[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Yellowjackets” Season 2 Episode 9, “Storytelling.”]
Long ago, in the quaint winter of 2022, Lottie (Courtney Eaton) killed a bear and offered its heart up as sacrifice to the wilderness on “Yellowjackets.” She told her friends to spill blood and said “let the darkness let us free.”
That is decidedly not what happened.
Despite Lottie’s best efforts in both past and present, “darkness” (also known as savagery and trauma) fully cloaks the stranded teens of the series, following them well into their tormented adult lives. In a season that has gone from bad to worse (in circumstances, not quality), “Storytelling” is the definitive destruction of hope, light, and sanctuary.
After languishing for most of the season — or at least moving conspicuously slower than the parallel ’90s flashback — the present-day timeline steers most of the action in “Storytelling,” written by Ameni Rozsa and directed by Karyn Kusama. Every character and storyline converges at Lottie’s (Simone Kessell) forest compound, intersecting and overlapping both cleverly and catastrophically. Callie (Sarah Desjardins) and Walter (Elijah Wood) prove to be the biggest wild cards, both of them taking major risks — hers rash, his meticulous — that end up saving the day. Callie showing up in the woods shocks the adult Yellowjackets back to reality; there is no clearer signifier in the present of how far they are from the lived-horror of the wilderness, even when its emotional wounds persist. It’s fair to assume that most hunts didn’t include the vehement defense of a loved one, especially after Travis (Kevin Alves) tried to save Nat (Sophie Thatcher) the very first time they drew cards. But here she is; unafraid of interrupting the hunt or upsetting the wilderness because these things aren’t real to her. Earlier in the episode, Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) tells Lottie that “none of that was real,” while Callie is as real as it gets.
The reason all of this was so viscerally real in the wilderness is because there was no world outside of it. To flee from the cabin or the rituals or even eating one’s companions was to die, either against the elements and starvation, or at the hands of desperate teenagers. The reality of that is why Travis has no choice but to accept his brother’s fate (Alves is exceptional in this episode), why the horrified Lottie and her former skeptics Nat, Tai (Jasmin Savoy Brown), and Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) all tacitly agree to these new rules. If anyone is getting exactly what they want in “Storytelling,” it would be Misty (Samantha Hanratty), who manipulates Lottie’s situation from the moment she carried her up the stairs. She even thinks for a moment that Lottie is about to name her the group’s new leader — but of course, that’s not what happens.
Where the Season 1 finale may have lacked for shocking twists, “Storytelling” serves up Lottie’s successor, the one who will lead the Yellowjackets through a brutal winter (more than one, though they don’t know it yet) and implicitly bear the heavy antler crown: Natalie. The reveal adds context for the adult Yellowjackets and conflict for the young ones; teens Misty and Shauna reel from the decision, while adult Nat and Lottie still carry this particular day with them years later. Looking back at Lottie throughout Season 2, she was chasing not just the feeling but the favor of the wilderness, which she thinks she lost to Natalie (Juliette Lewis). Nat’s turbulent emotions stem from shared survivors’ guilt, the bulk of which she gained when she let Javi (Luciano Leroux) drown and be eaten in her place. It informed her tumultuous relationship with Travis (Andres Soto) and probably every other relationship right up to Lisa (Nicole Maines), everyone she feared betraying.
Natalie is now one of the rare “Yellowjackets” characters whose fate the audience knows — the only one besides Travis who appeared in both timelines. Knowing Nat’s ending layers her past with tragedy, not only before the crash and in the wilderness but in her adult life up until her death. In her mind, she’s on a plane — not the private flight whose crash altered her life, but a commercial airliner like the many she must have rode after being rescued, never quite shaking the fear of what might happen if it went down. She has visions of her younger self, young Lottie, and Javi — the person she was before the wilderness, the person who believed in her there, and the life she feels responsible for taking. In her last moments, Natalie can’t let go of her guilt — a guilt now carried by Misty for accidentally killing her best friend. The others will feel it too for participating in the hunt and humoring Lottie, or for going to the compound in the first place. Moving forward, the adult Yellowjackets will wrestle as much with things they’ve done since being rescued as with the horrors of the past.
Food for thought:
“Yellowjackets” Seasons 1 and 2 are now streaming on Showtime, and on Prime Video, Hulu, and Paramount+ with a Showtime add-on.