Spoilers from Cruel Summer episode 3 are ahead. Freeform's new drama Cruel Summer wants us to know that truth is subjective. The entire series hinges on two very different stories which have wrought havoc on a small town. Those narratives keep us from finding out the answer to its biggest secret for as long as possible. The third episode of Freeform's twisty teen thriller focuses on the festivities of July 4th in '93, '94, and '95. And while there are no concrete answers we do start to get more of an idea of what might have happened on that fateful day in "maybe December" that Kate Wilson (Olivia Holt) claims Jeanette (Chiara Aurelia) saw her in Martin Harris' (Blake Lee) basement.
Much like the two-episode premiere, "Off With a Bang" is just as concerned with building out the characters as it is about solving its central mystery. Whereas the first two centered on Jeanette and Kate respectively, this is an episode about the people around them. We finally see Jeanette's mother Cindy (Sarah Drew) again, after she was missing from the later timelines in the premiere. It's an interesting and not particularly flattering return, as she's revealed as a driving force behind Jeanette's transformation. Cindy's nerdy daughter wasn't enough for her, and she cajoled Jeanette to get contact lenses, leave behind her weird friends, and seek out popularity with Kate. But when the rumors begin to swirl that Jeanette knew about Kate's disappearance, either her guilt or fear of judgement seem to begin pushing Cindy away from her "perfect" daughter.
Jeanette has never been a particularly likeable protagonist — at least on the surface — and that's the entire point. Which of us would want to be judged on our teenage selves, from the selfish choices, bad clothes, and — in Jeanette's case — moral crises? But Cruel Summer isn't interested in surface judgements, and while episode 3 establishes Jeanette as a classic teenage fibber, it also humanizes her with a narrative about the way she was rejected by her so-called friends and her own family on the word of another teenage girl. Why was Kate believed but not Jeanette? The fact her family is wealthy, she's popular, and well-liked surely helped. We see Jeanette grapple with that here, even trying to mimic blonde "likeable" women on the TV so that she can potentially turn around her public perception. But in a final episode 3 moment with Vince (Allius Barnes), Jeanette appears unguarded. Her uncomfortable honesty hints at her potential innocence, although the show doesn't want you to decide just yet.
Vince is a key player here: Not only is he one of the few people who has (somewhat reluctantly) stuck by Jeanette, but he actually gets his own interior life too. We learn that Vince is queer and in '94 he was dating Ben (Nathaniel Ashton). We met Ben in episode 2, when he was deposed in Jeanette's trial and said he "blamed her for what happened to him." While we don't know what happened yet, it's likely to do with his relationship with Vince, which was definitely still a secret in '94. Vince's friendship with Jeanette leads to this most enlightening moment, which offers up a ton of questions while adding evidence to convince those on Jeanette's side that she's been telling the truth all along. And it happens, like every major event in Cruel Summer, in Martin Harris' basement.
Though it's been teased throughout, we learn here that Jeanette has been in Harris' basement multiple times since she, Vince, and Mallory (Harley Quinn Smith) first broke in. And this is revealed while both she and Vince are in the one-time torture dungeon. While it seems damning on the surface, Jeanette's is also surely not the kind of admission that someone who was trying to hide their complicity in a kidnapping would reveal. And as we end the episode, Jeanette even asks Vince if he has another question he wants to ask, which is obviously "Did you see Kate?" It seems that whatever she told him in that moment convinced him that while she had been breaking into the house, she never saw Kate. Or at least that's the implication when we see Vince choose to lie under oath to protect his friend in a subsequent scene.
While it seems unlikely that she was continuously breaking in and didn't see her peer being held captive, this final scene opens a new possibility: Kate saw Jeanette walk by the basement windows or heard her in the house, and perhaps Kate thinks Jeanette must have seen her, though Jeanette might not have caught a glimpse. And then there's the other option: That Kate is lying, rather than being mistaken, about Jeanette's proximity to her during her captivity. Whichever is the truth, one thing is certain: we should get used to Cruel Summer giving us clues one slow drop at a time.