Yellowjackets was a show that took me completely by surprise, not hearing about it until it was already finished. With only a short time on my streaming service to watch it, I binged the show and absolutely loved it.
WARNING – Small spoiler warning in that the premise of the show is discussed which will give away major events in the first episode. Also, this is a horror programme and details of that horror will be discussed.
What’s Going On?
Yellowjackets is about a very successful high school football (soccer) team in America in the mid 90s. On their way to an important game, their plane crashes leaving them stranded in the wilderness. The show cuts between events unfolding in the 90s and the present day, meaning for several characters there are two actors playing them – a teen version and an adult version. It is made very clear at the start of the show that something truly terrible happened in the wilderness and not just the plane crash.
The 90s Characters – The Team
A quick summary of the major characters
- Jackie – team captain and classic popular girl. She is a good leader before the crash and helps them keep together despite the everyday dramas of teenage life.
- Shauna – Jackie’s best friend, the two are very close and there is a strong feeling they will always back each other up.
- Taissa – an extremely determined teenager who is confident and quite no-nonsense.
- Natalie – a bit of a goth-outsider type and known as a “burnout”.
- Van – the team’s goalkeeper and nearly didn’t make it out of the crash alive.
- Lottie – from a wealthy family and clearly has problems she is struggling to deal with.
- Laura Lee – a dull but very pleasant teenager and a committed and vocal Christian.
- Misty – not a player and instead is some manner of student volunteer who assists the coaching team.
- There are other players (and non-players) who survive the crash but these are the key members.
Present Day – The Team
The present-day side of the story focuses on four people – Shauna, Taissa, Natalie and Misty. The audience is left to draw its own conclusions about what happened to those who don’t have an adult counterpart as yet.
- Shauna has become a stay-at-home parent and seemingly abandoned all of her ambitious plans she had before the crash.
- Taissa is successful and running for political office, with a wife and child.
- Natalie has been in and out of rehab several times and a complicated relationship with Travis (another survivor not on the team).
- Misty has become a nurse and is clearly a Very Bad Person with glimpses of cruelty, manipulation and worse from her almost immediately.
- The four have had sporadic contact, seemingly with Misty being utterly cut-off and are brought together after receiving a postcard with an ominous symbol relating to their time in the wilderness.
Does It Work?
Yellowjackets is brilliant. With such a huge cast I’ve not gone into who plays who – especially as some characters are played by more than one actor – but it is one of the most flawless casts I’ve ever seen. The first scene of the show gives a glimpse into some of the horror that happened in the wilderness, not just violence and cannibalism but odd rituals, complete with elaborate costumes and masks made from animals. Despite this shocking opening the 90s scenes very slowly ramp up the tension after the initial crash. The changes in the group are fascinating – Misty who has seemingly taken any number of useful courses acts as a medical expert and crisis manager while her obsessive and manipulative behaviour is ratcheted up. Jackie’s position as leader of the team is immediately challenged and you can see smaller factions emerging. Shauna is constantly trapped between supporting Jackie and doing what she thinks is best. Taissa increasingly acts as a voice of calm reason and makes the group deal with unpalatable facts. Natalie remains an outsider but makes herself very useful.
Whereas things happen quite slowly in the 90s scenes it is quickly made apparent things are very wrong in the present. The survivors have a certain celebrity and they are constantly questioned about “what really happened”. Despite Taissa’s wealth and success, there are big problems just under the surface, Shauna is desperately unhappy and plagued by intense guilt, Natalie’s addiction problems and complicated relationship with Travis suggest she has never recovered. And Misty may well be a sociopath. When Natalie returns home to deal with these postcards the growing feeling of a conspiracy takes hold. All four of their lives are touched by death, betrayal, blackmail, mental health issues and more.
The connections between the past and present are always there. The audience learns things in different time periods that affect how they see the other time period. The realisation of something that is “missing” in the present that was seen in the 90s can hint at disaster. Things that were secret in the 90s but out in the open in the present day make you realise you missed something. One of the most interesting things about the show is that when trapped in the wilderness a lot of conflicts comes from the same teenage problems and issues in friendships that existed back home.
Watching the 90s scenes you can’t help but try and guess who is it who will push the group towards violence and horror, will Lottie’s problems overwhelm her? Will Misty’s obsessions push her over the edge? Is Laura Lee’s strong religious views a bulwark against violence, or will the extreme situation turn her faith into something uglier? Find out which teenagers will survive and how the adults survive with what they’ve done.
Also Read: Why You Should Be Watching The White Lotus