[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Yellowjackets” Season 2 Episode 1, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen.”]
As another prestige drama once said: Winter is coming.
That was the threat looming ever-nearer on the horizon during “Yellowjackets” Season 1, where the marooned high school girls’ soccer team faced down unforgiving weather, food shortages, and the ongoing possibility that they will never be rescued. It didn’t feel real while they were swimming in the lake and celebrating “Doomcoming,” but became incontrovertible after team captain Jackie (Ella Purnell) froze to death outside in the Season 1 finale.
In the Season 2 premiere, winter is loud, proud, and vicious; the Yellowjackets spend their days bundled up indoors with multiple fires, dividing up routine chores like cooking, getting water, and disposing of waste. There’s a casual yet jarring domesticity to these scenes as they unfold, as Lottie (Courtney Eaton) makes herself a hot drink and sits by the window or Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) and Travis (Kevin Alves) pad their layers of clothing with magazines before heading outside to hunt; this is no longer a way of biding time, but a way of life. The wilderness has become routine.
Routine and healing would be a welcome respite for the rest of the adult Yellowjackets. Nat (Juliette Lewis) is freshly kidnapped, Misty (Christina Ricci) in pursuit, Taissa (Tawny Cypress) estranged from her family after her wife found their decapitated dog’s body at some kind of altar in the basement (fair!), and Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) trying to get away with murder.
Both past and present storylines deal with Taissa’s sleepwalking, but with a stark disparity in how she first dealt with it as a teen (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and how she now represses it as an adult, along with everything else from the wilderness. Young Tai spends her nights sleeping next to her girlfriend in the attic, their hands tied together so that Van (Liv Hewson) will wake up if Tai tries to leave. There’s an openness between them — borne not only out of love but out of this shared experience that no future partner will ever relate to.
In contrast, the freshly elected adult State Senator Taissa Turner finds herself isolated, forbidden from seeing her son while her wife demands that she seek help (again: fair!). Tai has always been a problem solver, whether she’s looking to mildly injure a cocky freshman Yellowjacket, hike north to seek rescue, or buy a new dog to replace the one she beheaded; but the sleepwalking and what it brings out in her, what it brings back — is not easily fixed.
The most off-putting scene of the Season 2 premiere (including the final seconds) is the unceremonious introduction of 1996’s new cast members — characters who were always on the periphery in Season 1 but now get names and faces and higher billing and closeups. There’s nothing wrong with expanding the cast, especially when there are clearly more than seven plane crash survivors, but there are more elegant ways of doing it than sitting all of them around a table for an otherwise minimally useful scene. Luckily there is no quiz; the only relevant new addition this episode is Crystal (Nuha Jes Izman), a bit of an oddball who loves musicals — like Misty in the present, but crucially not Misty in 1996.
As the search for Adam (Peter Gadiot) continues, adult Shauna and Jeff (Warren Kole) visit the artist’s studio, which they find filled with art depicting Shauna. It rattles Jeff, who had ostensibly made his peace with the affair almost as soon as he learned about it, choosing instead to focus on helping Shauna cover up the murder and blackmail (and recovering from the lack of book club). In Adam’s artwork, Jeff sees the Shauna that Adam saw — that Adam got, and that Jeff himself knew all those years ago and feels like he pushed away by himself opting for the quiet life.
Episode 201 makes no bones about who Shauna Sadecki is, in case anyone — including those closest to her — lost sight of it. She’s still a bad liar, waffling even under Misty’s fake interrogation, but she’s always been more than meets the eye, since high school and likely even before that. This is a woman who we’ve never seen more calm than when she sliced open a rabbit from her garden, bled it out and put it in a stew all out of spite. When she sees Jeff’s discomfort over the art, she doesn’t apologize, not once, for the affair. She manipulates him masterfully (but not maliciously), showing him that other Shauna that eludes him, telling him she’s turned on by the thought of him with someone else — and she likes it. Lynskey nails every beat as usual, commanding the scene and her character and setting the stage for the rest of the season.
“Yellowjackets” doesn’t pull punches with haunting and horror, but nothing really prepares a viewer for teen Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) spending her days in a frozen meat shed with her best friend’s corpse. Purnell’s guest performance is deliberately off, because this isn’t Jackie; it’s a projection of her, as rancid as the body Shauna uses to puppet her imaginings. She spends most of her time mourning Jackie in this manner, something that the other girls find uncanny as much as they accept it as part of their bleak reality. By the end of the episode, it’s almost as routine as Lottie’s morning tea blood sacrifice and Nat and Travis’ expeditions. Enough time passes between scenes that a viewer could even forget there’s a human ear in Shauna’s pocket, until she takes it out to stare at while pacing. We all know what’s coming — and so does she.
Food for Thought
New episodes of “Yellowjackets” premiere Fridays on streaming and Sundays on air.