The first season of Showtime’s Yellowjackets was something of a perfect storm. Part thriller, part coming-of-age story, part 90s nostalgia, the series hooked viewers immediately with a tantalizing mystery — what really happened to a group of high school girls whose private plane crashed in the wilderness, leaving them stranded for 19 months. Watching that mystery unfold, as well as the impact it has on the slowly-spiraling lives of crash’s survivors a quarter century later, kept fans coming back each week. Yellowjackets’ inherent sense of humanity and the razor-sharp performances of its cast helped the complicated, but flawed story work. Sure, Season 1 still had some flaws, but they became easier to swallow. As Yellowjackets embarks on its second season, it is still a strong series — even as the mysteries get deeper, the plot gets more convoluted, and some of its weaknesses become a bit more apparent.
Season 2 of Yellowjackets picks up, generally, where Season 1 left us. In the past, the survivors are struggling to survive winter in the wilderness amid the the ramifications of Jackie’s death, and Lottie’s (Courtney Eaton) new rise as a sort of spiritual leader. In the present day, we also jump into the story of adult Lottie (Simone Kessell), who seems to have parlayed her time as the wilderness’ “Antler Queen” into to that of a modern-day cult leader. The other present-day survivors continue to be thrown off — adult Misty (Christina Ricci) by adult Nat’s (Juliette Lewis) disappearance, adult Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) by the growing attention surrounding Adam Martin’s disappearance, and adult Taissa (Tawny Cypress) by her own issues.
That sense of being “thrown off” permeates through the first few episodes — and while it certainly works to further the show’s status as a puzzle box of mysteries, its approach is not necessarily flawless. Compared to Season 1, the early episodes almost immediately lean much harder into the supernatural, with the wilderness being seen as otherworldly and Lottie having some sort of mystical connection to it. In the flashback timeline, much of the interpersonal relationships and shifts of power dynamics have disappeared, resorting to a story largely resting on themes of grief, misery, and shock value. The spooky and supernatural elements are also leaned into in the present, particularly when it comes to Taissa’s story, but instead of being intriguing, it just feels frustrating. When Season 1 seemed to tease that many of the characters had some sort of unusual, almost supernatural thing going on, it felt woven into the general tapestry of the season. In Season 2, it’s a major thread, and it feels like if you pull on it too hard, the whole thing will come apart.
The overall “plot” seems to be in danger of unraveling as well. While the disappearance of Adam Martin is an interesting story in the present, the episodes provided to critics for screening don’t indicate the core of either era’s narrative. Yellowjackets, at times, feels like it’s trying to get by on spooky vibes, and it’s only a testament to the compelling concept, solid production values, and strong performances that it actually does so, and still keeps you coming back episode after episode hoping for answers.
That isn’t to say that the season is bad, however. The present-day focus on Shauna and Jeff’s relationship is beautifully honest and almost frustrating to watch in the best way, particularly as we begin to see Shauna starting to soften. Lynskey does a phenomenal job of pulling back the layers of Shauna — not only how her experiences have shaped her, but her inner battle between the barely-contained rage and the intense feeling of loss over the life she could have had. Ricci’s present-day Misty is also a bright spot, bringing a bit of awkward humor this time around alongside cast newcomer Elijah Wood as Walter. The levity is, at times, a little jarring, but given how serious things are overall, it’s very welcome. Another newcomer — Supergirl alum Nicole Maines — is also a solid addition.
Season 2 of Yellowjackets doesn’t exactly live up to the gleam of the first season, but that doesn’t necessarily doom it. While the early episodes begin to veer into a doubt-inducing, Lost-esque territory, the show remains deeply smart in how it approaches its central mystery, and in its examination of what it all means. In lesser hands, this could be a tedious season, but in the hands of the very capable cast — in both timelines — even at its slowest, it’s still a journey you want to embark on.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Season 2 of Yellowjackets streams Friday, March 24th and airs on Showtime on Sunday, March 26th.