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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

‘Yellowjackets’ packs an enjoyably painful sting

I don’t even know where to begin describing the complex masterpiece that is “Yellowjackets.” I could say that it’s one of the purest depictions of female adolescence that I’ve ever seen; I could say that it was so terrifying that I didn’t sleep for three nights. Well-written, with layers upon layers of mystery, “Yellowjackets” packs a painful sting that still leaves you craving more. 

 

Told in a mix of flashbacks and present-day plots, “Yellowjackets” follows a high school women’s soccer team of the same name. The Yellowjackets make it to nationals level competition… except they never actually make it to nationals. Their plane crashes on the way, leaving the girls stranded, with nothing except their salvageable luggage, their coaches and the sons of their head coach. 

 

Living in the wilderness allows the girls to exist in a fascinating duality: they are trapped, but they are free. This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to them, but they’re determined to make the best of it. Jackie (Ella Purnell), the captain, is endlessly determined to keep her team in good spirits—especially her best friend, Shauna (Sophie Nélisse). Misty (Samantha Hanratty) takes up the position of nurse, giving her authority in a way that she never had as the team’s equipment manager. Van (Liv Hewson)  and Tai (Jasmin Savoy Brown) are able to reveal their relationship, no longer worried of fear and judgment. Together, Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) and Travis (Kevin Alves), the oldest son of their head coach, learn a lot about hunting and even more about love. The show has a surprising number of light moments, all of which help you fall for the girls endlessly. These moments really help humanize the girls in a way that directly contradicts the overall plot. 

 

In this teenage bliss, there is death and brutality. A symbol keeps haunting them wherever they go, more and more of them are dying and the wolves that lurk in the woods are as scary as ever. Tai starts sleepwalking, with increasingly outlandish behavior. The shot of teenage Tai shoveling dirt into her mouth was what haunted me at night; I still get chills thinking about it. As good as “Yellowjackets” is at the light-hearted moments, the production crew is even better at the gritty scenes, leaving imprints that will stain your brain for weeks to come. Another standout is the opening shot, an unidentified girl running through the woods, only to be caught and killed by a masked group of people. The original implication seems to be cannibalism, but I truly believe that it’s a sacrifice to the woods.

 

Supernatural elements—starting with a seance gone terribly wrong—start to pile up throughout the 10 episodes, and viewers are left to wonder whether it’s collective delusion or actually something otherworldly. Nature starts to blend together with magic, as Lottie (Courtney Eaton) starts having psychic visions. These only further as her visions prove to be true, leading the girls to feed further into her spirituality. The Yellowjackets start to wonder if there are larger forces at play, further fueling my idea that the opening scene is a sacrifice, not a meal. 

 

Is it magic? Is it a coincidence? Did any of it even actually occur? When the season ends, we still don’t know what truly happened out there—all we have are the glimpses shown and the hints dropped in the present day.

 

See, the crash happened in 1996, but the show takes place in 2021, following the now-grown survivors, mostly Shauna (Melanie Lynskey), Misty (Christina Ricci), Natalie (Juliette Lewis) and Tai (Tawny Cypress). The girls can’t move on from their past, still living in their old town, still being asked about their time in the woods (with an emphasis on their alleged cannibalism). The girls just want to move on with their lives. Shauna is married to Jeff (Warren Kole), Jackie’s old boyfriend, and is trying to find happiness in her household. Everything Shauna does should make her unikeable, and still, I find myself rooting for her, enthralled by her meanness and general apathy. Lynskey is fantastic, as she finds the perfect balance of rudeness and playfulness in her portrayal of Shauna. When she’s nice, she’s great… but when she’s mean, she’s absolutely incredible. 

 

Nearby, Tai is running for public office, and rumors of her past are only bringing her campaign down. She is trying so hard to remain level-headed, and I can’t help but root for her, even following that crazy plot twist in the last episode (if you know, you know). Natalie is fresh out of rehab, but not looking to stay sober for more than five minutes, already out seeking the newest thrill. Natalie is perhaps least likable, but also the most broken, an interesting dynamic that Lewis handles excellently. Misty is working as a nurse, but she is as lonely and isolated as she was as a kid—technically part of the team, but still living as an outsider. Ricci shines in this role, leaning into all of the crazed parts of Misty that make her so fun to watch.

 

But, there’s no escaping their past—at least not for these four. I’ll be vague in the interest of spoilers, but murder follows the girls even in the present-day. There’s blackmail and stabbing and kidnapping—an endless slew of crimes as they try to keep their past hidden. Misty and Natalie make an unexpected dynamic duo: Misty, endless enthusiasm and frightening amount of knowledge on illegal activity, and Natalie, all snark but a powerful social figure. Shauna and Tai remain close, still taking care of each other like they did in the woods 25 years ago. All of this drama further leaders viewers to asking that ever-present question: what really happened out there in the woods? 

 

Hopefully viewers will have more answers to these questions in season two. A second season has already been confirmed by Showtime, and I am eagerly anticipating more information on these girls that I can’t help but love.

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