The following review contains heavy spoilers for Yellowjackets.
Traumas define people. We all have them throughout our lifetime, usually stemming from an early age, and they largely shape our personality when we transition from teenhood to adulthood. At its essence, Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson’s Yellowjackets conveys those (extreme) traumas by depicting their birth in the past and their long-term effects in the present. Yet one of the reasons the series became appointment television toward the end of its first season was the way it combined those haunting traumas with a menacing central mystery that surrounded the characters’ individual struggles in both timelines. In its follow-up season, the show unpacks those emotional scars with blood-soaked horror that cuts deep.
Structurally, Season 2 pretty much plays out like its predecessor: a slow build-up to baffling twists that end in bloodshed and devastation. We begin two months after the events of the Season 1 finale, in which teen Lottie (Courtney Eaton) killed a bear and offered its heart to the wilderness. However, this time the roster gets extended by the welcome additions of adult Lottie (Simone Kessell) and Van (Lauren Ambrose), revealing that Shauna (Melanie Lynskey), Taissa (Tawny Cypress), Misty (Christina Ricci), and Natalie (Juliette Lewis) weren’t the only survivors who made it out of the woods alive.
Although devoted fans might appreciate the similar narrative approach, the first four episodes — where we mostly follow our heroes separately in the present as they struggle with virtually the same personal issues they did previously — are frustratingly slow. The writers only give us breadcrumbs of new information and, despite the foreshadowed cannibalism that finally occurs in Episode 2, the horror elements are pretty scarce. Thankfully, though, the adult version of Lottie and her “cult” not only expands the Yellowjackets universe but also provides the show’s most complex and intriguing character so far. Lottie is the key to everything and everyone — Kessell plays her with an inherent mystique and spiritual determination — and as we learn more about her backstory and the fears she constantly grapples with, the more phantasmagorical and terrifying the plot grows.
There’s an art to building anticipation, tension, and suspense – and the show is great at it to a certain extent – but Yellowjackets still works best when it entirely submerges into primal and animalistic horror. Once the five women reunite at Lottie’s compound, things go next level. We gradually see them unravel in the last three episodes, exposing fresh, long-buried secrets and traumas they wish to have left in the wilderness all those years ago, their terror-stricken memories suddenly come back screaming. We’re finally allowed to see what particular atrocities they went through in the wilderness that scarred and bonded them for life.
We’ve got to give it to the writers: they knew what they were doing. Watching the girls starve in the woods for months, slowly give into an invisible entity that seems to connect with Lottie, experience the birth and death of Shauna’s baby, and allow one of them to die so the rest can survive on their flesh is a lot – to say the least. Revealing all these unimaginable and debilitating experiences is crucial to understanding how fucked-up these women are in the present day. It’s basically a miracle they’re still alive (well, some weren’t so lucky) and found a way to live in the confines of society, even if their lives continue to contain immoral acts like blackmailing, false confession, and murder.
It all comes to a head in a bombastic, shocking, and emotionally overwhelming finale that inescapably confronts the yellowjackets with their past, all underlined with a spotless music selection that potently magnifies the characters’ emotions. They’re finally forced to face that, while they might’ve left the wilderness, the wilderness never left them. Whatever helped them survive out there, that invisible entity, demands a price for every life spared and won’t settle until it gets what it wants. Although the final events in the last hour grant a temporary safety for Shauna, Taissa, Misty, and Van for all their crimes, it also leaves behind a sinister energy and a foreshadowed path to what will come next. One thing’s for sure: as far as the wilderness is concerned, the hunt has only just begun.
All episodes of Yellowjackets Season 2 are now streaming on Crave.