[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Yellowjackets” Season 2 Episode 8, “It Chooses.”]
“Does a hunt that have no violence feed anyone?”
That’s the question posed to Lottie (Simone Kessell) by her “therapist” — quickly revealed to be her subconscious — in “Yellowjackets” Season 2, Episode 7, the question whose answer and meaning reveal themselves in ghastly fashion in Episode 8, “It Chooses.” Not only are our survivors starved and delirious, but they now hunger as much for food as for fight to acquire it.
Directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer and written by Sarah L. Thompson & Liz Phang, “It Chooses” is littered with indicators of everyone reaching the end of their tether during the bleak midwinter. There is hunger, there is starvation, and then there is whatever this is; exhaustion, blurred vision, hallucinations of blood spilling from the walls, cradling your pet mouse corpse and being tempted to take a bite out of his emaciated body. Only Nat (Sophie Thatcher) says it, but it grows harder to ignore the inevitability that they might die — that they’re already dying. It might seem like a leap from where Episode 8 starts to where it ends, but Season 2 has built a strong foundation of crumbling mental health, unimaginable grief, and the slippery slope of tasted flesh. Even the lack of explanation from Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) about her concern for Lottie (Courtney Eaton) is more refreshing than irksome; the Episode 7 beating functioned exactly as Lottie said it would, an outlet for Shauna’s pain but despite all evidence, not a personal attack.
All that’s left is for Coach Scott (Steven Kreuger) to leave the premises — just as he did in Episode 7. There was always an unspoken line with an adult around, even when Ben spent his days locked in his room and daydreaming of a life back in New York. He’s still alive, but his authority over the girls is as dead as Nugget, as he will undoubtedly soon learn. Ben is busy tracking down the symbol tree where Javi (Luciano Leroux) found shelter. It’s a solitary storyline with almost no dialogue, tasking Kreuger with some truly terrific face acting, in which he looks at the map, around the tree, and at the cave with convincing astonishment.
Before they decide what to do, the teens have a clipped, cautious conversation about Lottie’s critical condition. It’s a transitory scene, but also pivotal. Everyone is a distilled version of their most essential character traits; Van (Liv Hewson) is loyal, Nat practical, Tai (Jasmin Savoy Brown) taking action, and Shauna numb from her specific traumas. Mari (Alexa Barajas) and Travis (Kevin Alves) talk about the power and potency of the wilderness, something they believe in strong enough to name and understand and which others are unsure of — but still don’t outright deny. It’s a swift, potent exchange that reinforces everyone’s status and positions their motivation for what’s about to happen.
In the present, Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) is a full-on murder investigation subject thanks to the excavated remains of Adam Martin (Peter Gadiot). The solo interrogation and graphic photos test Jeff’s (Warren Kole) in ways he didn’t expect (as planned by Dirtbag John Reynolds M. Saracusa). His nightmare is a little too on-the-nose, with Shauna ElectricKitchenKnifeHands attacking Jeff, saying it turns him on — but one could forgive this man for even the subconscious fear that if he crosses his wife, she’ll end him (and maybe in time for dinner). Less heavyhandedly, Jeff’s nightmare illustrates a growing sense of entrapment; he already declared that he loves Shauna for all she is, including the bad parts, and their current situation is the most perverse possible test of that affection.
It’s crazy how drastically this essentially random man has impacted adult Shauna’s life — she was covering up this impulsive killing a full season ago — and her friends and family by extension. As much as the present-day plot is intertwined with the past and healing time’s wounds from the woods, it also supplies fresh hell that these women (mostly) don’t deserve. To be fair, it’s been maybe two weeks since Adam actually died — but this time Lottie and Van (Lauren Ambrose) are also in the know, as well as Callie (Sarah Desjardins), who went from hating her “seriously fucked up” mother to sympathizing with and defending her (possibly to her own detriment).
The other women can’t help being affected by a Yellowjackets reunion, uncovering everything from Jeff being the blackmailer to Tai (Tawny Cypress) hiring an investigator to Misty (Christina Ricci) “taking care” of Jessica Roberts (Rekha Sharma). As Kessell plays it, Lottie goes from thoughtfully absorbing the scene around her to visibly enjoying it before she divulges why. “Something guided you here,” she tells the others. “Something greater, and it has been guiding me as well… it’s too powerful, and now we have to give it what it wants.”
She never comes out and says “the wilderness” — the “Yellowjackets” writers are careful about when to be or not be explicit, sensing where the word will weigh down versus propel a scene (even in the last decisive flashback, it’s only used once). But it is the wilderness, the darkness within, that Lottie says demands a sacrifice. Von Scherler Mayer delivers another unforgettable penultimate episode (one of her prior credits is Season 1’s “Doomcoming”) where past and present weave together expertly as it cuts back to another exceptional scene in the cabin.
There’s been no end to theories and speculation about the Yellowjackets’ descent from champions to brutes, nor to the incremental steps paved on that path including blood sacrifice, collective rituals, and Midnight Jackie Snackie — but here it is. They pass around the deck of cards, waiting for someone to draw the queen with no eyes. Even the cards are a relic of their makeshift society, instantly forgotten and imbued with fresh, forbidding meaning. In stark contrast to the previous cabin scene, this one is silent, nearly empty of dialogue because there is truly no need for it; enough of the puzzle has been assembled for the big picture to wordlessly take shape. The entire young cast performs at its apex, surfacing horror, love, resolve, and regret through their individual turns and reaction shots..
After Nat picks the card, what follows is the exact bones of the pilot flashback; a rudimentary version of the ritual these characters will streamline over the next year as they forget the outside world and their previous lives. Shauna places the necklace on Nat, prepares to slit her throat, and when she escapes the cabin they all hunt her down with weapons and animal cries. Even Javi falling in the lake mirrors the trap laid in Season 1, Episode 1, a way to ensnare the victim and not kill them directly before preparing them for consumption. This was not how anyone intended the sacrifice to go, but the chase and the ferocity change it forever. It’s might not be what adult Lottie means to invoke when she hands out a poisoned beverage in the future, but surely the others feel it too; The violence of the hunt feeds just as much as the spoils.
Food for thought:
“Yellowjackets” releases new episodes Fridays via streaming and Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.