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The Ending Of Cruel Summer Explained

Freeform has had great success with the popularity of female-driven projects like "Pretty Little Liars" and "Motherland: Fort Salem." But none have made more of an impact than Season 1 of "Cruel Summer." The premiere of the series made a huge splash, drawing in a record number of viewers. From there, the 10-episode season continued to impress with its intimate look at trauma, wrapped up in a thrilling mystery.

Taking place in the summers of 1993, 1994, and 1995, "Cruel Summer" examines one pivotal event from the perspective of two teenage girls. Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia) and Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt) could not be more different. Kate is the most popular girl in school and seemingly has the perfect life. Jeanette wants nothing more than just a taste of popularity and seems as though she may get it after Kate mysteriously disappears. Jeanette finds it easy to slip into her life, even starting to date Kate's boyfriend Jamie (Froy Gutierrez). But when Kate escapes a year of captivity, she accuses Jeanette of knowing where she was the entire time.

The season is full of bombshells, including the reveal that Kate came to stay with Martin Harris (Blake Lee) willingly before he held her captive. However, the most shocking twist was not revealed until the final moments of the season finale when finally all the truths came to light.

The trial of the decade comes to an end

The season-long mystery of who saw Kate in Martin's window finally comes to an end in the last episode. Of course, as with many things in "Cruel Summer," it isn't cut-and-dry. Kate may have gone to Martin's house willingly at first, but he was an adult that had always been a predator. Martin groomed Kate to make her feel like he was the only one who understood her. And when the opportunity presented itself, he made sure Kate could never leave. Though Kate's narrative is somewhat complicated by this detail, she never deserved to be held against her will. Kate desired freedom and when she saw someone riding their bike outside of Martin's house one night, she was sure Jeanette had seen her.

After Kate accuses her publicly, Jeanette goes on to maintain her innocence and even sue Kate for defamation of character. But in the final episode, Kate and Jeanette come to a startling revelation. Though the circumstantial evidence surrounding Jeanette seems to indicate she wanted Kate's life, someone else saw Kate that night. This difficult battle between the two girls comes to a conclusion when Jeanette proves she had not been there. After they make amends, Kate corrects her previous statement and the case is dropped. So after all this time, who had Kate seen on Jeanette's bike?

Mallory knew more than she was letting on

The only solace Kate has in life after imprisonment is her friendship with Mallory (Harley Quinn Smith). Grappling with experiences that her former friends could never understand, Kate goes to therapy and connects with Mallory. The two find they have some things in common and strike up an unlikely friendship, though they are from different worlds. Mallory becomes Kate's biggest supporter and her only true friend when everyone else abandons her. This is what makes it so heartbreaking when Kate finds out it was Mallory who saw Kate in Martin's house. 

The shocking twist is devastating for both parties, who have come to know and trust each other. Mallory explains that when she saw Kate in the window, she couldn't tell who it was. She thought it may have been a relative of Martin's and only realized after Kate escaped what she had seen. Although this is a large obstacle for the friends to overcome, Kate ultimately forgives her. Mallory and Kate have shared some of their darkest experiences and have found true love.

In the end, the two admit their feelings for each other and they can close the dark chapter of Kate's life together. With Mallory by her side, Kate can finally move on from the emotional gauntlet she has been through.

The truth behind Kate's escape is revealed

For the most part, the circumstances of Kate's liberation from Martin's house is kept vague. As Jeanette indicates in the final episode, most people assume that the police found Kate after a shootout occurred at Martin's house. However, there is more to this story than even Kate knows herself. Since coming home, her memory has been incomplete because of the trauma she endured. But when she goes back to the place of her captivity, it all comes rushing back.

Kate and Jeanette both go into the basement where Martin had kept Kate and she suddenly remembers how she escaped. Martin had become desperate after the police started to close in on him. Initially his intention was to kill himself and let Kate go free. But when he changes his mind and refuses to let her go, Kate is forced to shoot him in self-defense. This moment was traumatic for Kate because part of her loved Martin while the other part hated him. The only way to protect herself was to shove the memory in the back of her mind where it couldn't hurt her. But at the end of the day, it was her only option. Martin had terrorized her, and in order for her to survive, she had to make the ultimate choice.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

It isn't over until it's over

When Mallory calls Jeanette a "weirdo," she doesn't know how right she is. For most of the season, Jeanette has been exhibiting strange behavior. She dumps Mallory and Vince (Allius Barnes) for a cooler group of friends, co-opts Kate's boyfriend, and has the odd habit of breaking into people's houses. But all of these things don't even come close to what she is capable of. In the final episode, Jeanette has succeeded in convincing everyone — including Kate — that she never knew anything about Kate's whereabouts. But after Jeanette gets her life back, it is revealed that she was never fully innocent.

Sometime during the summer of 1994 when she had become popular, Jeanette breaks into Martin's house again when he isn't home. While she's there, she hears Kate's calls for help through the locked basement door. Although she first makes a move to free Kate, she thinks better of it. The final scene shows Jeanette drop her hand from the door and smile. Though she had not been the one who Kate saw outside of Martin's house, that doesn't absolve her. Jeanette knew that Kate was trapped there and did nothing to help her, capitalizing on her new perfect life.

A true monster, Jeanette gets away with one of the most heinous acts of the series with the world back on her side. This is the final twist that makes Jeanette the true villain of "Cruel Summer."