Published on January 28th, 2022 | by Kim Kurtenbach0
Filmed in British Columbia, Showtime’s Yellowjackets blends murder mystery, survival trauma and occult psychological horror.
The tenth and final episode of Yellowjackets aired just two weeks ago, and the reviews are mixed. Generally, the critic reviews seem to rave, but amateur reviews suggests otherwise. Week to week, some viewers seemed to lose interest at the mid-season lull, while those who binged may have been able to follow the endless plot lines with less confusion.
As with any article, it’s important to write without spoilers while still discussing and analyzing. Yellowjackets seems an especially tricky assignment because it’s either a minefield of spoilers or a dormant field of harmless duds, and it’s hard to tell which after just one season. Clearly, the first season is merely a set-up for more episodes. To play it safe, I’ll write candidly but stay away from late season reveals.
The premise of the show relies on two interwoven timelines. In 1996, a senior girls high school soccer team crashes in the Ontario wilderness. In 2021, the survivors are drawn reluctantly together again. While they are trying to be done with their past, their past is clearly not done with them. As Shauna confides to Taissa in the first episode, “If someone’s digging, we’re all fucked!”. What these women are hiding is not exactly clear, but it’s sure to be traumatic. The lifelong effects of trauma and trust issues are heavy themes here. Early insinuations are that, beyond the predictable horrors of survival after a plane crash, these girls resorted to cannibalism to survive. But wait – it also seems to suggest that this was not necessity to survival, but a grizzly occult ritual influenced by dark forces.
It’s clear early on that Yellowjackets isn’t going to be about how original it is, but how compelling and satisfying the story details can be. As a point of reference in determining the appeal of this show to you, consider Lost (2004). Both shows revolve around plane crash survivors in need of rescue, while referencing past and present stories to develop characters. Lost was a massive tv hit when it came out, but famously disappointed audiences with it’s vague, messy, and unsatisfying conclusion. While I enjoyed binging Yellowjackets, I am wary it might share that nauseating fate with Lost. I see (hope for) only two, maybe three seasons of story to tell with Yellowjackets, but my gut tells me this series will drag on and outstay its welcome before the ending comes crashing down like a planeload of screaming teenage girls in the Ontario wilderness.
The addiction of Yellowjackets is in the clever subtleties of clues that are both engaging and elusive. Most fans of the series indicate that it was only upon a second viewing that they began to notice dozens of objects and lines of dialogue that foreshadow things to come. The issue with all these threads is that they may not lead anywhere. Correct use of a plant and a payoff are critical, but symbols, clues and foreshadowing are not the same thing as great storytelling or smart writing, and that matters more than anything. Consider the ultimate movie plant/payoff for a moment. In Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indy has an early encounter with his escape pilot’s pet snake, Richie. Indy tells us he hates snakes so, later, when he prepares to enter the Well of Souls and discovers it’s slithering with thousands of snakes, we have an ah-ha moment of tension and satisfaction all at once. I hope the writers of Yellowjackets are more familiar with this concept than the writers of Lost.
A definite high-point of Yellowjackets is the outstanding performances of Melanie Lynskey (Shauna), Juliette Lewis (Natalie) and Christina Ricci (Misty). I don’t even see Ricci, no matter how hard I try. The closest I get when I examine that little psycho Misty is Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) in Misery (1990). The performances of these actors are imperative to the structure of the show by holding it steady while also running amuck with plot-lines too numerous to count.
Season one introduces us to some pretty interesting characters. Trust issues are a consistent theme throughout, and each of the survivors share a bizarre, confused definition of friendship. They seem to think that good intentions are the cornerstone of friendship, regardless of their actions. We are certainly kept guessing on a number of sub-plots because no one is who they seem. Furthermore, no one is quite who they think they are. Trauma has taken its toll on these women.
If you’re looking for another series to get you through January, Yellowjackets is definitely worth short-listing. Worse case scenario, you have to work too hard to follow along and give up (there are a lot of characters and some of them straddle both time-lines). Best case scenario, we are headed in a direction of mystery solving that is reminiscent of Knives Out (2019), where the story becomes tighter with each re-watch. [my FBS review is here: http://www.thefeedbacksociety.com/movies/knives-out/].
The real fun in Yellowjackets is trying to predict the unpredictable. The survivors of the 1996 plane crash are, as Natalie (Juliette Lewis) tells us in episode one, trying to find a way to “keep the tiger in the cage”. As the past begins to catch up with them, that proves to be more difficult with each passing day.
Yellowjackets is now streaming on Crave.