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.
It’s not summer without the three-episode premiere of the feel-good, warm-weather romcom series, The Summer I Turned Pretty. Based off of the best-selling trilogy of the same name by YA author Jenny Han (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, XO, Kitty), the show follows teenager Isabel “Belly” Conklin (Lola Tung) as she grapples with all the twists and turns of coming of age. While the first season was filled with the budding love triangle between Belly, her long-time best friend Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno), and her forever-crush Conrad (Christopher Briney) set amidst the beautiful expansive beaches of the fictional coastal town Cousins Beach, this second season veers away from the dog days of summer and into more serious issues of grief and fractured relationships, both familial and romantic.
The first episode of The Summer I Turned Pretty Season 2, “Love Lost,” written by Jenny Zhang, initially opens with the same sweetness as an ice cream cone on a summer day. Belly sunbathes while her now-boyfriend Conrad leans over her for a kiss, Jeremiah fondly teases her from afar, and Susannah expresses her love and joy for seeing two people she cares about fall in love. Suddenly, a school bell rings and the bubble bursts. It’s the last day of school. Belly is not at Cousins. Conrad and her are not together. And Susannah is dead.
Even though summer is starting once more, it’s clear from her thoughts that being in her dreams is easier than staying awake and facing reality. So how did we go from the last summer season to this? How did Belly and Conrad go from sharing tender kisses at sunrise to not speaking at all? Perhaps worse, how did the Cousins crew go from practically being family to just broken remnants of one?
To answer these questions, the first three episodes fuse together the past and the present by relying heavily on flashbacks. The timeline is a bit confusing; the only delineation of the past and present being whether or not it is early summer (the present) or the rest of the season (the past). But the flashbacks serve to not only supplement important information on character and narrative development, but also signify how Belly has difficulty moving on from the past. Each time Belly attempts to take a step forward in the present, she’s dragged backwards into the past, reminded of not just the good times when Susannah (Rachel Blanchard) was alive, but also her relationship with Conrad.
Take, for instance, when she gets ready for her brother Steven’s (Sean Kaufman) graduation party. Her best friend Taylor (Rain Spencer) urges her that the best way to get over Conrad is to hook up with another guy. However, Belly can’t even decide on a good outfit to wear to the party because her closet is full of clothes that remind her of easy, breezy summers on the beach or are shirts borrowed from when she and Conrad dated. Immediately, she’s plunged into memories of how she and Conrad began their relationship. When Conrad and Belly finally got together at the end of last season, they quickly put on the brakes due to Jeremiah getting angry over Belly kissing Conrad a mere 24 hours after kissing him.
Belly’s memories showcase, though, how she and Conrad kept in touch over phone calls, eventually leading to them rekindling their complicated relationship once more. As they playfully bond over laundry and sharing their friends’ gossip, the conversations turn into serious issues of Belly’s wishes for future love as well as Conrad’s fears about his mother’s illness. It’s no surprise when Conrad eventually shows up on her doorstep telling her that he can’t resist her, turning her tale of teenage puppy-love into a relationship of mutual affection and adoration.
Of course, despite how Belly acts and what she might think, she isn’t the only one whose life was thrown off course by Susannah’s death. Conrad and Jeremiah’s devastation comes to light in the second episode, “Love Scene,” written by Jenny Han, when Jeremiah breaks his stony silence and reaches out to Belly to ask her for help in finding Conrad, who recently went missing. As they search for Conrad, the two of them also find time to mend their broken friendship, with Belly apologizing not just for choosing Conrad over him, but also for not being there to support and care for Jeremiah after he lost his mother. While it’s certainly a surface-level apology and make-up for such deep hurt, Jeremiah and Belly are immediately as thick as thieves once again.
Their renewed closeness serves as a salve for the icy situation they find themselves in when they discover that Conrad disappeared to the house at Cousins Beach. As Belly enters the house for the first time since Susannah’s death and hears Conrad’s voice for the first time since they broke up, she is tormented by a poignant flashback of her and Conrad sharing an intimate night alone in the house the previous winter, revealing the true extent of Belly and Conrad’s love for one another. As Conrad and Belly confront each other, their eyes meet, and Belly’s heartbreak becomes plainly visible on her face. Conrad remains guarded, stormily demanding to know what she is doing there.
Conrad’s scorn at whatever seemingly irrevocable damage occurred between the two is quickly overshadowed by the news that the house at Cousins is about to be put on the market. As much as Belly cannot let go of the past, the thought of letting go of the things that hold memories pains her even more.
Throughout the third episode of The Summer I Turned Pretty Season 2, “Love Sick,” written by Krystle Drew, we eventually figure out what exactly went down between Belly and Conrad. As his mother’s illness got worse, Conrad shut himself off and withdrew from Belly, leading to a teary breakup on Belly’s prom night after Conrad told her he couldn’t be there for her. Belly’s last memory of Conrad—and the last flashback—is after Susannah’s funeral, where the two get into a fight in front of family and friends alike, with Belly telling Conrad she hates him and Conrad telling her that their relationship was a mistake.
Though things ended badly between Conrad and Belly, Cousins has always been a magical place to her, her family, and Conrad’s family. Belly believes that if they could just have one more summer together, they could all turn everything around once more. With the risk of losing the house, though, her wish might become impossible. As Jeremiah laments, without the house and without Susannah, there might not be enough left to tie the group together.
The fight to prevent the house at Cousins from being sold will certainly set the foundation for the rest of this second season of The Summer I Turned Pretty, as Belly, Conrad, Jeremiah, and Stephen work to save not just their beloved house, but also their memories and each other.
The Summer I Turned Pretty drops new episodes every Friday on Prime Video.
Featured images courtesy of Prime Video