If One Tree Hill was a murder mystery, it would have been Cruel Summer Season 2. That’s the best way I can put it. When I accidentally stumbled onto the first season of the teen drama two years ago, I got hooked on it in an unimaginable way. With its “juggling of three timelines” approach to storytelling, the show revamped the genre and steadily grew a cult following around it. Naturally, a sophomore season was bound to happen, especially if you remember the very big reveal at the very last minute of season 1. But they have taken the anthology route here by choosing to tell a very different story in its signature three-layered structure. The first two episodes are out, and while they lack the punch of the maiden season, there is still enough meat to feast on. This time around, there is an essential winter timeline as well, which is purposefully sandwiched between the two summers. I am sure you all have tons of questions and speculations regarding the new story, and in this article, I am going to try simplifying the two episodes of Cruel Summer Season 2. There will be spoilers ahead, so if you are here without watching the episodes, now is the time to leave.
Meet The New Players
Straight-A student Megan doesn’t like anyone barging into her personal space except her best friend, Luke. Her world turns upside down when her mother, Debbie, decides to take on Isabella, a foreign exchange student. Thanks to her father being a diplomat, Isabella has traveled all around the world, and for her final year of high school, she has chosen small-town America for a movie-like experience. Debbie’s letter and picturesque views of the seaside town of Chatham have also acted as catalysts.
In no time, exuberant Isabella wins over most of the young crowd in the town, except Megan. At the town’s unique celebration, “Bloom,” where the townspeople literally light up the water with bioluminescence for a couple of days, Isabella gets close to Luke. However, she asks if there is anything between Megan and Luke before actually starting to date him. While Megan continues to deny having any romantic feelings for Luke, she visibly looks upset. Isabella arranges an impromptu pool party at Luke’s place. Luke’s elder brother Brent, a pea-sized brain pervert, makes a move on Isabella and gets schooled by her instantly. Brent’s way-out-of-his-league, Radiohead-loving girlfriend, Parker, forms a friendship with Isabella. Meanwhile, Isabella discovers that Megan secretly takes pills to take the edge off. She confronts Megan and tells her that the secret is safe with her. With his growing closeness to Isabella, Luke asks Megan to cut his potential girlfriend some slack.
What Happens At The Christmas Party?
What I find fascinating about Cruel Summer is how effortlessly the show handles all the timelines without losing control of the plot once. While the narrative keeps going back and forth, I am doing the recap in a rather chronological way to simplify things and look for possible explanations and theories in the end. And for the upcoming weeks, I am going to follow the same pattern unless something calls for a change.
Five months after Isabella stepped foot in Chatham, we find out that she and Megan have become best friends. There is a change in Megan, who now seems way more confident about her appearance. She is also not a teetotaler anymore, which I figure is a clear influence of Isabella. Her dream of getting into the University of Washington next fall is also about to come true as she receives her acceptance letter. Last but not least, she and Luke are now a couple who flaunt their romance in front of everyone in town, including their parents. Speaking of parents, Luke’s father, Steve Chamber, a widower, seems to have a thing going on with Debbie. Steve is the “rich” businessman in the town who throws this annual holiday party around Christmas, where the whole town gathers.
With her newfound confidence, thanks to her best friend Isabella, Megan finally does the thing she has wanted to do for a long time with someone. Well, the thing happens to be as daring as diving right into the cold December water from a cliff. While jumping, Isabella holds Megan’s hand and utters the phrase, “Ride or die.” While Megan and Luke are getting intimate in Luke’s dad’s cabin in the woods, they get interrupted by hearing shots fired nearby. They see this strange guy, who happens to be a genius coder, who has somehow lost his way. At least that’s what Megan tells Luke.
At the Christmas party, Steve can’t hide his happiness, as everything in his life is pretty perfect at that moment, with Brent in Branson studying a business program and Luke following in his brother’s footsteps the next fall. All is well at the party until an explicit tape suddenly starts to play in front of everyone—the people in the act seem to be Luke and Isabella. While the entire town speculates about what they just saw, Megan storms out of the party, with Isabella and Luke running after her.
