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Yellowjackets' cast and crew chat about their zeitgeist-grabbing, genre-bending hit
If the first season of Yellowjackets, with its early introduction to ritualistic cannibalism, felt like an intense meal, rest assured it was just the appetizer. The series that follows a group of high school female soccer players, who in a past timeline struggle to survive as their plane crashes into the Ontario wilderness and in the future wrestle to come to terms with what happened in those 19 months, is back for a sophomore season that delves far deeper into this banquet of terror. How exactly do these young women go from being each other’s support to becoming a feast for the collective?
The answer is far from straightforward. Stating early on that the objective of the series is not to answer the question, What happened? instead focusing on the why, the show that evokes Lord of the Flies and big-screen survival drama Alive with a touch of Lost and My So-Called Life continues to embrace its tonal complexity as the characters attempt to find order in the chaos. We are multidimensional people, says co-creator Bart Nickerson. [We wanted] a show that could have these wild shifts even within a scene, or across a beat, from tragedy to comedy to horror and back again. That is often how I experience the world. There are things that are hilarious in the worst kind of circumstances. There are things that are horrible in the most fun circumstances. Those different colours of genre and tone are just becoming bolder and bolder as the show continues on.
Finding hilarity in the circumstances that we left some of these characters in could be a stretch. Taissa’s (Tawny Cypress) return to sleepwalking ended in the unfortunate sacrifice of her pet. A desperate Natalie’s (Juliette Lewis) suicide attempt was halted at the last moment by her abduction, but by whom? And Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) ended up killing her lover, after mistakenly believing that he was blackmailing her about the girls’ time in the wilderness. Emotions are very high, for Shauna, says Lynskey. There’s a complicated mix of things, like the panic of being discovered and also this weird feeling of enjoying danger and enjoying living on the edge, and going, ‘Hang on, this is how I feel alive.’ That’s a scary thing to understand about yourself.
In the ’90s, a pregnant teen Shauna, played by Sophie Nélisse, is also coming into her own through extreme trials, like losing her best friend. Jackie [Ella Purnell], who has been her entire life, not being there anymore is such a big shift for her, says Nélisse. I think she will find her voice in a very humble way. She has to go through a lot of traumatizing experiences to find it, but I think she will come out somewhat stronger on the other side.
Another character arc weaving through both past and present is the conflict between rebellious pragmatist Natalie (Sophie Thatcher as Lewis’ younger version) and spiritual Lottie (Courtney Eaton), whom we have thus far only seen in the flashbacks. Our Flag Means Death actress Simone Kessell joins the cast as Lottie’s adult counterpart, who in the present-day has taken her spiritual leadership to a cultish level. One of my first questions to the showrunners was, is she just doing this to make some money, or does she truly believe that she can help people? And it’s the latter, says Kessell. She truly believes that she has a gift to heal.
In both timelines, the two characters are pitted against each other, but particularly in the woods Natalie and Lottie struggle to find the best approach to their circumstances. What’s interesting about Natalie is that she’s a character who in her real life was not somebody with a lot of routine, and she finds this purpose out there, this really strong sense of self, which is, ‘I am capable, I am able to provide, I have this skillset that I never knew that I had before.’ And I think she takes a real comfort in that, says series co-creator Ashley Lyle. But then you’ve got Lottie, who is incredibly destabilized by being out in the wilderness and she finds her comfort in something entirely different, which is not the pragmatic, but the spiritual. Her clinging to this belief that she is in touch with something could be interpreted as mental illness. We kind of play with that.
As the intensity in the woods rapidly reaches new, yet much-anticipated heights, the present-day storyline demonstrates that the only way to overcome your past is to confront it. What we were trying to build was a sense of inevitability, that no matter how much these women try to separate, they keep finding their way back to each other, says Lyle. Is there a magnetism because of the intensity of their bonding experience? Is it that they just are the only people who truly understand each other, or is something bringing them together? In season two, why that is happening becomes a real story point and a real question.
Yellowjackets airs Sundays on Crave 1