Showtime’s Yellowjackets arrived in 2021 amid an overstuffed streaming schedule. Within weeks, a sleeper hit emerged after the show landed like a jackhammer and then unfurled like slow-burn splatter art, parceling out tiny fragments of happened in the woods after a high-school female soccer team survived a plane crash. Soon enough, we saw that fighting one’s way back from a traumatic situation might only be the beginning of the horror.
I’m starting off on a dark note here, I realize, and how dare I do that during Women’s History Month?
Yet Yellowjackets is not exactly a bouquet of tulips, y’all. No “proper” lady behavior went down in those Canadian woods, and those terrors have yet to fully emerge in the eyes of the present-time public, but this show’s sleight of hand continues to be masterful. For one thing, it’s hard to describe the show to the uninitiated. It cannot be reduced to a survival drama or fairly compared to Lord of the Flies other than the framing. And sure, there’s cult-like spookiness and physical brutality, but stressing those side effects feels like a disservice. Frankly, the show also surpasses its own gruesomeness to give us fascinating characterization, proving that Yellowjackets has more to offer than bleakness and gore and horror with a side dish of the supernatural.
The show pulls off nearly impossible storytelling feats in this way, which is why I’ll resist doing a “standard” review. I won’t even come close to dissecting all of the themes that really make this show tick. Because yes I am rambling and yet I realize that this series has so many layers that I cannot adequately address all of them in one go. Avoiding spoilers is also paramount, and soon enough, there will be fan theories floating around that we can dissect.
It will be a good time, I promise.
Yet let’s begin here: you will feel anxious while watching this new season, and it will be worth it. Also, I recommend rewatching the Season 1 finale for a few reasons. The first, obviously, is to refresh on the story’s various threads. The second, almost equally important reason, would be to recapture the vibe of the central four — Natalie (Juliette Lewis), Misty (Christina Ricci), Shauna (Melanie Lynskey), and Taissa (Tawny Cypress) — slo-mo walking into their high school reunion to the admiration of every man in the room.
Make way. The #Yellowjackets are here. pic.twitter.com/YfENnZlhXI
— Yellowjackets (@yellowjackets96) January 15, 2022
This clip brings me to the first of a few points for why this season remains as strong (if not stronger) as the first one.
– Yellowjackets continues to *chef’s kiss* all over the soundtrack: As the above clip illustrates, this show manages to be the best at weaving in those earworms that you may not have realized dominated the background noise of your own 1990s. Offspring’s “Keep ‘Em Separated” is at once a frivolous set of lyrics that could mean more, and it transformed into such a ridiculous party anthem, much like the juxtaposition of the Yellowjackets entering this silly reunion party. Few people were aware at that point of the clean-up job that had just taken place after Shauna’s lover met a violent end. And Season 2 does well at highlighting both darkly humorous and profound moments with music, too, which I expect that we will dissect as the episodes wear forth. I am, however, pleased to report that the promise of a perfect Tori Amos moment does come through, and this part of the show remains a high point.
– No other recent show on TV can do multiple timelines this well: One side of the story nearly always gets the shaft in shows with dueling timelines. One set of characters always runs thin. Sh*t usually gets confusing, and two timelines tend to start to be more of a gimmick than a useful strategy. I would invite you to prove me wrong here, but please don’t tell me that The Witcher or Westworld did it better. I will laugh. (True Detective Season 1, perhaps? Sure, I’ll give you that, but I’m talking about recent shows.)
The Yellowjackets writers did the thing. They made the past and the present gel in a seamless way. Likewise, the young and older version of these principal characters feel true to their counterparts, and the second season amplifies this strength. Sophie Thatcher delivers a teen Natalie who’s well on her way to be the burned-out version portrayed by Juliette Lewis. Samantha Hanratty is equally as unhinged and terrifying as the sight of Christina Ricci’s version lethally spiking cigarettes and naming a bird Caligula. Jasmin Savoy Brown gives us a teen Taissa whose cutthroat scrimmaging feels natural for a political candidate with a thirst for sacrificial rituals. And Sophie Nélisse gives us teen Shauna with so much pent-up rage boiling underneath her meek and socially acceptable surface that we find it easy to believe that adult Shauna fell into a deadly affair that’s spilling into Season 2.
— That thematic tightrope: Three of these ^^ figures are suffering from PTSD in the present. And Yellowjackets‘ treatment of trauma aftermath stands far apart from something like, say, Room. Remember how dreary that movie was? Bree Larson’s character expected to celebrate freedom, and instead, she fell into severe depression. Reintegration is hard, and that’s not easy to witness by nature. Recovery is also not linear. It’s not terribly fun to watch in real life or in a lot of movies. Yet Yellowjackets does such a fine job of punctuating any “backsliding” moments with dark humor that all of the dismal details wash away. Instead, we want to know what’s next, and how these characters will manage to cover up their latest f*ck up in an attempt to bury the past.
And my goodness, do these actresses ever milk these roles. Decades of experience lie underneath Juliette Lewis’ and Christina Ricci’s belts, and Yellowjackets arguably gives them (especially in the case of the latter) the roles of a lifetime. Ricci chews her role up (both she and Hanratty get even nuttier this year), and I’m so gleefully happy for her that she found it. And don’t even get me started on how Melanie Lynskey is finally getting her due because I’ll keep going if you allow it.
— About that lady stuff: Sure, the title of the show is a cheeky nod to Lord of the Flies, but these are stinging hellions who will not only mercilessly attack under threat but also unprovoked. Dealing with dumb social hierarchies is difficult enough in conventional surroundings. In the woods, these ladies can escape expectations, but even worse pressures erupt. As grown women, they haven’t been able to move on, not with public perception and hangers-on and everything. It’s no wonder that they can never adapt, and you can expect that struggle to grow messier for Shauna and Taissa, and more complicated for Natalie. Only Misty never hides who the really is — someone willing to amputate and maim and poison and kill to capture anyone’s attention.
I’m really not sure who is most terrifying.
Season 2 also gives us more of a textured look at the messiness of human interaction. Take Shauna and Jackie’s best-friendship, which came to a tragic crescendo when Jackie literally got frozen out of the group. This season picks up with Shauna and the group deciding how to move past this incident. That guilt clearly stays with Shauna through adulthood and informs every relationship that she has, including the one with her prom-king husband (and ex of Jackie), Jeff. You might guess correctly that he’s going through some stuff this season after what Shauna did, and you’d be correct. He might even be afraid of his wife while incredulously asking, “Are you Rambo?” I’d watch a spinoff of these two, yet I’m not sure that both of them will survive this series.
— Season 2 is what you expect, thank god, only more amplified: The physical elements are more brutal in Yellowjackets in Season 2. The sense of desperation grows greater in both timelines. Also, yes, that Season 1 finale moment goes somewhere: “Antler Queen” Lottie Matthews is still alive (and semi-well) and plays a large role as portrayed by both Courtney Eaton and Simone Kessell, whose grown-up version presents a very different way of healing from the past. This dichotomy went to rage-filled places where I did not expect. The whole season is full of surprises, in fact, and we are all lucky to have Yellowjackets back.
Showtime’s ‘Yellowjackets’ returns on Sunday, March 26.