Don’t you just love it when a show you finally catch up on not only lives up to the hype, but surpasses it? That’s how I feel after finishing the first season of Yellowjackets! Developed by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson for Showtime, this series follows the exploits of a group of high school soccer players as they try to survive after a plane crash in 1996 as well as the survivors as grown women in 2021.
I’m honestly having trouble figuring out exactly what to write about the first season because it’s just so jam packed with mysteries and intrigue and questions. Okay, let’s just start in the 90s. As you might expect, the soccer team already has its share of drama before the crash, which only happens at the very end of the first episode. One girl is sleeping with her best friend’s boyfriend. Another wants to freeze out a younger player who might not be good enough. Some are closeted. And what’s up with Misty (Samantha Hanratty), the overly enthusiastic…student coach? Equipment manager?
Our teen leads include team leader Tai (Jasmin Savoy Brown, who was also in the last two Scream movies!), rich girl Jackie (Ella Purnell), her best friend Shauna (Sophie Nélisse), Nat the punk rock outsider (Sophie Tatcher), my favorite Van (Liv Hewson), the super religious Laura Lee (Jane Widdop), the she-becomes-important-later Lottie (Courtney Eaton) and the aforementioned Misty. Once they crash, you get this fascinating narrative as the girls along with two boys — brothers Travis (Kevin Alves) and Javi (Luciano Leroux) — and Coach Ben (Steven Krueger) try to figure out how to survive. Luckily a few of them were Girl Scouts/took the Red Cross babysitting course and others know how to hunt and handle a gun.
It’s this great thing where these people bond in an incredible way, literally depending on each other for survival, while also occasionally striking out on their own to try and get themselves off of the mountain. I give the show a lot of credit for balancing very kid-like moments, like them enjoying the lake for the first time or performing a dance routine to Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” with them learning to hunt and dress animals so they can survive. However, when the stakes become so high, there will definitely be moments where their worse natures take over and mistakes will be made that can not be undone.
But we’re not just dealing with a survival thriller here, there’s a supernatural element at play, though they clearly want to keep us guessing whether it’s real or not. Even before the survivors crashed, that part of the woods had a strange symbol carved into various objects. It’s on trees, it’s in the cabin they eventually find. Some people begin to have visions, but we ask ourselves whether they’re real or the result of the seer running out of medication. And maybe the validity doesn’t matter if people respond to them. Others find themselves waking up in strange places. There are also definite human forces at work keeping them in their current state, but I won’t spoil who or how, though that was a great idea to include because I spent the first two episodes wondering how it took 19 months to find them.
In the first episode — directed by legend Karyn Kusama — we’re shown a scene that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as it appears one group is hunting another. In the 90s chronology of the show, that hasn’t happened yet, but it acts as a kind of ghost haunting the whole season, letting us know just how bad things are going to get. We get a look at that towards the end of the first season during Doomcoming, their version of Homecoming that winds up going much crazier than any 80s teen movie I’ve ever seen, including the horror ones. All of this sets up a major fight and death amongst the main group that hangs over the survivors for decades to come.
Which is a nice segue into talking about these women in the present! Melanie Lynskey plays adult Shauna, Juliette Lewis is Nat, Christina Ricci is Misty and Tawny Cypress is Tai. Now, each of them have a lot going on — Shauna seems to hate her normal suburban life, Tai’s running for state senate, Nat’s got substance abuse problems and Misty’s…real weird — but they find themselves reunited because someone is digging into their time on the mountain after all these years (they all vowed to reveal as little as possible). A supposed reporter is poking around offering book deals, someone’s sending post cards of the mountain with the note “Wish you were here” and there’s an attempt to blackmail them. They assume all three are connected, but we learn differently as the season comes to an end. Even more mysterious, though, is the death of Travis, who Nat had a longstanding on-and-off-again relationship with. He was found hanged, but she believes he was killed as there is evidence hinting back at their time on the mountain. And what does all of that have to do with another survivor we haven’t seen yet? I can’t wait to find out!
I was actually surprised at how much time we spent in the present, wanting to see more of the kids on the mountain, but I came to really enjoy the older versions as well. I mean, this cast is insanely good and the people in charge get all sorts of extra points for expertly matching the actors, so kudos to casting as well as hair and make-up. There’s not a person in this cast who has an easy role to play and yet they all do an amazing job conveying everything they need to both verbally and physically. All the mysteries at play are great and intriguing, but they are the ones who internalize those and make them all the more real on the screen. Plus, the modern scenes work to add another layer to the story that shows how people can carry on after traumatic events.
As you might expect Yellowjackets reminds me of Lost, to the point where I have to keep reminding myself that they’re stuck on a mountain, not an island. I know it also draws comparisons to Lord Of The Flies, but I haven’t read that. I did check out Mike Bockoven’s Fantasticland, which is about a group of young people trapped in a Disney World like theme park who form tribes and take on territory which they defend with their lives. It seems like Yellowjackets is moving into similar territory. Beyond that, the maybe-sorta supernatural underpinnings remind me a lot of the unfortunately short-lived Dead Of Summer (the only show I’ve ever purchased on Amazon Video). But the major touchstone for me is the excellent BOOM! Studios comic, Lumberjanes, which is about a group of girls attending a camp with all sorts of mysteries held in the surrounding woods. While the show is definitely aimed at older audiences, the comic is great for younger readers! Making that connection in my head actually reminded me of an interview I did with the Lumberjanes crew several years back and this great quote from then-co-writer Noelle Stevenson:
One of the biggest issues plaguing female characters is that, because there are relatively few of them, there isn’t a lot of diversity, and the conversations around them push very specific traits as being “more feminist” — typically masculine traits like physical strength, emotional toughness, etc. — and there ends up not being a lot of room left for genuinely nuanced and organic female characters. Because when there’s only one woman in the cast, she has to be everything for everyone, and that’s not really possible. Every person is both strong and weak at the same time, and if you can’t show that weakness and you can’t show how there’s lots of ways to be strong, you don’t really have a real character. The best way I can figure to address that is to have way more female characters. Just, like, so many. Then it’s not on one woman’s shoulders to represent all women in a positive way. They can be heroes, villains, ambiguously moral, comic relief, femme, butch, strong, weak, etc. and what you’ve got are — people.
With Yellowjackets, you get this great space for female characters to do and be everything. You also get to see some of the more toxic aspects of masculinity through Teen Trevor who just can’t seem to let the especially 90s pretenses fall away, while Javi seems to have less of a problem embracing his new life. There’s just so much great stuff happening in the show and I’m excited to hear that the new season has started. Since we don’t have Showtime — I watched Season One via DVDs from the library over three days — I’m going to put my head down, avoid spoilers and catch up somewhere down the line, but I’m super excited to be on the Yellowjackets bandwagon now!