So that was an apt show title.
Just ahead of the first official day of the season, Cruel Summer came to a dramatic conclusion on Tuesday, June 15, finally answering all of viewers' burning questions and revealing who was telling the truth. And, like everything on the Freeform hit series, it was complicated. Fortunately for fans, the '90s-set drama was renewed for a second season. But, you know, we now have a torturously long wait to see what's ahead for Kate (Olivia Holt) and Jeanette (Chiara Aurelia) after that shocking final scene. Spoiler warning. We're about to spill all the details of Cruel Summer's finale!
So, it turns out both girls were telling the truth...sort of. After following her therapist's advice, Kate returns to the house Martin (Blake Lee) lived in for the first time to finally remember what happened the night she was rescued and she also invites Jeanette along for their long-awaited confrontation.
During their intense conversation, it's revealed that it wasn't Jeanette that saw Kate on Christmas Eve, it was actually Mallory (Harley Quinn Smith), Kate's BFF, who had followed Jeanette to Martin's house that night. And as for Annabelle? Well, that was the name of Martin's family gun, which he brought down to the basement with the intention of shooting himself in front of Kate. But when he was unable to do it, Kate grabbed the gun and shot Martin.
Oh wait, there's even more.
Kate goes in front of the media and explains that she was mistaken and Jeanette finally gets her time in the spotlight, being interviewed on a talk show—"To the girl who named me...Kate Wallace, I forgive you"—and instantly going from the most hated girl in America to the most beloved. Then, we get one final doozy of a reveal.
In a flashback to 1994, we see Jeanette returned to Martin's house again, this time when Kate was actually being held captive in the basement. And when she hears Kate pleading for help, she does...absolutely nothing. Cruel, indeed.
After our jaws finally came off the floor and our heart rate somewhat slowed down, E! News was able to get on the phone with Cruel Summer's showrunner Tia Napolitano to break down all of the finale's shockers and try to get some intel on what's ahead.
E! News: OK, wow, that finale! We got so many answers and finally learned the truth, but a season two is coming. So was the intention always to do multiple seasons or was the show initially conceived as a limited series?
Tia Napolitano: This was always designed not as a limited series run, but as complete mystery. We wanted to fully expose the truth and give the audience all the answers to all the questions, so that was the intent behind season one.
E!: So, did you know what the "truth" was from the beginning or did it evolve and change during production?
TN: The truth took different shapes. We knew that there were two sides of the story of what happened to Kate and Jeanette in the house. What started as, you know, a little bit of misunderstanding, we just wanted to make it twistier and twistier. And the most unexpected final twist of the show we figured out a couple of episodes into shooting.
E!: Obviously, viewers took sides throughout the show, believing Kate or Jeanette. Did the writers constantly talk about walking that line between the two girls?
TN: For sure. People have very strong feelings one way or the other. People identify with Jeanette or with Kate and the funny thing is it tells you a lot about that person. I love Kate and Jeanette, so I don't think there's a bad choice in the mix, but it's definitely polarizing.
E!: Let's talk about their confrontation in the house, a moment we've been waiting for all season. How did you decide they were going to meet in that way?
TN: The goal was always to keep Jeanette and Kate apart from each other for the most part through the whole season so that the final scene is between the two of them, where they're talking and there's no media, there are no rumors and no friends, no family to keep that interaction impactful as possible.
E!: We have to talk about that final scene, where it's revealed that Jeanette really did know Kate was being held captive and did nothing. What is her thought process there?
TN: I think deep down Jeanette never felt like she was enough. Jeanette, even when she is dorky and adorable, was uncomfortable in her own skin at times. I think part of that is having this mom who is always encouraging her to be someone different, someone she's not. I think from Cindy's perspective, she thinks it will make her daughter happier. She's preaching happiness, but the messaging that's getting to her daughter is you're not enough. I think that's a deep motivator for her to try to beg, borrow, steal to get popularity, which is what she thinks is happiness. All of that is misguided and twisted, but I think that's some of the psychology going on in her head.
E!: And was the reveal that it was actually Mallory who saw Kate scripted from the beginning?
TN: The Mallory reveal was not always built in. Shortly before we rolled camera on episode two, we came up with that twist and ran it by Harley and she loved it.
E!: It was surprising that Kate immediately forgave Mallory and it actually fortified their bond, something you wouldn't initially expect.
TN: It's easier to be mad at someone who you were never friends with, to punish that person is very easy. I think once someone close to you has really hurt you, the way you react will be different. I think Kate has grown.
E!: With any mystery show, there is so much pressure to nail the reveals. Which of Cruel Summer's mysteries did you feel was the most challenging?
TN: I talk about season one as this sort of untieable knot that we set ourselves up with these two girls with two truths that can not coexist. We have to untie the knot as we went along. The Mallory, the Jeanette-Kate [meeting], the final moment, they are all pieces to this larger puzzle that we knew had to be satisfying when it's all laid out.
E!: If you viewed season one that way, how are you looking at season two?
TN: I don't know what season two is at the moment, but I have challenged myself and the writers that work here and everyone to approach it in the same way. Let's find an untieable knot, let's find something that seems impossible and then find the most interesting way that those two things can be possible at the same time.
E!: Is there a certain character or storyline you are itching to explore even more?
TN: Oh god, all of them! I don't know. It's all up in the air. I am so passionate about all of the characters and actors.
E!: Will it also have dueling perspectives?
TN: It's early days, my friend!
E!: Hey, we're just happy we're getting more episodes! Back to the finale, you revealed who Annabelle was and that it was Kate that killed Martin. How did you come to that decision?
TN: That was always the intention. That was something that didn't really change. We always wanted to give Kate the power and have Kate save herself.
E!: The media's perspective on teacher-student relationships has really evolved in the last decade and Cruel Summer clearly showed this was a grooming situation and didn't romanticize the Martin and Kate connection in any way. How did you make sure you weren't glamorizing the situation?
TN: That was very important to us from the beginning that these two are not meant for each other. This is not romantic, this is not love. This is grooming and inappropriate. It's all Martin's fault, it is zero [percent] Kate's fault. We had a writer on the show and her other job is that she is a therapist, so she was brought on as a writer, not a consultant, but she helped guide us. We talked to [USC]'s Hollywood Health & Society and gave them our scripts and we invited criticism and we fixed everything best we could to be the story as we intended to tell it, which was a story of grooming.
E!: Hearing Kate say "I'm the bad guy" after finally remembering what happened in the basement was really heartbreaking, but the finale ended on a hopeful note for her. Looking forward, is there anything you're hoping to explore or see with her character?
TN: I don't know what's in store for the future for Kate, but I think it's misguided that she thinks she's the bad guy because if there's anything to take away from Cruel Summer it's there are really very few pure villains or pure victims. The world is much more grey and much less black and white. I think what Kate's doing was taking accountability for her actions, which is a very mature, very therapized thing to do.
E!: Finally, there were so many fun fan theories heading into the finale. Did you have any favorites?
TN: I loved the theories that involved the parents, theories about Joy's involvement, Greg, Cindy…we really didn't go there, but I love the parents on our show so much and I love all those actors. They were so different than what we were actually doing, it was like watching a spinoff show! It was fun.
Cruel Summer is streaming on Hulu.