Monday 27 March 2023

Yellowjackets - I’m never going to be scared of you.

 Yellowjackets: 2x01 Friends, Romans, Countrymen.

Down beneath the ashes and the stone
Sure of what I've lived and have known
I see you so uncomfortably alone
I wish I could show you how much you've grown
Sharon Van Etten | Seventeen

Last season, Taissa and Shauna were talking about the difference between the safe choices they both made in their marriages and the spark of something primal and profound that Taissa used to have (she never says with Van, but it is so clear that’s who she is talking about), the same feeling Shauna now has whenever she sees Adam. In Shauna’s case, it’s not even about the person she is with, but about who she becomes when she is with him, like her past is erased and all those paths she never got to take because she basically decided to assume Jackie’s life are once again open to her. Maybe, after Friends, Romans, Countrymen, we can make the reasonable argument that Shauna once had a love like that too, the kind that is so essential to her identity that it outlives the death of the other person. 

Winter has arrived for the survivors, and Jackie, its first direct victim, has been dead for months. Her body is in the cabin’s meat shed (dark, dark foreshadowing), perhaps because the ground is too frozen to bury her properly, perhaps because Shauna has insisted to keep her around and everyone is too exhausted to intervene in how she is dealing with her deep grief and guilt. Something about the way that the group functions has shifted – for example, before Nat and Travis go out to once again unsuccessfully hunt (and look for Javi, who Nat assumes is dead but Travis can’t let go of), Lottie performs a complex blessing ritual. They both don’t really believe that it does anything, but it’s impossible to prove, after all, they have always made it back alive. It appears that Lottie’s leadership is now deeply rooted, because her way of explaining reality works, and deep in the woods with predators abound and hunger gnawing it is hard to discredit her magical thinking, and easy to rely on superstition. There are no counterpoints to Lottie, because Shauna spends her days out in the shed talking to Jackie’s ghost, and Taissa is preoccupied with the issue of her sleepwalking (Van has been sleeping up in the attic with her, bound to her to stop her from wandering off, but something is escalating). 

Jackie’s ghost haunts only Shauna, but it is an effective and absolute haunting, the Jackie in her head perfectly replicating the Jackie she was friends with. She is still furious about Jeff, but probes to get the whole story, so that Shauna essentially retells her own wrongdoings, trying to make sense of them. This Jackie doesn’t feel like one that Shauna would have made up – her edges aren’t any less sharp. We know that Shauna, once she returned from the wilderness, kept writing in these journals, assuming Jackie’s voice. We know she is living the life that Jackie was meant to live, staying in the same small town, marrying her high school boyfriend. In a way, Shauna is wearing Jackie’s skin, but it feels like an act that is inspired by love and need, like Shauna cannot exist without having a version of Jackie around, and the only way to do that is to become her. I think that’s also a valid interpretation of her recounting of her and Jeff’s infidelity: Jackie kissed him first, but it doesn’t feel like the kiss was about wanting Jeff as much as it was about inhabiting Jackie’s life, becoming so close to her that the distinction between them falls away. Yellowjackets can go further with this than other shows because it has spent a whole season hinting at cannibalism not as a method of survival in the absence of other food, but as a ritual that signifies something, and it feels fitting that the first act of cannibalism is Shauna’s: one of Jackie’s ear lobes falls off, and she carries it around like a talisman, until, at the end of the episode, she eats it. It’s the most literal way she can possess and absorb her. It’s not food, but it’s nourishment. Ghost Jackie never stopped being with her. 

Taissa was explaining her marriage like it was a paler, more secure version of what she used to have – a compromise that has fallen apart now that Simone has understood who she is sharing her bed with. In a way, Taissa’s campaign felt like it brought her back into the wilderness. It required a tenaciousness and instinct for blood that she thought she had left behind there, until all those people who wanted to own her story came out of the woodworks, thirsting for blood. The version of Taissa that survives those kind of situations is incompatible with who Simone thought she married, and having seen what happened to the family dog biscuit, she realises that Taissa may be a danger to Sammy. She threatens that she will never see her son again, that she will go to the media with all she knows. It’s a very radical contrast to what Van (Liv Hewson is fantastic in this episode, and I’m so glad they are now a regular cast member) does when she begins to understand what that side of Taissa looks like. Instead of prioritising her own safety (Taissa bites her), she tells her that her illness is not her. Instead of running away, she writes I love you in blood, the first time she says it. No wonder that this is Taissa’s reference point for passion – out in the wilderness, she feels seen entirely, and loved regardless. Where is adult Van? What will happen when their paths cross again?

