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Yellowjackets: Season Two, Part One

“The whole time, there was something, some darkness, out there... with us.”

(This review covers the Yellowjackets episodes 2.1 through 2.5, and includes spoilers!)

As Yellowjackets enters its second season, it has become even clearer that this series will stick to its guns and tell the story it initially set out to tell, for better or worse.

Sometime during initial press for this show, the series creators divulged that they have a five season plan in place to tell the Yellowjackets story. As far as season two goes, it seems like things are still on track for that timeline. Where the show’s 1990’s flashbacks are concerned, that plan is helping keep things on track. You can tell from the first couple of episodes alone that we’re seeing things happen as they’re meant to. The pace isn’t breakneck, but all the bigger events feel earned.

Let’s start with the biggest twist – “Snackie” (thanks, internet). The first season closes with team captain Jackie walking out on the group and spending the night outside in the cold, literally frozen out by her teammates. She doesn’t make it through the night, and her death marked a very large turning point for the group. Shauna in particular is broken by the loss of her best friend, as messy as their friendship might have been. Locked away with Jackie’s frozen corpse, Shauna spends hours imagining conversations with her. It’s hard to tell how much of this is borne out of grief, or delusions from hunger, but when she decides to eat Jackie’s severed ear in the season’s first surprising moment, it’s obvious what’s right around the corner.

We knew from the pilot's opening scene that cannibalism was very likely happening amongst the group of survivors, it was just a question as to how soon it might happen. While the final moments of “Edible Complex” are unsettling, the first two episodes lay enough groundwork for us to buy into the desperation the group are feeling as they’re running low on rations, and in the midst of a dark miserable winter. Would the smell of freshly cooked meat be easy to resist? The depiction of the elaborate feast interspersed with the group tearing into their friend is disturbing, but it's an effective enough tactic to sell the idea that they wouldn’t be able to stop themselves – coach Ben aside.

As we’ve crossed the halfway mark in the season, a lot of time has passed in the wilderness, and the dynamic is changing constantly. Lottie’s hold over the group has only gotten stronger, with even her biggest detractors starting to take part in her group “activities.” Enough of her predictions have proven accurate, the biggest of which was Javi’s survival during his time missing from the group after “Doomcoming.” As of episode five, we still don’t know where he was or how he managed to stay warm, but as the only person who was convinced of his survival, Lottie has swayed the majority of her teammates to her side. This is a dangerous prospect to Shauna and her unborn child, since Lottie seems to think the baby is some sort of “gift” and a key to the group’s survival.

The fifth episode “Two Truths and a Lie” closes with Shauna entering labor. Despite her attempt to escape from the group, she’s forced into returning due to a snow storm. I can’t see things working out well for Shauna and her baby boy (that’s the gender Lottie’s telling everyone the baby is), but it's hard to tell how things can go with certain “supernatural” forces at play; this season is doubling down on those aspects of the series. I feel like this is a story that will thrive in that unknown space, but only if it keeps those otherworldly elements as a subtle question. If things get more intense, I worry that bigger events will start to get a bit too surreal, and the darker, grittier choices the girls make won’t be as effective.

In the present, that supernatural force is still floating around, with Lottie also at the center. She has just as much of a hold over her own “acolytes” as she did over the group in the wilderness. Nat tries her damndest to prove Lottie is hiding something nefarious, but has failed so far. Lottie even pulls Nat down her vision rabbit hole, forcing her to relive some painful memories she’s shared with Travis. Will Nat become a fully fledged purple hat? Or will Misty’s arrival at the compound be enough to keep her tuned in to reality?

