Yellowjackets Season 2 Is Darker, Weirder, and Better Than Ever

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Yellowjackets Season 2 Is Darker, Weirder, and Better Than Ever

The first season of Showtime drama Yellowjackets was that rarest of TV phenomena: A genuine word-of-mouth hit. Granted, the series was unlike almost anything else on television, wracking up seven Emmy nominations and the sort of genuinely viral buzz (pun absolutely intended) that most modern-day television properties can only dream of achieving. The deliciously disturbing survival thriller was one part horror story and one part surprisingly deft exploration of the complex inner lives of teenage girls, all with an uncomfortable hint of cannibalism on top—the sort of drama that subverts our expectations of what these stories can be and do even as its twisty mysteries encouraged viewers to theorize and speculate about each installment in excruciating detail. Suddenly it seemed like everyone had a Yellowjackets theory, from what really happened to the eponymous 1990s-era soccer team who were stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash, or how the traumatic shared experience was still affecting the lives of the survivors more than two decades later. Who made it out of the woods? What secrets are the women that lived still carrying? And who, exactly, got eaten by her teammates? 

Yet, all that speculation pales next to what is perhaps the most important question of all: What about Season 2? Was it possible that lightning would really strike twice? Could the series maintain its trademark wild, weird, utterly addictive tension in a second outing? After all, the threat of the proverbial sophomore slump is very real in the television industry and has kneecapped shows with much bigger production and marketing budgets than this one in recent years. (Looking at you, True Detective, Big Little Lies, American Gods, and dozens more.) Could Yellowjackets possibly maintain its cross-timeline intensity? Expand its central mysteries in satisfying ways? Give fans at least some answers to the many questions it has raised, while still offering up new puzzles to obsess over? 

Happily, the answer to almost all those questions is a resounding yes. Yellowjackets Season 2 is darker, more disturbing, and more confident than ever—utterly fearless in its storytelling and unflinching in its vision. Unlike so many shows before it, Yellowjacket’s critical and popular success hasn’t changed or compromised its quality in any way, and its second season feels like nothing so much as a natural expansion and extension of its first. In many ways, it is that first season, turned up to eleven—more uncomfortable, more transgressive, and full of even more rage (both sublimated and directly expressed) than its predecessor. 

Over the course of the six episodes available to screen for critics, we meet more of the plane survivors in the present-day timeline, even as the flashbacks reveal the increasing complexities of life in the wilderness as factions form among the team. And the show remains as cagey as ever about whether supernatural forces are at work in the woods or the girls are simply experiencing some sort of shared psychotic break brought on by starvation and trauma. (But one of the best things about Yellowjackets is that no matter which of those things you believe to be true, the story doesn’t get any less compelling or intense.)

Season 2 picks up two months from the events of the first season finale, which concluded with the region’s first snowfall and the death by exposure of Yellowjackets team captain Jackie Taylor (Ella Purnell). Now winter has come to the mountains in earnest, and the surviving team members are struggling not just to stay warm, but to find enough food to stay alive. Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) and Travis (Kevin Alves) rise earlier and earlier to search for game—and any sign of his missing brother Javi (Luciano Leroux). Lottie (Courtney Eaton) conducts an elaborate ceremony meant to bless the hunters, and the bulk of the girls seem to believe she—and her strange connection to the forest—is the only reason the pair are coming back at all. Taissa’s (Jasmin Savoy Brown) disturbing sleepwalking is getting worse, and Shauna (Sophie Nelisse) spends all her time talking to Jackie’s dead body, which is being stored in the meat shed where the girls have kept the bear Lottie killed at the end of last season until the ground thaws enough for a burial. (It’s exactly as creepy as it sounds, particularly when Shauna decides to do the corpse’s make-up.)

Meanwhile, in the present-day timeline, Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) and her husband Jeff (Warren Cole) are trying to cover their tracks in the wake of her murder of Adam Martin (Peter Gadiot) and his decision to blackmail her former Yellowjackets teammates for money as the police start asking uncomfortable and possibly dangerous questions. Taissa (Tawny Cypress) realizes just how dangerous her blackouts are becoming when Simone (Rukiya Bernard), reeling from the discovery of the dead animal altar in their basement, threatens to take their son away unless she resigns and gets help immediately. And Misty (Christina Ricci) is searching for a missing Natalie (Juliette Lewis), who has basically been kidnapped and dragged off to Lottie Matthews’s (Simone Kessell) self-help commune, which happens to look an awful lot like a cult.

The addition of Kessel as an adult Lottie—and later former Six Feet Under star Lauren Ambrose as a grown-up Van—not only confirms that more survivors than many of us likely initially assumed made it out of the woods in the 1990s, it completely changes the modern-day dynamic of the show in many ways. (Plus both are stellar, pitch-perfecting choices to play older versions of the established teen characters. This show’s casting department does not miss.) We get our first look at what life was like for Lottie after she was rescued, when the voices and visions that seemingly helped her survive her ordeal become liabilities and warning signs that necessitated potentially invasive, even violent treatment to subdue. Yet, the grown Lottie who seemingly leads a group of hurting, impressionable people to make decisions that may or may not be in their best interests still feels a lot like the girl in the woods, struggling to understand whether the visions she’s experiencing come from a higher power or her own madness. A surprise connection to Travis’s death immediately gives the character a connection to the series’ larger stories, and a reason to focus on Natalie’s response to his loss. 

One of Season 2’s few weaknesses is that most of the adult characters spend the bulk of these initial six episodes siloed into their own stories, with little of the group interaction that made the back half of Season 1 so much fun to watch unfold. (I mean, I realize they probably can’t have a class reunion every season—but maybe they should?) With Shauna focused on a variety of family problems, Taissa seeking answers about her sleepwalking, Natalie ensconced at Lottie’s compound, and Misty mostly palling around with a new IRL friend from her Citizen Detectives message board (Elijah Wood), it takes time for the various stories to even hint that they might be coming together again. But if Yellowjackets has taught us, as viewers, anything, it’s that this is a show that knows where it’s going, and we’re just here to enjoy the ride. I’m happy to see where it takes me. Buzz, buzz, buzz. 

Yellowjackets Season 2 premieres on streaming on Friday, March 24, and on-air on Sunday, March 26 on Showtime

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.

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