From the desk of The Antler Queen: A “Yellowjackets” primer to catch you up before the show returns
There are some shows that have an easy-breezy looseness to them that affords viewers the ability to casually watch — scrolling on their phones or skipping in and out of seasons — while maintaining the general gist of what’s going on. “Yellowjackets” is not one of these shows.
In its first season, creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson expertly dole out pieces of a puzzle that creates the framework for a dark thriller with a ribbon of macabre humor strung throughout, harkening back to the watercooler show days of “Twin Peaks” and “Lost.” But, as these are much darker times, the old puzzle box questions of “Who killed Laura Palmer?” and “Why is there a polar bear here?” have been leveled up to questions surrounding cannibalism, cults and Antler Queens.
With a dual timeline that flashes back and forth between 1996 and roughly present day, “Yellowjackets” introduces us to a group of girls on a New Jersey high school soccer team about to board a plane en route to Seattle to compete in nationals and then shows us what their lives became after that plane crashed in the Canadian wilderness, leaving them to starve, scavenge and pray for 19 months until someone found them.
In a 2022 interview with Deadline, married duo Lyle and Nickerson say the early premise for the show was tossed about during a conversation in the car stemming from a series of “what ifs” and an appreciation for another very famous plane crash story. In 1972, a Uruguayan rugby team crashed into the Andes mountains and, left with no other source for sustenance, the survivors fed upon those from the flight who had perished. The story of this tragic turn of events was told in the 1974 book “Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors,” and adapted in 1993 for a film starring Ethan Hawke.
“Even though I think I’m the one who has more of a longstanding affection for the movie ‘Alive,’ I believe it was Bart who first kind of turned to me and said, ‘You know, what if’ and shared the very basic premise of the show,” Lyle says.
William Golding’s 1954 novel, “Lord of the Flies” was also an inspiration for “Yellowjackets,” with Lyle telling NPR in an earlier interview that its story of a group of boys going feral while stranded on an island piqued her curiosity in terms of how women would fare in the same scenario.
“It just occurred to us that, particularly when it comes to ‘Lord of the Flies,’ there’s this sort of famous golden quote about how it would never happen with women,” Lyle says. “And it was clearly, in the quote, meant to be some sort of compliment to the female gender. But I take some issue with that . . . It just occurred to us that it’s a really fascinating question, insomuch as women are socialized, arguably, even more so than men in a very specific way.”
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It’s true, surviving hunger isn’t the only thing the girls of “Yellowjackets” have to contend with. In the first season, as the months wear on and the harsh conditions begin to cause discord amongst the team, and trauma-induced flare-ups within their own minds, the wilderness they’re trapped in begins to take on a life of its own that viewers are pulled to question or comply with from episode to episode. And we’ll see all of this manifest in some pretty intense ways in Season 2, according to the cast.
“I can’t really get too much into detail, but I will say the first couple scripts had the entire cast gasping,” Christina Ricci, a member of the show’s present timeline cast said to Entertainment Tonight when asked what the show has in store for us.
If you’re jumping into the world of “Yellowjackets” for the first time, it may seem like there’s a lot of catching up to do before its second season return on March 24, and you’d be right in assuming that. But it’s not too late! There are a multitude of message boards, podcasts and YouTube channels devoted to analyzing every minute detail of each episode released so far, with all of them forming early theories on what’s to come this season.
My own podcast, The Antler Queens, spent over an hour breaking down the trailer for Season 2, which was under three minutes long, if that gives you any idea of the work being put into loving what this show has to offer. But, there’s no need to feel intimidated. Our handy guide below will get you all caught up on where we left the main characters, with a few theories on what we expect to see moving forward in both the ’90s and present-day timelines.
