Monday 15 May 2023

Yellowjackets - I think it’s time we woke up.

Yellowjackets: 2x07 Burial.

Burial is as close to a light-hearted episode of Yellowjackets we’ll ever get, and it still features some of the grimmest bits this season has offered. I think the strength of the episode lies in the contrast between what is happening at the cabin in the past and in Lottie’s “intentional community” (cue epic Tai eye-roll) – and there is also a hint there, or an offered explanation, that maybe these women don’t exactly remember everything that happened back then in quite as much detail as we, the viewers, are seeing it unfold. The question is: Do they have to remember it to face it? If we take away all the bits about the show that hint at a supernatural explanation for the occurrences out in the woods, and take it as things that happened to a group of malnourished, deeply traumatised teenagers (and one adult), then is the way forward just to have drinks together and process what has occurred, what they did to each other most of all?

Shauna, Taissa and Van are newcomers (and Misty hasn’t been there for a whole day), and so they surrender their belongings and their phones and are sent out on their individual therapy programmes, chosen from a menu of obscure options. Shauna, choosing self-care, is given a goat kid to look after, a responsibility she approaches with the wariness of a woman who has previously approached wildlife as a source of food (RIP bunny rabbit). Bruce, the baby goat, is elusive and needs looking after – he’s an escape artist, especially with Shauna being distracted and reluctant. I’ve always been on the record as being very non-susceptible to cults, but if I was given a baby goat, it may lure me in – but for Shauna, who maybe (this is a theory) doesn’t really remember that much about losing her baby in the woods, it seems to remind her of how difficult it was for her to connect to her daughter Callie, how the fear of loss and the trauma she experienced has worked to put up a barrier between her and her family. Shauna is afraid that she will eventually be asked to sacrifice Bruce, but the real fear is just about how life appears to put everything she loves in danger all the time, and how the only way to emotionally deal with that threat is to mute feelings as much as possible. It is an insight, a first step towards some kind of resolve. 

Misty, who appears to embrace the idea of Lottie’s cult but not enough to truly want to partake in the therapies she offers, is put into a sensory deprivation tank by Lisa. What ensues feels like a beautiful homage to David Lynch’s classic Mulholland Drive (the dancing! The telephones!), a dream sequence in which Caligula, her only true friend in the world (played by John Cameron Mitchell with the same kind of gusto he last delivered on The Good Fight), tries to assuage her fear that everyone will always see her as “someone desperate for love, just some murderer”. It’s a fear that is mirrored precisely in the flashbacks to the cabin, where Misty, post the trauma of delivering Shauna’s baby, is reminded that she is meant to be looking for Crystal, while some of the girls suspect that she killed her. It’s that fear that has kept her from embracing Walter, a man who appeared to be perfect for her (but who, perhaps, she was right not to trust). She emerges from the tank resolved to call Walter and profess her love, except considering that this seems to lead directly to Jeff’s phone call to Shauna in which he attempts to tell her that Adam’s body has been found without giving away too much, maybe it wasn’t the best idea to tell him that he was right about this theory. 

I don’t think that whatever happens between Tai and Van in this episode offers much resolve, but it does move them forward somewhat. They are both most reluctant to participate in any kind of therapy – Tai gets far enough to take off her wedding band, Van “forages” a bottle of tequila from her car – but they do kiss again, and passionately, bridging however many years have passed since they broke up. But then, the same Van who back in the woods tried to tell Taissa that she thought all of her impossible survivals had to mean something, only to realise that maybe they didn’t, tells Taissa that she has terminal cancer. When Taissa asks her why she didn’t tell her earlier, Van explains that they have been strangers, that they no longer know each other, which, considering their closeness and how easily they have fallen back into it (keep in mind that Taissa has been wearing Van’s clothes this whole time!), is devastating. 

There is a lot of change that happens in the present time, with everyone back in the same place again, like they needed each other’s presence, the full set, for something to be set in motion. Lottie feels it, and talks about his with her psychiatrist: both the joy and trepidation of feeling that way again. Except then, and maybe this has been a long time coming, the psychiatrist turns into the antler queen, talking about the hunt, and then disappears entirely, something that takes Lottie by complete surprise. Maybe she thought they were actually healing together, but this is confirmation that the other thing that is coming back to the cracks is the violence they perpetrated against each other. It’s enough of a wake-up call that Lottie tries to send everyone away again, but whatever togetherness they have discovered is difficult to give up now. 

