“Two Summers” Exposes Extroversion’s Dark Shadow

It’s not just about rape culture

Beverly Garside


Photo by Chander Mohan on Unsplash

A gripping story

This Belgian drama (dubbed into English) had me hooked from the very first scene. It involved a toilet, a long-buried secret rising from the grave, and blackmail. From here, Peter and his wife Romee head out to a reunion of their youth (friend) tribe from 30 years prior — and into a nightmare.

The nightmare is slow-rolling and multi-faceted. Everybody, it seems, has dark secrets they can no longer suppress, everybody has betrayed or lied to their spouse or closest friend, and everybody is pretending not to remember the story’s central catalyst — a gang rape of one of their own.

The series’ superior writing and performances account for its favorable reviews. This alone drove me to binge-watch it. But as an introvert, I saw something about this work that didn’t make it into the reviews. It has been described as an indictment of rape culture. If you watch it from the perspective of psychology and temperament, however, you see a broader subtext.

Two Summers is an exploration of the dark side of extrovert culture.

Birds of a feather

Youth tribes are common, and if you’ve ever belonged to one, you can recognize them easily. You can also understand why the members of Peter and Romee’s former tribe want to reunite after so long. For these are the people with whom you shared the most intense, memorable period of your life. They feel like family because that’s what they were.

What I recognized about this tribe was something more that they all had in common — temperament. Of course, extroverts dominate youth tribes, just as they dominate everything else. But these characters are not just on the extroverted side of the temperament spectrum. They are all the way over on their teetering edge.

Since their summer vacation together 30 years ago they have taken very different paths in life. But their behavior, attitudes, and approach to living all stemmed from the same root. They all held similar values, made similar mistakes, and pursued similar goals.

Together, they drove the plot through a unified cultural statement.

“Peer pressure”

Photo by Jake Pierrelee on Unsplash

It’s said to be the bane of youth, the force that pushes so many into trouble and tragedy. But it’s a misnomer. An astute observer will see so much more than “peers” and “pressure” going on in groups of highly extroverted young people.

The scene that impressed me most in Two Summers was when one of the boys, 30 years later, tries to explain his behavior at the rape to his wife. Pointing to his own image in a video of the event, he declares “That’s not me! That’s not me!”

He’s not claiming mistaken identity; he’s referring to something else — an amorphous thing that can’t be explained because it has never been named. Yet it’s so common it even has its trope in fiction. How many times have we seen on screen a husband trying to explain to his wife why he had sex with another woman at a party or event?

“It, it meant nothing! It just happened. It was, we were, I don’t know! I didn’t plan it, it was just happening!”

The characters in Two Summers revert to this language consistently throughout the story. Everything is in the passive voice or attributed to some inanimate force. “Things got out of hand. What happened to you was terrible. That should never have happened.” Nobody ever actually does anything, It’s as if they’re all in rudderless canoes, flowing helplessly in the current, or puppets strung to some invisible force controlling their every move.

The Dance

If you observe extroverts in groups long enough, “it” shows its face. When they’re socializing with each other, they really aren’t themselves. They morph into a kind of collective consciousness, freed from their autonomy, and joined into a separate, larger entity.

This entity encloses itself in a bubble — an alternate reality. The more people participating, the thicker the bubble’s walls. The world outside cannot penetrate it and disappears. Rules, obligations, time, dangers, deadlines, and consequences do not exist inside the bubble. There is only fun, excitement, and a rush that doesn’t seem possible anywhere else.

They have exited their bodies, melded their minds, and merged their identities into what I call “the Dance.” Dance troupes must remain in sync with each other. If one person backs out or gets out of step everyone will come crashing down.

Of course, as an introvert, I’ve never actually done the Dance or been in its bubble. I’m only speculating based on what it looks like it feels like. But one observation is unmistakable — whatever is in that high is addictive.

