Buzz, buzz, baby! That’s right, that faint humming in your ear means that everyone’s favorite show about a fictional soccer team from the New Jersey suburbs, who got lost in the Canadian wilderness after their plane crashed on their way to a tournament and have to eventually resort to eating each other, is back! And to think, so many other metaphorical stories about a woman’s teenage years being a feral, uncompromising hell had arrived to nip at its heels. Just kidding! Yellowjackets may be entering its second season, but it’s still one of the most original shows on television right now.
And that’s an excellent truth to cling to, because we need that solace to carry us through the relative disappointment of a lackluster premiere episode.
Before we get into it, I want to assure you: I’ll keep the bee-related jokes to a minimum. There are only so many bumbling puns one can make before they’ve buzzed all the humor from them. Trust me, honey, I’ll comb the recesses of my brain until I’m pollen every last one out.
Okay, that’s out of my system. I’m just trying to buy time. I knew the Yellowjackets were freezing their stingers off (last one, I swear) in the North American tundra, but who among us could’ve expected that the show itself was going to have to spend most of its premiere thawing out?
This episode essentially serves to supply non-diehards enough information to propel them into the remaining nine episodes of Season 2. When the three-minute “Previously On” compilation finished at the top of this premiere, I was certain I remembered everything important that had happened in Season 1. This was a godsend for me, as I watch shows for a living and typically don’t spend time watching a season of newer television twice, unless it’s simply life-changing. Or unless I’m lying to my boyfriend, telling him I didn’t spend the night binge-watching an entire season of something without him.
Turns out, despite that welcome reminder of Season 1’s key plot points, I didn’t remember shit. Yellowjackets is a series jam-packed with symbolism, hidden clues, intricate relationships, and foreshadowing. Fans who are eager to discuss the series’ complexities have basically paid for a new building full of Reddit servers in Silicon Valley, just to keep the site up and running. That also means that if—like me—you only watched and loved the first season once, a few narrative points may have lapsed in your memory.
Whether or not we needed an entire episode to refresh us, however, I’m not so sure.
Still, things start off strong. We’re treated to a glimpse of all of our favorite characters back in the ’90s, huddled close to each other in the mystical hunting cabin where they’ve taken refuge. If you’ve never experienced a Canadian winter, I’ll tell you that you should not wish it upon yourself or your worst enemies. I hail from just near the country border, and it’s bone-chilling as Season 2 makes it look.
Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) and Travis (Kevin Alves) head out for their daily, early morning hunt (which Travis is also using to look for his brother, Javi, who ran away after the girls’ mushroom-induced mania in the Season 1 finale). Lottie (Courtney Eaton), leaning into her own mysticism forged by the cabin’s mysterious former owner, cuts their hands in a blood ritual. Natalie tries to protest, but Lottie insists, “You keep coming back, don’t you?” With these words, we see Lottie’s nefarious side starting to grow. She preys on the fears of her teammates and harvests that anxiety to promote their trust in her. Through glimpses of Lottie’s life in the present day, we see that she’s made a holistic healing empire out of convincing people that she can bring control to the chaos.
This entire sequence is montaged to Sharon Van Etten’s “Seventeen,” which is a bit on the nose. But still, it works to put us back in the headspace we need to be in, especially when we get our first glimpse of Yellowjackets’ third timeline: when the team is making their way home immediately after being rescued. The episode flashes between teenage Lottie and adult Lottie (Simone Kessell), who is professing to her followers that their pain isn’t real. Cue an updated banger of an opening credits sequence and the knowledge that, in Season 2, the Yellowjackets will be contending with a question of their reality.
Back in the present day, we’re loaded with more unnecessary reminders of where things ended in the first season. Instead of moving the plot forward, we have to sit with Shauna (Mealnie Lynskey) and Misty (Christina Ricci), as the latter plays “good cop-bad cop,” prepping Shauna for police questioning about her murdered ex-lover Adam Martin’s disappearance. Elsewhere, Taissa (Tawny Cypress) is both fatigued and nonplussed at a dog adoption agency, grabbing a new pooch for her son, Sammy. Let’s hope this one can keep its head as Taissa’s unexplained blackouts continue—especially since her wife, Simone (Rukiya Bernard), makes it clear that she wants Taissa nowhere near Sammy.
I hate to say it, but almost every dose of catching up with the adult versions of these characters in this premiere is woefully dull. Shauna and Jeff’s (Warren Kole) dynamic with their daughter, Callie (Sarah Desjardins), remains the show’s most tedious plot thread. When Lynskey is allowed to go out and wreak havoc on her own, things become much more interesting. But I am simply just not interested in scenes of the couple grilling Adam’s driver’s license, which seem to exist simply to promote Starry soda (formerly Sierra Mist, but same crisp taste!).
Perhaps the writers are trying to create a cohesive connection between the characters’ timelines, because Shauna isn’t giving too much back in the ’90s either. Of course, she’s highly traumatized after her best friend froze to death. But playing dress-up with Jackie’s corpse is just a means to an end (which we’ll get to in a second). Misty is also subject to this back-and-forth narrative unity, as her pluckiness is affecting everyone negatively in both decades. Ricci is as fantastic as ever as the adult Misty, but the humor in her eccentricity is falling just a bit flat, especially compared to last season’s delightful acidity.
When this premiere really feels like Yellowjackets is when it’s focusing on Taissa and Natalie, in both eras. Teenage Taissa’s relationship with Van (Liv Hewson) feels as sweet and warm as ever. In the face of continued supernatural upheaval, freezing temperatures, dwindling resources, and a burgeoning cult leader, they know that they can trust in each other. Taissa might bite in her sleep (no dental guards in that cabin, I presume), but it’s nothing Van can’t handle.
Back in the present day, Natalie is struggling to break free of her captive state, after Lottie’s purple-clad henchpeople snatched her out of a motel room before Natalie could put a bullet through her skull. Thank god, because even when Lewis is performing Natalie with wanton erraticism, she’s still so much fun to watch. The most thrilling part of this episode is when Natalie breaks free of her restraints, stabs an orderly with a dirty fork, and stumbles out into the woods to confront Lottie, like she’s half-drunk. But things stop short of fisticuffs when Lottie tells Natalie that she has a message for her, from Travis—who, if you’ll remember, is hanging in a barn somewhere. Surprise!
This news sets another montage into motion, bookending the premiere’s opening. This one is set to Tori Amos’ “Cornflake Girl,” which is ingenious. It captures the uncertainty of the teenagers’ state and brings it smack dab to the forefront, where it belongs.
In the final moment of the premiere, as everyone is grappling with some form of revelation (Travis thinks Javi is still alive; Callie knows her parents killed Adam Martin), we get the kicker. Shauna, who had grabbed Jackie’s frozen ear from the ground after a session of their make-believe went awry, takes her friend’s appendage and eats it. Two things here are critically important. Obviously, this is the first instance of the teenagers’ indulgence in cannibalism, which we’ve always known is what we’re leading up to. The second is that, as Shauna eats the ear, the lyric of “Cornflake Girl” where Amos sings, “This is not really happening,” plays as the scene cuts to black.
Like Lottie’s profession before the opening credits, this is another confirmation that the show is going to delve deeper into the question of truth. What is real, and what isn’t? And in the space in between, will there be room for more supernatural elements of these haunted woods to nestle themselves into the Yellowjackets’ lives?
Thankfully, these questions are all much more interesting to think about than almost anything that happened in the premiere itself. We just have to hope that, from here on out, those heavier aspects of the show are allowed to flourish, instead of being buried by exposition and needless character asides. Give us the drama; we’re literally watching a show about up-and-coming cannibals. We can handle it!