Major spoilers ahead. In episode 9 of Freeform's Cruel Summer, “A Secret of My Own,” we learn some pretty major details about the horrifying mystery at the dark thriller's center. For most of the first season, Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt) has maintained that she was kidnapped and locked in the new vice principal Martin Harris' (Blake Lee) basement the entire time she was missing. In the penultimate episode, however, we find out that after Martin meticulously grooms, manipulates, isolates, and lies to her, Kate runs away from home and goes to his house "willingly," where they have a distorted replica of a relationship for months. It's only after she tries to leave him that in the final scene he eventually tricks Kate and locks her in the basement.
The twisted episode is very difficult to watch, and according to the actors, it was just as hard — if not harder — to act out. Lee and Holt recently told Entertainment Weekly that knowing that this episode was coming, they made sure to build up as much trust as they could with one another and depict the dynamics as "honestly" as they could without glamorizing or romanticizing anything, as is often the case in pop culture that deals with these types of "relationships."
"We shot a lot of this in chronological order, so everything was just light and fun, we're enjoying each other's company, up until those last few scenes," Holt said. "That last day is when we started shooting the Christmas dinner scene. That was probably the most challenging, putting life and air into that scene in particular because that is what has changed Kate's life forever and what has changed Martin's fate forever."
In order to make sure the scenes were handled with the proper amount of care and sensitivity, Cruel Summer showrunner Tia Napolitano hired a licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Sheila Modir, to consult on the show. "We wanted to make sure that [episode 9] isn't a love story, it isn't a fairytale. These two people are not made for each other,” Napolitano told Refinery29. "This is not star crossed lovers in any way," Dr. Modir added. "Martin was a person that had identified Kate as vulnerable due to family conflict and discord very early on and preyed on her vulnerability."
However, despite the help it nonetheless was "one of the hardest" for Lee to shoot, "especially because I hadn't heard you do the scene from the other point of view yet," he told EW. At the end of the episode, Kate asks Martin where her suitcase is so she can pack it up to leave, and he lies to her that it's in the basement. Once she's down there, he locks the door and she runs up the stairs, banging on the door and screaming. He puts on music to drown out her panicked yells.
"Olivia was there, on the other side of the door when I close the door at the actual house, and it was really hard to stay in it because hearing you scream and having to go over to the record player and turn the record player on and just drown out your screams, it was a very emotional, heavy evening," Lee said. "I remember sitting there, hearing [Olivia] scream over the music — it was very, very difficult to listen to that. I've never experienced anything like it in my career."
As awful as it is to see (and act in), Lee and Holt maintain that they hope their portrayal is responsible and accurate enough to "stop the stigma around this conversation."
"Now that people witness this and the way that we executed it, I'm hoping what happens is that they're more aware of this situation, whether you're in it, whether you're a witness of it, and to speak up about it," Holt said. "I think subconsciously, it messes with people's brains when you're like, 'Wait, should I be rooting for this relationship?' Lee continues. "No! It should never be okay. You should never be questioning that. I just think it's time that TV and film reflect what's real and the way we should be viewing these types of relationships."
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, you are not alone. Call RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or chat at online.rainn.org to get free, confidential, anonymous help 24/7.