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The Summer I Turned Pretty: Christopher Briney Thinks Conrad Has Lost Power in His Relationship With Belly

Will the pressure on Conrad this season get to him?

Max Gao
Christopher Briney and Lola Tung, The Summer I Turned Pretty

Christopher Briney and Lola Tung, The Summer I Turned Pretty

Amazon Studios

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for The Summer I Turned Pretty Season 2, Episode 4, "Love Game." Read at your own risk!]

Christopher Briney knows that staunch supporters of Conrad and Belly (Lola Tung) are in for another roller-coaster ride in the sophomore season of The Summer I Turned Pretty. After declaring their feelings for each other and sharing a long-awaited first kiss at the end of last summer, the now-exes have reunited in Cousins Beach under less happy circumstances: Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno) and Conrad's mother, Susannah, recently died of cancer, and Susannah's half-sister, Julia (Kyra Sedgwick), is hellbent on selling their family's summer home, insisting that she doesn't have the money to maintain another property across the country.

Told across dual timelines, the first three episodes of the new season shed light on the progression of Belly and Conrad's romantic relationship and, ultimately, what went wrong. After chatting for weeks over the phone, Belly and Conrad decided to make their relationship official around last Halloween, believing that enough time had passed for Jeremiah, who had developed feelings for Belly, to move on. But while they began to fall in love (and even had sex for the first time on a snowy night at the house in Cousins), Belly and Conrad's relationship quickly took a turn for the worse when Susannah's health began to decline, culminating in Belly's decision to break things off with Conrad on the night of her prom.

"I think what is cool about or what felt cool during this season is that last season it often feels like Conrad has a lot of power in that dynamic," Briney told TV Guide. "I think he has been blind to the fact that he's sort of lost the power in that situation, or maybe he does know that and he's just grasping at straws 'cause he's like, 'Wait, what happened? I thought [our relationship] would last…'"

In a brief phone interview conducted before the actors strike, Briney spoke with TV Guide about the continued evolution of Conrad and his undefined relationship with Belly and his character's reaction to the impending sale of his family's beloved beach house in Cousins, including the heartbreaking final scene in this week's episode.

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The fourth episode picks up with Conrad having a panic attack after discovering that he got into Stanford and Steven (Sean Kaufman) finding him on the beach. How did you want to make the beginning of this episode feel similar to what we saw in the first season, when Conrad had a panic attack with Cleveland (Alfredo Narciso) on a boat, while still showing that Conrad is now a different person who has grown and understands his triggers?

Christopher Briney: I think it's interesting that he has the conscience to remove himself from the room that everybody's hanging out in, because he is now recognizing this pattern in himself, so he clearly is trying to deal with this on his own, which is maybe growth, you know? But then there's also the way that he denies help from Steven, and that's another one of [Conrad's] pitfalls — not being able to let people help him. So I wanted it to still be honest to me and my experience in this world, and hopefully like last year, people can sort of identify that feeling of a panic attack. But he's also just a character at a point in his life that he doesn't know how to ask for help. 

Have you personally had experience with panic attacks? And if so, how does that inform the way that you play these more vulnerable moments that Conrad does have throughout the show, considering that he doesn't show a lot of those difficult emotions to other people in his life? 

Briney: Yeah, there's a lot of things I can relate to Conrad now when it comes to anxiety and things like that, but I, as Chris, am not prone to panic attacks like that. That was something that I had a lot of conversations with the director last year about, [in terms of] what they should look like visually within this character. I feel like usually, when I have anxiety, it sort of shuts me down in a different way. I didn't want it to be something that was a caricature; I don't want people to have misconceptions about something like that. I want people to feel represented or understood or heard. 

Do you think Conrad's desire to do everything on his own is an innate personality trait, or do you think it's born out of the familial circumstances that he finds himself in as the firstborn son and essentially the man of the house?

Briney: I always saw that as sort of like a nature/nurture situation where I think it really is just how he grew up. I don't think he was born this kid who thinks the world's on his shoulders. There's a lot of expectation placed on him by his dad to be something and do something [like play football in the first season], and he is the older sibling. I think all of that is just so heightened by his mom's passing, and then he really feels like he has to step up 'cause he knows his dad isn't gonna do it and he doesn't know who else will. And I think he still sees Jeremiah as somebody who he needs to help a little bit, despite the fact that they're both coming of age, but I think it's all based on just how he was raised. 

