The Pitch: When last we left the Wisyakok Yellowjackets, they were going through some shit in two different timelines, and things only escalate further in Season 2. In 1996, the stranded girls’ soccer team (and their scant few surviving male companions) were gearing up for a harsh winter in the wilderness in which they’ve been stranded, with little food stewing and brittle conflicts brewing.
Lottie (Courtney Eaton), running out of antipsychotic meds, has been seeing visions; what’s more, they’re coming true, leading many of the group to begin seeing her as a prophet. Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) is reeling from the freezing death of her former bestie, Jackie (Ella Purnell); Taissa’s (Jasmin Savoy Brown) sleepwalking has been getting worse, and the growing concerns about food and cold are driving the group to darker, more inhuman places — ever closer to the pelt-wearing cannibals teased in the opening minutes of the pilot.
It’s not much better for the survivors in the present day, either: Adult Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) struggles to keep her murder of her paramour Adam last season a secret, even as she ropes her desperate husband Jeff (Warren Kole) into the coverup.
Meanwhile, Misty (Christina Ricci) works to throw other citizen detectives off Shauna’s scent for Adam’s death, even as it puts her in the orbit of another amateur sleuth named Walter (Elijah Wood). Adult Taissa’s (Tawny Cypress) sleepwalking is getting her in trouble again, especially as the pressures of her recent election to State Senator start to pile up.
And Natalie (Juliette Lewis) finds herself kidnapped by adult Lottie’s (Simone Kessell) lavender-clad cult, sticking around to solve the mystery of fellow survivor Travis’ suicide from the first season — and to see whether Lottie’s seemingly preternatural insight means as much as it did back in the wilderness. Whether then or now, more heads will spin, and more blood will spill before we learn the truth (and ultimate fate) of these traumatized women’s stories.
No Return, No Reason: Showtime’s Yellowjackets became one of 2021’s surprise TV hits last season, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a combo of a few things, of course: Adult millennials pining for the ’90s and the stars we grew up watching (Lynskey, Ricci, Lewis), a pandemic-era acceptance of our apocalyptic times and a desire to find meaning in the ways COVID life has changed us.
Plus, of course, it’s the kind of buzzy, mystery-box storytelling that hasn’t been done this successfully since Lost, effortlessly weaving fill-in-the-blanks puzzle-solving with relatable ruminations on the end of youth and innocence, and a dash of supernatural horror for good measure.
Season 1’s finale was a tour de force of rug-pulling, from the details of Jackie’s death to Javi’s mysterious disappearance, to Natalie’s abduction and Sleepwalker Taissa’s weird basement shrine. Season 2 is burdened with the task of following up those mysteries and fleshing out our darkly compelling cast of characters, and blessedly, Season 2 honors those mysteries while serving plenty of bloody good fun (based on the four episodes available for review).
Cut My Life Into Pieces: “I like the way I am,” Shauna purrs at one point in the first episode of Yellowjackets‘ second season, which feels like the overarching theme of the women’s journey in the present this time. While they’ve spent the last few decades trying desperately to move on from or get over the still-largely-unseen horrors they experienced in the wilderness, recent events have pulled them back into the fray, and it’s paradoxically woken them up to untold ambition and purpose.
For Shauna, the return of Misty and Natalie, her affair with Adam, and his subsequent death and coverup have awakened something inside her that her husband and daughter (Sarah Desjardins’ Callie) will have to get on board for or get out of the way. Between Shauna and her casually-cruel revolutionary in The Last of Us, Lynskey has mastered the art of mixing maternal warmth with abject cruelty. She, like the ever-acerbic, scowling Lewis, twists the knife to glorious effect this season.
It’s a tone Yellowjackets expertly wields, each new grisly situation cut with the pitch-black humor of our disaffected protagonists shrugging through the worst things you’ve ever seen and just going about their day. Ricci’s particularly fun this season, her off-kilter investigations leading her straight into the arms of Wood, the pair’s matched paranoia bouncing off each other beautifully. He’s a “bored Moriarty looking for his Sherlock,” a great addition to the cast that just amps up the innate ’90s nostalgia the show’s arch tone plays off of.
We Hear the Wilderness, and it Hears Us: But it’s in the past that the show deepens its commitment to fleshing out the origin stories for our broken protagonists, the encroaching winter laying seeds for future traumas we’ve already seen bear fruit. Yellowjackets sets out a mystery whose answer lies in the middle of the story, and builds a nightmarish momentum as we hurdle ever closer to completing it.
Shauna finds herself still talking to the dead Jackie, a reflection of her guilt not just at her pre-crash betrayal but the post-crash fallout of her friendship as a result. We even find room for more unexpected layers to some other supporting characters, like assistant coach Ben (Steven Krueger), who ruminates on his pre-crash life in the closet and imagines what life might have been like had he lived the way he should have lived.
Everyone’s slowly losing their minds, from Lottie to Taissa to Natalie, as desperation and bitter cold set in. Part of Yellowjackets’ appeal has been seeing Lord of the Flies from the other end of the gender spectrum, testing the innate viciousness (and contrasting sisterhood) of teen girls in its most extreme contexts.
The Verdict: At the end of the day, Yellowjackets is a show about what it’s like to peak in high school and the terrible pull to try to make sense of those days (and even, in some cases, try to recapture them). It’s just that, in this case, the good ol’ days were also times of life-and-death struggle, where friendships were broken and cult-like communities forged at the edge of a knife. Season 2 continues that tradition in giddy style, even if the modern-day storylines suffer from some unfortunate sprawl that keeps our girls largely separate from one another.
But these individual journeys, densely packed as they are, never become any less compelling in their fragmentation and open up new layers for Lynskey, Cypress, Ricci, et al. to play. Like the best mystery boxes, each new answer raises more intriguing questions, which is enticing enough. But throw in buckets of blood and more Tori Amos needle drops than you know what to do with, and baby, you’ve got a stew going. (Just don’t ask where we got the meat.)
Where to Watch: The Season 2 premiere of Yellowjackets begins streaming on Friday, March 24th, before airing Sunday, March 26th, at 9:00 p.m. ET on Showtime. Subsequent episodes follow weekly.