When it comes to culpability, the straggling survivors of Yellowjackets have always collectively opted for a reverse “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” mentality: When everyone has an equal(ish) hand in carrying the crazy train, no one has to stand in the spotlight on judgment day. So far, it’s what’s kept them alive, that continual agreement to each sin a little in the name of some greater good, or greater god. But as season two moves into its back half, the jig in both timelines is mercilessly up; and the greater the pressure on the survivors to make hard decisions with their own bare hands, the stronger the pull to leave life, death, and justice up to the wilderness.
If last week’s episode was all about individual exploration, this week’s episode centers on Van, Lottie, Tai, Misty, Shauna, and Natalie linking up. And when they do, there is no split between public and private self—it’s impossible to know what secrets may wash up on shore. One big fat mistake has already come harshly into light: The cops have found Adam’s dismembered body, and now Tai, Shauna, Natalie, and Misty are all on the line. Annexed to the cult’s “Sharing Shack” on Lottie’s orders, the adult survivors finally hash it out with each other, unburdening on everything from Jessica Roberts to Misty and Walter’s FBI impersonation to Shauna’s weightiest secret: that Jeff was the glitter-covered blackmailer all along. Somewhere in the share session, Misty even calls Walter her boyfriend for the first time; leave it to that girl to equate a strange musical hallucination experienced in an immersive sound bath with making things official.
Back at the cabin, a battered Lottie’s recovery after taking on Shauna’s postnatal rage is shaky at best; feverishly hallucinating, she urges a devoted Misty, “Don’t waste my body. Promise.” Always on the pulse of next, Lottie’s still clear-eyed enough to sense escalation in the air: Whether it’s the troubling reveal that Akilah’s furry friend Nugget is just a mummified mouse corpse, Mari’s persistent delusion of blood dripping from the cabin walls, or Tai’s returning encounters with that “other” her, everyone’s minds are wandering in troubling, uncontrollable ways, and nobody is getting their daily nutrients from soup simmered with a belt from Jackie’s luggage. There are no daily hunts, or rationing now; the only fresh meat around them is each other. Sink or swim.
That, plus the fact that the group’s spiritual compass is urinating blood and convulsing upstairs, gives team spirit a new meaning: As Tai decides ahead of the episode’s break-neck, revelatory final sequence, “We need to find a way to stay alive. But it can’t be her.” Left without their leader to guide them, the group’s ritualism boils over, and Yellowjackets finally lifts the veil on one of its enduring mysteries: the significance of the queen of hearts. Standing around an altar, the survivors each draw cards from a deck to decide who will donate their body to the collective cause of “staying alive.” Ultimately, its Natalie who picks the unlucky queen of hearts card, but just as she steps up for the slaughter—Shauna, the team’s unspoken undertaker, placing Jackie’s gold necklace around Nat’s neck and holding a hunting knife to her throat—Travis steps in, shoving Shauna to the ground and urging Natalie to run. She barely makes it out the door before a horde of survivors tear after her, hungry, desperate, and hellbent on some sense of “fairness.”
But nothing about what happens to these girls is fair, not the circumstances, and not the aftermath. Look no further than Jeff and Callie for evidence. After Detective Saracusa and Kevin Tan show up at their doorstep with a search warrant (Saracusa more than eager to tear apart Callie’s room and continue ratcheting up their decidedly unromantic game of cat and mouse), Jeff is faced with some hard, visual truths about what Shauna did to Adam. As Tan points out, Adam’s killer(s) had the foresight to cut off his head, feet, and hands, even mutilating his tattoos with a cheese grater. The only way police were able to identify him was his bone marrow; because Adam once donated some to a cancer-stricken cousin, he’s in a registry.
Tortured later that evening by a not-difficult-to-unpack nightmare of a lustful Shauna with buzzsaws for hands, Jeff wanders into his living room to find Callie can’t sleep either, equally plagued by the realities of her mother she can’t change. “Dad, am I like mom?” she asks Jeff, who takes the opportunity to reveal to Callie a story that, bittersweetly enough, it seems more plausible he obtained by stealing Shauna’s diaries than by talking openly with his wife: Shauna lost a baby in the wilderness, Callie’s brother. But in a decisive moment, Jeff makes it clear to Callie that although she can’t change what happened to Shauna, she can absolve herself from paying the price for decades-old desperate times and desperate measures. “All that stuff,” Jeff assures Callie, “that’s your moms burden to bear, and mine too.”
