Ah, summer camp! That classic magical time when old men play pianos, camp directors dig up secret boxes, and distressed girls are repeatedly forced into the woods — alone — to accomplish maintenance-related tasks despite enduring increasingly traumatic events.
Welcome to Camp Stillwater, where it’s the summer of 1989 and a slew of counselors have just arrived for what’s going to be the “best summer ever,” which is a phrase people traditionally only use to describe what ends up being not only one of the worst summers ever, but also one of the worst seasons in general. Based on the promise of dead bodies, ghostly spirits, and limited VHS tapes and landlines, Dead of Summer will deliver a great summer for us — and a terrible one for the counselors at Camp Stillwater. I will strive to recap this summer’s most entertaining slasher with only as much sense as the show itself strives to make for its viewers.
The camp, to our knowledge, was closed for an unspecified reason in 1984, and long before that, it was home to a series of horrific murders ostensibly committed by a fancy old-timey piano player (who, for purposes of this recap, we’ll call The Fancy Old-Timey Piano Player). In the series’ opening flashback, a gang of torch-bearing men burst into a candle-lit cabin and apprehend the Piano Player, shouting “Where are they?” before the camera cuts to a ton of dead bodies bleeding out in the lake. Fun!
In the present day of June 1989, the camp’s preparing to reopen for the first time in five years, thanks to the efforts of a former camper named Deb (Lost’s Elizabeth Mitchell). She’s apparently sunk everything she has into this venture, and as the counselors arrive, she offers them a warm welcome: “You can find out who you are here.” And oh, how accurate that motto will soon be, as every episode flashes back to a different character’s history — and how their demons will quickly manifest in this secluded Midwestern hideaway.
Let’s meet those haunted counselors now and weigh their odds at surviving this awful summer:
Our primary protagonist in this hellish forest nightmare is Amy, the new girl who’s never been to camp before, but decided to become a counselor thanks to the encouragement of her dead best friend and a very well-designed brochure. Amy is shy but thoughtful, and she’s no stranger to adapting to uncomfortable new situations. Case in point: She mysteriously had to start a new school in the middle of senior year. (The immediate theory here is something happened to her father that was either murderous, tragic, or murderous-slash-tragic.) It’s at the new school where she meets Margo, and… Well, more on that later.
Campfire Prediction: Amy lives throughout the summer. I mean, obviously, right?
One of Amy’s immediate antagonists is Jess, whom I spent a large portion of my notes calling “The Hot Girl” because I wasn’t sure of her name until about three-quarters into the episode. Jess is your standard summer-camp vixen who flaunts her body freely (Freeform-ly?), but gets jealous when others flaunt theirs. She seems to get along with everyone — even Cricket, her ex-best friend from camp who fell out of touch when she went to college —but Jess instantly dislikes Amy, long before she wins the attention of Jess’s former summer-camp lover.
Campfire Prediction: Jess is the third counselor to die during the summer, perhaps or perhaps not in a freak accident involving hot-pink neon.
Cricket is Jess’s former camp friend who also seems to be a perfectly enjoyable presence for everyone. She’s rude to Amy in their initial interactions, making fun of her for dressing like Yogi Bear, but by the opening of camp, she’s brought the new girl into the mix. Cricket harbors some deeply rooted insecurities that she exhibits by writing promiscuous messages about herself on old cabin walls, to build up her own reputation as the camp sexpot she perhaps never was.
Campfire Prediction: Cricket almost makes it to the end of the summer, but is tragically cut down when the ax murderer mistakes her for an actual cricket.
WANT MORE? Keep up with all the latest from last night’s television by subscribing to our newsletter. Head here for more details.
Drew, who arrives late to camp after missing the bus and doesn’t do much else to win favor with the rest of the counselors. He largely keeps to himself but seems intuitive and intelligent (his knowledge of Victorian death portraits is both creepy and welcomed). He’s also keeping his gender identity a secret — Drew is a male-identifying transgendered woman and takes late-night showers in the infirmary.
Campfire Prediction: Drew makes it to the end, along with Amy and Deputy Garrett. Why? Because.
There’s Alex, a preppy lover who gives off major entitled rich-kid vibes but might actually be stealing clothes from people; Blair, who’s currently just a one-note gay kid; Jason, a one-note burnout; and Joel, a former Cabin 10-er who fancies himself the summer’s official documentarian, but whose camera footage has turned him into both an accidental Peeping Tom (he caught Deb changing, which she was super into, so he returned for seconds, which she was super not into) and an accidental paranormal investigator (his camera catches the ghost of the Old-Timey Piano Player as he appears behind Amy before one dramatic skinny-dip sesh).
Campfire Predictions: Jason dies first, then Blair, then Alex and Joel in a joint murder involving their six-packs.
NEXT: This one time, at summer camp, I found a dead guy in the lake