This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the TV show being covered here wouldn’t exist.
After a cliffhanger of an ending in episode three, the fourth episode of The Summer I Turned Pretty Season 2, “Love Game,” opens with Conrad wading into the ocean, the sound of his harsh, ragged breathing disrupting the peaceful night on the beach. Due to the recent events in the first three episodes, Conrad could be panicking about a whole range of things. As he eventually shares with Steven, though, the panic is not about his Mom or Belly or the house, but rather about him getting accepted into Stanford University.
On the surface, this isn’t really bad news or cause for panic, except for the fact that it would mean a lot more change and upheaval not just for Conrad, but also for Jeremiah. Steven quickly soothes Conrad, though, with a surprisingly tender moment of emotion and honesty between two young men, proving that men can both be “cool” and feel anxiety.
But is it really possible for the Fisher boys to have—and accept—the full range of emotions? There are several hints throughout the episode that Susannah might have tried a little too hard to make her family and Cousins Beach picture-perfect. As Susannah’s half-sister, Julia (Kyra Sedgwick), and Julia’s child, Skye (Elsie Fisher), slowly encroach on the house that they now own, they appear as perfectly poised villains ready to crumble the very foundation of Conrad and Jeremiah’s family and memories. Showing up at the crack of dawn to begin setting up the realtor’s Open House, Julia and Skye are clearly the complete opposites of the Fisher family’s fun, laid-back, and perfect energy.
As always, perhaps family dynamics aren’t really that simple. While I would also be devastated at an estranged family member trying to come sell a house that I spent most of my formative years in, Skye shares some anecdotes that clouds Jeremiah and Conrad’s vision of Wicked Aunt Julia and Mommy Dearest. Skye’s memories reveal that maybe it wasn’t that Julia and Skye skipped out on family events as much as Susannah prohibited them from coming because they would shatter the bubble of shiny, happy families and moments at the beautiful beach house. While Jeremiah and Conrad initially dismiss Skye’s claims, it’s clear that these stories are still circulating in Conrad’s brain as he later confesses to Steven that Susannah tried hard to make sure that he and his brother were always happy, but feeling happy all the time just simply isn’t possible.
On the boardwalk
On the other hand, though, what’s wrong with being picture perfect when you live in a place as beautiful and fun as Cousins Beach? At least that seems to be the solution for Conrad, Jeremiah, Steven, Taylor, Belly, and even Skye as they spend the day at Cousins Boardwalk, a place full of fun games, sweet food, and even sweeter memories.
As the gang partake in a team competition to see who can win the most arcade games, the children in them reemerge and the slightly strained bonds are quickly smoothed over—or, as Taylor ominously comments, the wounds between Belly and the brothers are almost a little too cleanly healed. There is also some development in the key romances of the season, including more teasing from one-time-kiss-turned-potential-new-will-they-won’t-they Steven and Taylor, the return of Belly’s previous summer fling Cam Cameron (David Iacono), and tender moments between everyone’s favorite love triangle of Jeremiah, Conrad, and Belly.
But, in Cousins, just as in life, change is inevitable and you can only hold onto the illusion of the past for so long before reality comes crashing back in. Throughout the long—maybe even too long—sequence of the gang having fun, we’re treated to several flashbacks, including Belly’s first moment of heartbreak as a dorky 13-year-old (clearly before the summer she turned pretty) longing for Conrad’s attention during a trip to the boardwalk.
Another flashback in this episode of The Summer I Turned Pretty takes place right as Belly loses the boardwalk competition and a bet with Conrad, meaning she has to take a ride on the dreaded Tower of Terror, the site of many childhood tears and vomit. As Jeremiah offers to ride with her and tells her that he’ll always be there for her, Belly suddenly remembers a summer where she was stuck inside sick with a cold, and only Jeremiah offered to stay inside with her and play games. As the two grasp hands in free-fall, Belly ponders whether she might be ready for new beginnings with Jeremiah.
Almost to confirm this, when the gang heads back to the house, and Conrad questions Belly’s choice of stuffed animal prize, she shrugs and tells him that she’s not 13 anymore. At this moment of potential growth and breakthrough is when the bubble of Cousins and childhood memories truly bursts, with the revelation that during the time they were away, Aunt Julia sold all of the furniture in the house. As the six kids stand there with the rug quite literally having been pulled out from under them, the magic of the day instantly fades as they wonder, once again, how much of the perfect Cousins they really can save without Susannah there to maintain the magic for them.
The Summer I Turned Pretty drops new episodes every Friday on Prime Video.
Featured image courtesy of Erika Doss/Prime Video
'The Summer I Turned Pretty' 2x04 - 7/10