Despite what Jeff says, adult Shauna doesn’t exactly seem ready to bear any of her burdens. After revealing that a) she told Jeff about the murder, and b) Jeff was the real blackmailer, she lines up excuses. After all, maybe Tai did something to Adam in her sleep, or maybe Misty did the real dirty work. Eager to share the load, Shauna ignores the weight already crippling them all, which Lottie points out plainly: They have always “given back” to the wilderness, and now it’s time again to make a sacrifice. The fact that they’ve been drawn back together, that their lives are each crumbling before their eyes, that their secrets are strong-arming their way to the surface–it all has only one answer. Lottie’s recommendation: an Irishman’s Russian Roulette, or randomly selecting shots, one of which is laced with fatal phenobarbital. It’s a quick and painless way to die, often dosed to sickly animals; as Misty points out, it’s also what the Heaven’s Gate cult used to “ascend.”
As Shauna notes, Lottie might just be taking the cultishness a tad too far. But with what they all survived, and the ways they survived it, whose glass house is sturdy enough to sustain stone throwing? “We don’t get to decide,” Lottie insists, after Van asks why she doesn’t just take one for the team (again) and drink the deadly shot. “It chooses.”
Letting the wilderness choose, however, is not an absolving cheat code: It’s false equivalence. After Natalie bolts, she runs into a strangely assertive Javi, who tells her there’s a place he can bring her no one knows about—all she needs to do is trust him. Racing after him, they begin to cross the lake, until the slushy ice cracks and Javi falls into the icy water. Just as Natalie grasps Javi’s hand, clad in the crudely hewn fingerless gloves she made for him, she’s dissuaded from saving him by Misty, who tells her: “If you save him, the others will get you.” As they watch him drown, horrified, the wilderness’ choices don’t feel as removed from their own as they’ve let themselves believe.
Really, the difference between choosing to kill Natalie and letting Javi drown is the difference between being an instigator and a bystander: If someone is screaming for help and you let them drown because you know they’ll keep you alive, are you free from that guilt and shame? Can Natalie really tell Travis, when he inevitably learns they let his brother die to eat him, that she couldn’t have done anything because the wilderness chose? None of the perceived “choices” the wilderness makes hold any validity until one of the human beings surviving out there takes the knife into their hand, lets the “chosen” victim drown, or lights the fire under the body. The antler queen may be fearsome, but she was right: A hunt with no violence doesn’t feed anyone.
An additional tragedy of Javi being chosen? Now he’ll never be able to share with them what he saw during his time alone in the arms of the symbol tree and how he managed to stay alive. As Coach Ben is only just discovering, Javi’s special reverence for one specific symbol tree–something Natalie points out early in the episode– is more rooted in reality than anyone could have imagined. Upon closer examination, Ben realizes the tree’s base gives way to a hidden underground cave, somehow untouched by winter. Down there, Ben finds an abandoned fire place, littered with mushroom spores and small bones.
Could this be Javi’s place, or is this just the entryway? And what, if anything, does this have to do with Lottie’s earlier vision of descending beneath the crashed plane into a cavernous underground space laden with candles? As the episode closes out with Low’s “Poor Sucker,” it looks like, as with any and all ways of the wilderness, the team will be finding all of this out the hard way. Since the plane crash, it’s always been sink or swim, but never have both options looked so genuinely tragic and undesirable. Poor suckers, indeed.
- Coach Ben’s foray into woo-woo wilderness world has been such a perfect opportunity for Yellowjackets to flex its skill at implicating the audience: a key example being the moment when he carefully studies Javi’s drawing of the tree. It’s a fun trick and a well-hung bait. It’s almost possible to pick out a silhouette within the twisting roots, but am I just looking for it there, some sign of connection to make it all make sense? It’s ingenious the way the show places the viewer in a somewhat removed and much lower stakes facsimile of their mindset.
- Kevyn Tan? Sexy. Sorry, I don’t make the rules! IT chooses, remember?
- Interesting how Misty, an open admirer of Jack Kevorkian, can’t stand to let the mutilated Lottie die. Yet again, teenage selfishness prevails over the ethos she’d like to be known for holding, even if that does save someone’s life every once in a while.
- The Sweeney-Todd-soundtrack-to-actively-misleading-the-police pipeline... Walter may not be debonair outside of Misty’s vision, but he knows how to set a damn mood.
- Even a brief tidbit of discussion about Randy reminded me: I miss Randy. Leave it to Yellowjackets, one of the best series on television about female relationships right now, to still have me wishing for more dude screen time.
- The bestowing of Jackie’s necklace upon Natalie just before she’s chosen as the group sacrifice certainly contextualizes “pit girl” a bit: Whoever is running and screaming in that scene likely drew a card willingly, but jumped into fight or flight mode when she drew the queen of hearts. Natalie wasn’t the first to run from the pack (that honor is all Travis’) and she certainly won’t be the last. Buckle up: This is going to be a long winter.