At first, the new season of Showtime’s hit “Yellowjackets” concerned me. Its first couple episodes don’t quite have the buzz of last year, in part because of how the storytelling seems like it’s cleaning up a few things from the Emmy-nominated first season but also because it’s reasonable to worry that this show doesn’t quite know where it’s going. As much as I liked “Lost” from beginning to end, there are definitely patches in that show where it’s clear the writers don’t know for sure what will happen next (like most of season two). However, the writers of “Yellowjackets” recently revealed they have a five-season plan for this show; as this season finds its rhythm, it becomes clear that the unsettled feeling of those first couple of episodes is intentional. This is a show about people forever shaped by an unimaginable situation and how that is the kind of trauma that can never be fully left behind in the woods. It makes sense that the upheaval of last season would lead to an unsettled start to this year.
While the plotting may be initially concerning, the scene-to-scene writing is still spectacular, buoyed by one of the best ensembles on TV, a group that only grows richer in the sophomore season with the additions of Elijah Wood, Lauren Ambrose, Simone Kessell, and John Reynolds. The entire cast is on the same twisted page, trusting the writers and creators to take them to crazy places. One of the things that works so well about “Yellowjackets” is that the writers allow their characters to be increasingly weird. Both the teen and adult versions of these people are reckless, violent, and often driven by their passions in a way that’s not often seen on TV. There’s something to threading a tonal needle that allows us to root for people who have pushed the boundaries of human decency without feeling like something is wrong. That can go too far—when a show lets characters inconsistently get away with anything without consequences—but the rash decisions made by these people have ripple effects on this show. In a sense, it’s about the ripples still coming out since that plane crash in 1996.
That’s when the Yellowjackets soccer team crashed in the middle of nowhere. Again, “Yellowjackets” cuts back and forth between the weeks and now months after the crash and the present day. This season is about the past winter, and the deadly chill pervades every scene with the survivors. As revealed by the end of last season, Lottie Matthews plays a bigger role this year, and Courtney Eaton depicts her as a young woman who increasingly believes she’s special. At the same time, Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) is having visions, encouraged to unpack their meaning by girlfriend Van (Liv Hewson). Of course, the main drama of the flashbacks this year centers on the life that Shauna (Sophie Nelisse) is about to bring into this world. While she’s dealing with impending motherhood, Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) and Travis (Kevin Alves) head out to try and find the missing Javi. Oh, and you don’t want to know what happens with Jackie (Ella Purnell).
It’s a lot for a show—and I didn’t even mention the scene-stealing Misty (Sammi Hanratty)—but it’s only half of “Yellowjackets.” In the present day, last season ended with Nat (Juliette Lewis) being kidnapped, and it turns out that a cult run by Lottie (Kessell) is to blame. Misty (Christina Ricci) sets out to find Natalie and ends up partnered with an ordinary guy who likes to play detective named Walter (Wood). Meanwhile, Taissa (Tawny Cypress) struggles to hold on to her sanity in increasingly surreal arcs that almost play out like “Twin Peaks.” As Tai battles with reality, Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) struggles to cover up the death of Adam and hold her family together. Daughter Callie (Sarah Desjardins) plays a bigger role this year as does Shauna’s husband Jeff (Warren Kole).
The multiple threads of “Yellowjackets” can sometimes be too much, especially given how they divide the major adult players for the first half of this season. Some of the highlights of season one came when excellent performers like Lewis & Ricci were allowed to work together, but fans will have to wait for that kind of charge. And they won’t miss it that much. Again, while the season is crowded, it provides such creative satisfaction on a scene-to-scene basis. I could watch Ricci & Wood travel the country, solving crimes for roughly a decade. Lynskey continues to be one of the best actresses on TV. Lewis never misses. Revealed later in the season, Lauren Ambrose as the adult Van is an always-welcome presence. There are stand-outs everywhere on this show.
While the adult performers like Lynskey, Lewis, Cypress, and Ricci have gotten most of the attention, the young actors are more confident and richer this year too. Nelisse and Hanratty, conveying two different kinds of desperation, are particularly good, but the whole young ensemble is enlivened by the success of season one.
The response to season two of “Yellowjackets” will come down to how fans feel about an already-crowded show expanding even wider—when Coach Ben (Steven Krueger) started to get some flashbacks in the flashback, I worried a bit. But now that this is a five-season story, it makes sense the entire arc of “Yellowjackets” would add a few more players to the team. And the six episodes sent to press end with a fantastic shot that implies the remainder will take many of these threads and tie them together. I can’t wait to see the shape of what results.
Six episodes were screened for review. Season two of "Yellowjackets" premieres on March 24th.