Wednesday 15 February 2023

Yellowjackets - You just seem like someone who doesn’t play by the rules.

Yellowjackets: 1x02 F Sharp.

If you think about some of the skills required to survive an emergency situation in the wilderness, you’d have high hopes for this elite team of soccer players, who bring grit and collaboration to the catastrophe of the crash. But there is also a way in which the severity of the situation – the sheer shock of what is happening immediately after the crash, impaled bodies and screams and flames – works like such an effective magnifying glass for Misty Quigley’s ability to adapt quickly. A plane crash in the wilderness doesn’t feel like the kind of thing you can really prepare for, but Misty (the only actual training she claims is a baby sitter course she did twice) is ready for anything that is thrown at her. She, if anything, thrives almost immediately in this situation. In the previous episode, she ran on the field after Taissa crashed into Allie, ready to provide first aid, and Coach Ben had to stop her and remind her that that’s what emergency services are for, but now, so far from civilisation, her time has finally come. 

She is the first to try and open the escape hatch as the fire nears. When the girls find Coach Ben trapped under the wing of the plane with his leg crushed, she races off to find an axe to emergency-amputate the leg, which saves his life. The other girls look at her, stunned, because they haven’t caught up with the fact that this isn’t suburban New Jersey anymore, that new rules are already emerging for what they have to do to stay alive. Misty’s competence stands out even more so because it contrasts with Jackie’s inability to lead in the situation. She is the captain of the team, and should be the one guiding everyone, but she fails from the first moment when Shauna attempts to save Van in the plane from the incoming flames and Jackie pulls her away to save her – a loving act for a friend, but also an unforgivable betrayal of Van, who miraculously (for the first time – other times will follow) survives and holds a grudge. 

In the present day, Shauna crashes a car into the back of someone else’s in her morning rush, and meets mysterious Adam (Peter Gadiot), who has the cunning ability to absorb all of her fury (the fury of a woman living the wrong life, shared with a snarky teenage daughter) and flirts with her almost immediately. They exchange numbers. In a later phone call he offers to fix the car for free in exchange for a dinner. All of this, while Shauna and Jeff negotiate what it means to be married for twenty plus years, including a declining sex life, a therapist who tells them to live out their fantasies (Jeff’s doesn’t extend beyond his job), and messages from a woman on Jeff’s phone that hint towards an affair. It’s tempting, and something happens to Shauna in this episode when she slaughters one of the rabbits that’s been eating her lettuce and butchers it for dinner: it’s like she remembers everything she’s learned in the wilderness, and the person she was there. She tells her family at dinner what’s in the chilli and they can’t believe it, because it is so at odds with who they think Shauna is. 

Adult Misty, in the meantime, is on a date that feels like a hostage situation (her date is the hostage) that somehow ends with the man coming home with her, somehow not able to talk his way out of it, to meet “Caligula”, Misty’s possessive bird (“Do shield your eyes if he comes at your face”). Instead they find Natalie inside, gun loaded and aimed. The date flees, and Natalie explains that she has received a post card bearing one of those symbols that were carved into the trees in the wilderness (notably, they were already there when the girls crashed, and resemble the sacrificed girl from the first scene). She thinks Misty sent it, but Misty shows Nat she received her own. They go out for a drink, Misty bearing a whole case-file of information, and it turns out that she has managed to track down Travis, the son of the Coach who crashed with them, with whom Natalie was forging a tentative friendship after the tragic death of his dad in the crash. A man approaches them and turns out to be Nat’s old loser friend Kevyn, who is now a cop (Misty delights in his interest in Nat, shipping from the sidelines). Eventually, Nat will try to make it North to find Travis, but her car won’t start, just as Misty’s car conveniently didn’t start when her date had to take her home. Conveniently, Misty pulls up alongside and proposes a road trip. 

We know that Misty has a propensity to manipulate both people and technology when required. We know that she craves the kind of approval that she is getting in the wilderness – she’s not on the sidelines for the first time of her life, she is finally part of the time, maybe even the most important part that is actually keeping everybody alive. At their first camp fire together, the girls break out in giggles, in spite of the horror, when they share their sins, after Lauren Lee proposes that she caused the accident when she called her piano teacher a cunt in her head. Misty doesn’t really get why it’s funny, but she laughs along, because she’s finally part of the team. It’s not really a surprise that, when she finds the emergency beacon at night time, she decides to destroy it – after all, she is thriving out here, and she doesn’t require saving. 

Random notes: 

Notably in this second episode how concerned about Van’s fate Taissa is – I like how their relationship, before it is confirmed on screen, plays out in the background. Also Liv Hewson gets some of the greatest lines in this episode (“You wanna save the cornnuts?!”).

The moment when the girls use their team banner as a funeral shroud for the dead on the plane is very sad – so many horrible things are about to happen, but it’s a reminder of the human tragedy before things really start to go sideways. 

Lottie finally tracks down her luggage and counts her remaining pills. Her countdown has started. 

The cast of this show is amazing, but these early episodes make it clear what a star Melanie Lynskey is – it’s impossible imagining anyone else pulling off Shauna, all that rage buried so deep. It fits in well with many of her other complicated characters (the one she started her career with in Heavenly Creatures and the one she played most recently on The Last of Us). 

Peaches playing over a Juliette Lewis scene is one of those rare perfect combinations, and there was a lot of great music in this episode (Portishead!). 

Taissa is on the sidelines this episode, since she doesn’t connect with any of the other present-day survivors, but something weird is happening to her son Sammy, who has trouble fitting in at school and is haunted by “a woman in the tree” and draws things that fit in well with the weirdness of the wilderness. 

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