After a mushroom-fueled bacchanal dubbed their “Doomcoming,” the teens of the Yellowjackets wake up with fingers to point and excuses to make for why a party nearly ended up a blood orgy. In a heated exchange with her best friend Jackie (Ella Purnell), Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) lets loose a monologue of pent-up grievances over living in her shadow, not even really liking soccer and the newly exposed fact that she’d been sleeping with Jackie’s boyfriend Jeff (played as a teen by Jack DePew.)
In normal circumstances, this blow-out would have led to a few cold-shoulder days until the two went back to being friends again, but here it leads to Jackie being kicked out of the cabin they’ve taken shelter in, and “cold-shoulder” takes on new meaning when Shauna wakes up the following morning to find Jackie’s dead body covered in a thin layer of snow, having died of what’s presumed to be hypothermia.
Visibly pregnant with a baby conceived with her dead best friend’s boyfriend, Shauna kneels next to Jackie and lets out a heart-wrenching scream. In Season 2 we’ll not only see how she deals with her friend’s death, but what becomes of her baby. The cast has already assured us that it doesn’t get eaten, which was a popular theory, along with the theory that the baby is Shauna’s daughter Callie (Sarah Desjardins) shown as a teenager in the present-day timeline (wouldn’t add up) or Adam (Peter Gadiot) who adult Shauna cheats on her husband with which is just . . . no. My theory? The baby dies during childbirth, dies as an infant due to the cold or lack of nutrition or gets sacrificed to these yet to be fully understood or explained forces in the wilderness. I don’t personally think there are any “forces” in the wilderness though, preferring to believe that the strangeness they’re experiencing is all coming from within, but either way, it’s not looking great for that baby.
All of the adult Yellowjackets present in Season 1 are shown committing their own unique version of one illegal activity or another, but Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) is the closest to landing in prison for it.
After becoming convinced that her husband Jeff (Warren Kole) is cheating on her, she has a brief affair with Adam (mentioned above) whom she later stabs and dismembers after wrongly suspecting him of trying to blackmail her and her former teammates. Adam, who fans theorized as being either her wilderness baby or grown-up Javi (Luciano Leroux) – the youngest of only three surviving male plane travelers she suffered in the wild with during the ’90s timeline who goes missing in the first season’s penultimate episode – ends up just being some guy, or so we think. Whoever Adam ends up being (I think there’s more to his story than we know), he had a back tattoo that I’m guessing the police use to identify his corpse, which quickly leads them back to Shauna as the last to see him alive.
Once confronted with the consequences of murdering Adam, Shauna will likely call upon the help of her former teammates to help get her out of it, but since none of these ladies can truly be trusted, that will bring about a whole new set of problems. A snippet from the Season 2 trailer, in which Shauna talks to her daughter Callie about being a murderer, leads me to believe that either Callie had something to do with her getting caught, or will have something to do with her getting away with it. But again, I go back and forth on questioning the motives and trustworthiness of everyone on this show, which makes watching it so much fun.
In the ’90s timeline, Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) is enduring being stuck in the wilderness better than the rest of her teammates, apart from a few bouts of going in a fugue state and furiously eating fistfuls of dirt.
Taking on the role of practical problem-solver and caretaker for her partner Van (Liv Hewson), she’s skeptical about the woo-woo leanings of the other girls, and is dead set on keeping everyone alive and remaining positive that they’ll find a way back home, somehow.
Unknowingly consuming psychedelic soup right along with the others, aside from Jackie, ramping up to the Season 1 finale, Tai participates in the drugged-out hunt for Travis, who they hallucinate as a bolting stag, but is back to her semi-normal self the next morning.
In early episodes we get flashbacks to her life as a child, which hint at the possibility of mental illness running in her family when her dying grandmother sees a man with no eyes, but that doesn’t come to the forefront of her character until we see her as an adult. But there’s certainly a lot to see there, and it’s safe to say that Tai was never as together as she led everyone to believe.
