SPOILER ALERT: This assessment incorporates spoilers for Season 2 of “Yellowjackets,” now streaming on Showtime.
In comparison with the feverish, fan-theory-fueled heights of Season 1, the response to “Yellowjackets” has felt extra muted the second time round. This lowered quantity is partly resulting from elements exterior the Showtime drama’s management. The community programmed the brand new season within the midst of a crowded Emmys rush, pitting it instantly in opposition to fellow contenders like the ultimate chapter of “Succession.” A complicated launch schedule break up new episodes between Fridays, after they turned obtainable to stream on an app that quickly gained’t exist, and Sundays, after they aired on Showtime’s linear community — diffusing the affect of a plot-driven, suspenseful present which may in any other case develop into live-tweeted, appointment TV. Worse but, Showtime’s standalone app might be merged with Paramount+ in a month, however not in time to show “Yellowjackets” to a possible wider viewers.
However the sequence’ issues haven’t simply been with scheduling. They’re additionally inventive, a fact cemented by this week’s finale and its surprising, if clumsily executed, character dying. The namesake soccer group’s battle to outlive within the Canadian wilderness remains to be riveting to observe; so, at instances, are their older selves’ makes an attempt to reckon with their trauma. However as “Yellowjackets” heads right into a beforehand introduced Season 3, there’s a widening hole between the 2 timelines. The flashbacks, whereas not with out points, are significantly better located to inform a targeted story; the current tense has some inherent handicaps which have grown extra apparent because the present has gone on, worsened by a number of unforced errors.
Within the Nineties, the Yellowjackets are enduring their first actual winter, a stress on their our bodies that’s much more taxing on their already fragile minds. After group captain Jackie (Ella Purnell) froze to dying on the finish of final season, Lottie (Courtney Eaton) has reluctantly stepped in as a form of religious chief. A identified schizophrenic, Lottie has sporadic visions, however she’s not the one one. Closeted coach Ben (Steven Kreuger) sees the boyfriend he left behind; Akilah (Keeya King) tends to a pet mouse that seems to be a shriveled carcass; in a harrowing midseason scene, Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) offers delivery and will get her new child son to breastfeed, solely to study he was stillborn and she or he’s been hallucinating — similar to the chats she had with Jackie’s physique earlier than she and her associates devoured it, the group’s first step on the slippery slope to ritual cannibalism.
“Yellowjackets” lives within the grey space between the supernatural and the psychological. Whether or not “the wilderness” is a sentient, diabolical drive or a projection of the ladies’ interior angst is left deliberately ambiguous, the higher to play the characters off each other. However within the earlier timeline, which takes place within the yr and a half earlier than the group is finally rescued, this query is lively and pressing. With everybody crammed right into a confined area, the standard tensions amongst teen ladies are ratcheted up with life-or-death stakes. As an viewers, we expertise their unraveling alongside them: from Shauna (actually) icing out her greatest pal to Misty (Samantha Hanratty) backing hers off a cliff; from consuming Jackie’s corpse out of unplanned alternative to letting Javi (Luciano Leroux) drown to allow them to make him their subsequent meal.
Within the twenty first century, “Yellowjackets” is extra diffuse. It must be: the previous teammates at the moment are adults with their very own lives, youngsters and careers. In Season 1, 4 of the survivors got here collectively in opposition to an nameless blackmailer, however in Season 2, that shared menace has been resolved. (It was Shauna’s husband, although she initially hides that from the remainder of the group.) The present’s grownup protagonists scattered to their separate corners and didn’t reunite till the penultimate scene of Episode 6, when the motion converges on an upstate wellness heart run by an grownup Lottie (Simone Kessell), now going by Charlotte. If the sooner timeline good points energy in numbers, the later one loses momentum by splitting the solid up. With so many separate threads to weave collectively, some have been inevitably underserved. Do you know Taissa (Tawny Cypress) is a sitting state senator? Her present doesn’t appear to.
When the Yellowjackets are in the identical room, they’re muzzled by restrictions that don’t have anything to do with how they’d organically act of their scenario. “Yellowjackets,” the present, can’t spoil us on what occurs subsequent within the woods, so the Yellowjackets, the ladies, can’t converse intimately about what they’ve been by way of. A few of that vagueness tracks with the repression and reminiscence gaps that may include PTSD, however the longer “Yellowjackets” goes on, the much less plausible the dearth of specifics past “what we did on the market” begins to really feel. As a substitute, the present distracts us with shiny objects like Shauna’s makes an attempt to cowl up her lover’s homicide, or the friendship between Natalie (Juliette Lewis) and Lisa (Nicole Maines), a Lottie disciple who reminds Nat of her youthful self.
Lisa has by no means felt just like the strongest addition to the ensemble, and her arc’s conclusion solely compounds the unfavorable impression. For unclear causes, Lisa intrudes on a Yellowjackets reunion — learn: sacrificial hunt — with a shotgun. Earlier than Misty (Christina Ricci) can inject her with phenobarbital, her homicide weapon of selection, Natalie acts as a human defend, taking the needle on Lisa’s behalf. The self-sacrifice is a callback to her earlier determination to let Javi die in her stead, but it surely nonetheless feels abrupt, lowering Lisa to little greater than a catalyst for Natalie’s self-discovery. As an outsider, Lisa bears the brunt of this season’s issue with incorporating new additions, however the grown-up variations of Lottie and Taissa’s ex Van (Lauren Ambrose) haven’t fared significantly better. Van, now the proprietor of a queer-themed video retailer dwelling with terminal most cancers, will get solely a handful of scenes to determine her present psychological state. Lottie was teased as a possible antagonist, however begins from the identical place of deep-seated denial as her friends, passing up an opportunity for some thrilling friction together with her former acolytes.
Earlier within the finale, the Yellowjackets do lastly activate one another, arguing over the secrets and techniques they’ve saved and rash selections they’ve made. It’s a welcome dose of the determined lashing out that defines the flashbacks, and a showcase for a way “Yellowjackets” can delightfully undermine tropes like lady energy and feminist solidarity. These are egocentric, violent and steadily fairly humorous individuals, all of the extra so for having a number of many years of life expertise behind them. The later timeline has its highlights, simply as the sooner one has its flaws. (A passing of the torch from Lottie to Natalie doesn’t completely scan; you’ll be able to’t precisely switch a cult of persona.) However on the finish of Season 2, the latter is healthier positioned to provide a streamlined tackle the themes “Yellowjackets” does greatest, from physique horror to platonic rivalry. There’s nonetheless an urge for food for extra, if solely the present can regulate its recipe.