Um, twist! I’m actually embarrassed I didn’t see this one coming. I was already firing up the Dump Him–mobile and assembling the Hot Take Feminists, for whom I am at the top of the phone tree. But it appears I owe poor dead Luke an apology because the girl in the revenge-porn video was actually Megan, not Isabella, making the real villain of this piece whoever first shouted “That’s Isabella!” at the party and also Luke’s older brother Brent. Not only is this kid’s name “Brent,” but we also learn that Brent habitually pressures girls to film their sexual encounters against their will, girls he will later refer to as “skanks” who love the attention. Ugh, that is such Brent behavior.
Hello, and welcome to our second installment of Cruel Summer season two, in which this reporter eats crow and blasts Meredith Brooks while typing.
In the summer of 1999, Megan still gives Isabella the stink-eye while Izzy (it’s illegal to be named Isabella without going by a nickname) documents her possibly hostile takeover of Megan’s social life in letters to a faraway best friend named Lisa. The July ’99 drama is all pretty small potatoes, to be honest. Izzy throws a pool party at Luke’s house, she and Luke swap a little spit, and she finds a plastic bag of unidentified pills in Megan’s backpack. Megan later explains they’re to help her stay overachieving (sounds like your basic methylphenidate), and this is how they bond. In “Ride or Die,” the good stuff mostly unfolds in December 1999.
Quick side note! If anyone thinks it’s not believable for Megan and Isabella to go from enemies to ride-or-die in six months, then that person has never been a 17-year-old girl with a semi-rough home life (at the least). Nobody bats an eyelash when it’s Allie and Noah falling in love over a single summer, but I promise you, teenagers can and regularly do go from zero to soulmates in no seconds flat, whether they’re platonic, romantic, or somewhere squishy in between. Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming.
The December scenes begin the post-revenge-porn debacle. Sorry, sorry. One more note here. The show calls it a “sex tape,” but I’m calling it “revenge porn” because I have the benefit of not currently living in 1999. Okay, now back to the recap for real.
In Chatham, teens having sex is a crime worthy of school suspension, academic-scholarship revocation, and permanent social ostracization, and it will automatically land you on the cops’ murder-suspect list. The fact that the actual crime here — someone filmed two actual kids having sex and then publicly disseminated the tape without the subjects’ permission — is considered unworthy of police or school-administrator attention is a point noticed only by Isabella, who is the only adult in the room. Poor Izzy starts her day when some slut-shaming hooligans toss a black-wigged blow-up doll in her yard with the words “Go Home Slut!” Sharpied under the doll’s inflatable boobs. The camera zooms out to reveal an entire menagerie of boob balloons, giant inflatable dicks, a few bananas, and rainbow dildos surrounding her backyard-trailer bedroom, a display Isabella pauses to ponder somberly before making her way to the house.
Next on Izzy’s misery agenda is getting chewed out by Debbie, who rails that she’s just spent an hour trying to convince Principal Bowers not to suspend Isabella, which is reasonable because, Debbie explains, “the whole town saw you having sex.” One plausible reason for Debbie’s sudden switch from cool mom to the “Shame!” lady on Game of Thrones is that she still thinks the tape showed Izzy boinking Megan’s boyfriend. Debbie doesn’t know that the tape showed Megan boinking Megan’s boyfriend. I’m going to try not to let this detail drive me up a wall for the rest of the season, but if it was possible to see the girl in the tape at all, much less well enough to loudly point the finger at a specific person in a crowded space, it would be easy to tell that the girl is not Isabella because Isabella is a Black person and the girl in the tape, Megan, is a white person. But whatever.
