Warning: SPOILERS for Cruel Summer are ahead.
The Freeform drama takes place in the summers of 1993, 1994, and 1995, and it centers around Kate's disappearance in Skylin, Texas. The various time jumps showcase life in the small town before, during, and after Kate's kidnapping.
While Kate was in captivity, her classmate, Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia) went from an awkward teen to a popular girl. After Kate was found in the home of Assistant Principal Martin Harris (Blake Lee), she claimed that Jeanette had actually seen her, and that she purposely didn't tell the authorities.
Many viewers were divided about whether Jeanette was guilty, or if she was being framed. Keep reading for fan theories about how Cruel Summer could have ended — and how it actually did.
Is Jeanette guilty in 'Cruel Summer?' There were a few fan theories about who really saw Kate.
Because Cruel Summer isn't based on a book or a true story, there was no way to confirm whether Jeanette was guilty or not until it was revealed on the show.
The accusations against her were serious, and she chose to sue Kate for defamation as a result.
During a TV interview, Kate claimed that Jeanette saw her in Martin Harris' basement (which was where she was held captive). She accused Jeanette of keeping this information secret, which allowed the assistant principal to continue to keep Kate away from her family and friends.
She attempted to substantiate her story by showing investigators a necklace that had belonged to Jeanette. She alleged that Jeanette had left the necklace at the scene, while Jeanette claimed that she hadn't seen it for some time.
There were many fan theories circulating about whether Jeanette or Kate was telling the truth.
1. Jeanette is lying.
The most obvious solution had already been laid out at length on the show. Jeanette had taken Kate's place socially and she was dating the blonde teen's beau, Jamie (Froy Gutierrez). This was, according to Kate and many of the Skylin residents, a motive for Jeanette to hide Kate's location from the public.
Jeanette has already proven that she can hide the truth from her family and her friends, and that she had the most to gain from Kate's absence.
However, many Cruel Summer fans thought that something more complicated was going on, and that it's too obvious that Jeanette was the one who saw Kate.
2. Jeanette did see Kate in the basement, but there's a reason why she didn't tell anyone.
One fan theory was that Jeanette could have blocked out the memory of seeing Kate, or that she did hide her whereabouts for a yet-unknown reason.
After all, Jeanette did have a key to Martin Harris' home, and she periodically went there. If she did see Kate, it would have likely been traumatic for her to realize that her classmate had been there during her secret visits.
3. Mallory saw Kate, and she planted Jeanette's necklace.
Another popular guess that had been circulating is that Mallory Higgins (Harley Quinn Smith) was the one who saw Kate in the basement. While it's unclear if Mallory knew about Jeanette's key, she did break into Martin Harris' home in 1993. She, therefore, knew where it was, and that Martin was the one who had moved in.
Plus, Mallory had been the one who insisted on completing the "Summer Bucket List," and she was always the one who wanted to push the envelope.
Vincent and Mallory were the ones who had given Jeanette the necklace for her birthday in 1993. Some fans think that Jeanette could have gotten rid of the necklace after a fight with Mallory, and that the latter teen could have taken it to frame her former friend.
If Mallory took her bike to Martin Harris' house, Kate could have assumed that it was Jeanette's. Jeanette and Mallory had switched bikes accidentally after they threw eggs at Kate's mom's annual Garden Party in 1993.
Kate had seen Jeanette, Vincent, and Mallory on the bikes, but she hadn't heard that they had mixed them up.
Finally, another reason why viewers are suspicious of Mallory is because she has become best friends with Kate in the 1995 post-rescue scenes. Many fans think that Mallory is protective over Kate because she feels guilty.
4. Martin Harris had double-sided mirrors in his basement.
Viewers have noticed that mirrors are featured in multiple scenes in Cruel Summer — from the floor to ceiling mirror wall in Martin Harris' basement to the ones featured in the funhouse at the carnival.
The presence of mirrors could have been a sign that they're meaningful to the plot of the series. One fan on Reddit suspected that Kate could have seen Jeanette through a two-way mirror in the basement. Kate was knocked out when Martin Harris moved her, so she may not have realized that the surface was actually a mirror and that Jeanette couldn't actually see her.
So is Jeanette guilty in 'Cruel Summer'?
The series finale of Cruel Summer — which premiered on June 15, 2021 — took viewers on a wild ride. Jeanette and Kate reconciled, and Jeanette even helped Kate uncover her buried memories of what went down at Marin's house. Then, Jeanette publicly forgave Kate on The Marsha Bailey Show.
Shockingly, it turned out Mallory was the one who saw Kate in Martin's house (although she didn't realize who she was at the time). In what at first seemed like the ending scene of the series, Mallory and Kate were shown joyfully dancing and sharing a kiss in 1995. But then it flashed back to 1994.
Jeanette was shown in Martin's house walking down a hallway. When she said, "Hello," she heard a reply: It's Kate telling the voice that she's the missing girl, and that Martin has her trapped in his basement. Jeanette reached for the handle at first, but then hesitated, smiled, and knowingly left Kate there.
Talk about a surprise twist ending!
You can stream Cruel Summer in its entirety on Hulu.