I Know What You Did Last Summer Series-Premiere Recap: You Can Never Really Know Anyone

I Know What You Did Last Summer

It’s Thursday
Season 1 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating 3 stars

I Know What You Did Last Summer

It’s Thursday
Season 1 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating 3 stars
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

When Lois Duncan watched the 1997 film adaptation of her 1973 novel I Know What You Did Last Summer, she hated it. What started as a teen melodrama and thriller had become a violent slasher flick reveling in the gruesome murders of teens by a fisherman with a hook. It was particularly tasteless to Duncan, whose own teenage daughter was killed in 1989. “As the mother of a murdered child, I don’t find violent death something to squeal and giggle about,” she said.

Duncan would probably disapprove of the new TV version of I Know What You Did Last Summer, which seems to promise more teen murdering. But the series doesn’t treat death with the perverse glee of a cheesy ’90s hit — at least not yet. Showrunner Sara Goodman seems to split the difference between spooky, violent Halloween fun and serious psychological drama. It makes for a solid beginning if, occasionally, a tonally confusing one.

This episode begins by establishing our updated setting: present-day Wai Huna, Hawaii, where Lennon Grant has returned home for the first time after her freshman year at the University of Michigan (Go Blue!). She barely has any time to spend with her dad before she finds the titular note scrawled in blood on her closet door. You guessed it, folks: Someone knows what Lennon did last summer.

We’ll return to this scene at the end of the episode and get a nice glimpse of the horrifying goat head that accompanies the note. But most of “It’s Thursday” is devoted, wisely, to depicting the events of last summer.

It all starts at a graduation-night rager hosted by Lennon’s rich, social-media-obsessed friend Margot. The Lennon from last summer is all mischievous grins and lascivious dancing with none of the apparent world-weariness of the Lennon we have seen so far. She seems to think she’s hot shit, especially compared with her identical twin sister, Alison, who’s conspicuously absent from the present-day timeline besides some family photos. Between the two, even though Lennon has a mental illness and a drug problem she’s ignoring, she’s perceived as the sunny golden child. Alison, meanwhile, is the fuck-up because she isn’t going to college in the fall.

We’re slowly introduced to the other characters in Lennon’s friend group: Johnny, Margot’s chill and supportive GBF who actually pays attention to Alison; Dylan, the classic neurotic introvert and Alison’s crush; and Riley, Dylan’s friend who deals drugs.

Here’s where we get our first real taste of the show’s teen dialogue, and the results are … mixed. There’s a lot of inelegant exposition and lots of buzzword dropping and exaggerated slang. Margot, though captured energetically by Brianne Tju, particularly resembles a Gen-Z stereotype so far, speaking like a cross between Cheryl Blossom from Riverdale and Julien Calloway from neo–Gossip Girl. While the episode moves at a pretty good pace — fast but patient enough to introduce some character dynamics before rushing to the mayhem — it sometimes skips some steps in a rush to establish the underlying conflicts. The first of two explosive arguments between Lennon and Alison, for example, begins with Lennon advising her sister on how to seduce Dylan, then escalates wildly and unbelievably, ending with Alison saying, “Fuck you. You’re nothing. You’re the worst fucking person I’ve ever met.”

And that’s before Lennon decides to play directly into her sister’s perception of her and fuck Alison’s crush herself, right when Alison was planning to make a move. That leads to the second argument, which we see parceled out through the rest of the episode. We learn that after their mother’s suicide ten years prior, Lennon barreled ahead with her life, while Alison couldn’t ignore the past. Lennon became their father’s favorite in Alison’s eyes, and in a deeply misguided effort to help her move on, Lennon tells Alison that their mom didn’t love her, that moping around is a waste of time. The last words Allison says to her twin sister are “Fuck you.”

This leads to our biggest twist: It’s Alison, not Lennon, who drives off with Dylan, Riley, Johnny, and Margot. It’s Alison, not Lennon, who accidentally hits and kills her twin sister (Lennon, not Alison). It’s Alison who goes off to Michigan for college and Alison who comes back a year later to the site of the most traumatizing event of her life.

As far as I’m concerned, the stretch when the thing happens is the best part of “It’s Thursday.” The initial moment itself is effectively shocking, and long periods of stunned silence convey the sheer horror of what’s happening, the retreat into denial. There’s something disturbingly real about the panicked flurry of conversation and strategizing between the friends while Alison just sits quietly on the side of the road.

Madison Iseman’s performance as the sisters is the most crucial element in all of this, the element that makes this show pretty watchable out of the gate. Iseman makes it easy to tell the twins apart even when they’re dressed and styled exactly the same. And she’s particularly impressive in the second half of the episode: You can see it in Alison’s eyes and body language when she totally shuts down, unable to process what she just did. But Iseman doesn’t resort to endless blank-eyed coldness and monotone; she lets us see the gears turn as Alison pushes slowly through her daze, trying to force herself to understand her circumstances.

The relationship between Alison and Lennon may not be as nuanced or even as coherent as it should be at this point — hopefully, some flashbacks will show us the bond they used to have, or at least show where the cracks started to form. But the aftermath of Lennon’s death has some pathos because of Iseman and because the show conveys the full gravity of just how traumatic this situation would be.

And so the title and the message “I know what you did last summer” gain a fascinating new angle: The you is plural, referring to the teens who covered up the manslaughter, but it’s also singular, referring to Alison, who not only hit and killed her sister but stole her identity. It’s a wicked twist on the premise of the original book and movie and one that seems promising if the show can figure out how to keep its tone consistent.

Some Other Stuff They Did Last Summer

• Okay, so in retrospect, the opening shot seems to be from the point of view of Lennon’s body in the water of the cave (or somebody’s body). There’s a lot of muffled screaming and gasping. Then later, Riley thinks she hears breathing in the cave. What do we think this means? Are these some of the voices of the cult members who committed suicide there? I suppose the most obvious conclusion is that Lennon herself is still alive somehow and she’s the one sending the ominous messages. I’m not sure how supernatural we’re getting with it.

• The other most promising lead: A mysterious woman watches them from afar at the cave.

• An interesting wrinkle: Margot was posting an Instagram Story when they crashed. She seems to delete it with no problem, but could it come back to bite her?

• A jock named Dale sees the group stopped on the road the night of the accident. He serves the role Max did in the movie, which means I’d be surprised if he didn’t die in these first four episodes.

• The “fuck, marry, kill” conversation is an awkward attempt at writing banter, especially because I’ve never seen the game played that way.

• When it comes to little human interactions, my favorite so far is Dylan assuring Alison, “I’m gonna pay attention this time,” on his second attempt to pour a shot.

Intertextual Teen-Show Alert: Margot calls Dylan cute “in a Dan Humphrey kind of way.”

• Welcome! I’m coming to this as someone who’s familiar with the movie (and generally enjoys it for what it is). I’m less familiar with the book, but I’m reading it now so it’ll be interesting to see if the show takes any cues.

I Know What You Did Last Summer Series-Premiere Recap