The original song by Craig Wedren and Anna Waronker that soundtracks Yellowjackets’ opening credits has the snarling refrain: “No return, no return, no reason.” Despite the series’ elemental reality—that a certain number of stranded Yellowjackets soccer players did return from the wilderness, 19 months later—the intro has always felt apt, given that each episode pushes the survivors (and their grown counterparts) closer to a point of no return and an insurmountable level of trauma witnessed, experienced, and unleashed.
But the second episode of season two dives across a line that’s been drawn in the sand (snow?) since the series premiere: cannibalism. Everyone has been surviving off the last of the bear Lottie killed back in the season-one finale (as recapped here by Leila Latif), but rations are running low, meat remains elusive, and Shauna’s eating for two. The threat of starvation—and the gnawing desperation of hunger—has never felt realer. (See Shauna’s season premiere-ending nibble on Jackie’s ear.)
Growing suspicious of what exactly Shauna has been doing with Jackie’s corpse, Taissa goes into the shed one afternoon and sees Shauna’s unstable anguish laid bare. Shauna has been putting makeup on her dead best friend, braiding her hair, and posing her, as Taissa puts it, “like some fucked-up doll.” When Tai lays down the law that it’s time to dispose of Jackie’s body—both for Shauna’s good and the good of her baby—it’s a wildly layered moment of acting and a series best for Savoy-Brown, who quickly emerging as one of Yellowjackets’ most powerful axes. “We can cremate her,” Tai tearfully tells a whimpering Shauna after Shauna insists they can’t bury Jackie with the ground frozen solid. As she mourns for Shauna, Jackie, and the reality of their situation, Tai’s thick skin cracks, revealing a frightened, childlike persona that we’ve previously only seen in the moments after she wakes up from a bout of sleepwalking. Even after months in the cold, some horrors still cut through the numb.
As Tai reveals to the rest of the group during the confrontation, Jackie’s corpse has been serving as a conduit for the most private—and most primal—parts of Shauna’s psyche. There’s the guilt and loneliness, of course—made manifest in the hair-braiding, beautifying, and posing—and the vicious inner critic. “You weren’t always the smart one; you just liked to think you were,” Jackie-via-Shauna’s-thoughts observes during one of their girl-to-dead-girl talks in the shed, before swiftly pivoting: “You know Jeff only had sex with you because I made you into someone else, and you only had sex with him so you could imagine being me.” It’s a real ostentatious shame-on-Shauna gauntlet (and a likely inner monologue), ending with Jackie confronting Shauna about a certain missing ear Jackie insists Shauna is “hungry for” by slicing off a piece of her own skin. Horrified, Shauna begs Jackie to stop, before touching back down in reality and realizing it’s not her best friend goading her. Yet again, Shauna is the one holding the knife.
Ultimately, the first foray into cannibalism plays out as follows: After Shauna lights fire to a funeral pyre for Jackie—on which Travis places a bloodied pair of Javi’s shorts Natalie planted in a desperate attempt to free him from what she’s certain is a fruitless search—everyone heads to bed. In the middle of the night, (while Travis and Natalie engage in a hallucinatory, Lottie-filled hookup), everyone is awoken and called outside again by an unmistakable scent. Maybe it was the wind, or a decisive stroke of fate, but a thick pile of snow shaken off by some lofty fir branch has landed directly on Jackie, extinguishing the blaze beneath her–and leaving her body cooked medium-well. “She wants us to,” Shauna whispers, clutching her stomach and reaching for a charred corner of Jackie’s arm. As Coach Ben retreats to the cabin in both disgust and terror, dinner is unceremoniously served, and devoured.
Finally putting to screen a moment the series has been building to from the beginning comes with serious pressure to perform, and Yellowjackets delivers, delving into the series’ existing surrealism as a way to mitigate the grotesqueness of gorging on your dead friends without losing any of the potent, animalistic horror. Shots of the group cannibalizing Jackie are intercut with visions of them dressed as Grecian gods and goddesses seated around a harvest-laden table in faster and faster time, melding both scenes into one racing montage as the survivors (minus Ben) feast. This is the kind of meal you don’t just get up and walk away from, happy-go-lucky and satiated. If they weren’t bound to each other by secrecy before, they are now.
Although it’s the most arresting one, the consumption of Jackie’s body isn’t the only point of no return the survivors face in episode two. Years in the future, Tai is again fully entrenched in her sleepwalking, pounding espressos to stay awake (and avoid her glaring reflection in the mirror, which has a troubling tendency to move on its own). When Sammy surprises her at home, snuggling Steve and insisting that he just walked right from school, she calls Simone to pick him up. It takes hours before Sammy’s school calls, indignant, wondering why he hasn’t been picked up yet. He was never at Taissa’s; as she realizes she imagined the whole thing, her face hardens, and she revs her car—with Simone in the passenger seat—into oncoming traffic. The more self-destructive Tai becomes, the more involuntary it all seems.
