‘Yellowjackets’ Episode 4 Dodges Big Questions

A filler episode takes on reason vs. faith but doesn't have much to say...yet.
A teen girl outside in the snow, her face pink from the cold; still from "Yellowjackets"
Courtney Eaton as Teen Lottie in "Yellowjackets"
Colin Bentley/SHOWTIME

[Editor’s note: This review contains spoilers for “Yellowjackets” Season 2 Episode 4, “Old Wounds.”]

The Yellowjackets may not have made it to nationals, but in Season 2, Episode 4, the competition is on.

As the winter of their discontent wears on, the stranded high school students and their actively disassociating coach (Steven Kreuger) are running out of food. The situation is so dire that people are ostensibly stealing raw bear meat from the food stores to eat more than their allotted share (or are they? More on this later). It doesn’t help that the group’s only two hunters can’t find any fresh game, or that they didn’t even catch the group’s main meals: the bear that bowed to Lottie (Courtney Eaton) and gave its life in Season 1 and the birds that mysteriously fell on their roof just one episode prior.

All of that comes to the forefront in Season 2, Episode 4, “Old Wounds,” written by Julia Bicknell and Liz Phang and directed by Scott Winant. Mari (Alexa Barajas) continues to sow discord by smugly declaring that Lottie’s the only reason the group has anything to eat, that Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) and Travis (Kevin Alves) have been wasting time while hunting. This touches an immediate nerve with Nat, who grows increasingly uneasy about Lottie’s influence over the wider group and especially Travis. And as Thatcher pointed out to IndieWire in March, none of the other survivors know the reality of hunting and braving the wilderness during this brutal season.

Lottie stays silent throughout the escalation, looking visibly uncomfortable as Mari and the others sing her praises. It’s a direct contrast to the smooth, confident adult Lottie (Simone Kessell) seen in the other timeline, but Episode 4 also shows that Lottie battling with fear and uncertainty she thought were left in her past. Despite the tranquil exterior, she has a troubled relationship with her mental health, which her parents stigmatized throughout her childhood and probably after. Adult Lottie wants medication to stamp down her visions, telling her therapist that in the past they “became something different.” This person at least seems more open to Lottie understanding herself. “What are they trying to tell you?” she says of the visions — but Lottie doesn’t want to know.

“They’re not real,” she says, not nearly as confidently as she wants. The parallel Lottie storylines actually depict the two poles of her relationship with herself; in the past she’s a blank slate, nervous of misinterpreting her connection to the woods but — as the others point out — on a streak of life-saving prescience. Adult Lottie — maybe just post-wilderness Lottie — misses that power and possibility. She has literally recreated the exact physical circumstances of her teen awakening just to feel anything akin to what the woods brought out in her, but still can’t find it. She’s about two more dead bee hallucinations from chartering a plane in the hopes that it’ll crash in the same exact location — but hopefully it doesn’t go that far.

A teenage girl and her mother, both with dark hair, stand leaning lightly against the front bumper of a reddish-brown minivan; still from "Yellowjackets"
Sarah Desjardins and Melanie Lynskey in “Yellowjackets”Colin Bentley/SHOWTIME

Despite laying necessary groundwork, most of “Old Wounds” is rife with filler. There’s expository dialogue, spoon-fed context, and scenes where characters literally wander aimlessly through the woods — all techniques “Yellowjackets” usually avoids but which rear their heads all at once. But at least one of those scenes is Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) telling the whole truth to Callie (Sarah Desjardins), which serves as the diametric opposite to Episode 3’s chilling monologue about hunting people. Lynskey is as adept with awkward comedy as disquieting drama, and both scenes depict Shauna being extremely vulnerable. For the first time ever, she’s being fully honest with her husband and daughter, which leads to a rare but sweet moment of domestic tranquility for the Sadeckis.

