Yellowjackets: The Truth We Tell Ourselves is the Wildest Lie

The wilderness beckons us back for a second season, and how could we not go gently into that good nightmare? If you haven’t realized the critical acclaim of the first season or the successful rollout through the television awards circuit, then maybe you heard the scream of feral girls — Yellowjackets has become the genre-bending show you must watch. With the surprising proportions of horror, humor, and the traumatic angst of high school, it was no surprise that a second and third season was announced so quickly.

The main premise is simple as it is outstanding. In 1996, a plane carrying a high school girls soccer team, the titular Yellowjackets, crashes in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. They survive 19 months until they are rescued. That’s the simple truth that the girls cling to for years until they become women — that they survived. The actual truth unfolds on our screens as we watch the girls survive cannibalism and form a wilderness cult. The girls fended off the harshness of nature only to invoke something much darker and deadlier. This is the trauma that continues to follow them until today as adults in the present-2021 timeline.

While the gore of girlhood and cannibalism were foreshadowed in the first season, it is only in this season that leads to the events in the 1996 timeline and how the adults in 2021 continue to pay the consequences. The 1996 timeline is covered in snow in a fatal ice of tension begins to form in the team between the girls who support Lottie (Courtney Eaton, now bumped up to the main cast) with her paranormal connection to the spirits of the wilderness and those who don’t. Lottie’s vague spiritual guidance is half Wiccan, half mistreated mental illness and all questionable.

Simone Kessell as Lottie, Lauren Ambrose as Van and Tawny Cypress as Taissa. Image courtesy of SHOWTIME.

Steadfast characters like Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) are swayed to join Lottie’s teachings by their respective partners, Van (Liv Hewson) and Travis (Kevin Alves), for the only anchor of faith and safety in a place that offers neither. It is through the terrifying arc of Shauna (Sophie Nelisse, delivering another standout performance) as her pregnancy grows just as much as the unsaid secrets she shares with the frozen remains of Jackie (Ella Purnell) and their undefined relationship.

The cannibalism of their team captain, as harrowing as it draws nearer, is an attempt at intimacy. To Shauna, Jackie was all that she wanted to be (and maybe all who she wanted to be with, which led her to sabotage and cross lines to be as close to Jackie as possible). Jackie was the golden girl, she had led the team to victory, and now her cooked corpse would lead them out of the winter starvation. Such a gruesome scene is presented as a bacchanal, golden crowns and godly fruits, for the team can never return to normal after this. It’s the hunger, delusion, dehydration, and the shameful admittance that it was delicious; It’s the daring whisper of, who’s next?

In the present timeline, the adult counterparts relinquish their control over their lies and facades of normalcy. The wilderness is calling them back. Adult Taissa (Tawny Cypress) doesn’t celebrate her win as Senator — not when she realizes that her other personality has begun to dominate her reality. Referred to as the Other Tai, this ulterior vessel has hurt her wife and son. The other persona reached out to the dark forces of the wilderness through bloody alters and blind desires that drive her across the country to Adult Van (Lauren Ambrose).

Van owns a VHS tape and CD music store with beaded curtains and clothes of bands that haven’t played in decades — quite literally stuck in a 90s capsule before the events of the crash. It’s a vulnerable portrayal of grief and PTSD, which Ambrose delivers in the brashness that Teen Van is known for as well as the gentle perception of a woman the world has left behind.

Melanie Lynskey as Shauna. Image courtesy of SHOWTIME.

Just the same, Adult Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) reconciles with her urge to return to traumatic spontaneity — the fight or flight mode she had in the wilderness all those years ago — and what she searched for in her extramarital affair and murder as the police open a case on her lover. She chases down the criminal who hijacked her car and carries around a stolen gun. It is probably the most terrifying act, as she admits the truth of her complicated experience in motherhood. Tethered to her pregnancy in the wilderness, and the fear that her baby will be eaten next by the team, Shauna’s failure to take care of her daughter, Callie (Sarah Desjardins), is emotional as it is an alarming hair from the truth she has tried to conceal for so many years.

Moreover, the tearful weight of Shauna’s story is countered with the weirdly delightful adventure of Adult Misty (Christina Ricci), who pairs up with the even more weirdly delightful citizen detective, Walter (Elijah Wood), as they search for Natalie. What Misty finds is that the truth she has been depriving of herself, that she doesn’t need to prove herself to be loved in a Twin Peaks trip into her psyche through musical Morse code and gay parrots, is much harder to accept than the real mystery in Yellowjackets.

Adult Nat (Juliette Lewis) is now forcibly sober, which allows her cunningness to shine in the second season as she investigates the secrets of her kidnappers and the final hours of Adult Travis before his susceptible suicide. She awakes in an earthly compound and is startled at the cult leader, the only recognizable face, Charlotte “Lottie” Matthews (Simone Kessell). While the other women tried to contain their untamed nature when they returned to civilization, Lottie never left the wilderness. Instead, she brings it with her. The same ‘healing’ exercises she shared with the team as a teenager had been commercialized into a ‘wellness center’ carved in an upstate New York forest. She never leaves the cultish tactics. It is the collision of the adults in the present timeline and the dangerous desires of the teenagers from the 1996 timeline begin to trip over them.

Jasmin Savoy Brown as Teen Taissa. Image courtesy of SHOWTIME.

Charlotte believes that their reunion is meant for something greater than just therapy. She is adamant that the Wilderness (yes, it’s capital W because it becomes a character on its own at this point) is calling them back. The Wilderness was not transactional. Since it had given them the safety of the cabin, it had given them the preservation of Jackie’s body to eat. Also, the Wilderness had given them life at the cost of death. Perhaps in the present timeline, it wants to return the price. The rules of the Wilderness are never explained, but Lottie had been its vessel for the girls back then. Now, Charlotte believes she must resume serving this entity once again.

Take note of the 90s needledrops that will surely be added to your personal playlist later. The most noticeable shift in the second season’s creativity was shocking, if not impressive. The episode’s glitching is similar to the static lines of an old TV as it switches between channels. The editing worsens as the characters hallucinate. It’s the truth we were never meant to know. As for the ritualistic humming from the first season? It is replaced with the eerie flutter of bees — the buzz of nature’s smallest danger getting closer and louder.

Besides the growing fandom and theories that spin out like spiderwebs, what makes Yellowjackets so amazing this season is the level of trust in the writers to pull off these twists. They’re clever, they’re unexpected, and they make no sense until they do. There is a paralleled confidence between the viewers and the writers that are not present in most other series airing right now. It might be the unconstrained anxiety of cancelling the series before the story is finished, or the meticulous plans of the viewers being just as smart to follow the trail of blood and breadcrumbs to a truth we couldn’t have imagined for ourselves.

For more from Ammaarah, read her review of The Midnight Club here!

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