*Major spoilers for episode 9 of Cruel Summer below!*
Editors note: This conversation discusses the process of grooming and kidnapping in Cruel Summer. If you or anyone you know needs help, please call the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) at 1-800-656-4673 or live chat on their website.
Episode nine of Cruel Summer's hit first season was completely different from any of the others. There was no Jeannette, and there really wasn't any switching between the three years that the show takes place. The episode focused on Kate Wallis and Martin Harris' relationship in the missing year that fans have yet to see. It was scary, chilling, and eye-opening.
As a teacher, Martin uses his influence and power to try to get student Kate to stay in his house "willingly." It also revealed a big secret: Kate wasn't locked in the basement at the beginning. Or at least, not in the way the viewers and the show's characters were lead to believe this entire time.
Seventeen talked with actors Olivia Holt and Blake Lee about bringing this episode to life, the scariest part of this missing time, and whether or not we can still trust Kate as she tells her story.
17: I watched this episode four times because I couldn't believe what I was watching. How was it for you as actors reading what this episode was going to be about?
Blake Lee: There were definitely things throughout the season that we heard rumors of so we would know where our characters were mentally throughout the season shooting. But to get the actual script was overwhelming and a bit mind-blowing. At this point, you only see Martin in and out in the community. And then you see Olivia as Kate doing her stuff. So to see this grooming relationship and how it was behind closed doors, I think it's shocking and scary. I hope we did it justice and we're respectful of the whole situation. It was quite intense to read that script. I sat down and just devoured it. Then immediately picked up the phone and called Olivia and we were both just like, "Holy sh*t." It's big and a lot to unpack.
Olivia Holt: We knew that this episode was coming for a while and we were so anxious to get it. We had so many conversations with producers Tia Napolitano and Michelle Purple, our entire creative team basically, every week about what this episode was going to be. When we finally got the script, it was like the way that you watched it three or four times. We read the script like three or four times. There's just a lot of questions that people have that this episode answers and it's really big. I'm very happy with the way it was executed. And we had a great time filming it because it was just so fulfilling.
BL: Like that scene when Martin's walking up the stairs really slowly and creepily. You think it's this scary moment and then the audience realizes as he opens the door and he's like "Found you!" You realize he got her to where he wanted her. I had full-body chills because it was it was so scary. It's terrifying. This man was able to manipulate and groom this young girl and I think that the writers did such a fantastic job at keeping that throughout the season. It's even more terrifying than we kind of than you expected.
17: At the beginning, Martin notes that he thought she would be gone after just the first night, but Kate decides to stay instead. Do you think she actually had a chance at getting away from him or was it too late even then?
OH: I think I think it was too late. I think it was too late. I think even if the conversation that happened on Christmas dinner happened a couple of months prior, I think one would have reacted the same way.
BL: I definitely think so. I think that that's the whole thing with grooming. Martin does such a good job at setting the groundwork where she trusts him so much. In that moment, when he's like, "now you have to stay here." I don't think Kate feels scared. I think she's scared of the whole situation, "my parents are gonna be really mad." But it's not that this man is gonna manipulate me and take advantage. And I think that's what is so villainous and such makes him such a monster. He made this young girl believe that he's safe.
17: Do you think this was his plan originally? Or do you think he would have kidnapped her later on?
BL: We hint that something happened in the past school. It was nothing as intense as what happens between Martin and Kate, but I do think that Martin is aware that he has a sickness. Any adult would know that. It's like you don't speak to a younger child like this, you know? I think that he did know that he was grooming her. He's very aware of it. I think he probably hates himself for it.
But, I don't think he would have kidnapped her and thrown her in a van. But he was grooming her in a way where he was hopeful that something like this would unfold. It happens so quickly that he's like, "Okay, this is my chance." And even up to the moment when he locks her in the basement, I don't think that that's necessarily his intention. Because I think that he believes everything he's doing is from out of love, which is extremely dark.
17: In our last interview with Olivia, we talked about how Kate just wants to be believed. We see that she's relaying what had happened to her therapist. Do you think what we're seeing is the truth of what happened? Or do you think there might be some things missing?
OH: Both. I do think that in the beginning, she is definitely holding back. She doesn't want to be there and her parents made her go. The last place that she wants to be in is talking about the worst time of her life. There's a couple of things that she feels a little bit timid to talk about in full detail, but I also think that things are a little blurry. I think that she blocked a lot of stuff out because it was so traumatizing and because she also experienced a lot of nothing. She was down in a basement with no one to talk to and nothing to do. She had this man that she fell in love with treating her like she is a prisoner now. These are the elements that make this story so heavy and so intense. If I try and put myself in her shoes, I would probably block a lot of that out too. I think a lot of the conversations that she's having with her therapist, everything is a little bit fuzzy, for sure.
17: The line that particularly stood out to be every single watch was Kate saying, "I was raised to be afraid about disappointing anybody." How do you think everyone else in the town and this realization set her up to be in this situation?
OH: We're already seeing the way that Kate in '93 is being treated by her mother. There's this sort of standard that her mother has for her. And she is her best friend, so she's gonna listen to her. She's also gonna grow up and be exactly like her mom because that's how she was raised. Her dad is this former football player that the whole town knows and they come from a wealthy family. They just seem like they have it all together. Kate knows that she has to keep that facade that they have it all together. I think that's why she makes that statement. Because she can't disappoint her parents. Kate is their prized possession, you know? It just trickled down. If she can't disappoint her parents, then God forbid she disappoints anybody else.
BL: The stakes are so high for Kate. Joy has made the stakes so high and I feel like Kate has so much pressure on her shoulders.
OH: Exactly. And it's just so twisted how she carries that weight for so long on her shoulders. Then, the second that she gets rescued and trying to deal with all of this trauma to move forward, everybody else is disappointing her. The whole town, her parents, her friends, her ex-boyfriend, her parents' friends — no one is actually taking responsibility for what happened. And it's just twisted. It's totally twisted.
If you or anyone you know needs help, please call the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) at 1-800-656-4673 or live chat on their website.
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