, but she could still be processing what happened and not putting two and two together that this young woman was another survivor… and maybe Annabelle. Plus, since another open question is who helped the cops find Kate, maybe it was Annabelle if she was familiar with Mr. Harris' behavior and figured out what was happening.
Will Mrs. Wallace ever learn how to become a better mother?
The manipulative way Mrs. Wallace (Andrea Anders) raised Kate—to be obedient and seemingly perfect—proved to only hurt her. It allowed for Mrs. Turner to treat her more like a prized object than a daughter, react violently when she tried to stand up for herself, and led to her negligence in Kate ever being found early on when she went missing. It's also what Mr. Harris noticed about Kate immediately, as well as the fact that she came from a broken home and needed someone to confide in, which made her an easy victim to groom.
Mrs. Wallace has continued to lie to Kate, force her to do things she doesn't want to do (like go on TheMarsha Bailey Show, which led to the ensuing legal battle), and refuses to show empathy about what Kate is going through—and not to mention being just generally annoying. Will she ever admit her wrongdoing, not make everything about her, and learn to be a better mother? We'd definitely love to see it, especially for Kate's wellbeing!
How will the legal battle play out?
The Turner's lawsuit against Kate has been the backdrop of the entire season. Now, we've seen the reality of what happened unfold, and throughout, Jeanette has been gathering evidence about the true nature of Kate and Mr. Harris' relationship, be it in the form of her chat room records or the snow globe—but we've yet to see it play out in the courtroom. Will the girls finally meet face-to-face, explain their truths, and drop the case? Or will the last episode play out like a courtroom drama? It's possible that Jeanette's lawyers will victim blame Kate, ignoring the nuances of how she was manipulated into the situation she was in, and that would cause a whole new media frenzy. It's also possible that information about Jeanette's break ins will finally come out, which absolutely wouldn't look good for her. We'll have to see if court is in session at all in the finale—it sure seems like a lot to get to with just one more episode to go—but it'll be interesting to see how the town gossip goes down before a judge.