Megan is upstairs hugging her knees and obsessively watching the entire revenge-porn video, in which her face appears clearly after a few minutes. Meg too is worried that when the truth gets out, she’ll have her scholarship to the University of Washington revoked. (Did UDub have some kind of purity promise policy in the ’90s that I’m unaware of?) Nevertheless, Izzy thinks it is a serious enough concern that she volunteers to just let everyone continue believing she’s the girl in the tape. What a gal! What a dame! Meg tries to argue her out of it, of course, but Izzy won’t hear it. “It’s what best friends do. Take bullets. Give kidneys. I’m not gonna let that stupid tape destroy your future,” Isabella declares. “You’re the most important person in this world to me. I wouldn’t do this for anyone else. ‘Ride or die’ isn’t just words. We actually mean it, right? You’d do the same for me if I were in your shoes. It’s how we roll.” Is this too much? Maybe! But what are high-school friendships for if not melodrama? It’s midnight in the garden of discarded bachelorette-party gifts, and Isabella is ready to rumble.
Once they’ve burned the evidence and convinced Luke to let the town keep believing he’s a dirty rotten cheater, Meg and Izzy can move on to more important matters — solving the case of the Christmas revenge porn. And they’ve already narrowed it down to two suspects. Izzy has her eye on Jeff (the guy with the camera), whom she describes as “a local filmmaker with a grudge” and a scorned man. (Scorned by whom, though?) Luke, however, thinks the obvious culprit is Brent (self-explanatory). While Isabella doesn’t totally buy Luke’s theory, she’s a better-safe-than-sorry kind of girl, and so heads directly to the Chambers house, where she runs into Parker, Brent’s ex-girlfriend and one of the girls he coerced into filming their sexual encounters. Unable to find the hide-a-key, Isabella throws a planter into the glass door, and the two destroy all of Brent’s homemade sports tapes to the tune of “Bitch,” by Meredith Brooks. Absolutely, yes.
Unfortunately, not much action happens in the July 2000 scenes, aside from many vaguely sinister insinuations. We learn that Megan and Isabella, whose hair is now in a sad ponytail, are no longer on speaking terms, but we don’t know why. Izzy’s friendship with Parker also appears to have been short-lived, judging by her ambiguously threatening appearances at Izzy’s trailer bedroom, where she reports that Iz’s planned escape to Paris will have to wait because the sheriff is looking for murder suspects.
According to the coroner’s report, Luke’s official cause of death was by drowning. However, he also appears to have a gunshot wound above his ear, as though it was nicked by a bullet that missed, as well as a boatload of benzos in his system. “Someone definitely took a shot at him,” Sheriff Myer gravely concludes. “Whoever killed Luke wanted to make sure he was severely impaired before he went in the water. They didn’t want any chance of him coming out alive.” I’m no TV sheriff, but doesn’t that feel like an awful lot of conclusions to draw from one ME report? Sheriff Myer also loses points for his questioning of Isabella, which includes a specific reference to the revenge-porn incident. “I’m a minor,” says Izzy, who’s probably actually an adult but is also correct. “Shouldn’t you be more concerned with who made that tape?” Sheriff Myer is not. He’s more concerned with Isabella having been through three schools in three years and appearing menacing. Izzy asks for a lawyer, from which Sheriff Myer concludes she’s a baddie who’s had to handle the law before.
“Ride or Die” concludes with Isabella eavesdropping on Megan and Luke (this is December), and when Megan calls Luke her “ride or die,” Izzy appears almost, could it be, jealous? This would certainly give credence to the slightly sapphic vibes I sensed from the intense way Megan was gazing at Isabella at the 1999 pool party. In any case, Isabella heads downstairs and calls Debbie. The episode wants you to believe she’s about to out Megan for the revenge-porn tape, which I don’t.
Clues to Watch
• Debbie got sick? With what? When?
• I’m going to need a background check on this Lisa chick right away.
• I’ve given Sheriff Myer a lot of (well deserved) shit this recap, but hastily flushing an entire bottle of pills as Isabella did will never not be suspicious.
• Isabella has a mom?
• Luke’s buddy-buddy relationship with the cops continues to be suspicious, I’m sorry.
• “His stuff looks way more professional than that,” Megan, on Jeff, the teen with the video camera.
This article has been updated to reflect the correct singer of the song “Bitch.”