By now, it can be understood that the makers of Cruel Summer are not going to reveal what really happened to Luke until the final episode. Given the show is still delivering very engaging, pulpy hours of Television for weeks after weeks without giving away the meat, it is acceptable. This week’s episode is no exception, either. However, this one does give you more than usual. I think we can now start forming theories with what we have. But before that, let us look into this week’s Cruel Summer.
The Last Birthday
It is Luke’s birthday, and given that we already know his fate, the poor guy has no idea that it’s going to be his final one. Having that information with us obviously makes us look at things a bit differently than the characters, which is clearly the show’s intention.
Isabella has broken up with Luke, which is not surprising after how things ended last week. She assures Megan that it is absolutely not an issue, as Luke was only supposed to be a summer fling for her, whereas Megan and Luke are clearly soulmates. Now that Isabella has taken herself out of the equation, Megan considers taking a swing at it by confessing her feelings for Luke. But the pressing matter at hand is the birthday party. With Luke recently dumped, Megan wants to make it extra special. In her preparation, she finds an unexpected ally in Brent.
The party kicks off, and it is an instant success. Luke seems to take the breakup quite well, and he even has no problem with Isabella being around. However, one person does have a huge problem, and it is none other than Jeff. Yes, he and Megan are still officially dating, which puts Megan in a very awkward position. That doesn’t stop her from literally being inseparable from Luke at the party, which clearly makes Jeff jealous. Megan tries to justify this with the “best friend” card, but Jeff is clearly not okay with it, so he breaks up with Megan. We can assume that things got sour between Megan and Jeff at this point. However, Jeff breaks up at a point where Megan is still trying to make sense of their relationship. That is a choice based on the situation which he made himself. It can be said that Megan would have broken up with him eventually, but it still doesn’t justify his impending sore loser transformation, which we get to see in the winter timeline.
Thanks to Luke getting terribly wasted, Megan and Luke don’t happen instantly. Although, at this point, we all know it is just a matter of time. While the kids still figure things out, their parents seem to hit it off quite nicely, as we see a cheery Debbie coming back home with an equally cheery Steve. The two clearly seem to have a great time together, which in a way, puts Megan in another awkward position.
Why Did Luke Lie?
We get our fill of unique Chatham traditions in the winter timeline this time. This one is called plunge, and it is simply taking a dip in the icy cold water. Megan appears to be really excited about it, especially with this being Isabella’s first plunge. But she takes a rain check at the last moment due to some very important form-filling related to her future. We know that’s clearly a lie as we see Megan communicating with CBABBAGE5 on her new computer about a job offer at his place.
With the recent tape scandal and his girlfriend pulling herself away, Luke is quite down. His only source of positivity is probably the time he spends with Mayers at the police station. We all know Mayers really liked Luke, especially because the mystery is personal to him. Anyway, on the penultimate day of the year 1999, Luke and Isabella take the plunge. Initially down and drained, Luke shares how he is not doing well and how Megan is slipping away from him to Isabella. He does find a sympathetic ear as Isabella tries to comfort him. Unfortunately, though, things take an uncomfortable turn when Luke suddenly tries to kiss Isabella, and she pulls herself away, clearly stating that she doesn’t entertain the idea.
Meanwhile, at Ned’s, Megan is fascinated to see all his high-end equipment. We get to know a little about Ned, who used to work for a huge company until he got fired and made it on his own. Given that he also comes from a humble background, Megan sees him as an inspiration. Ned also has contempt for the Chambers, especially Steve. And he does not try to hide his dislike for Luke either when Megan talks about how her boyfriend doesn’t really get what she wants to do. We already know for a fact that Megan Landry will eventually walk a darker path in the digital world. Now we know how and where that starts. But does that mean Ned has anything to do with Luke’s death? Well, I have a feeling he does.
Back at home, Megan finds Luke waiting for her. She seems genuinely happy to see him, and Luke tells her that he wants to start fresh, keeping aside their growing distance and all the trouble that happened in the recent past. Megan welcomes the idea, but when Luke asks her about the day, she basically shuts him up by using the age-old trick of getting intimate. That works out for her, as Luke seems to forget all about it. What he does remember is what happened during the day. And it is clearly bothering him, so he decides to tell Megan. But when he tells her, he twists it by saying it was Isabella who tried to kiss him. Now, Luke has not given us any reason yet to believe he is a bad human being. In fact, it is just the opposite. Until now, when he is lying about something that would potentially affect a lot of things in the future, a future that he wouldn’t be there to see, Maybe he is saying it just because he is scared to lose Megan and wants to let it out before Isabella says anything. That doesn’t put him in a good spot, either. Only time will tell.
Did Megan Kill Luke?
My guess is still no. And the reason behind that is that when we, as audience members, see Megan as a character in scenes where there is nobody else, she does appear to be someone who is in a state of grieving. These characters are still just about seventeen or eighteen, and their ways of dealing with things do reflect their age. The writers of the show have done a great job here by making Megan, Luke, and Isabella as believable as possible.
In the summer 2000 timeline, which Abed Nadir would term “The Darkest Timeline”, things are getting more and more direct. This is the timeline where the climax and every shocking reveal would eventually unfold, and this episode is a clear indication of that.
With the rumors about Megan and Isabella running around, Steve pays a visit to the Landrys, but Debbie doesn’t let him talk to Megan. Dejected and frustrated, Steve goes to Mayers and asks him to arrest Isabella, but Mayers refuses to be Steve’s yes-man anymore. He clearly states that he is going to do things by the book and wouldn’t arrest anyone unless any hard evidence appeared. This is actually a good decision—a very wise one, in fact. Mayers’ character is, so far, the most interesting adult character of the show, and his actions in this episode further prove that.
With Cruel Summer’s one-day storytelling format, this episode inevitably focuses on the characters dealing with the fact that the birthday boy, Luke, is not with them anymore. Megan visits Luke’s grave, and in a carefully placed scene mirroring what happened on this particular day one year ago, she gets a visit from Brent, and the two of them actually seem to comfort each other by talking about Luke. Brent also tags along with his father at the police station when Steve goes to talk to Mayers. This only indicates that his little brother’s death has taken a toll on him and affected him on a deeper level.
The highlight of this timeline (and this episode) has to be the truth about Lisa, aka Isabella’s former best friend. Megan not only gets to know about it from what Trevor sent her, but with her hacking skills, she also manages to acquire the police report, which says that Isabella coaxed a drunk Lisa into the water. When Megan confronts Isabella about it, she denies that she forced Lisa into the water. Instead, Isabella claims that Lisa jumped on her while she was drunk. Parker overhears them and goes to Mayers.
It turns out that the thing Isabella kept under her bed was not the letter but the blood-soaked bed sheet from episode 4. With Megan continuing to keep whatever happened all to herself, Debbie suspects something is definitely up. Her suspicion increases when she sees Megan with a new laptop, but when she asks whose laptop it is, Megan simply ignores her. Debbie eventually finds out about the bedsheet and drops the big question to her daughter, although indirectly. She also lets Megan know that she will protect her no matter what. The way the conversation is going, we can expect to find out at least one major piece of the puzzle. Until then…