Spoilers are ahead. Stories shape the world around us. And in a little meta-experiment Freeform's Cruel Summer is crafting a story about stories. The stories we tell ourselves to feel better, the kind that adults ignore for peace of mind, and potentially the sort that can do innumerable harm to others when we tell them. The series is really about two competing stories. One is what Kate (Olivia Holt) says about Jeanette (Chiara Aurelia), and the other is how Jeanette tells her version of events, that she didn't see Kate in Martin Harris' (Blake Lee) basement. There are also plenty of other competing versions of the truth to grapple with in the series, all tied into the tragic mystery at the center of it. But this week we get a brand new story and it's one that sparks a lot of questions, like, for starters, who is Annabelle?
We first hear of Annabelle in the fallout of '95. The Wallis fam takes the people that they believe are their allies on their annual hunting trip and encourages them to side with Kate in the upcoming lawsuit, in which Jeanette claims she has been slandered. Earlier this episode we learn that there's no physical evidence to tie Jeanette to Kate's story, so that's why Kate and her mother decided to take it to the court of public opinion. That decision has reshaped everyone's lives: Kate is now best friends with Jeanette's former BFF Mallory (Harley Quinn Smith) and Jeanette is isolated and hated by the country for a crime that there's no proof she actually committed. But Kate's new story isn't about her or Jeanette, at least not in name. As the Wallises and their guests sit around the campfire, Kate reveals she has a scary story to tell the grown-ups about a young girl named Annabelle.
On the surface, Annabelle's story sounds like an analog for Kate's own. She describes a tragic situation much like the one we saw unfold at the '93 hunting trip. A young girl went on a trip with a group of adults, and while there she met a man who the grown-ups trusted, so he must have been okay, right? And that meeting led to something truly terrible. It seems to relate to her meeting with Martin Harris, and his eventual grooming and kidnapping of her. But Kate claims this is Annabelle's story and ends with a threat: Annabelle has her story straight, so all of the adults who were culpable and complicit in introducing a predator to her life should make sure they remember their part and stick to their stories. So far, so simple.
However, things take a huge swerve to the left as '95 Kate begins to listen to her therapy tapes. It's an emotionally challenging choice Kate makes in order to prepare for her deposition. Ever since Jeanette decided to sue, Kate's been told over and over again that she needs to "have her story straight." But she only has her own version of that story to trust. Martin Harris is dead and Jeanette denies her version of events. So, she contends, listening to her therapy tapes will help her understand what happened and "get her story straight." What actually happens, though, is that she hears herself talking about Annabelle, the girl that she met in Harris' basement. When she's asked who Annabelle is or was, she says she doesn't know. So was there another girl who was kidnapped alongside Kate? Or is there another explanation for Annabelle and the fact that we've never seen or heard of her before?
If we follow Occam's razor, the most obvious answer is the correct one. The simple option is that Harris did indeed kidnap another young woman. But when we start to pick that apart, it doesn't make a lot of sense. Where is Annabelle? Why has no one else talked about her? Why wasn't she reported about or found alongside Kate? One answer is that she was callously killed and potentially disposed of by Harris before Kate escaped. But there's another option. No matter who you believe, Kate has been through a massive amount of trauma, and there's always a chance that the show might be heading towards exploring the fact that Kate may have developed Dissociative Identity Disorder while in captivity.
While this is still very much a maybe, Annabelle could be a trauma response to her captivity, especially as Kate was alone for so long in such terrifying circumstances. Could her mind have created another personality to cope with the hellish experience? The term Dissociative Identity Disorder was coined in 1994, which puts the medical reconsideration of what was formerly called "Multiple Personality Disorder" in the direct timeline of Cruel Summer. A powerful running theme this season has been looking at the realities of how women were treated in the '90s, so an exploration of a long-misunderstood mental health condition would fit thematically. Especially when we look at the realities of women's healthcare in the U.S. in the '90s. The effects of the Women's Health Movement were still just being felt, with the first Office of Women's Health not being founded until 1991. It would be an intriguing new layer for Cruel Summer to explore, one that could shine a light on a struggle most don't know about.
If that's not the case, then there's one far more sinister option: Martin Harris had an accomplice, she was a woman, and as far as we know she could still be out there. So far Cruel Summer has treated its female characters with depth, patience, and complexity. Whether Annabelle will end up being an entirely new character or a representation of Kate's own trauma and journey with mental health, we're hopeful it'll be far more than just a shocking twist to be solved in the larger landscape of the Freeform thriller.