The hunt continues, Eaton giving a fine performance with little to go on as Lottie communes with trees and spills blood at the altar — the altar which Van (Liv Hewson) later notices, for the second time this season, is not frozen. In a combination hallucination/vision (hallucivision?) she visits the dead guy’s plane, which is of course not actually there because it exploded when Laura Lee (Jane Widdop) tried to fly it. Again, “Yellowjackets” stresses that Laura Lee’s flight and death were a key trauma for Lottie, maybe even more pivotal than the crash itself. The most horrible thing these girls ever experienced got even worse when they thought it couldn’t, and the person who believed in Lottie first and most was immediately gone.

Or is she? Widdop guest stars in the hallucivision (significantly more fun than the specter of her in Episode 2), where the Yellowjackets are hanging out at a mall, carefree. Fun or not, this scene is also filler, or its meaning has yet to be revealed. There are a couple of references to Lottie’s shoplifting, which viewers may not remember at all unless they watched Season 1’s “F Sharp” (the crash episode) multiple times, and which seems trivial compared to everything else built into the character since then.

What matters in the moment is that Lottie is dying in the woods, and she needs help. Even though neither she nor Nat managed to find food, they share a rare moment of camaraderie back in the cabin. One thing “Old Wounds” does well is introduce not only competition, but sportsmanship — a callback to one strain of societal civility that the girls haven’t thus far emulated, but which comes to them naturally. These girls were not hunters or caregivers or cooks or people who lived off the land; they were athletes. The nod that Nat and Lottie share to start the hunt and their stoic “Good game” handshake at the end are things they were doing long before the crash and are still hardwired into them somehow. Even the moose scene perversely echoes a schoolyard game of tug-of-war, right down to everyone losing their footing and getting dragged across the ice.

Despite teeing up this showdown between Nat and Lottie — reason and faith — “Old Wounds” doesn’t actually have much to say about that dichotomy. The episode reminds the audience that (to paraphrase Shauna’s Jackie’s hallucination in Season 1) these are kids, and this is awful. After a spirited debate and life-threatening physical activity, Nat and Lottie are in no mood to unpack their diverging philosophies, mysterious symbols, or the fact that they might starve or freeze to death any day. Their differences still stand and will undoubtedly come to blows again, but for now they’re just grateful to be alive and warm.

Food for Thought:

  • If the theme song sounds different to you, that’s because Alanis Morissette recorded a cover for this week’s episode.
  • During this episode Mari is also having her own secret contest, to see who can be the worst. (She is winning.) She somehow makes Javi’s return about Lottie’s superiority, and I am sure she would swallow Akilah’s (Nia Sondaya) pet mouse whole if she found it.
  • Misty’s little smile when the contest comes up — she loves mess!
  • I am now also worried about this goldfish that was spat into drinking water. Fish die very easily of water poisoning!
  • The Walter/Misty juxtaposition is cute, but underscores my point about Episode 3 that they are quintessentially the same character, which means he is either nothing new OR hiding something major. Watch this space!
  • (For a second I almost thought they were going to get up, meet in the hall, and start making out before disappearing into one of their rooms, which probably would happen on any other show.)
  • Ben is reading “The Magus” by John Fowles (although his copy says John Fowler), a book about a young man who becomes “depressed, disillusioned, and overwhelmed” and then has thoughts of suicide. Given everything he’s dealing with, this is a pretty direct allusion, and deeply dark foreshadowing. (I also paused on the cover and gasped, because it sure looks like a skull with antlers!)
  • Tiny detail I loved: Shauna is the first one to react to Javi’s return which is a nice reminder that they bonded in the early months before Doomcoming.
  • Does this mean Javi is the one who stole the bear meat? And pooped in the pee bucket? And was responsible for mysterious dripping that only Mari hears? Given where he was found, was he sleeping at Lottie’s altar? Better him as an explanation for all of this than something more sinister…
  • ADULT VAN (Lauren Ambrose) REVEAL. Welcome to the madness, we missed you.

Grade: C+

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

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