By the time Yellowjackets finished its ten-episode first season in the cold winter of January 2022, the show had become an unexpected global phenomenon. What began as a small Showtime original series exploded into the cultural conversation, saturating everyone’s weekly watchlists thanks to the internet word of mouth. And it was easy to see why viewers became hooked.
Yellowjackets was an undeniable original in a sea of televised remakes and reboots. That alone was enough to pique viewers’ interest. But the show’s bold dissection of teenage hierarchies— seen through the eyes of a team of high school soccer champions whose plane crash lands in the Canadian wilderness—was also an incisive, sharp new take on teen dramas made for adults. Throw in a stacked core cast with Tawny Cypress, Christina Ricci, Melanie Lynskey, and Juliette Lewis playing the older counterparts of four players as the show jumps through time, and it’s no wonder audiences were attracted to Yellowjackets like flies to honey.
But there’s an unfortunate consequence that can come into play when shows become bigger than themselves—especially for semi-supernatural dramas with such ambitious plotting, like Yellowjackets. The fan attention the series received sparked an early second season renewal after only half of the first season’s episodes had aired. Though co-creators and writers Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson had reportedly pitched the series with a five-season arc, there’s no telling what kind of pressure having millions of people waiting with bated breath for a second season can do to a show, even one with such a stellar episode-to-episode track record.
Yellowjackets Season 2 doesn’t exactly fall as hard as, say, the second season of Stranger Things—which similarly struggled with living up to unimaginable hype. But it does take a few stumbles on snow-covered black ice while it tries to find its footing. The series’ ensemble cast stays firing on all cylinders, even adding some exciting new additions to the group.
But the writing across the season’s first five episodes often feels confused, trying its hand at unnecessary fan service to fill in narrative holes. Luckily, as temperatures drop while the Yellowjackets players remain stranded in a Canadian winter, momentum picks up as the show leans more into its supernatural undercurrents established in the first season. That impetus is more than enough to satiate viewers, proving there’s plenty of (human) meat left on these bones yet.
In Season 2’s opening scene, things in the wilderness of the ’90s have already taken a turn for the darkly mystical. Glimpses of the remaining crash survivors trying to keep themselves warm by their found hunting cabin’s fire are abruptly cut short. Teenage Lottie (Courtney Eaton) insists that Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) and Travis (Kevin Alves) smear soot on their hands, sage their auras, and prick their fingers for a twisted, albeit minor, blood ritual.
“It’s not like this Wicca bullshit’s doing us any good,” Nat protests. Lottie, still prone to the strange visions that began in Season 1, but growing confident in her own relationship with another realm, chides her. “You keep coming back alive, don’t you?”
It’s here where the root fear of the group lives. They’re all still trapped in a hell frozen over, and even if their survival is pure coincidence, they won’t risk defying it to see what happens. Like all cult leaders, Lottie preys on the fear of the unknown, and harvests that anxiety to further her own agenda. Creating the illusion of control in the chaos is where she finds ultimate power. Whether that power is real or not remains a mystery for a bit longer.
As promised, we quickly flash forward to the present day, checking in with the adult Lottie (Simone Kessell), a new series regular. You may remember that last season ended with the cliffhanger of finding out that, not only did Lottie survive until the team was rescued, but that she now has a group of purple-clad orderlies to do her bidding. It’s tough to do more than scratch the surface of Lottie’s presence as an adult in Season 2 without spoiling major plot points, but the efficacy of that propulsive ending is kneecapped a bit in the first few episodes. Still, Kessell is so damn good at commanding the camera with a latent nefariousness, that it’s hard to fault her for pulling off the best with what she’s given.
Which isn’t to say that Yellowjackets Season 2 is dull. It just lacks the assuredness of its predecessor season, trying to keep audiences on the hook with more of the same for a bit longer while it toils over what’s next. With the blackmailer threatening the team in the present day revealed to be Shauna’s husband, Jeff (Warren Kole), at the end of last season, Yellowjackets lost its A-plot mystery. That’s fine, of course, but it takes an uncomfortably long time for another to be introduced in Season 2. Meandering is one of the worst crimes that a show like this can commit, and if it wasn’t for that wildly gripping premise and incredible cast, this might be a much more bleak winter to contend with.
Lynskey, Ricci, and Cypress all return swinging as adult Shauna, Misty, and Taissa, respectively. Though, the writing for Ricci has lost some of its delightful quirkiness. Misty is far too concerned with her citizen detective hobby, consulting Reddit threads in a grating choice that seemingly nods to the Yellowjackets’ mega popularity on the fan forum. Though, Reddit does bring her to Walter (Elijah Wood), a fellow amateur sleuth on the boards, whom Misty links up with to locate Natalie and Taissa. Wood is fine in his highly publicized role, but like everyone else, takes a suspiciously long time to get going.
Natalie and Taissa’s mutual missing status fills a good portion of the first half of the season. Lewis has taken to performing Natalie as though the character is half in the bag at all times. But that’s not exactly surprising, given Natalie’s abrupt reunion with Lottie by way of a kidnapping by Lottie’s hench people. If you’re expecting a spine-tingling faceoff between the two, you’ll have to hold your breath for just a bit longer, but the satisfaction will arrive in unexpected ways.
But, undoubtedly, the utmost compelling aspects of Season 2 are Shauna and Taissa’s time-spanning storylines. Lynskey is, once again, compulsively watchable as Shauna. One moment of the third episode—involving her stolen minivan, a gun, grisly details about human skin, and an unlucky chop shop attendant—seems destined to be as pervasive in Lynskey’s Emmy reel as it will be on Twitter. Meanwhile, Taissa’s blackouts are worsening, further alienating both her wife and her son, as well as herself from her own body. We (praise be!) begin to learn what’s causing them, calling back the show’s most viscerally terrifying image, The Man with No Eyes, which was frustratingly abandoned in the middle of Season 1.
Some fans who were wary of the supernatural elements of Yellowjackets may take pause here once again, but these aspects are where Season 2 begins to open up. There was always more in the woods than raging teenage hormones and homicidal survivor’s instincts. And the small glimpses of what those paranormal things may keep the show chugging along, if a little too slowly at times. These preternatural occurrences also exist to turn the teenagers in the woods against each other, and establish the basis for the first tastes of cannibalism—pun very much intended. I thought I had seen it all, but Yellowjackets has done such a fantastic job of crafting its characters that seeing them feast on a friend’s skin made me sick.
If Yellowjackets can still make stomachs churn despite tiptoeing its way into its second season, I’m not ready to count out these resilient teammates yet. There is certainly much more to be explored in every timeline—including the third, immediate-post-rescue period, which is only just starting to be introduced in flashes. Its cast is as committed as ever, and though the show seems to have bought into its own popularity a bit, Season 2 remains some of the most irresistible television out there right now. Yellowjackets might’ve never been destined to be this big, but its titular team was never supposed to crash into the woods, either. There’s plenty of hope yet that the show—like its cast of indomitable players—can survive whatever is thrown at it.
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