When we first meet adult Tai (Tawny Cypress), she’s living in a beautiful home with her wife Simone (Rukiya Bernard) and young son Sammy (Aiden Stoxx), seemingly thriving and fully recovered from the traumas of her past. But when her son’s complaints of a lady in a tree watching him from outside his bedroom turn out to be her, we learn that she’s worse off than the rest of the Yellowjackets; she’s just a bit better at hiding it.
Hallucinating wolves, employing a detective named Jessica Roberts (Rekha Sharma) to ensure her teammates don’t sully her reputation, and beheading the family dog for an altar that we’re led to believe aided her winning the race for New Jersey state senate, Tai is in full deep end mode at the end of the show’s first season, but no one has caught on to it yet. In Season 2 we’ll see her losing her family, going deeper into the torments of her own mind, and working as a senator all at the same time. Sounds kind of like a segment from Fox News.
In another snippet from the Season 2 trailer, we see Tai reuniting with Van in the present timeline which will surely be a fan-favorite moment that will either help pull her out of darkness or sink her further into it. Given that this season is foretold to be darker than the previous, it’s likely the we’ll get more darkness from her character. They brought it back with them, after all.
Misty f**king Quigley (Samantha Hanratty) is having the time of her life being stuck in the wilderness. Equipment manager of the Yellowjackets, she’s never been able to find her place within any group, or make herself useful in a way that anyone would appreciate, until now. Using her first aid skills to patch up the survivors of the plane crash, she amputates the leg of Coach Ben (Steven Krueger) not just to keep him from dragging around a pulped limb, but to ensure that he’ll need her help for the duration of their time together. This is a running theme with Misty.
Going so far as to smash the plane’s flight recorder, seriously impeding any rescue attempts, she’s kept at a distance until she’s needed and so always finds a way to be so.
In the final scene of Season 1, we see Misty kneeling in the show with Van and Lottie, who we’ll get to shortly, as a bear heart is being offered to a makeshift tree stump altar. While it’s unlikely that Misty buys into any of this cult stuff, she sees it as a new club that she can join in early. Cults are all about mental and emotional manipulation, and no character on this show is better at that than Misty.
In the present-day timeline Misty (Christina Ricci) is, of course, a nurse.
When not torturing the elderly people under her care at the facility she works at, she spends her time luring men into her home for likely nefarious reasons and sleuthing as a Citizen Detective, which is someone who tries to solve crimes for no pay and without anyone asking them to.
Reunited with a few of the Yellowjackets in a way that seems very calculated, she’s up to her old tricks with putting people in harm’s way so she can be there to get them out of it.
We’ll also see Misty paired with a fellow Citizen Detective, Walter (new cast member Elijah Wood) who may be a love interest, which caused Ricci to make some adjustments to how she’d been portraying her character.
“I did all this press talking about how I thought she was not interested in men and would never have had a relationship, and then they’re like, ‘Bam! Season 2, love interest!'” Ricci said to Rolling Stone. “I was thrown off by the idea, and whether the characters do become romantically involved or not is something to be discovered as people watch this. But if I had to have any love interest as this character, I’m so happy it’s Elijah, because he’s just so wonderful to work with.”
If you watch closely, there’s a flash in the trailer for Season 2 where Walter appears to be angrily smacking someone. If this ends up being Misty, God help him.
Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) is the heart of the ’90s timeline, and for all her teenage imperfections she is the most reasonable out of the bunch.
While the families of the other Yellowjackets are only referenced in very corner-of-the-eye ways, à la “The Peanuts,” we get a close look at the chaos that Natalie was born into, and how she struggles to get away from it.
Haunted by a dark scuffle that led to her father accidentally shooting himself, Natalie looks for comfort in drugs, booze and sex, but there’s a strength within her that remains steadfast. In the wilderness she’s the best with a gun, ironically, and provides her teammates with sustenance, along with Travis, who becomes her love interest.