Throughout the season, we're slowly seeing Conrad process the loss of his mom, especially since Jeremiah had to assume so much of the burden of caring for her toward the end of her life.

Briney: I think it's something he's still processing. I don't know if that's something one ever really stops processing. One thing I liked most about doing it was just the fact that he's at a point in his journey and his life, and it's not the beginning or the end of it. [The grief] is just part of what he lives with now. 

Through no fault of his own, since he is still a teenager, Conrad has a little bit of tunnel vision in the present timeline, because he is so angry at his aunt Julia for even thinking about selling the Cousins Beach house that he doesn't even want to hear her point of view or about the fractured relationship that his late mother had with Julia. It isn't until he begins to spend some time with his cousin Skye (Elsie Fisher) that Conrad is at least moved to consider Julia's perspective.

Briney: Well, I think his anger at his aunt, first of all, is just really misplaced. I think it's misplaced feelings that he's been unable to identify, and I sort of saw the fourth episode as the beginning of his journey this season to realize that there are other people in this world that were also affected by the loss of his mom or whatever they're going through in their own life and their own experiences. I think it's him starting to be reminded that there's a world going on around him, and he is not at the center of it and he does not need to be at the center of it. He does not need to be holding the world up like he feels like he might have to.

Christopher Briney, The Summer I Turned Pretty

Christopher Briney, The Summer I Turned Pretty

Amazon Studios

The fourth episode is really meant to serve as a callback to the Fishers and Conklins' fondest memories of Cousins, but all of the kids get a rude wake-up call when they arrive at the beach house and discover that it has been cleaned out. What is going through Conrad's mind at the end of this episode, and how does that inform the way that he reacts in the next episode?

Briney: I think as much as I was just saying that it's the beginning of his understanding that he doesn't need to be independent and saving everybody in the world, he immediately reverts back to just fury. He's just like, "What the f--k just happened? Who is betraying my family? Who thinks they have the right to do something like this?" And I think he sort of goes back into his blind, emotion-led charge through the world, which is sort of his habitual state, it seems, this season.

On a bit of a lighter note, what are your fondest memories of shooting the boardwalk scenes in this episode? Considering that the overall tone of this season is much darker than the first one, I have to imagine it was almost a relief to see these characters having fun like kids again, even for a little bit.

Briney: Yeah, it was great. We had so much fun. We probably shot that over the course of maybe six or seven days, and they were spaced out over an entire month, 'cause we could only get the boardwalk on Fridays for some reason, and we just kept coming back at the end of the week — or was it the beginning? [Laughs.] Anyway, it was this one day of the week with all of us together doing these scenes. I think that's one of the most rewarding parts about doing this show — it's working with everybody that I get to work with and growing closer with everybody. So I have nothing but fond memories of those days. 

Have you, as a cast, ever played the games that you played at the boardwalk? Do you guys ever do laser tag or go-karting? Do you guys ever do dance challenges on your own time? 

Briney: We do some of them. I feel like usually the games we play are more — I don't know if ragtag is the right word, but we'll just sort of make up games and play them, or we'll buy like a wiffle ball and go play in the park, or play the game where one person is the murderer and you're all standing there. But I feel like we'll do those more. We've gone go-karting, we've gone bowling before, so we've been around. [Laughs.]

Looking ahead, there are obviously a lot of unresolved feelings between Belly and Conrad that came to a head at the prom and then Susannah's funeral in the third episode. How would you describe the state of Belly and Conrad's relationship at this point in the story, and how would you describe the evolution of their relationship this season?

Briney: Well, I think a lot of what's gone on between them is unresolved and sort of unaddressed, and I think that's the cause of the miscommunication that they are having this season. They're never really talking about the elephant in the room — and I don't know about Belly, I don't know if this is true with her character, but for Conrad, I think he really feels like there's still some sort of hope there and there's still something there. She may have moved on, but he's pretty blind to that thought.

I think what is cool about or what felt cool during this season is that last season it often feels like Conrad has a lot of power in that dynamic, whether he has confidence or not. I wouldn't say he is confident, but he has influence and power over that situation, and he is probably unaware of how much he has. I think he has been blind to the fact that he's sort of lost the power in that situation, or maybe he does know that and he's just grasping at straws 'cause he's like, "Wait, what happened? I thought this would last…" And I think he becomes sort of desperate by the end to just hold onto something that he thought he knew.

The Summer I Turned Pretty is now streaming on Prime Video. New episodes premiere every Friday through August 18.