Violence exists between girlhood and womanhood; we are finally beginning to explore this in-between area on our screens. But, unfortunately, what once was presented to us as a rite of passage – higher heels, plumper lips, the plastered perfect smile for wedding pictures, the radiant glow from pregnancy and the artillery of anti-ageing skin products – has been proven to be a patriarchal and commercial lie. This uncharted area between girlhood and womanhood has been repackaged by internalized misogyny for each generation and has thus resulted in disappointing depictions of women on screen. And this is exactly where Showtime’s newest series Yellowjackets invites you to explore, with many warning signs ahead of what the viewer is about to witness.
The premise follows two timelines between the 1996 plane crash in the Canadian wilderness carrying a high school girls soccer team and the 2021 ordinary life of the adult survivors. Unfortunately, what they all describe as a ‘tragedy’ seems to be anything, but as the pilot episode features the girls clad in animal skins hunting down another teammate, draining her blood on the pure white snow, then proceeding to roast and consume her flesh. The truth is bloody and traumatizing, but the adult survivors with those aspects of their survival remain in the wilderness and have maintained that the less the public knew of what happened, the better for them to carry on. Except someone has begun blackmailing the adult survivors as we approach the 25th anniversary of the plane crash.
The powerful performances of the cast tether the timelines between 1996 and 2021. The younger actresses not only have a remarkable resemblance to their adult survivors but have perfected the mannerisms, the character ticks and voice cadence to an impressive length. Melanie Lynskey (Don’t Look Up, Heavenly Creatures) leads as adult Shauna, a bored housewife, and Sophie Nelisse (The Book Thief) as teen Shauna, the shadowed best friend. Tawny Cypress (The Blacklist) grapples with maintaining her perfect life as a top lawyer amidst a political campaign for senator as adult Taissa. In contrast, Jasmine Savoy Brown (the newest Scream installment, which has also topped the box office) displays the ever-skeptical and ruthless teen Taissa who will do whatever it takes to win. Juliet Lewis (Natural Born Killers, Whip It!) drives a reckless yet vulnerable arc for recovering addict adult Natalie. At the same time, Sophie Thatcher (Prospect, The Book of Boba Fett) completely embodies 90s grunge and the angst that comes with it for teen Natalie. Christina Ricci (The Addams Family) as adult Misty is in an awful wig and oversized glasses to disguise the sheer insanity her character is willing to go through with a broad smile.
In contrast, Samantha Hanratty (Daybreak, Salem) displays the early extremities teen Misty endures in an even more awful wig and more oversized glasses to help her team survive. Even though two separate actresses are portraying the same character, the writing and focus on fleshing out these complex women is impressive to watch as the season progresses. Shauna questions the desirability and longevity of her marriage, as Lynskey recently revealed in an interview that she was body-shamed on set and that a woman of her size would never find true love. Taissa’s earnest navigation of her sexuality while lost in the woods as a teenager fast forwards to her luxurious lifestyle with her partner and child, promising voters that her queerness and Blackness serve as representation and honesty in their community. Natalie is reckless but struggles with her trauma, both in 1996 and 2021 timelines, so she resorts to her vices of drinking and drugs to cope instead of facing her vulnerabilities. Finally, Misty hones in her awkward extremity and yearning for love in an unpredictable nature – she’s best described as the “villainous golden retriever” as she deceives and murders, yet heal and encourages her teammates with a smile so deadly. Although the women of Yellowjackets are trapped in their box of truth they’ve all agreed on as they strive for their desires, there’s an air of empathy and pity, even when they make dangerous decisions. Lynskey, Cypress, Lewis and Ricci were all child stars in the ‘90s, and as the tragedy of the plane crash, the world remembers them as the girls they were instead of allowing them to embrace new goals as the women they have come to be.
Unlike The Wilds (2020) on Amazon Prime, which depicts girls’ survival as coming-of-age, or Lost (2004-2010), which depicts humanity’s survival as science fiction, Yellowjackets bends the survival genre at several turns. Yellowjackets is soaked in 90s nostalgia; from the soundtrack to movie mentions to the girls asking the forest spirits “Did O.J. do it?” in a makeshift ouija to pass the time. The body gore and horror increase every episode. As friendship dynamics change between the team, admiration either deepens to love or killer jealousy. The comedy beats become fantastic in a show meant to be so full of trauma. The mystery to track down the person blackmailing the adult survivor sees hilarious buddy-cop moments and action scenes. Even in a setting so isolated, the girls explore feminist theory in the woods. There are peculiar carvings on all the trees, a symbol that still haunts the adult survivors in the present timeline. Above all, the forest seems to have a demonic hold over the girls, pushing them to let go of their notions of civility and accept their feral truth. This paranormal aspect is driven by teammate Lottie (Courtney Eaton) who is possessed by the spirits of the wilderness, always announcing premonitions or omens to the girls and defying simple coincidence. The creepiness is amped by the original score of women vocalizing in unnerving harmony. What at first mimics the buzz and hum of musical wasps, true to the series title, soon becomes frightening in its association to ritual singing. The girls didn’t just survive a year in the wilderness by committing cannibalism, the girls were drawn to a cult. Unlike its preceding survival drama series, we know that they survived and were rescued; this makes Yellowjackets the story that was not meant to be told. The camera angles hide behind trees and bushes of leaves in the forest, as if we the viewer are predators to the girls as much as wolves and bears are, or as if we are witnessing something that we really shouldn’t. And yet, we have no choice but to watch the descent into madness.
Executive producer and director Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body) is surely the perfect candidate to handle the misconception of girls in media and the violence needed to get through womanhood. This first season set the groundwork as the girls battled the elements and the adult survivors battled their ghosts. We only caught a glimpse of their tumultuous journey before the impending doom of winter, the harrowing knowledge of what the girls are about to become. Through incredible writing and editing, Yellowjackets has spun threads upon threads of fan theories on the internet and critical acclaim. The series ensures to keep you up at night – whether it be out of fear or full of ideas. The strength of Yellowjackets is held down by the actresses, simmering in such unpredictability and capability of carrying amazing performances. As we tread closer to the girls’ cult-like dinner of the teammate in the 1996 timeline, the 2021 timeline has similarly awakened something vicious to the adult survivors. They may have left the wilderness all those years ago, but it’s as if the woods beckons them to return to their untamed, unshackled selves because the wilderness certainly has not left them. All the cleverly written foreshadowing doesn’t seem to prepare the viewer for the realization that this was only the beginning of the violence between girlhood and womanhood, and that possibly next season will be an all-out war.
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.
From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.