Two years have passed since Cruel Summer lit up the internet, but at long last, the chatter is back.
While you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m referring to the fan-favorite song recently announced as Taylor Swift’s next single, I’m actually talking about the Freeform show whose first season set sapphic Twitter ablaze with a kiss between popular girl Kate (Olivia Holt) and alt princess Mallory (Harley Quinn Smith) in its tenth and final episode.
Cruel Summer season 1 aired all the way back in summer 2021, so allow me to refresh your memory. Mallory is BFFs with Jeanette (Chiara Aurelia) in the heady days of summer 1993, but the two aren’t speaking by the time summer 1994 rolls around. This results in Mallory striking up an unlikely acquaintanceship with Kate in the waiting room of their therapist’s office. In summer 1995, Mallory and Kate realize that the person Kate saw through the window while being held captive by Assistant Principal Harris (Blake Lee) was actually Mallory, not Jeanette… and while this revelation could have broken their bond, it ends up drawing them closer. (And did I mention that 1993 Jeanette had a definite crush on Kate before going on to steal her boyfriend in 1994?)
Now let’s fast-forward to Cruel Summer season 2, which began airing on Freeform earlier this month. Although season 2 features an entirely new cast and setting, the premise of the show remains the same. This time around, we follow the dual teenage protagonists as they navigate the twists and turns of summer 1999, winter 1999, and summer 2000. In season 1, Kate and Jeanette share little screen time despite their lives being so deeply intertwined, whereas season 2’s Megan (Sadie Stanley) and Isabella (Lexi Underwood) live in the same house, share the same group of friends, and—like Kate and Jeanette—get romantically involved with the same boy.
In the Cruel Summer season 2 double-episode premiere, Isabella and Megan talk about being each other’s ride-or-dies before literally taking the plunge off an oceanside cliff together. Isabella tells Megan “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my girl” as the two hold hands by a fire, then tears up when she overhears Megan telling Luke (Griffin Gluck) that he’s her ride or die. Beyond these searingly sapphic moments, there’s nothing in the first few episodes of season 2 to suggest that either girl is anything other than straight. So, why is the dynamic between them so… well, queer?
Simply put, friendships between teen girls are often messy and dramatic, which can cause lines to blur and emotions to flare. This is a common theme in the works of author Megan Abbott, who’s known for her crackling depictions of the connection between female teens in books like Dare Me. While there’s no explicit romance between Dare Me‘s Addy and Beth, there’s enough possessiveness, betrayal, blind loyalty, and dangerously unsustainable nevers and forevers that you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
Cruel Summer is a show built on ambiguity, with a curveball introduced for each answer uncovered as the triad of timelines unfurls. Certainly, finding out who killed Luke and why seems more pressing than determining the exact nature of the heretofore enigmatic relationship between Megan and Isabella, but the persistent intensity of the duo’s dynamic makes it hard to let go of that question for long. Whether season 2’s more-than-friends vibe fizzles out like 1993 Jeanette’s crush on Kate or ignites like Kate and Mallory’s 1995 kiss, I’m excited to see what’s next for Megan and Isabella as Cruel Summer season 2 continues.
Cruel Summer season 2 airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Freeform.
For more about Cruel Summer season 2, check out our exclusive interview with Griffin Gluck.