Misty has proven to be a fan favorite over the course of the first season, and this season seems to be taking full advantage of that. Christina Ricci remains a standout cast member in an already incredible ensemble, and Ricci’s comedic strengths are only amplified by her pairing with newcomer Elijah Wood as Misty’s fellow citizen detective Walter. Their interactions push the boundaries of the show’s silliness, but are always grounded by the dark undertones of everything Misty has done to this point. Even at this early stage in the story, we’ve already been given answers to some of the smaller easter eggs that have been dropped throughout Misty’s appearances, like her love for showtunes, and disdain for the Bee Gees (poor Crystal/Kristen). Nat turning Misty away just as she found her at Lottie's camp unearthed a lot of buried resentment at constantly being the outcast, so much so that she pushes Walter away and doubles down on her “rescue” of Nat. Walter seemed to genuinely like Misty for the person she is, but the last time she laid herself bare to someone it ended badly – Crystal was definitely not receptive to Misty destroying the black box. Her accidental death after finding out the truth was slightly predictable, but the scene had enough emotional gravitas thanks to Samantha Hanratty’s layered performance.

There’s certain elements this season that feel a little lost, in particular a lot of Shauna’s interactions with her family. I read somewhere that her storyline here is like a lost season of NBC's Good Girls, and it's so hard to get that idea out of your head once you’ve read it (sorry). Jeff was always a doofus, but some of his solo moments are a bit more on the ridiculous side (that gym scene felt like it was lifted from another series). Shauna’s daughter Callie has always been more of a nuisance than anything else, with her character’s two dimensional nature made all the more obvious when she’s in a show surrounded by fully fleshed out teenage girls elsewhere. I do think there’s been a concerted effort to make her more of an integral part of the story, but she’s constantly falling flat.

I’m still on the fence when it comes to Tai’s split personality. She’s seen a lot of her life fall apart since she won her election to congress because of her chunks of lost time. After her wife is hospitalized thanks to one of her blackouts, Tai hitchhikes across Pennsylvania to find adult Van – the only person who’s helped her through something like this before. In the flashbacks she seems to have temporarily overcome those backouts thanks to Lottie’s group circles; is that what alterna-Tai meant by “we’re not where we’re supposed to be?”, meaning, not with their leader? It’s a hokey story so far, but I really appreciate Lauren Ambrose’s interpretation of an adult Van, and her chemistry with Tawny Cypress is palpable on screen.

So much of the present day story seems to be slowly pulling the surviving women back towards Lottie, just as she’s beginning to find herself being pulled back under by her “visions.” The Antler Queen is a looming presence over her once again, and with Nat now succumbing to the idea that they’ve brought the darkness back in themselves, it’s only a matter of time before they all begin to get pulled under again. I enjoy the show most when the women are interacting with one another, and it bodes well that they seem to be finding each other again, slowly but surely.

Buzz Buzz Buzz

- I think coach Ben’s number is coming up. All those little flashbacks to his relationship with his secret boyfriend Paul are being put in this season for a reason.

- I have no time for Kevyn and his partner Jay’s undercover operation. I’m hoping that Jay falls victim to the Sadecki family somehow.

- Lisa (Supergirl’s Nicole Maines) is a wonderful new addition to the cast this season. I love all her scenes with Nat so far.

- In the wilderness, a few of the nameless Yellowjackets are given names: Gen, Melissa and Crystal (real name Kristen – RIP). I’m not sure if this rules out all the extras we saw last season, but at least it seems like there’s nobody unnamed anymore.

- My money’s on Mari as Pit Girl (the mystery character we saw being pursued in the pilot). We probably won’t see this happen for another season or two, but watch this space.

- Lottie confessed to Nat what happened to Travis: an accident trying to get him close to death. I don’t buy it, but she seemed sincere? Does Nat know about Travis’s bank account being emptied by Lottie yet? Maybe that was for the same reason that Lottie has control over everyone else’s finances, something her followers seem okay with.

- Akiylah (who has been recast and is now played by Nia Sondaya) has befriended a mouse. No idea what that means, though she seems to be growing closer to Tai.

While certain present day stories have lost a lot of their power since the first season, the strong pacing of the flashbacks and a stacked cast is keeping Yellowjackets way ahead of the pack.

7.5 out of 10 purple cardigans.

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