In Cruel Summer, a lot of things are not what they seem, and the tape is another example of that. It is soon revealed to us that the two people on the tape happen to be Luke and Megan. Given how the prudish town will most definitely shame Megan for her entire life, Isabella decides to take the fall, and she seems incredibly chill about it. It sort of makes sense, though, considering it is only a matter of time until she gets out of town and never looks back. While Luke, Megan, and Isabella come to an agreement to keep the secret between them, they look for the person behind the sex tape. The obvious suspects are Brent, who has now broken up with Parker, and Jeff, the budding filmmaker guy of the group who always hangs around with a camcorder. In search of similar tapes, Parker and Isabella vandalize the Chambers’ house. However, it is soon made clear that Brent had nothing to do with it, despite being known for his taping obsession. The dude is a creep, for sure, but also too dumb to pull off a thing like that.
Meanwhile, Luke and Megan are doing quite well despite everything that is going on. The lovers seem to be unaffected by the chaos and totally swear by their relationship. After overhearing Megan uttering the same “ride or die” phrase to Luke in their private space, Isabella decides to reveal the secret to Debbie.
Was Luke Murdered?
We are now in the summer of 2000. Things have drastically changed in the town of Chatham over the last six months. The happy, cheery Megan from December has gone full goth and is mostly silent. She now forges fake IDs in exchange for the pills and is seemingly carrying a big secret. The vivacious Isabella from last summer is keeping a low profile. A dead body is found in the “blooming” lake. Upon getting the news, Megan rushes to the cabin in the woods and violently scrubs “what seems like blood” off the floor. Before entering the cabin, one of her fake ID cards falls on the ground, which she puts back in her car after taking a quick look at it. The ID reads Pat Highsmith, and it has a photo of Isabella. The town gathers at the scene of the police pulling the body out of the water. It is soon revealed to be Luke’s, who has been missing for a while. Megan sees it from afar, with Isabella standing beside her, reminding her that they need to settle on the same unsuspecting version of their story. The strange guy from the woods also seems to be present at the scene.
Debbie consoles a broken-up, dejected Steve. After running a post-mortem on the body, the police come to the conclusion that Luke was murdered. They suspect foul play and start an investigation. Police Chief Mayers interrogates everyone close to Luke and finds out about a Y2K party where Luke and Megan appear to be fine, leaving behind all the sex-tape drama from Christmas. Mayers also gets to know that Megan and Isabella were fighting during the party, and the latter left early. He fails to reach anywhere upon grilling Isabella, though, who seems defiant enough to hold on to her ground. In fact, it was actually refreshing to see that she is addressing the fact that instead of judging her character, the police should help her regarding her harassment, all thanks to the tape, given she is still a minor. However, Mayers is still fixated on Isabella being involved in the whole thing. Back at Debbie’s, Isabella looks scared and anxious. She throws a bunch of green pills in the toilet and flushes them down away. Then she calls her mother, Vivian, and tells her that she is in trouble.
Let us look at what we don’t know as of now and make some speculations. We are not sure how Megan and Isabella became the kind of friends that Isabella would go through being shamed by an entire town to protect Megan. And then how did that friendship get dissolved over the next six months? Of course, the big mystery here is what really happened to Luke. The police are saying he was murdered based on the traces of muscle relaxant drugs they found in Luke’s body, which clearly indicates someone made sure that he drowned and didn’t survive. Luke is shown to be a great swimmer, so getting drowned without any external influence is out of the question.
As of now, what we know is that he was last seen at the Y2K party, but we have no idea what happened after that. We can be sure of the fact that our two main leads, Megan and Isabella, are hiding a lot of things. There seems to be a rivalry going on between the two of them as well. Also, despite being supportive of Megan back in December, Isabella still seems to harbor feelings for Luke. While Mayers is interrogating Isabella, he talks about how she couldn’t wait to leave Chatham, and then Luke first went missing but then eventually stayed, which is something he finds fishy. Isabella does explain it was for Debbie, who was having a health issue back then, but, come on, that can’t be it. I am also more than certain that the strange coder from the woods knows something and will either become an important piece of the puzzle or help solve it. We also don’t know much about the Jeff character, who is, for no particular reason, off-putting, and the Parkar character, who seems to be more than just Brent’s ex. One final thought: while Parkar and Isabella were going to the police station for their interrogations, somebody made a casual comment to Isabella regarding how she murdered Luke to get Megan all to herself. That lands us on to another raging question, with which I am going to call it quits for now: was it just friendship between Isabella and Megan?