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How Yellowjackets became the surprise sleeper hit of the winter

Yellowjackets

The occult horror-mystery about the survivors of a gruesome disaster captured audiences with dark humor & compelling characters.

The sleeper hit of 2022 (so far) has undoubtedly been Showtime’s Yellowjackets, a grisly, enthralling tale of a 1990’s all-girls high school soccer team forced to survive the Ontario wilderness after a plane crash, it hit audiences like a bolt of lightning. The simplest way to describe it is “LOST meets Alive meets Lord of the Flies with Riot Grrl energy” – but even that does a disservice to the stunning character development, the devolution into savagery—a particular kind of savagery that only young women are capable of—and the relentless pacing that creates as many questions as it answers. The brilliance of Yellowjackets is that you know these girls will descend into madness, and yet you come to love them knowing the ritualistic cannibalism that awaits them. Yes, there is cannibalism, but funnily it becomes the least interesting part of Yellowjackets as the first season progresses. 

Yellowjackets bounces back between 2021 and 1996, when the Wiskayok High girls soccer team headed to compete in nationals—a huge accomplishment that is nevertheless overlooked by the school and the rest of the town in favor of the underachieving boy’s baseball team. These girls were already honed to a knife’s edge before they ever set foot on the plane, driven and competitive, the best of the best, and yet as with any group of girls this age there are cracks in the facade, weak points to be weeded out as the wilderness begins to reveal their true natures. 

From the opening scene in the pilot, the writers are pulling no punches, letting you know loud and clear that this story is one of violence, occult (or maybe just ‘cult’), and the darkest parts of human nature. The pilot gets additional “good for her” cred thanks to director Karyn Kusama, who directed the darkly funny feminist horror Jennifer’s Body, another story that explores the dangerous, sometimes deadly, relationships between young women. In the pilot we see a girl, running through a snow-covered forest, wearing only a flimsy nightgown. All around her we hear the whoops and caws of her pursuers, driving her on, herding her to her end, a pit filled with spikes. Then the worn, nearly disintegrated pink Converse appears as one of her pursuers looks down at her mangled body, their identity hidden behind furs and a mask. But it’s those barely-held together Converse telling the story here. Who was the girl who put those shoes on in her sunlit bedroom back in New Jersey, dreaming of athletic achievement, maybe even the scholarships to come? 

In the present-day timeline, we follow four of the survivors: Shauna (Melanie Lynskey), Taissa (Tawny Cypress), Natalie (Juliette Lewis), and Misty (Christina Ricci). We learn throughout the season that these are not the only survivors to have made it out of the wilderness, but they are the main focus for the time being. While the 2021 survivors are raising families and going to rehab and running for office and holding down nursing assistant jobs, there is a part of them—and not a small part either—frozen at 17, 18 years old. They’ve spent the past 25 years in a sort of stasis, going about their lives while being emotionally and mentally unable to process the horrors they’ve seen, and the things that they’ve done. So when the narrative flips back to 1996 and we see the Yellowjackets in the glorious spring of youth and innocence, it feels like a gut punch, knowing that adulthood lies in wait for these young women. 

Yellowjackets (Showtime)

And while in 1996 we do follow Shauna (Sophie Nélisse), Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown), Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) and Misty (Sammi Hanratty), the action hardly revolves around these four characters exclusively. There’s also the tough goalie Van (Liv Hewson), sweet, religious Laura Lee (Jane Widdop), fragile and spooky Lottie (Courtney Eaton), Shauna’s best fremeny and team captain Jackie (Ella Purnell), the sons of head coach Martinez Travis and Javi (Kevin Alves and Luciano Leroux), and coach Ben (Steven Kreuger), who lost most of his leg in the plane crash and had it cut off by Misty—saving his life, but not selflessly. Seeing that there is no present-day analog for these characters set the internet (pardon the pun) buzzing for more. Who survived? Who didn’t? Who got eaten and who died because the Canadian Rockies are a tough territory for even the most dedicated survivalist? Spoiler warning ahead: If you haven’t seen Yellowjackets, stop reading here. Spoilers abound below.

The Book of Shauna

While there was a great deal of speculation about Jackie’s possible survival, the season finale confirmed that she did not survive. With the arrival of winter (and a dumptruck full of snow) Jackie tragically freezes to death after being banished from the cabin by Shauna and the rest of the team. Yes, Jackie proved more than once her only talent was shit-stirring, that she was a spoiled princess who—to quote Shauna—saw the rest of them as side characters in the movie of her life. It’s a brutal moment, and any catharsis it might have brought is quickly undermined by her death. She is, after all, a teenager. And who among us was not insufferable at that age? Does that mean we deserve such an awful, mundane death? Is it any wonder Shauna still carries so much guilt for her death 25 years later? After all, we see her stab and dismember her lover Adam (Peter Gadiot) without batting an eye, because all of her guilt and shame is centered around Jackie’s sad, cold demise. 

And while we all still have some lingering questions about Adam (was he really just some guy?) it was important for us to see that you only had to scratch the surface of Shauna to see that wild-eyed, traumatized girl, still living just under the surface of the suburban mom. The mystery of Adam, and Shauna’s conviction that he’d stolen her journals, her narrative, fueled the feeling of helplessness and loss of control brought on by her trauma. Like an animal cornered, she did the only thing she knew how to do when faced with a threat—she struck first. 

