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The Jessica Biel-produced Cruel Summer hit the airwaves with a suspenseful, twisted season 1. Kate Wallis and Jeannette Turner (Olivia Holt, Chiara Aurelia) were unreliable narrators throughout the first season, making the plot confusing for some fans. Here’s what you need to know before Cruel Summer returns with new episodes. 

Kate (Olivia Holt) and Jeannette (Chiara Aurelia) in 'Cruel Summer' Season 1
Olivia Holt & Chiara Aurelia | Freeform/Bill Matlock

‘Cruel Summer’ Season 1 follows two Texas teens in a defamation case

Cruel Summer follows the lives of popular girl Kate and wallflower Jeannette, who go against each other in a legal battle over Jeannette’s defamation. The show spans three significant summers in the Texas teens’ lives. In 1993, Kate disappeared for the better part of a year. Later, it’s revealed she was being held hostage by living with her school’s vice-principal Martin Harris (Blake Lee). 

While Kate was missing, Jeannette fabricated their friendship and assumed her life, including her popularity and boyfriend. After Kate escaped, she spends 1994 trying to get back to normal and accuses Jeannette of having the opportunity to save her but not doing so. Jeanette struck back with a defamation case, which unfolds throughout 1995. 

Kate and Jeanette drop the charges against each other in ‘Cruel Summer’ Season 1 

In the season 1 finale of Cruel Summer, Kate and Jeanette have an honest conversation about what happened to them from 1993 to 1995. Throughout the season, Kate is convinced Jeanette saw her at Martin’s house (despite her choosing to be there) and never said anything. 

As part of her rebellious streak, Jeannette had a penchant for breaking into Martin’s house, which her father sold to him. Although she stands by her story of never seeing Kate in the house, Jeannette does lie about knowing she was there. In the final moments of the season 1 finale, Jeannette hears Kate call for help from the basement, proving she made a conscious choice to “steal” Kate’s life. 

In the end, Kate sues Jeanette to distract the public from the truth — she chose to stay with Martin Harris because they were in love. But she drops the case in the finale, believing Jeannette never saw her.  

Kate runs away to be with vice-principal Martin Harris 

From the beginning of Cruel Summer Season 1, Martin Harris is grooming Kate. Throughout the series, the “love” she develops for him is a byproduct of that grooming.

“A Secret of My Own” details the early days of Martin and Kate’s relationship. For the first six months they seem happy, but eventually Kate became homesick and tries to break up with Martin. To protect himself, Martin locks Kate in his basement as an act of revenge, turning their relationship into that of prisoner and hostage. 

Annabelle is Martin Harris’ gun in ‘Cruel Summer’ 

The name Annabelle comes up throughout Kate’s therapy sessions in Cruel Summer Season 1. Initially, Annabelle sounds like another potential victim of Martin’s.

Annabelle is revealed to be a gun when Kate and Martin’s relationship morphs. Martin takes out the gun with the intention of killing himself but changes his mind. Kate grabs the gun in those seconds of uncertainty and shoots him in self-defense. 

Mallory sees Kate in Martin’s house 

Harley Quinn Smith plays Mallory Higgins, Jeannette’s former bestie and later, Kate’s confidant. The two share a kiss in the finale, a major moment of character development for Kate, who previously put a lot of care into her “perfect southern belle” image. 


‘Cruel Summer’ Season 2 Cast: Kevin Smith Hopes to Play Mallory’s Dad

Moreover, Mallory and Kate’s kiss comes after Kate learns Mallory saw her in Martin’s house and didn’t say anything. Will their relationship continue to blossom in Cruel Summer Season 2?

Stay tuned to Showbiz Cheat Sheet for details about the second season. Watch the first season of Cruel Summer on Freeform.