Yellowjackets season two review – this wonderfully imaginative sequel is even better than last time
After the 2021 press tour for the slasher movie Halloween Kills, a video of Jamie Lee Curtis went viral, highlighting just how many times she uttered the word “trauma”. She was speaking about one of the most common problems with “elevated horror” – genuine suspense and terror being sidelined to give room to heavy-handed metaphors for trauma. What truly elevates Yellowjackets above most contemporary horror is that it provides space for the psychological impact of spending 19 months starving while your friends die around you, without forgoing nauseating gore, gruelling tension and acerbic wit.
There was so much to recommend the first season of Yellowjackets, a word-of-mouth hit that switched between the past and the present with two sets of cast members – one playing the younger characters, the other playing their more mature incarnations. It followed the 1996 plane crash of a high school football team, who ended up stranded in the wilderness and doomed to come of age battling the elements (and one another) before rescue. In the present, the survivors face blackmail, addiction, murder and PTSD. Supernatural elements continue to keep things ambiguous; it’s never entirely clear what was created by paranormal forces and what was the result of hallucinatory mushrooms or fractured psyches.
The second season picks up two months later for the young survivors, devastated in the wilderness after the first snow froze their team captain, Jackie, to death. In the present there has been no leap forward in time, but things are not looking much better. Taissa (Tawny Cypress) has just won her run for state senator, but frequently dissociates into a strange feral state that sees her murder the family dog; Christina Ricci’s delightful sociopath Misty has got away with killing a PI using fentanyl-laced cigarettes, but fears she has lost her friends; Nat (Juliette Lewis) has a suicide attempt interrupted by her own kidnapping, and is going through withdrawal while tied to a bedframe. Meanwhile, Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) is trying to get away with murdering her lover, Adam, while rebuilding her marriage to high school sweetheart Jeff. Although ostensibly we know where the teens in the past ended up, there are still big questions as to who, or what, torments them in the present.
This interweaving of timelines and narratives gets more complicated with the introduction of adult versions of the disturbed spiritual leader Lottie and straight-talking Van, played by Simone Kessell and Lauren Ambrose respectively. We also deviate from the two established timelines and flash forward to the teens’ rescue. To make matters even more complex, the show introduces fantasy sequences and unreliable narration, and scenes seen through Taissa, Shauna and Lottie’s perspectives cannot be taken at face value.
But rather than making the show incomprehensible, this season improves upon the first by keeping the audience perpetually on its toes, allowing for jump scares, body horror and some wonderfully imaginative twists. This is no better realised than in the bacchanalian revelry of episode two, where the starving teens hallucinate their way out of confronting the horrific reality of their actions. Similar blackly comic and surreal elements continue throughout, which, alongside a truly banging 90s alt-rock soundtrack, break up what could otherwise be unrelentingly miserable.
The darkest of laughs are mined from the bizarre co-dependent bond young Misty forms with musical-theatre geek Crystal (Nuha Jes Izman) and the equally dysfunctional one in the present with fellow amateur detective Walter (Elijah Wood). Ricci and Wood prove perfect foils for each other, adept at playing dangerous weirdos you can’t help but root for. While social outcast Misty is forging new connections, the most significant pivot in character comes from Nat, who is no longer lumbered with a downward spiral of snorting and slurring. Nat gets some of the answers she’s been so desperately craving early on in the season, and Lewis stunningly performs the nuances of tentative empathy and glimmers of optimism within a deep chasm of grief. Her characterisation is enhanced further by her younger counterpart, Sophie Thatcher, who despite only slight physical similarities, has an uncanny resemblance to Lewis’s performance, making Nat a pillar of strength and a broken fuck-up at the same time.
As the six episodes that were provided for review conclude, some of the biggest mysteries from season one have been solved – but a new set of questions have been seamlessly introduced. Will our characters get away with the staggering number of crimes they have committed? How many more taboos are there left to break? Could Misty finally get a boyfriend? One thing that feels assured is Yellowjackets will continue to clear the high bar it sets for itself and be about way more than just “trauma”.
Yellowjackets season two is on Paramount+