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Cruel Summer Season 2 Episode 1 set up a love triangle between best friends Meghan, Luke, and a newcomer Isabella, and the second episode only complicates it further. The sex tape that went public is revealed to be between boyfriend and girlfriend Meghan and Luke, and not Isabella as everyone in the town thinks. At first it was confusing given Meghan’s reaction to both of the other parties at the end of the premiere, but the only explanation is that Meghan was upset about the tape being leaked at all. Isabella promises to keep this a secret and take the fall for Meghan so that she doesn’t get her scholarship revoked, even if it means she’s the town harlot and the object of everyone’s scrutiny.
Much of “Ride or Die” investigates who could have made the tape and there are two names in play: Brent, Luke’s sleazy brother who has a history of taping his girlfriends, and Jeff, who is the friend group’s aspiring filmmaker. It’s not long before everyone zeros in on Brent, tipped off by a former girlfriend who accused him of trying it with her, and Isabella breaks into their house to destroy their other VHS tapes. She clearly doesn’t have a fear of consequences (she literally throws a planter through their glass door) and those are the types of people you don’t want to cross.
But in this instance, she seems to be right: Brent fesses up to it when their father interrogates them both, but Luke later seems confident that Brent doesn’t know that it’s Meghan, despite being the one to record it. I’m not entirely convinced that Brent is telling the whole truth and wouldn’t be surprised if he outs Meghan at some point in the future.
Isabella takes the fall for Meghan, but she definitely harbors some feelings for Luke. In July 1999, she makes a move on him at a pool party while Meghan watches with jealousy. Isabella also discovers a bag of pills in Meghan’s bag, which makes another appearance in 2000 when Luke’s body is autopsied. There’s a lot to discover between then and December when Meghan and Luke get together, but it’s shaping up to be a story of obsession between the two women. In the previous episode, Meghan asks Isabella to do something with her and she calls her a “ride or die” before the leap off of a cliff and into the water; in this one, Isabella overhears Meghan repeat these titular words to Luke and seemingly goes to tell Meghan’s mom the truth about the sex tape as retaliation.
In 2000, the police have determined that Luke was murdered before being dropped into the lake, and that his body has not only bullet wounds but is also filled with sleeping pills to ensure he didn’t survive. Isabella plans to get out of town but is stopped when the police decide to interview everyone about the suspicious death, and it’s revealed that Luke was last seen at a New Year’s party seven months prior. Cruel Summer gets a little soapy here in a tit for tat exchange between Isabella and the sheriff, who has taken the liberty to look into her background and find that she’s been at three different schools in three years (something I feel like she was open about as the daughter of diplomats?). He says that trouble follows her everywhere and is accusatory when she asks for a lawyer, thinking that no 17-year-old would know to ask for that unless they’d been in trouble before, when in reality anyone who has watched modern TV would know to do that immediately.
Cruel Summer Season 2 Episode 2 begins with Isabella writing a letter to her boarding school friend Lisa and ends with her calling her mom and pleading for help. Lisa is mentioned in passing and her mom’s accent is indistinguishable but doesn’t sound as posh as I’d expect a diplomat to be, so her family history is now officially on the board as something to keep an eye on.
Radhika Menon (@menonrad) is a TV-obsessed writer based in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared on Vulture, Teen Vogue, Paste Magazine, and more. At any given moment, she can ruminate at length over Friday Night Lights, the University of Michigan, and the perfect slice of pizza. You may call her Rad.