Belly’s Grief Leaves No Room For Jeremiah’s and Conrad’s in “TSITP” Season 2
The talented cast of “The Summer I Turned Pretty” takes us on an emotional journey throughout the eight episodes of season two. The season delves into the aftermath of Susannah’s death as the Cousins Beach group rally to save the summer house from being sold by her sister. And while the season excelled in some aspects, like Taylor and Steven’s romantic tension, it fell short when it came to sensitively handling how the ripple effects of grief play out in the infamous love triangle between Belly, Conrad, and Jeremiah. There was no shortage of moments to cringe at, including Jeremiah’s one-liners and mischievous lip bites or Belly’s emotional outburst at Susannah’s funeral. But there was one thing that stood out from the other moments, and that was how Belly (Lola Tung) continuously compared her loss and grief to that of Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno) and Conrad (Christopher Briney), Susannah’s sons.
My father died five years ago, and nothing in the world could’ve prepared me for the tidal wave of grief that hit me following that loss. At just 21, I found myself facing a lifetime without him. While he hadn’t been ill for as long as Susannah (Rachel Blanchard) was in “TSITP,” there was a month spent going in and out of the hospital, during which I witnessed his gradual decline up close. The scenes in which Jeremiah cares for an ailing Susannah took me back to those painful hospital visits. There’s a unique agony in suddenly becoming a caregiver to your own parent, and there’s a sickening mixture of relief and guilt when they’re finally at peace.
21 is a young age to lose a parent, and in “The Summer I Turned Pretty,” Jeremiah and Conrad are even younger than that, at just 16 and 18 years old. I don’t think there is any age appropriate to lose your parent, but at least if you’re older, you have a larger folder of memories and experiences to fall back on.
In many ways, how I coped with my father’s loss mirrored Jeremiah. I kept smiling and pretending that I was fine to avoid concerning my loved ones. In other ways, I was Conrad in how I allowed the relationships in my life to disintegrate and struggled to find my place in this new world. But I am so grateful that, unlike Conrad and Jeremiah, I didn’t have a Belly in my life as I was grieving.
I am so grateful that, unlike Conrad and Jeremiah, I didn’t have a Belly in my life as I was grieving.
There is no denying Belly has a close relationship with Susannah. Not only was she her mom’s best friend, but they spent each summer together. I understand death is always painful, no matter how close you are to the person who’s died, and it’s likely among one of the first significant deaths Belly experiences in her life. But that doesn’t excuse how Belly centers herself in that loss at the expense of everyone around her.
In episode one, during an argument with her mother (Jackie Chung) over her performance in school, Belly sarcastically quips, “Sorry, Mom. You know, Susannah died, remember?” Laurel responds, “You don’t get to use Susannah’s death as an excuse,” rebuking her daughter. Belly weaponizes Susannah’s death against Laurel in that moment by suggesting she must have forgotten her friend died if she could worry about something as meaningless as her daughter’s grades. All this despite the fact Laurel was best friends with Susannah since college and is feeling the brunt of the loss in ways Belly could not fathom.
In that same episode, Belly adopts a similar attitude with her brother, Steven (Sean Kaufman). After being rejected by a potential love interest, Belly tells Steven she’s leaving the party with the car despite having committed to being the designated driver. When Steven calls her out about this, she says, “In case you forgot, which it clearly seems like you did, Susannah just died, so I’m a little bit sad. But please, don’t let that stop you from having the time of your life.”
There is a level of hypocrisy in how Belly is hyper-critical of those around her in the wake of this loss. Conrad is villainized for pulling away from her in the month – yes, month! – since his mother’s passing, and Jeremiah is blamed for needing space from her after the events of season one. Yet Belly does not hesitate to use her grief as a shield against criticism, like when she leaves her drunk brother after promising to drive. Belly holds everyone to her standards of grief and constantly suggests no one is suffering to the extent she is. She almost punishes others for allowing themselves any semblance of joy if she – at that moment – feels sorrowful, as if everyone’s emotions must be regulated to align with hers.
This season highlights the extent of the damage Belly can inflict on others because of her tunnel vision, from dumping Conrad at prom because he couldn’t handle being at a dance while Susannah was slowly dying at home, to later having an emotional outburst in a fit of jealousy at her funeral.
Toward the end of the season, Belly begins to grapple with everything she has done and said throughout the season. In episode six, in a rare moment of self-reflection, she apologizes to Conrad for her outburst at Susannah’s wedding, admitting it wasn’t OK. But by the end of the episode, she manages to center herself again. During their party at the beach house, Jeremiah reveals that Conrad begged him for his blessing to date Belly, making clear to Belly for the first time the extent of Conrad’s feelings for her. She immediately becomes upset with Conrad, drunkenly expressing that if he had been more open with her, she would have fought for their relationship more instead of breaking up with him at prom.
In this moment, she places the blame for the disillusion of their relationship solely on him rather than acknowledging that her rash and self-centered behavior also contributed to their situation. It was Belly’s choice to dump Conrad at prom during his most intense period of grief, and it was her choice to pursue a romantic relationship with Jeremiah immediately after. It’s not until episode seven that Jeremiah finally gives Belly a reality check, reminding her at one point, “It’s not just about you, Belly.”
Belly’s “main character energy” is at the expense of everyone around her in ways that you can’t fully grasp unless you’ve experienced the early loss of a parent.
Belly is the center of “The Summer I Turned Pretty,” so it’s understandable everything is written orbitting her. The writers must fill eight episodes with enough drama and emotional conflict to keep us hooked in a world brimming with endless shows to stream, after all. But I feel the show could have approached grief in a more palatable way and focused instead on how Belly adjusts to Jeremiah and Conrad’s loss rather than allowing it to be an afterthought to her own emotions and actions. Belly’s “main character energy” is at the expense of everyone around her in ways that you can’t fully grasp unless you’ve experienced the early loss of a parent.
There is no limit to the amount of grief to go around, but in these moments of loss, it’s essential to support those most affected by a death. They’re grappling with enough without being burdened with fielding everyone else’s emotions. Instead, one should emulate Steven, who supported Jeremiah and Conrad even when he was bummed he didn’t hear anything from them for weeks. Be like Cam Cameron (David Iacono), who shared his experiences of losing his sister in an attempt to console Jeremiah and Conrad while continuously checking on how they were doing.
I’m relieved that in my loss, I was surrounded by people ready to mourn the incredible person that my father was while still acknowledging that the most devastating effect was on me and my sisters. They may have lost a friend, but I had lost my childhood hero, my support system, my foundation. As we anticipate season three of “The Summer I Turned Pretty,” let’s hope for Belly’s growth in her capacity to support others and look beyond her own emotions.