'Cruel Summer' Showrunner Breaks Down That Crazy Finale Twist

'Cruel Summer' Showrunner Breaks Down That Crazy Finale Twist

June 16, 2021

“That screaming-at-the-screen ending, that’s the reaction we wanted from the audience,” Tia Napolitano tells TheWrap

Reid Nakamura

Freeform/Bill Matlock

(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Tuesday’s Season 1 finale of “Cruel Summer.”)

The first season of Freeform’s “Cruel Summer” concluded on Tuesday with a truly jaw-dropping final twist that casts the entire show in a whole new light. It was Jeanette Turner all along.

“It was very important to us to tell a complete story and give the audience all the answers to the mysteries. So whatever that answer was, it had to be the most interesting answer possible,” showrunner Tia Napolitano said in an interview with TheWrap.

Kate (Olivia Holt) and Jeanette (Chiara Aurelia) make peace toward the end of the finale, after the realization that Mallory (Harley Quinn Smith) was the one who caught a glimpse of Kate while she was being held captive — not Jeanette. But the final image of Season 1 is of Jeanette doing so much worse.

“We just kept trying to beat what we had. And finally, we came up with this idea that, well, Jeanette didn’t see her, but she did hear her,” Napolitano said. Jeanette, having snuck into Martin’s house when he wasn’t around, heard Kate being held against her will in the basement and had the chance to free her. But she didn’t.

“That screaming-at-the-screen ending, that’s the reaction we wanted from the audience,” Napolitano said.

Just hours ahead of the finale, Freeform picked up a second season of the hit show, though it’s still unclear what that might look like. It remains a possibility that the second season will return to the story of Kate and Jeanette, but it may also take on a whole new story. “The sky’s the limit,” Napolitano said.

Read more of TheWrap’s interview with Napolitano below.


How did you decide on that final scene of Jeanette choosing not to help Kate as the end of the season?

It was very important to us to tell a complete story and give the audience all the answers to the mysteries. So whatever that answer was, it had to be the most interesting answer possible. So we thought about it, and we changed it a lot. We just kept trying to beat what we had. And finally, we came up with this idea that, well, Jeanette didn’t see her, but she did hear her. That screaming-at-the-screen ending, that’s the reaction we wanted from the audience.

This reveal is so much more sinister than if she had just seen her from outside the house, like we now know Mallory did. Were there versions of the ending where Jeanette was less, for lack of a better word, evil?

Yeah, we had versions of the ending where it was more of a misunderstanding, where it was sort of a near miss. Or Kate thinks one thing happened and Jeanette sees something different. But it just felt like a lot of to-do about nothing if that was the answer. This felt much more satisfying than a pure misunderstanding.

When you were working through that ending, how were you thinking about what that would mean for Jeanette as a character?

No one on our show is a pure villain or pure hero. I think Jeanette was being really honest when she said, I never felt popular or pretty or enough. It’s the saddest thing to hear from anyone, never mind little Jeanette. And Cindy always pushed her to be better, be a little bit more outgoing, fit in a little bit more. But she never showed her how, as Cindy admits. So why did she resort to this crime of opportunity? I think she’s a little weird. And I think Cindy’s a little weird. Whatever weird Cindy has rubbed of on Jeanette a little bit of it, and it has manifested in a horrible way.

Cindy really was the only one, aside from maybe Mallory, who was able to peg that there was something seriously wrong with Jeanette. What’s in store for that relationship going forward?

Yeah, I think Cindy sees it herself, whatever it is inside of me too. Like, game recognizes game and that’s how she’s able to tag it. She’s like that girl is my genes and I know that I’m a little weird. In terms of the future? We haven’t really talked about the way forward, but I think Cindy is a good mom. And they were so close, it seems natural that they would find their way back to being close again eventually. You know, Cindy showed up in that diner in 1995, and Jeanette stormed off but she takes the necklace. Her mom gave her a present and she takes it. I think that says something.


Mallory and Kate do seem to have a genuine connection, but now that we know Mallory’s full involvement, was there some part of her that was motivated by guilt in befriending Kate originally?

I think there is a magnetism to Kate Wallace that no one can resist. After Mallory sees Kate’s rescue on the news, she puts it together that the blonde woman she saw was actually Kate. She intends to stay as far away as possible, but when they have this organic chemistry in the therapist’s waiting room, I think Mallory can’t help herself. You know, Kate Wallace is the very best friend anyone can ask for. So, I think if you put anyone in a room with her, they’re going to be charmed. And Mallory can’t resist … There’s sort of an indescribable magic to them. And I don’t know what that chemistry is, but Kate and Mallory for sure have it. And I think as actors, Harley and Olivia have it. I don’t think we can invent or design it, or really even describe it — it’s magic, and it’s there.

That scene between Jeanette and Kate in Martin’s house is kind of the culmination of the whole season. How did you approach that confrontation?

The idea was always to keep these two girls apart for the most part, so that the impact of them would be very powerful for the audience and sort of makes you hold your breath. They’ve only had a handful of scenes together, so when you’re watching it as a viewer, you realize that this elusive truth that I’ve been after this whole season, I’m about to get it. Like, just the idea that these two are speaking is so exciting. They’re speaking, in private, and they’re speaking a lot. It’s a chance to give these two girls the microphone and hear it from them directly.

That scene plays differently now that we know what we know about Jeanette, as I’m sure the rest of the season does as well, but were there hints along the way that we missed?

I think if you go back and watch the entire season, you will get glimpses of guilt from Mallory. I think the moves that she makes are very interesting. But Jeanette is very good at compartmentalizing those feelings of guilt and shame. I don’t think you’ll see a residue of it.

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