It looks like the second season of Yellowjackets willintroduce a new timeline as well, and show us snippets of the survivors’ lives right after the rescue. Somehow, there is a pathway from Lottie’s institutionalisation after the rescue to her successfully establishing a cult that combines aspects of the rituals she began performing in the woods with the kind of life-coaching vocabulary that is so prevalent these days – Simone Kessell’s adult Lottie is just as charismatic as Courtney Eaton’s, but has clearly found her niche and exploited it perfectly. Natalie wakes up tied to a bed, and in a great contrast to Jessica Roberts (RIP, presumably), she does not rely on her ability to talk her way out of the situation, instead stabbing disciple Lisa (Nicole Maines, who I hope will get a lot more to do) with a fork and running away into woods that look suspiciously like the ones she barely survived 25 years ago. She stumbles over other disciples, performing a weird burying ritual on a naked man, and then realises that Lottie is her captor. What Lottie wants from her remains unclear, but she does call Natalie her friend – perhaps whatever she is working towards in these woods (again, unclear if it’s the same woods, but Lottie did have an eerie connection to the specific place they crashed into) requires more than one Yellowjacket. Lottie tells Nat that he has a message from Travis. 

Random notes: 

The sheer insanity of the “last season on Yellowjackets” bit is the perfect encapsulation of this show. 

This episode introduced a few “new” characters, or rather, named background characters that I wouldn’t have been able to pick out of a line up to place in the first season – in my head, they feel like redshirts, and I worry about what will happen to them. Although one of them – Crystal – gives a lifeline to Misty, who is still ostracised by the group, and introduces her to showtunes. 

Travis has a panic attack that Lottie manages to calm down, giving him visions of an altar in the process – it’s emotionally complex, because he and Natalie haven’t been hooking up, but he seems to respond to Lottie sexually, which might just be an interesting insight into how magnetic she is (if there is a clear divide in the cabin between those she has power over and those she doesn’t, the scene opens up the idea that Travis isn’t as clearly on Nat’s side as she thought). 

Yellowjackets is a difficult show to recap because there are so many storylines in every episode – for example, here’s Misty, still cleaning up the mess that Shauna left by attempting to prepare her for a possible police interview (“The only thing you should ever say to the police is “I want a lawyer”. That’s why I put it on the cookie.”), and then asking her pointedly if there are any loose ends. Shauna, considering the question, first of turns out to not have burned either the ID card or her diaries from the woods, then also realises that Adam, the artist, had an art studio and most likely painted a series of increasingly disturbing paintings of her (she’s right!). Jeff and Shauna go to the studio, and Jeff, who seems extremely chipper and happy before this, has a moment where he thinks about Shauna’s affair with a man who appears to be a whole lot more talented and interesting than him. They fuck furiously on the art, and then destroy it, finishing off with a suburban barbecue of the rest of the evidence. Callie, naturally, finds remains of the ID card in the ashes, while somewhere in the far distance, Misty’s ears twitch. 

BTW, Jeff is on fire this episode. His little dad joke about artists. His breakdown moment in the car, feeling all the feels to Papa Roach’s Last Resort (which came out in 2000, which I feel like is a little bit too late for Jeff but was just in time for me, sharing a classroom with 13 and 14 year old boys with feelings). 

Also foreshadowing Misty’s storyline this season, she stumbles across a very talented citizen detective on her forum who asks pertinent questions about Adam’s spending habits before his disappearance. Soon not just a voice: Elijah Wood. 

Misty tries her citizen detectiving on the motel manager at Natalie’s place and ALMOST fails against his deep devotion to privacy. She ends up realising that the door to her room was broken open and those splinters are the most hopeful thing Misty has ever held in her hands (because the worst outcome for Misty is Natalie not being her friend anymore! They’re a lifeline, just like showtunes singing Crystal was all those years ago!)

Misty: Do not cry about this, Misty. Babies cry. 

Taissa, after her fight with Simone, finds the altar in the basement. New doggie Steve, purchased to sway Sammy, has a classic Ralph Wiggum “I’m in danger” moment. 

The perfect way in which the “Things are getting kinda gross” line in Tori Amos’ Cornflake Girl crescendos into Shauna eating the ear – Chef’s Kiss. 

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