Yellowjackets, the new thriller on Showtime, starts with the sound of a panicked gasp. The camera bounces alongside a young woman in a nightgown running through the woods; she’s barefoot, even though there’s snow on the ground. Whispers echo behind her, then shrieks and eerie bird calls. The girl keeps running – for her life, it seems – until she stumbles into a deep pit full of spikes. The camera pans over her corpse; her pursuer looks down on her from above, their face covered by a cloth mask, their shoulders draped in animal skins and a ratty soccer T-shirt.
Then, we get a time jump. A high school girls’ soccer team got stranded in the wilderness after their private flight crash-landed; only a few survived, and now they’re adults, still haunted but trying to lead “normal” lives. Soon we get another flashback to the wilderness, where masked girls tie up the naked corpse of a slaughtered girl and prepare her like meat. With this opening, Yellowjackets has only just begun to reveal the mystery of the strange woods where these girls got stranded, and from here, each episode will drive up the stakes with further reveals and mind-bending cliffhangers.
Ever since I started watching Yellowjackets on Showtime, my mind has been taken over with frenzied, desperate speculation about what will happen in the next episode. My friends have been calling it “the next Lost,” and much like Lost, watching this show has made my brain devolve into reading fan theories after every single episode and arguing with my girlfriend over character motivations.
The problem is, I can’t deal with another Lost. I’ve been down that road before, and I don’t want to go there again. But the other problem is, it’s already too late. Yellowjackets has its sweet little stingers in me, and it didn’t take long; the gory, chilling opening episode got me good, and I’ve been down for the count ever since.
Lost already broke my heart years ago with this exact type of shit. I remember the excitement I felt at the end of the first season of Lost, when the main characters opened up that mysterious hatch. It seemed like anything could happen! And there were so many other great moments on that show. (The polar bears! Not Penny’s boat! “We have to go back!”) Remember the speculation, the vindication whenever you managed to predict something correctly, the ongoing sensation that anything could happen? But then … remember how it felt to watch the last season and realize that it just wasn’t that deep?
Since then, I try not to get invested in puzzle box mysteries. After all, if you don’t get invested, you can’t be disappointed when the reveals don’t go anywhere. I didn’t get my heart broken when Battlestar Galactica and True Detective took weird turns. I didn’t like Westworld – not even season 1 – because I got the sense I was being fucked with on purpose. Cliffhanger? I don’t know her! Not anymore.
But now, with Yellowjackets, I’ve returned to my worst impulses. I search “Yellowjackets” on Twitter and Reddit as soon as I’ve completed an episode, checking multiple times a week to see if anybody’s noticed any details that seem promising. I send texts to friends to hear whether they’re caught up on the show so we can trade theories; one of my friends knows a recreational pilot who gave us his own theories about what really happened to the plane at the end of “Flight of the Bumblebee” (the most recent episode at the time of writing). Let’s just say, based on his insights, I’m more convinced than ever that Yellowjackets is supernatural.
Since Yellowjackets airs on Showtime, it’s not as popular as Game of Thrones or Lost, but I’m not the only one who’s become captivated by this show’s unfolding mystery. And that’s really as it should be, because I need more people to participate in fan theories and slake my thirst for mystery-solving.
I don’t know whether Yellowjackets will resolve anything this season in a satisfying way, let alone in future seasons. But at least the show has more to offer than just the puzzle box. Its ensemble cast, both the teenagers and their adult counterparts, have magnetic chemistry with one another. So I’m not just sticking around to find out about the wilderness cult; I’m also here for the stacked cast playing various anti-heroines tearing one another into pieces to survive. Christina Ricci’s terrifying turn as the villainous Misty – as well as her teenage version, played by Samantha Hanratty – gets me deliciously stressed every week. Then there’s Nat, played by Sophie Thatcher (the teen) and Juliette Lewis (the adult); she keeps making terrible choices, but given her tragic life history, it makes sense (and makes for harried watching). Tawny Cypress and Jasmin Savoy Brown as adult and teenaged Taissa, respectively, both swing effortlessly between solemn and unhinged.
The high I feel about Yellowjackets right now may not last. But for the first time in ages, it feels earned, and I just want more people to talk to me about precisely how good it feels. More people need to follow Yellowjackets actress Melanie Lynskey on Twitter, where she openly engages with fan theories and keeps us all guessing (and losing our damn minds). More people need to DM me about the glitter at the bottom of Shauna’s closet, and where it really came from. And why is Callie going on sleepovers almost every night? Doesn’t that seem suspicious to anyone?!
Do you see what I mean? It’s hopeless. I’m doomed. I am a cautionary tale. You may as well join me.
Yellowjackets season 1 is now airing on Showtime, with new episodes every Sunday.
Correction (Jan. 4): A previous version of this article misstated the Yellowjackets schedule.