‘Yellowjackets’ Episode 3 Marks the Beginning of the End for One Character

The group's resident adult is done playing his part and actively checks out of reality.
A man in yellow and blue winter athletic wear lays in bed with an empty expression; still from "Yellowjackets"
Steven Krueger as Ben Scott in "Yellowjackets"
Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

[Editor’s note: The following article contains spoilers for “Yellowjackets” Season 2 up through Episode 3, “Digestif.”]

Every character is going through it in “Yellowjackets’ Season 2, whether they’re hallucinating, sleepwalking, or consuming human flesh. But in Episode 3, which deals with the aftermath of the marooned high schoolers consuming a classmate’s corpse, one character in particular seems damaged beyond repair: Coach Ben Scott (Steven Kreuger).

Ever since the plane crash — in which he lost his leg — Ben Scott became the group’s de facto authority figure as the only surviving adult. But after months without rescue and with team captain Jackie (Ella Purnell) now digesting in everyone’s bellies — everyone, that is, except Ben himself — comes a seismic yet subtle shift in the survivors’ dynamic, one in which the person who was presumably in charge, however tenuously, no longer has any interest in the role. Ben’s responsible adult exterior is cracking, and it’s only a matter of time before it breaks.

Clinical psychologist Robin Gibbs, who spoke to IndieWire about how the series handles trauma, said that Ben’s deteriorating mental state reflects the “wear and tear” on his mind since the crash.

“The kids sort of had each other, as a peer group, whereas when you’re trying to assert your authority, you’re not able to be as vulnerable and get the emotional support,” she explained. “So he could tolerate it and tolerate it and tolerate up to a point that then he [no longer has the capacity] to continue functioning at that level.”

That point arrives when Ben starts actively tuning out of reality in “Digestif.” At first, he appears to be having flashbacks to life before the crash and domestic bliss with boyfriend Paul (François Arnaud), but after a couple scenes it becomes clear that these are not memories, but fantasies. Ben is imagining the life he would have lived, could have lived, if he didn’t get on the plane that day and end up living multiple concurrent nightmares.

“I do think that it’s a really interesting story arc and something that I was really excited about when we first started the season, knowing kind of the direction that it was going,” Kreuger told IndieWire ahead of the season. “As he kind of gets into his own psyche and starts having some of these visions, it’s really a defense mechanism. It’s the way that he protects himself… and the consequences that end up coming from this are pretty devastating.”

A man bundled up in winterwear and on crutches, standing outside a cabin in the woods by night with snow on the ground; still from "Yellowjackets"
Ben Scott (Steven Kreuger) looks on in horror as the Yellowjackets feast.Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

“We’ve always known that Steven is a really incredible actor,” said Ashley Lyle, who along with co-creator Bart Nickerson worked with Kreuger on “The Originals.” “We knew he had really good facility both with comedy and with drama, so we talked this season about how we could give him a little bit more to do, get a little bit more into the interiority of Ben Scott — as opposed to him being sort of a foil for Misty (Samantha Hanratty) or a figurehead for adult authority.”

Showrunner Jonathan Lisco described the arc as both “tasty” and “delicious” (choice words for this particular show) and an opportunity for wish fulfillment as Ben imagines the road not taken. “We decided in order to self protect and insulate him from the horrors and savagery of the wilderness… [he] goes into this reverie of what he should have done, when he had the opportunity to do it, in order to live his best life.”

One scene depicts Ben tearfully going back to Paul after they seemingly broke up, declaring that he wants to live openly and authentically. The two embrace while Paul’s TV cuts to a newsflash of the plane crash that ended up permanently derailing Ben’s life.

Because at the end of the day, even if Ben Scott survived the wilderness — and he still could have, living off the grid and wanting nothing to do with the others — it altered his life and everyone else’s beyond the norm. Cannibalism notwithstanding, it’s unheard of for a high school soccer coach to end up living with his student athletes for months on end, blending into a sibling or parental figure as he helps them literally stay alive. The girls might have stayed in touch after high school, but he would have been a passing figure in their lives, and they in his.

“I think that his regret goes so much deeper than just ‘What if I had not gotten on that plane?'” Lyle expanded. “We were really fascinated with digging out why he got on that plane and what was going on in his life. For him to sort of build this memory palace of sorts and have it be a refuge, we thought it would be really interesting — but obviously, that’s not going to last forever. It’s not the most effective coping mechanism when you’re just trying to avoid reality fully, and so obviously it may not work out for him in terms of being able to maintain that facade.”

Nickerson said the fantasies were an opportunity for “Yellowjackets” to further bend genre, as it already does with its comedy, horror, and action. “A big part of that story was wanting to find a way to dramatize what would normally be a very internal process: a character who, as a result of not being able to cope with circumstances, is kind of retreating within themselves,” he said. It allows you to… add a visual texture, and give the audience a way to lock into it [when] they have might not be able to otherwise.”

“Yellowjackets” loves a good visual device, especially if it helps viewers get inside the characters’ unnerved minds. While it can get confusing for the audience to parse figments from reality, Lyle says that’s intentional.

“I would argue that reality is incredibly subjective,” she said. “Each of these characters is having an incredibly subjective experience… for Ben Scott, although obviously he did not stay behind and did not have this continuing love affair with his great love, Paul — those moments for him in those circumstances are just about as real as anything else.”

It’s a minor spoiler, but “Yellowjackets” isn’t yet done with Ben’s “memory palace” for the season — and based on Lyle and Kreuger’s comments, nothing good lies ahead. Kreuger already said that the audience should be concerned for his character, and while his mental wellbeing unravels, there’s still the looming fear that he could become the girls’ next meal.

New episodes of “Yellowjackets” premiere Fridays on streaming and Sundays on-air.

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