At its heart, Cruel Summer is largely about memory. By alternating between three distinct timelines in each episode, the series not only sustains its mystery, but probes how our personal accounts of events can be skewed: By trauma, by nostalgia, or by our shifting opinions of the people around us. But after suffering extreme circumstances, our brains can even alter our memories of a traumatic event, leaving our memories of them spotty. Episode 4 of Cruel Summer (titled “You Don’t Hunt, You Don’t Eat”) interrogates the nature of Kate’s memories: Is it possible they’ve been altered by her PTSD? And if so, what does that mean for her case against Jeanette and her own attempts to move forward?
Most of the episode’s action revolves around the Wallises’ annual hunting trip, which constitutes yet another important social gathering for Skylin, Texas’ elite. The trip also offers us an introduction to a major new character: Rod’s teen daughter Ashley (Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut), who is none too thrilled about her dad’s marriage to Joy. In ‘93, she resists Kate’s attempts at any kind of sisterhood, openly expressing her resentment for how her father has been thrust into Joy’s wealthy, white life of privilege with no thought as to how it affects him as a Black man, and calls Joy a gold digger to Kate’s face when she tries to tell Ashley about Joy’s affair.
That night, an overwhelmed Kate slips out of her cabin and ends up finding solace through an unlikely confidant… Martin, who Joy has invited on the trip as a show of hospitality. He convinces her to open up about the struggles of keeping family secrets by sharing one of his own: His father died by suicide when he was a teenager, and that’s why he was so jumpy around guns during hunting time. Cruel Summer isn’t afraid of doling out very explicit foreshadowing through its multi-timeline approach — in another dark twist of irony, we already know that Martin was gunned down on the night of Kate’s escape. But Kate clearly knew him much better than she let on before her kidnapping, and the grooming implications are disturbing enough on their own.
By ‘94, Kate is irritated by Ashley’s attempts to bond with her —why now, and not after their parents were married nearly a decade ago? Kate tells her stepsister how she encountered Martin after Ashley refused to listen to her during the camping trip, and clearly thinks she’s one of the many people at blame for her eventual kidnapping. Ashley’s ‘93 monologue is the only time race has been explicitly mentioned in Cruel Summer, but hopefully the show’s exploration of Kate’s internalized entitlement and privilege will be pushed further in future episodes.
Instead of attending this year’s hunting trip, though, Kate’s parents have demanded she start therapy. After some hesitation, she admits she can’t shake the feeling that everything in her life has been tainted by the trauma of her disappearance, from the illusion of “safe spaces” to her relationships. While Jamie, her old friends, and Joy have all been pushed away after Kate’s return, she finds an unlikely ally at the therapist’s office: Mallory. They bond over the alienation of teen trauma, and of course, their shared hatred for Jeanette.
By ‘95, Kate and Mallory have become unlikely best friends. After Kate’s lawyers warn her that Jeanette’s defense aims to poke holes in her story, she brushes off the reality that losing her case could mean getting stuck penniless in a town that thinks she’s a liar —instead, she and Mallory get high in her bathtub. But their momentary respite is spoiled when Joy shows her a note someone left on their door that simply reads, “Liar.” Worried that the town will turn against Kate, Joy mandates that she go on the annual hunting trip to drum up support for the Wallis family name. Kate agrees, but on one condition: Mallory has to come, too. Joy resents Mallory for her part in turning her obedient daughter into the angry, pacifist vegetarian she’s become, and even accuses her of writing the note herself. Mallory laughs it off and goes as far as calling Kate her “favorite person,” but the rift between the Turners and Wallises is already forcing the people of Skylin to choose sides.
Back in ‘94, Kate informs her therapist of a new problem: She had a dream that Martin appeared at her bedside that was so vivid she briefly confused it for reality, which her therapist recognizes as a common symptom of trauma. “We can misremember things, we can replace a memory with a version that makes us comfortable,” she says. Kate is adamant she made eye contact with Jeanette while in captivity, but both her therapist and her ‘95 lawyers press her to provide details about her imprisonment if she wants to move forward.
So she does. While Kate was left in the dark in the early days of her captivity, everything changed after her first big escape attempt. In a flashback, she attempts to fight Martin, who throws her to the ground and crouches over her, promising that “this part will be over soon.” When Kate tells her therapist that things got “much worse” after that, it’s sickeningly easy to guess what she means.
At the ‘95 hunting trip, Kate is fed up after Mallory tells her about her confrontation with Joy — why are teenage girls the ones facing consequences for what happened to her? So she arrives at the fire pit where the adults are telling ghost stories, and begins one of her own: It’s about a girl named Annabelle who was left alone in the woods during a hunting trip, until she was joined by a man she assumed was safe, because the adults around her trusted him. “That trust led to something unspeakable,” she finishes. “And I think that puts blood all over the grownups’ hands, too.”
But just like Jeanette, Kate has more allies than she realizes. As the latest hunting trip unfolds, Ashley is back in town to meet up with her longtime crush: Jeanette’s brother Derek. It turns out they’ve both been hiding their relationship for fear of complicating the Turner-Wallis feud even further. They reflect on their struggles connecting with their mutual sisters, before Derek jokes that Ashley should try to get through to Kate with an alter ego. Seemingly out of nowhere, Ashley asks if Derek has ever heard of Cleopatra’s older sister Berenice, a cunning woman who was eventually beheaded. Yep, Ashley is Berenice4, the anonymous friend Kate’s been talking to online this entire time. That makes her the only person aware that Kate isn’t being totally truthful about things, and the only one with a connection to both the Wallis and Turner families.
The Wallis sisters’ precarious relationship could become more important to Kate’s upcoming legal battle than either of them realize, but the most worrying figure of all might be the girl from her ghost story: Annabelle. She started off as an analogue for Kate’s own experiences, but when she agrees to listen to her old therapy tapes before the trial, they trigger a shocking memory: As Kate tells her therapist in ‘94, the day she was rescued, she met a girl named Annabelle. This corresponds with Kate’s memory of her assault, so was Annabelle real, or a means of compartmentalizing her trauma? When it comes to Cruel Summer, an unreliable narrator could make or break the core mystery. Memory is a tricky line of defense.
Abby Monteil is a New York-based writer. Her work has also appeared in The Daily Beast, Insider, Elite Daily, Thrillist, and others.
The post ‘Cruel Summer’ Episode 4 Recap: Annabelle Of The Ball appeared first on Decider.