As season two kicks into gear, that sliding scale of culpability is proving to be central connective tissue between the series’ two timelines. Where each woman draws the line between the wilderness and real life, between surviving out there and surviving once home, has blurred considerably. Just ask the grotesque symbol-laden altar Tai confronts with a defeated frown in her basement, or the burned detritus of Adam’s ID in Shauna’s backyard grill, some of the last remaining evidence that she gutted him like game.
The clearest example of unreliable narration here is adult Lottie, who finally reveals to Nat what happened the night Travis died. According to Lottie, Travis called her and told her “the wilderness” had returned to haunt him. When she asked him to expand on that, he hung up. After driving all night to reach his house, she found him paranoid and unstable, insisting that he wanted to get as close to dying as possible as a means to try and suss out what the wilderness wants. It worked for Lottie and Van back in Canada, Travis argues, so why shouldn’t it work for him too? When Lottie falls asleep at Travis’ side, he hightails it from the house. Lottie chases him down to the barn where he was ultimately found; there, she sees him standing amidst candles arranged to form the symbol, feet planted on the ground and neck hooked to a crane.
It’s here where Lottie’s own bias works a charm for the show’s undulating mystery: We don’t know if we can trust her version of events, and we’re not supposed to yet. As Lottie tells it, Travis begged her to help with his plan—choke himself to the point of passing out—until she finally agreed. Then, the crane jammed.
But what the audience sees in this moment is another one of Lottie’s violent visions: a whipping wind extinguishing the candles, a decaying, disjointed representation of Laura Lee’s corpse moving towards Lottie in the barn. Was Travis’ death really a horrible accident? Was the wilderness responsible? Or, just as Shauna finds herself holding the knife and Tai finds herself behind the wheel of a totaled SUV, was it Lottie’s unwitting doing? Each divorced from reality in their own way, are these women destined to repeat the patterns of survival that pulled them from darkness as teens until they immolate the adult lives they managed to build?
As both of Yellowjackets’ timelines apply pressure and squeeze, adolescence and adulthood begin slipping into one, and two very different ways of life start looking interchangeable. It’s a surreal convergence that skillfully encapsulates one of the series’ most enduring themes: trauma and how we live with it. Where is the line between empathy for your past self and refusal to inhabit the reality of what you’ve seen? And at what point do the coping mechanisms the girls once used to shield themselves from emotional and physical destruction—a belief, however legitimized, that the wilderness hears them—turn pernicious in their protection? For as much horror as the survivors have already experienced, co-showrunner Jonathan Lisco has already advised strapping in: Cannibalism is just the tip of the iceberg.
- At long last, Elijah! After laying ears on him in episode one, we finally have eyes on Elijah Wood’s character Walter, a cargo-short-clad citizen detective who appears at Misty’s nursing home under the guise of needing a new caregiver for his aging mother. Within minutes, a blank note appears in the work fridge. Once Misty realizes it’s written in invisible ink, she’s rewarded with Walter’s perfectly flirtatious appraisal of her: “I have no doubt you’re reading this note because you’re too smart not to have figured it out.” Squeal!
- Wood isn’t this episode’s only new face. Search Party’s John Paul Reynolds appears mid-episode as a deliciously age-inappropriate love interest for Callie. When they meet at a local bar, he tells her his name is Jay, and he’s just visiting family from Brooklyn; of course, none of that is true. “Jay” is actually Detective Matt Saracusa, who is working alongside Kevin Tan to investigate Shauna’s involvement in Adam’s death. New favorite B plot just dropped.
- Which Callie one-liner are you: “What if I want to just vape until my head falls off?” or “So you lied to be feminist?”
- Speaking of that last zinger: Will covering up a murder really be the thing that ultimately changes the weather in Shauna and Callie’s relationship? They’re not exactly fast friends yet, but it feels like we’re only a few not-so-white lies away from them finally acting something like partners in crime. After all, they are!
- It’s heartening to know that, even under wilderness law, shitting in an open container and leaving it indoors remains unacceptable behavior.
- All the rest of the survivors may have faced one of their worst weeks to date, but hey, at least Misty and Crystal are having fun.
- Coach Ben crutching away and locking the doors as everyone else dives into their fucked-up feast feels like one of the few times I’ve stood on the side of pearl-clutching. All the other girls took a strong stand against shitting where they eat and sleep; Ben is well in his rights to take a stand against consuming his team captain’s necrotic corpse. Not to mention she’s a minor.
- Travis has a lot to learn when it comes to women: namely, threesomes ALWAYS need to involve consent, even if they exist by way of a strange orgasmic religious vision.