Addict behavior

Not everyone who does drugs gets addicted to them. Likewise, not everyone who enjoys dancing in bubbles lets that experience enslave them. But a lot do. I remember many of them from my youth.

They were my classmates who flunked out of college because they could not miss a single social event with their tribe. They were my fellow airmen who were kicked out of the Air Force for smoking weed. Never mind that there was a one-strike-you’re-out policy for drugs, or that we knew they used informants among us, or that we had “random” urinalysis testing. They did it, got caught, and got the boot. Their lives were derailed and forever shadowed by ambiguous discharge codes. Some managed to recover, some did not.

And it was all for another weed party with their tribe. For that next hit.

These young people weren’t addicted to marijuana. They were addicted to each other, and to the Dance. Even as youth turns to age and its tribes drift apart, the memory of that special dance never seems to fade.

It was in pursuit of this memory that the characters of Two Summers set off to meet up one more time. But the shadow they left behind had only grown darker with time.

The puppet master

Photo by Aysegul Yahsi on Unsplash

The problem with synchronized dancers is that they will follow any leader who emerges from the pack. And if that leader happens to be someone with a malicious agenda, well…

Why do fraternity and sorority members torture and murder their pledges during hazing? Why does a group of boys rape their unconscious friend after a party?

They will blame drugs and alcohol. They will say “things got out of control,” they will point to themselves in horror and declare “This is not me!”

They will not say that they followed the instruction of a leader, a “friend” and fellow tribe member. They will not say that they knew it was wrong, maybe even protested, but complied anyway. They will not explain how betraying their tribe would deprive them of that collective identity they so badly needed.

They won’t admit how addicted they are to that identity, and to that one special Dance.

Peter and his fellow bros blame the rape on drugs and alcohol. But the story makes it clear that while the booze and pills drove them to the cliff, it was the Dance that pushed them off it — the Dance led by one of their own, the one they privately admit is “an asshole.”

Come on! We are one. We are moving as one. This is what we are doing. Are you with us, or are you alone, rejected, and stuck in your own autonomous identity?

Extrovert Bias

We introverts are notorious for our weaknesses — our overthinking, low energy, and difficulty making connections with others. But the defects specific to extroversion are not attributed to temperament. The broad culture regards them as universal, the baseline psychology of all humanity.

We are awash in studies and handwringing over why so many of “our youth” succumb to “peer pressure,” jeopardizing their futures, and even committing violence. It’s never associated with extroversion’s impulsiveness, weak identity, and addictive tendencies to socializing. It’s just the universal “youth.”

Nobody ever studies why so many other young people don’t fall into this risky behavior. Our culture isn’t interested in the upside of introversion. We are notorious as “outcasts” and “loners,” who have doubtful futures and need intervention.

What are extroverts notorious for?

A deliberate critique?

The causes of the rape are not the only focus on temperament evident in Two Summers. The characters also exhibit other issues associated with higher levels of extroversion.

They have no filter and spout rude, hurtful comments to each other. One woman suggests another’s breakup may have been “because he wasn’t happy with the sex.” After a brief dispute, one guy spits at the tribe’s young cancer patient “why don’t you just go die?” Afterward, they are horrified and confused, remarking that “It just slipped out” and “I don’t know where that came from.”

The characters’ careless approach to life is almost exaggerated. As hosts, Peter and Romee repeatedly forget to warn their guests about the dangerous sea current around one area of the island. The group never gives a thought to firearms safety, even after one of them accidentally shoots another in a cornfield. (Who fires a gun in a cornfield?) And it’s not the rape that leads to the story’s final tragedy, but a more mundane feature of the “ideal” temperament — impulsiveness and a disregard for consequences.

I know nothing about Belgian society, but if it’s anything like our own, I suspect the creators of Two Summers knew exactly what they were doing with this story.

At least I hope they did, because it’s long overdue.



Beverly Garside

Beverly is an author, artist, and a practicing agnostic.