Taissa has Two Faces

One of the most shocking revelations in a season full of surprises was definitely the revelation of Taissa Turner’s dissociative identity disorder in both 1996 and 2021. On the surface, Tai is smart, driven, completely type-A. Whereas the other Tai is a complete child of the Id, a full agent of chaos so in tuned with the earth she actually consumes it, as Lottie finds her ravenously eating dirt one night outside the cabin. In 2021, other Tai—nicknamed “the bad one” by her son Sammy (Aiden Stoxx) is just as driven as everyday Taissa, her wild fury now focused, honed. The reveal of what really happened to Sammi’s adorable dog Biscuit when Tai’s wife Simone (Rukiya Bernard) discovers her basement altar is only eclipsed by the horror that the heart on the table is no dog heart but a human one. Possibly stolen from Adam’s dismembered corpse, possibly not? Tai, fully knowing about her “sleepwalking,” might not grasp the full scope of what Other Tai has been up to in both timelines, but she definitely suspects. Her vocal scorn of psychology, superstition, and religious faith is enough to show that the lady doth protest too much. Now that Other Tai’s sacrifice has no doubt handed Tai the election and guaranteed her a seat on the State Senate, it’s clear which of them is really in charge, and which one is the sleepwalker. 

Yellowjackets (Showtime)

Nat, Travis, and the Cult of Lottie

While we learn in 2021 that Travis was one of the few to make it back to New Jersey with the rest of the survivors, it’s unclear what his role became in the Lost Girls of the Cannibal Wilderness, as he isn’t shown (to our knowledge) in the opening scenes of the pilot. And while Nat does her best to find him, someone else finds him first and stages his suicide. We don’t have any clues as to who that might be until the finale, when Nat is stopped from ending her life by a group of pastel-wearing cult members, all wearing the symbol found carved in and around the cabin, a symbol that looks like a girl hanging from a scythe. We hear a frantic voicemail from Nat’s old sponsor Suze, who Nat pressured into looking into Travis’s bank account to find out who cleaned him out after his death. “What have you gotten me into? And who the fuck is Lottie Matthews?” While in 1996, Lottie gives the heart of the bear who gave its life to her to whatever spirit or god or demon is living in those woods and firmly establishes her role as the Antler Queen, with Van and Misty serving as her first two disciples. With Javi’s whereabouts unknown and Travis’s very mixed feelings about Nat and what happened with Jackie, it stands to reason that Travis could throw his lot in with the Antler Queen, and where Travis goes Nat will inevitably follow. As much as Nat and Travis are their own self-contained unit, there’s no way they get through the winter without the rest of the group, rifle or no. 

Play Misty for Us

When Misty’s darker inclinations finally turned to murder in the season finale, poisoning reporter/fixer/hostage Jessica Roberts (Reka Sharma) after ostensibly releasing her, it was probably most surprising how unsurprising it was. Misty, after all, has been a bundle of dark impulses in adorable glasses since before the plane ever left New Jersey. A lonely girl reading YA horror in her bedroom, an over-eager team manager who finds her place in the terrors of the wilderness, an easy-to-snap healthcare provider with a brittle smile, Misty is somehow the Yellowjacket we know both the best and the least. It’s clear that Misty was never popular in high school (or perhaps ever); with her needy personality and love of the “weird,” Misty is on the perpetual sidelines until the plane crash, when her nights of reading survival manuals and true crime novels get to shine. She’s the first to leap into action to save Coach Ben and establish any sort of order.

Her obvious delight at finally being appreciated shifts to desperation when she finds and destroys the plane’s black box—after all, she can’t lose her new friends if no one ever comes to take them away. Modern Misty has given herself more freely to this desperation, spying on Nat and calling it friendship, talking true crime on the internet and calling it help, gleefully arranging the disposal of a corpse and calling it normal. What remains to be seen in Season 2 is how far Misty went back in the forest when her newfound happiness was shattered following the ‘shroom incident, and how far adult Misty has been willing to go in the present. 

…And the rest. 

So while the season finale left us with more questions, no doubt the wild speculation and theorizing will have to sustain us in the long winter between seasons. We still don’t know who else is among the present-day survivors–though it seems a safe bet that Lottie is still alive and leading a cult, we still don’t know the status of Van, Mari, Akilah, Coach Ben and Javi. After the brutal snowfall that took Jackie’s life, it’s hard to imagine Javi fared much better, but hope springs eternal. Also unknown is what Simone will do after discovering Tai’s grisly offering, and what State Senator Taissa Turner will do with her newfound power. Now that Adam has officially been named as a missing person, it has finally hit Callie that her mother is not only traumatized, but she’s also dangerous. She always was, and Callie, thinking herself astute, never really had the inkling of Shauna’s potential for violence the way Jeff did (the joke about the cat in the chili pot???). If anything it’s further proof that Shauna, Tai, Nat and Misty are all time bombs of a sort. The nature of the explosions may vary, but the damage will be just as cataclysmic. 

We can hardly wait. 

Yellowjackets is now available on Showtime.

Yellowjackets Trailer:

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CategoriesFeatures TV
Beau North

BEAU NORTH is the author of four books and contributor to multiple anthologies. Beau lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband. In her spare time, she is the co-host of the podcasts Excessively Diverted: Modern Classics On-Screen and Let’s Get Weirding: A Dune Podcast.

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