‘Yellowjackets’ Season 2 Review: Smart Choices, Soft Sting
It asks smart questions but is slow to confront them, with Bart Nickerson and Ashley Lyle’s follow-up season struggling to live up to their dynamite debuts.
At the beginning of “Yellowjackets” Season 2, Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) is still explaining her unhappy relationship to her sweet but simple husband Jeff (Warren Kole). She needs a little extra time to process why Shauna did what she did, since Jeff is the kind of guy who gets fired up for selling a three-piece sofa set; a brother prince so embedded in the suburbs that he resorts to blackmail to save his furniture store; a man who was shocked not by the fact that his wife of 25 years had sex with someone else, but by its cover story—a fictional book club made iconic by Jeff’s reaction to its absence.
After another excellent, soon-to-be-memed Jeff line, Shauna takes a breath, digs deep, and tells one of her puppy partners, “It wasn’t about you. I felt like I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I liked that. I loved not feeling like this boring version of me.” When she explains her motivation to Jeff, Shauna deals with it herself, which is really what the scene is after and what “Yellowjackets” as a whole is grappling with. Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson’s Showtime thriller made a huge impact when it premiered in November 2021, jumping between two dominant timelines with intense drama: There’s the fatal plane crash from 1996, when the Yellowjackets football team got stuck in a tree in the freezing cold. and the fears, traumas and personal rivalries of the surviving players throw them into chaos. Then there’s the modern story, which follows the handful of rescued girls, including Shauna and her subsequent affair, murder, and now cover-up.
Where the 1st season bombards the audience with actions and information, the 2nd season is almost a pure continuation, introducing fresh details here and there, but mainly sticking to the predetermined arcs and mysteries. There are still mysteries as to who will survive (and more importantly, how), but season 2 wisely doesn’t attempt a hard reboot: there’s no way to retrace last year’s events by jumping forward in either timeline to create twists, and the producers do not. Don’t try to relive the early shock and awe of Season 1’s plane crash with another eye-popping spectacle. (There’s no exaggeration at that point, and it’s best if you don’t even try.) Season 2 keeps moving forward … but the dizzying buzz of driving “Yellowjackets” has been replaced by a snail’s pace. Through six episodes, Season 2 seems to be approaching appropriately complex predicaments for the main characters, but the road to confrontation is padded with too much snow.
And hallucinations. In the modern timeline, Shauna is involved in a murder investigation. Two police officers are tasked with tracking her, Jeff, and their daughter, Callie (Sarah Desjardins), the latter of whom is also struggling with her mother’s life decisions. Meanwhile, Misty (Christina Ricci) searches for Natalie (Juliette Lewis) after she suddenly disappeared at the end of last season. A little sleuthing is the ideal job for our favorite fucked-up “citizen detective,” and Misty soon finds a seemingly perfect partner in Walter (Elijah Wood). Too good to be true? Could ‘Yellowjackets’ give way to true romance? Can the audience trust anyone in this series, especially the new characters?
Ricci continues to play the role of eccentric detective. He can channel so much tenacity into his performance – moving fast, taking no prisoners (metaphorically speaking), and making judgment calls left and right – it’s easily the most enjoyable arc of the season. However, the urgency of this is undermined by what actually happens to Natalie. I won’t spoil it here, but by the time Episode 1 ends, the tension surrounding Misty’s pursuits is out the window, and we’re left with a long waiting game, and the only big question about Walter, not Misty.
Then there’s Taissa (Tawny Cypress), who still pretends her uncontrollable sleepwalking is no big deal (despite cutting off the head of the family dog). His wife is fine, and Taissa only has a short time to get her act together before being sworn in as New Jersey’s newly elected senator. While Cypress alternates between fragile (Awake Taissa) and fearsome (Sleeping Taissa) with adequate power, she doesn’t have much to do or explore either.
Courtesy of Kailey Schwerman / Showtime
Any delay can be explained in part by how many plot lines “Yellowjackets” chooses to juggle. Back in the forest, winter has arrived. Food is scarce – so you know what it means! — and Shauna’s baby is due any day now. The division within the team deepens. Loyalty, faith and basic hygiene are tested. But despite the teen section’s ample screen time (and at least two faster-than-expected developments), what goes down in the past is also relatively static.
Lyle and Nickerson rely on a series of hallucinations to explore the inner lives of each character, which can be frustrating. Some scenes help flesh out key characters — like Lottie, played by Courtney Eaton, who’s given a more grounded and empathetic portrayal than what was hinted at at the end of Season 1 — but a lot is unnecessary, or at least already guessed. Fortunately, there are few “got” moments; it’s usually clear when an apparition happens, and the ones that are a little more obscure have at least one major surprise. It’s just… a lot of imaginary moments replacing the significant development we saw before. There’s a hesitancy—toward character development, decisive action, and forward momentum—that just wasn’t there before, and one has to wonder if that’s necessary to build up future seasons, or if it’s simply the result of a successful series that requires the his time. .
“Yellowjacket” remains wickedly smart. The great jokes keep popping up (Misty gets the most, but don’t sleep on Shauna), and the performances, soundtrack, and thematic focus remain top-notch. Season 2 puts the characters in a rather awkward position: How much do they need to change in order to live a healthy and long life? But this is balanced by how much will change. Shauna likes the “non-boring version of herself,” and it’s clear that many of her friends feel the same way, even if they risk a lot to live the exciting lives they want. Has their time in the woods turned them into dangerous adrenaline junkies? Did it distort their perspective so that now that they are members of society again, they can’t see the forest for the trees? Or has something awakened in them that they need to hold on to? Did it do them any good to break away from the expectations of a world unfriendly to ambitious women?
Two-thirds of the way through the nine-episode second season, those answers aren’t likely to come anytime soon. Considering we’re still early in this story, that’s fine — as long as the “Yellowjackets” find their bite again, and quickly.
“Yellowjackets” Season 2 premieres Friday, March 24 on the Showtime streaming platform and Sunday, March 26 at 9 p.m. on Showtime.
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