“If someone’s digging, we are all fucked.” That was the promise that came from Shauna (played as an adult by Melanie Lynsky) at the end of first episode of Showtime’s Yellowjackets. Ten weeks and a lot of digging later, we have — well, more questions.
It should come as no surprise that a mystery box show with five seasons or so of plot planned didn’t offer much by way of explanation at the end of season 1. In a way, the finale felt like a confirmation of the show becoming a “New Lost” — that it’d brazenly hoard its reveals the way the team has to store food for the winter. We still know very little about the circumstances of Travis’ death, or where the rest of the Yellowjackets are, or what happens to the baby.
But when all is said and done, Yellowjackets is more about the ride than it is the conclusion. Some big questions linger on, but the season also featured some standout set pieces, and with season 2 confirmed fans (hopefully) don’t have to worry too much about answers coming (some day). And so we’re reflecting on that season finale and the questions that will continue to haunt as we await the next installment.
[Ed. note: As you might have surmised, this post will be spoiling the end of the first season of Yellowjackets. Read on at your own peril.]
Zosha: Even with all the comparisons to other shows of its ilk, Yellowjackets felt singular against the TV landscape, the perfect bleak place to escape to, just in time for the holiday season. I don’t think the writing was always the smoothest, but it was clearly smart enough to build a mystery that could withstand some waiting time. So kicking us off: What surprised you most in the final episode of the season?
Joshua: This is going to sound weird but … Taissa winning her election? One of the more interesting things about Yellowjackets fandom is that the present-day storyline is not as widely discussed, not from what I’ve seen, at least. It makes sense: When you start with a bunch of teen girls doing cannibal shit, that kind of takes up all the oxygen in the room. But most of Yellowjackets hasn’t gone back to that! A lot of the show is smaller, personal stuff, and my surprise is where the present-day Yellowjackets end up — I kind of presumed their lives would begin disintegrating, but Taissa is succeeding (although privately things are not kosher) Shauna seems to be holding her family together despite killing a dude, and Misty is ... Misty. The one person who seems to be bearing the most is Nat, who is kidnapped moments before attempting suicide. We’ll get to the past in a moment, but I want to know: Where are you at with the present-day stuff?
Zosha: The present-day stuff is on the whole not my favorite. It has nothing to do with the actresses — they are all superb, and bring out not only interesting new strains of their characters, but interesting echoes of their past — but rather that I wish nothing more than to see all the characters bouncing off each other. So while the 1996 Yellowjackets timeline offers the promise of weird spooky cult shit that leads to cannibalism at some point, it’s also just fun watching the various factions form and reform. For me, the present-day picked up speed in the back half of the season, once we got the reveal that Taissa was also “the bad one” in the tree that her son was seeing, and the remaining Yellowjackets came together to (try to) stop a blackmailer.
So I guess my biggest surprise from the finale is that we didn’t get any more of that! All season everyone I know has been fancasting the adult versions of the other surviving Yellowjackets, and I guess I really convinced myself that we’d see one of them at the reunion, considering how built up that was as an end of season event. (Despite Taissa and Shauna saying there was “still no sign of the others” for months in the pilot.) That being said, was it all worth it for the reveal that Lottie seems to be still alive and wielding more influence than ever? Maybe.
Joshua: I’ll be honest, I don’t particularly care for piecing together the mystery on shows like this. I’m in it for the ride. Stuff like Jeff saying “There wasn’t a book club?!” or an ill-advised seance deep in the woods. I think you are right though: The 1996 story is just packed with plot and character in a way that makes the present-day story feel a little slack in comparison. I like the focus on Shauna’s marriage, but it comes at the cost of the other present-day Yellowjackets, and any scenes of them interacting. Maybe this is by design: Perhaps next season will focus on Nat more, and so on. But none of it has had any momentum since Travis’ murder, and the show spending a whole season withholding who else may have survived feels coy in a way that’s unnecessary. Are you a big fan theory person though, Zosha? Who do you think is still alive?
Zosha: I am not usually a big fan theory person, and even with Yellowjackets I find myself not as all in on the puzzle box parts of the show as others. But the delight of a communal viewing show like Yellowjackets is that you suddenly find your brain is filling in things differently than the people around you — like how and when the group might fragment (or whittle down) in the woods, or who is still alive. We knew Jackie didn’t make it, but the revelation that she died because she stubbornly refused to sleep inside on the night a snow storm blew in (Coach Ben wyd man, you’re the adult) is neat: Eventually we know the Yellowjackets will be more intentional about who lives and who dies, but every loss is tragic at this moment. And this is the best way to make sure that Shauna really feels it.
But to answer your question, I am holding out hope that Van is alive. So far she is unkillable, and (maybe cult-indoctrination aside) I think I hope she didn’t come to the reunion because she’s living in some cabin in the woods, having found contentment unlike the rest of them. But so much of it ends up feeling kind of foolhardy; after all, we know that eight of them partake in a cannibalistic ceremony back near the crashed plane at some point during their time out there. Things got bleak! But I guess at this point the biggest mystery for me is the overall narrative that’s formed around them: The reunion reception was pretty rosy overall, but who else made it out? In what state were they discovered? How much does the general public know, and which parts are being kept to themselves?
Joshua: Yeah and this is the strength of the way Yellowjackets is telling its story: The walk to cannibalism is a slow one but it starts with stuff that’s already there! Like you, I think it’s very smart that it’s just a regular old falling out that results in Jackie’s death, and that the Doomcoming ultimately didn’t end with them killing anyone. They’re all capable of dreadful things, and it makes every step closer to what we saw in the premiere that much more horrifying. That said, I am curious about the decision to make its most sinister characters the two prominent nonwhite Yellowjackets — something that is only underlined by its overwhelming interest in white ’90s nostalgia. This ties into another tricky line Yellowjackets is walking — what’s going on with Lottie? I know the creators and actors are aware of some of this stuff, but how do you think it’s handling it all so far?
Zosha: Pretty much any plot line that deals with “is it supernatural or is it mental health?” skeeves me out. I think the success of Lottie’s storyline so far is that there isn’t a therapist in the narrative who tells her to ignore what turns out to be a very real supernatural entity; instead it’s the teammates sort of acquiescing in their own way to her just … being eerily right when she says things. Especially as they’re all weakened by hunger, trauma, and hopelessness, they might just feel like they need something a little more.
But as a friend put it to me recently: There’s not usually a ton of payoff in not telling your audience something just for the sake of hiding it! And as you say, the longer the show refuses to unravel the mystery the more the narratives calcify around what we know in weird ways. It certainly seems like whatever cult (Lottie’s cult?) kidnapped Nat in the present is the one responsible for killing Travis. But we still don’t know why, or what he thought she was right about (and it seems like Juliette Lewis has some thoughts about what we owe to Nat’s character, if only for her own sanity).
What’s the one thing that will haunt you until Yellowjackets season 2 premieres?
Joshua: That goddamn puppy head. What the fuck, man. (No but really: Please keep the messed-up stuff coming, I love it.)
Zosha: For me it’s Nat’s bleached hair — the fact it hasn’t grown out after months in the woods seems like the strongest case so far for some supernatural meddling.
You can now watch all of season 1 of Yellowjackets on Showtime.