Nathan’s Weekly Discussion of Showtime’s Yellowjackets Season 2 Episode 2
Welcome back to our season long exploration of everything Yellowjackets! And what a doozy this episode was as we finally got what we have all been waiting for, along with a few things that do make me a little sus about the future direction of the series. Let’s dive in, but first let’s check on the status of Taissa’s new puppy:
Did Taissa’s new puppy die in this episode?
Nope! Those who are averse to animal cruelty should know that nothing bad happened to the new dog.
I won’t bury the lead here and I’ll start at the end of the episode. The 1990s Yellowjackets discover that Shauna has been preserving and positioning Jackie’s body in all kinds of kind-of-gross ways. At first, they berate and ostracize her for this (because, at least in the US, this is not how we handle the dead), but then come around to understanding the pressure Shauna is under in this situation. They do decide, however, that they have to give Jackie a proper funeral, which in this case means incinerating the body on a funeral pyre since the ground is too frozen from burial. Then, during a scene of intense and cursed(?) lovemaking, a tree branch falls making it so that the fire didn’t entirely consume the body, but heated it just enough for an appetizing BBQ. The young women, in desperate need for protein and calories, decide that Jackie would want them to survive, and ravenously start consuming the body. Coach Ben flees the scene back into the cabin, horrified by what he has just witnessed.
Cannibalism is a sticky issue to tackle in fiction. It was the central advertising hook for Yellowjackets because it is titillating and monstrous; it is a practice of the “other”, something that we don’t do because we are civilized. As viewers, we couldn’t wait for the soccer team to fully descend into their savage and animalistic roots. But on the other hand, has (rarely) been practiced by human cultures around the world, and the danger in including cannibalism in these practices is that it further biases us against those cultures that do practice some kind of cannibalism.
And yes, the Yellowjackets writers are definitely using cannibalism here to excite us and for us to see how “savage” the girls have become. But the writers also understand that cannibalism is much more nuanced than that. Yes, cannibalism definitely has its nutritional benefits (our bodies need protein!), but this episode also showed that there is a ritualistic aspect to cannibalism. Cannibalism is about connecting us to our deceased loved ones and to form social bonds with those around us. We know from some of the other scenes in season one that perhaps this “bonding” goes a bit too far, but cannibalism has a lot of intersecting components that are complex, nuanced, and often contradictory. I am afraid the show is going to go too far into the savagery-decline of civilization angle (rather than the “there are different ways of being in a society and these young women are exploring that concept” direction”).
For how exciting the 1990s scenes of this episode were, the present day storylines were rather dull in contrast. Shauna didn’t play much of a role here as her daughter tries to figure out why her parents are acting so weird.
We finally got the formal introduction of Elijah Wood’s face into the Yellowjackets universe (after first hearing his voice in the last episode), and the cat-and-mouse-game between him and Misty is a whole heck of a lot of fun. Misty’s storyline here does sometimes feel tonally disjointed from the rest of the rest of the show because she is so wacky and fun, while the rest of the show is relatively dour and serious (that is, except for Shauna’s derpy husband, Jeff). I think as much of the other parts of the show have lost a bit of their spark and fun, it just puts Misty’s storyline on a bit of an island of being the “eccentric” one with funny little musical beats. It will definitely be interesting to see how they balance the tone of the show moving forward.
And then we get to Taissa’s storyline. I complained last week about how she really had nothing to do and was pretty boring, but what I think we got this week was even worse. Yellowjackets has always been playing around with the question of whether anything actually supernatural is going on, but has always pulled back at the last minute. The show has set up some really out-there storylines, but they have also always provided some kind of real-world explanation. What we got with Taissa this week seems to suggest that the writers are going full-on supernatural/sci-fi with the show.
This is a bad move.
I know it’s probably weird for me to say that on a blog/website dedicated to speculative fiction, but this is a show that doesn’t need the supernatural. Yellowjackets is about a lot of things, namely the long-range impacts of trauma. Our brains are powerful things, and they are very good at keeping us alive. Part of our brain’s survival mechanism is its ability to distort reality, to change the world around us to protect us from the terrible things we experience. So much of what we have seen thus far on Yellowjackets is a result of our brains just trying to keep the bad things out. From visions to hallucinations, the characters on Yellowjackets are seeing what they need to see to persevere, to move on. In a similar vein to how Natalie fakes the presumed death of Travis to try and get him to stop trudging through the snow to his death, our brains fake the world around us. This is a fascinating premise, and one that we don’t see explored very much.
But Yellowjackets seems to be falling into a trap – one that has tripped up some of the biggest shows in television, including Lost and Battlestar Galactica (2004). The latter in particular was pretty grounded in its future-tech premise until it started introducing angels and what-not. And now Yellowjackets is doing the same thing. Was the snow falling on Jackie’s body some supernatural presence related to Travis’ visions as he had sex with Natalie (but pictured Lottie)? Is adult Taissa really possessed by some kind of evil force? Who knows, but I hope that the answer to both questions is a resounding “no”.
As Yellowjackets becomes more explicit about its potential supernatural origins, I become less interested and I fear for the show stumbling. Adult Lottie’s strange cult is enough of an explanation – a trauma induced brain is susceptible to suggestion. That’s explanation enough, and the show’s writers should trust themselves and the world they’ve created to stand on its own, and to continue to explore the more human-based trauma stories they have set up.
We haven’t entered a sophomore slump yet, but the stalling of the adult storylines with the reliance on supernatural stories makes me hesitate as we look to the future.
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