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'Cruel Summer' Recap: Don't Blame the Victim

By Dustin Rowles | TV | May 26, 2021 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | May 26, 2021 |


In this week’s Cruel Summer, we learn something new that will change the dynamics of Jeanette Turner’s defamation case against Kate Wallis, but only if Jeanette chooses to become the show’s villain, because to use the information she has against Kate will be tantamount to victim-blaming.

The opening episode of the series took place on Jeanette’s birthday. The 7th episode, meanwhile, opens on Kate Wallis’ birthday on August 29th. In 1993, Kate is still trying to play the part of her mother’s daughter, but disaffection is setting in. Kate is still feeling emotionally tormented after seeing her mother making out with another man, and her boyfriend Jamie’s decision to give her a promise ring on her birthday doesn’t exactly sit well with her. He’s already talking about a big house and a big family, and Kate is afraid of becoming her mother. The day goes further downhill when Jamie gets drunk at the mall, spills his sh*tty liquor on Kate’s dress, and Kate has to walk a stumbling Jamie back home.

Jamie, however, stops to take a leak in Martin Harris’ bushes, and so Harris ends up driving them home. That’s where Kate confesses to Martin that she’s been keeping her mother’s affair a secret, and Harris encourages her to unload it. When Kate gets home, she and Joy get into a fight because Kate is late for her own birthday party. In the midst of the argument, Kate reveals that she knows about Joy’s affair in front of her dad, Rod. When Joy denies the affair and smears her daughter’s own rep, Rod maintains his silence, taking Joy’s side. An angry and upset Kate packs a bag and leaves, and where does she seek comfort but the home of Martin Harris. Harris held her captive but did not physically kidnap her — it was pure, psychological manipulation.

On that same day in 1994, Kate is done with birthdays, done with her mom, and done with eating, at least until her new best friend, Mallory, introduces her to nature’s appetite enhancer (in last week’s episode, Mallory mentioned Clerks, and this week, she’s all about the weed, which is to say Harley Quinn Smith is her father’s daughter). In addition to bonding with Mallory in 1994 — the beginning of their BFF-ship — Kate also makes inroads with her dad, who promises not to blindly take Joy’s side anymore. Rod even convinces her to do the Marsha Bailey Show, which is apparently where Kate will eventually say the things that lead to Jeanette’s defamation case.

In 1995, Kate finally has a great birthday, thanks to Mallory, who uses her hook-up as the assistant manager of a skating rink to allow the two of them a private party. Kate also discovers that it was her mother who left the “liar” note for Kate when Mallory finds the first draft stuck in a dot-matrix printer. Joy’s intentions were good. She wanted to create a villain for Kate, believing it would prompt a more aggressive response to Jeanette’s lawsuit. Kate understands that, and in 1995, despite everything else, Kate and Joy seem to be on the road to reconciliation.

The turning point in ‘95, however, comes after Jeanette’s brother, Derek, sleeps with Kate’s sister, Ashley, and discovers that Ashley has been anonymously chatting with Kate online. While Ashley is showering, Derek prints off the transcript (again, on a dot matrix printer!) and gives it to Jeanette. It reveals to Jeanette that Kate “voluntarily” went into Martin Harris’ home. “This changes everything,” Jeanette says.

That’s true, but only if Jeanette is willing to use it. Will she stoop that low?

Next week’s episode seems to suggest as much. There are three episodes left this season, and the promo suggests the possibility of another bombshell: How much did Joy know about Martin Harris?

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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