Why everyone’s buzzing about ‘Yellowjackets’
Evan McKenna | Wednesday, January 19, 2022
I didn’t watch “Lost” growing up — mainly because I was four years old when it first aired — and I still haven’t watched it to this day. But I do remember one thing about the show: All of the adults in my life wouldn’t shut up about it. The island, the drama, the unraveling mystery — these components helped the show become a cultural touchstone and nationwide conversation-starter of the 2000s, as millions of viewers collectively tried to uncover its secrets.
I think “Yellowjackets” has the potential to become the same. Not only similar to “Lost” in its premise (both being disaster dramas with ensemble casts), the series also boasts an extraordinary amount of mystery and seems poised to deliver even more throughout its projected five-season arc. We’re only one season in so far, and the internet is already abuzz with theories and guesswork — and my mom can’t stop texting me about what she thinks might happen next.
But what makes “Yellowjackets” such great fodder for heated conversations and Twitter conspiracies? Why can’t I stop arguing with my friends and family about why their theories are trash and mine are objectively correct?
The answer lies in the show’s premise. The premiere sees our protagonists — the members and coaching staff of a girls high school soccer team — on their way to nationals in Seattle, when their plane crashes in the midst of the Canadian wilderness. Those who survive the initial crash must also endure a host of other dangers: predators, starvation, the impending winter and whatever else is hiding among the trees, to name a few.
But even more mystery comes with the introduction of a second timeline, set in 2021, 25 years after the events of the plane crash, as the story follows the adult versions of the girls who made it out of the woods alive. With both timelines running concurrently, there’s twice the room for intrigue; the adult storyline often incites questions about the high school storyline, and vice versa.
The idea of an adult timeline taking place outside of the typical “Lost”-esque plot might sound boring, but “Yellowjackets” manages to make both halves of the show equally thrilling. Apparently, some totally unspeakable things happened in those woods, and the suspense surrounding whether those secrets will be revealed in the adult timeline is just as intense as the suspense of survival in the high school timeline.
And despite the show’s myriad mysteries, its hidden secrets never feel cheap. While “Lost” might be called a “mystery-box show” — wherein secrets seem fabricated for the sole purpose of maintaining audiences’ attention, and answers only lead to more questions — the plotlines of “Yellowjackets” rarely seem contrived. In fact, many of the show’s mysteries are only unknown to the audience. The adult characters know exactly how they escaped the woods — it’s just a question of how long the show will make audiences wait to find out.
The show’s crown jewel is its memorable cast of characters. The show is not only expertly acted — with standout performances from Melanie Lynskey, Juliette Lewis and Jasmin Savoy Brown — but also expertly cast, with adult actors that look and act eerily similar to their high school counterparts. Even when nothing particularly exciting is happening on screen, the lifelike characters keep you engaged.
The show’s earlier timeline is also tinged with ’90s nostalgia, packed with moments and songs that’ll make your mom shout “I remember that!” at the TV. Especially praiseworthy is the main title theme, “No Return,” which expertly replicates the era’s punk-rock perfection.
“Yellowjackets” is about a lot of things, but at its core, I think it’s about trauma. The show does a fantastic job of portraying the challenges and complexities of the characters’ painful pasts: the anguish, the repression, the inevitability of one’s previous life finding its way back to them, whether they realize it or not. For all of the disaster dramas we’ve seen over the last few decades of television, “Yellowjackets” is notable in its ability to navigate its traumatic plot with nuance — for once acknowledging that the effects of trauma aren’t “healed” once the characters leave the island or escape the wilderness.
What results is a series that can be enjoyed in a variety of different ways. “Yellowjackets” can act as a springboard for crucial conversations about trauma, the human condition, girlhood and womanhood, or it can be the impetus for your latest foray into labyrinthian conspiracy theories on internet forums. Even still, it can be just another show you enjoy on the surface level — another show to discuss with your mom during your weekly calls.
Whichever way you watch “Yellowjackets,” I can assure you one thing: It’ll be a wild ride.
Starring: Melanie Lynskey, Sophie Nélisse, Tawny Cypress, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Juliette Lewis, Sophie Thatcher, Christina Ricci, Sammi Hanratty, Ella Purnell
Favorite episodes: “F Sharp,” “Bear Down,” “Doomcoming”
If you liked: “Lost,” “The Wilds”
Where to watch: Showtime, Hulu
Shamrocks: 4 out of 5