The two timelines are once again moving in perfect sync forward to a point of convergence. The parts at the cabin are hard and difficult: after being trapped inside for days after the trauma of Shauna’s loss, the snow has finally stopped falling and they can go outside again, shovelling their way out of the enforced closeness of the cabin. Shauna buries her son (the most devastatingly small bundle), and tells him one last time that it’s just them two against the world. Misty overhears some girls gossiping about what happened with Crystal, and pleads with everyone to start looking for her again to shift the suspicion off her shoulder, but then she also overhears two girls talking about maybe eating Crystal if she’s dead (I can’t for the life of me remember their names, which truly does not bode well for their future survival). Misty is now determined to find Crystal’s body first to spare her Jackie’s fate, but instead runs into Coach Ben, who is trying to commit suicide. This is a horrifying conclusion to something that has been happening on the edges of the main events: the beautiful dreamscape he has constructed to survive has fallen apart, with Paul walking away from him (“This was never meant to be your hiding place”), and he can’t face reality without his escape mechanism. But Misty does her best to convince him to stay, threatening to tell horrible stories about him, finally resorting to telling him she will out him in front of the whole world if he jumps (only Misty would weaponize homophobia to save a life). But he only steps back when Misty talks about how much losing the baby has affected her, how she tried everything to save his life. Maybe Ben has convinced himself that the girls no longer need him, that they’d be fine without him, but it’s clear that even the one he maybe thought strongest of all of them still needs someone she can rely on (“I can’t have another death on my hands”, she wails, and Ben doesn’t even know that this is really about Crystal). 

There is also a sense in the background of all these characters trying to come to term with the death of the baby that Lottie’s mythology about the wilderness has taken on a life of its own. The girls ascribe meanings and intentions to it that are almost evil, while Lottie insists that it is a helpful presence – and all the while, Shauna is simmering in her hatred, alienated from everyone, still stuck in that fever dream of everyone eating her baby. It’s a hatred that is directed at Lottie, regardless of the fact that Lottie has never intended harm. Jackie is no longer there to bounce her feelings off (Shauna stares at that empty space in the storage shed), and so it must explode eventually. The antler queen told her during the therapy session told Lottie that the wilderness allowed her to be her truest, most authentic self – and she herself has told Taissa that the Other One is somehow deeply connected to the wilderness, and is only trying to break free, that Tai needs to connect to her again. While all the survivors are connecting in the present time, sharing mead and insights, Shauna’s simmering fury breaks free at the cabin. She punches Lottie, and Lottie sends away Javi, and clasps her hand behind her back, because she believes that she must suffer Shauna’s wrath if they are to move forward. The beating that ensues is very difficult to watch – we’ve seen plenty of times what Shauna is capable off, and her threats are never empty, always backed up by a knowledge of the extent of damage she can cause. Nobody intervenes, and Shauna almost kills Lottie. And it feels like maybe this is one of those memories they all buried. Lottie remembered the hurt they caused each other, but it feels like for the moment, nobody else does. 

Random notes: 

I have a lot of feelings about how perfectly Lauren Ambrose and Tawny Cypress mirror Liv Hewson and Jasmin Savoy Brown. It’s almost like Ambrose’s addition to the cast has re-balanced something and made the show click together perfectly. 

Alanis returns for the theme song, except this time around it’s a weird, distorted remix. Also Nirvana’s Something in the Way used in the most effective way. 

There is a beautiful symmetry here in the joy that the girls feel when the snow stops back at the cabin and the joy with which they celebrate the snowfall in the present time. The snow covers things up that will be uncovered (Crystal, presumably, somewhere, a whole lot of buried emotions), and everyone in the past is furiously digging while the women in the present are digging and uncovering, emotionally. 

There’s… something happening with Lottie and Nat, right? 

I would have been furious if anything had happened to Bruce. Protect baby goat at all costs. 

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