At the end of Season 1, Natalie shoves aside her anger over Travis losing his virginity to Jackie amidst the “Doomcoming” chaos, and saves him from being killed in the team’s drugged-out bloodlust. Her almost losing him, getting him back, and then losing him again as an adult will send her into a whole new chapter of tumult that we’ve yet to see but, for now, teenage Natalie is the bright star everyone else should set their compass by. But they won’t.
In various press throughout Season 1, Juliette Lewis expressed a certain disappointment over adult Natalie being presented to her as one thing and ending up another. Pitched as a chameleon, which Season 2 may make good on, the adult Natalie we first meet is a newly out of rehab emotional wreck whose sex-positivity is perhaps a bit more transactional than the actress would have liked.
Begrudgingly accepting Misty’s help to look into what’s posed as Travis’ suicide, which they believe to have been staged, Natalie is a punk rock Madame Butterfly with a purposely hardened exterior and a molten lava core.
After being kidnapped at the end of Season 1 by a group of people who, as of now, appear to be members of Lottie’s “cult,” Natalie will undergo a personality transformation and pop up as someone Lewis refers to as “a lover.” But, lover or not, she still has unfinished business when it comes to figuring out what really happened to Travis, and she’s gonna put these chameleon qualities to use to get what she’s after.
Van (Liv Hewson) is the teen Yellowjacket who buys in hardest when it comes to Lottie’s fledgling cult leader status. After crashing along with everyone else, she suffers further injuries by almost being burned to death while trapped in the plane, and then getting her face gnawed clean open by a pack of wolves.
It could be the miraculous way in which these injuries heal without the use of modern medicine that pushes her towards believing in otherworldly forces, but the comfort provided by giving faith to something bigger than herself is a better explanation for why she’d see fit to bend a knee to the Antler Queen.
In Season 2, we’ll see if that knee is still bent or if she takes Tai’s advice and breaks away from Lottie. Either option seems potentially dangerous.
Not much is known about adult Van, played by Lauren Ambrose off the heels of a fantastic performance in the series finale of “Servant,” but based on what we’ve seen so far in the Season 2 trailer and promo images, her scars are barely visible and she works in/owns a ’90s ephemera store of some sort. The outfit she’s wearing in this photo here is giving off Ethan Hawke AND Winona Ryder “Reality Bites” vibes, which is very exciting for lesbian reasons.
Out of the little we know, Van is going to be reunited with Tai for one reason or another. See note above re: lesbian reasons.
When Lottie is first introduced in Season 1 she’s a “I like your pilgrim hat” rich girl with a prescription for schizophrenia medication that no one seems to know about. A few weeks post-crash, once those meds run out, she’s someone who breaks into fluent ominous French while becoming possessed during a seance, charming bears and convincing her teammates to hunt and kill poor Travis.
One of the biggest puzzles in the puzzle box, we’re led to believe that she has the ability to see visions and commune with the looming dark forces in the woods. But are there actually dark forces at work here, or just the persuasions of a teenage girl with horns on her head?
Going in to Season 2, we’ll see if Lottie’s powers still work after some post-rescue chemical regulation. I’m guessing no. Rich girls can convince people to do almost anything. Even cannibalism? And for all this “Antler Queen” talk, the show has been intentionally vague as to who or what the real dark force is in those woods. According to the cast, no one has guessed much of anything correctly yet, which is exciting!
Out of the two new to Season 2 adult Yellowjackets, the most info has been given about adult Lottie, but still not much.
“When we meet Lottie, she’s a whole different person who’s gone through this rehabilitation at a Swiss mental institution,” co-showrunner Jonathan Lisco says.
Rehabilitated or not, she had something to do with Travis’ death and her cult/wellness clinic members are definitely the ones who kidnapped Natalie, so she’s up to something. My money’s on Misty as being the one to get to the bottom of her whole deal. Or maybe Misty is the mastermind of it all.
“Yellowjackets” returns Friday, March 24 on streaming and Sunday, March 26 on Showtime.
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