Early in “Yellowjackets” Season 2, Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) is still explaining her ill-fated affair to her sweet but simple-minded hubby, Jeff (Warren Kole). He needs a little extra time to process why Shauna did what she did, since Jeff is the kind of guy who gets jacked up over selling a three-piece sofa set; a bro-prince so entrenched in suburbia he resorts to blackmail in order to save his furniture store; a man whose mind is blown not by the fact that his wife of 25 years was having sex with someone else, but by her cover story — a fictional book club made iconic by Jeff’s reaction to its absence.
After another excellent, soon-to-be-meme’d Jeff line, Shauna takes a breath, digs deep, and tells her puppy dog of a partner, “It wasn’t about you. It made me feel like I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I liked that. I liked not feeling like this boring version of me.” Explaining her motivation to Jeff helps Shauna confront it herself, which is really what the scene is after and what “Yellowjackets” is wrestling with overall. Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson’s Showtime thriller made a huge impact when it premiered in November 2021, bouncing between two dominant timelines steeped in intense drama: There’s the fateful plane crash from 1996, when the Yellowjackets’ soccer team is left stranded in the freezing woods, and the surviving players’ fears, trauma, and personal rivalries send them spinning into chaos. Then there’s the modern storyline, which tracks a handful of the girls who were rescued, including Shauna and her subsequent affair, murder, and now, the cover-up.
Where Season 1 bombards the audience with action and information, Season 2 is nearly pure continuation, introducing fresh tidbits here and there but mainly holding firm to pre-established arcs and mysteries. There are still secrets as to who survives (and, more significantly, how), but Season 2 wisely doesn’t try a hard reboot: There’s no retconning last year’s events by jumping further back in either timeline to add twists, and the producers don’t try to recapture the early shock and awe of Season 1’s plane crash with another eye-popping spectacle. (There’s no topping that moment, and it’s best not to try.) Season 2 keeps moving forward… but the giddy buzz once driving “Yellowjackets” has been replaced by a snail’s pace. Through six episodes, Season 2 appears to be approaching aptly complex quandaries for its core cast members, but the path to their confrontation is padded in too much snow.
And hallucinations. In the modern timeline, Shauna is dealing with the murder investigation. Two police officers have made it their business to keep track of her, Jeff, and their daughter, Callie (Sarah Desjardins), the latter of whom is also having a hard time with her mother’s life choices. Meanwhile, Misty (Christina Ricci) is searching for Natalie (Juliette Lewis), following her sudden disappearance at the end of last season. A little sleuthing is the ideal task for our favorite, fucked-up “citizen detective,” and Misty soon finds a seemingly perfect partner in Walter (Elijah Wood). Is he too good to be true? Can “Yellowjackets” make room for a real romance? Are audiences capable of trusting anyone on this series, especially new characters?
Ricci continues to have a ball as the eccentric investigator. She’s able to channel so much tenacity into her performance — moving quickly, taking no prisoners (metaphorically speaking), and casting judgement left and right — it’s easily the most enjoyable arc of the season. Yet its urgency is undercut by what’s really going on with Natalie. I shan’t spoil it here, but by the time Episode 1 wraps, all the suspense tied to Misty’s pursuits is out the window, and we’re left with a lengthy waiting game and the one big question about Walter, not Misty.
Then there’s Taissa (Tawny Cypress), who’s still pretending all her uncontrollable sleep-walking is no big deal (despite, you know, lopping off the family dog’s head). Her wife isn’t having it, and Taissa only has a short time to get her shit together before swearing in as New Jersey’s newly elected senator. While Cypress toggles between fragile (Awake Taissa) and terrifying (Sleeping Taissa) with proper potency, she, too, isn’t given a whole lot to do or discover.
Christina Ricci and Elijah Wood in “Yellowjackets’
Courtesy of Kailey Schwerman / Showtime
Any delay can be partly explained by just how many plotlines “Yellowjackets” chooses to juggle. Back in the woods, winter has arrived. Food is scarce — so you know what that means! — and Shauna’s baby is due at any day. The divisions within the team deepen. Loyalty, faith, and basic hygiene are tested. But despite the teen section’s plentiful screentime (and at least two developments that unfold faster than expected), what goes down in the past is also relatively static.
Lyle and Nickerson rely on a bevy of hallucinations to explore each character’s interior life, which can be frustrating. Certain scenes help to flesh out key characters — like Lottie, played by Courtney Eaton, who’s given a more grounded and empathetic depiction than what’s alluded to at the end of Season 1 — but many are redundant or, at least, already implied. Thankfully, few are “gotcha” moments; it’s usually clear when an apparition is happening, and those that are a little blurrier do set up at least one significant surprise. It’s just… there are a lot of imaginary moments substituting for the substantial progression seen previously. There’s a hesitancy — toward character development, definitive actions, and forward momentum — that simply wasn’t there before, and one has to wonder if that’s necessary to build out future seasons, or if it’s simply the result of a successful series biding its time.
“Yellowjackets” remains wickedly clever. Great jokes pop up consistently (Misty gets the most, but don’t sleep on Shauna), and the performances, soundtrack, and thematic focus remain first-rate. Season 2 pits its characters in quite the quandary: How much do they have to change, in order to live a healthy and lengthy life? But that’s balanced against how much they want to change. Shauna likes the “not boring version of herself,” and it’s clear plenty of her friends feel similarly, even as they risk a lot to lead the exciting lives they crave. Did their time in the woods turn them into dangerous adrenaline junkies? Did it warp their perspectives so, now that they’re members of society again, they can’t see the forest for the trees? Or did it wake something up in them they need to hold onto? Did separating from the expectations of a world unfriendly to ambitious women do them some good?
After two-thirds of the nine-episode second season, it’s unlikely those answers are coming anytime soon. Considering we’re still early on in this story, that’s OK — so long as “Yellowjackets” finds its sting again, and fast.
“Yellowjackets” Season 2 premieres Friday, March 24 via Showtime’s streaming platform and Sunday, March 26 at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.
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