Sophomore seasons of television can succumb to the same pitfalls as movie sequels: they can be bloated, try too hard to out-do what they’re following, and can disappoint following a spectacular first season. With a second outing that matches the exhilaration and urgency of the first and an incomparable cast that continues to bring exciting performances to life, Showtime’s Yellowjackets challenges and overcomes hindrances that other series found themselves dealing with. Yellowjackets has been buzzy, watercooler television since the first episode aired in 2021 and the second outing proves that it can expand on the themes of the first without overshadowing the character work with graphic violence.
The first season ended with Lottie Matthews (Courtney Eaton) assuming her role as medium between worlds and offering the heart of the killed bear to the forces around the girls in the Canadian wilderness. The new episodes find the girls, and their adult counterparts, struggling with their new lives and problems. It’s been a couple of months since Jackie’s death, and Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) is not handling it well, providing Nélisse with material that allows her to hold her own when juxtaposed against the veteran actresses in the series. She’s having issues dealing with her role in Jackie being outside, while the other girls are handling the situation slightly better thanks to their beliefs in Lottie’s rituals and practices. Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) finds herself constantly consoling Travis (Kevin Alves) over Javi’s absence while Misty (Samantha Hanratty) continues to seek attention and validation from the girls around her. Taissa (Scream 5 and 6’s Jasmin Savoy Brown) begins doing strange things while sleepwalking.
In the present day, the adult versions of the girls are facing challenges as well. Adult Shauna (Emmy nominee Melanie Lynskey) is juggling familial issues with the growing threat of arrest over Adam’s death. Adult Misty (Emmy nominee Christina Ricci) is still hilarious, and sometimes heartbreaking, as she navigates through a world that she believes doesn’t have a place for someone different like her. She makes a new online friend, Walter (Ricci’s The Ice Storm co-star Elijah Wood) who actually seems to relate to her and understand some of her motivations. Wood brings an eerily earnest quality to Walter, a man whose motivations, while unknown, don’t seem malicious. Adult Natalie (Juliette Lewis) has begun a search for Lottie because she believes that Lottie might know something about Travis’ death, eventually finding her on a compound leading a wellness center. Adult Taissa (Tawny Cypress) is dealing with the aftermath of her wife finding her altar that featured the head of the family dog with the cult symbol above it. Taissa, bringing someone else into her mess as always, drags Van (a perfectly cast Lauren Ambrose) into the situation. The women find themselves dealing with the post-traumatic stress of the events that happened to them when they were teenagers, even if it doesn’t seem immediately obvious how that experience shaped the actions of their present day selves.
The second season moves swiftly, maintaining a brisk pace that features plenty of moments that will be widely discussed while providing audiences with the character work and hilarious dialogue that was loved from the first. Misty logging into a citizen detective forum as “africangray” is one of these moments that provides a quick chuckle amongst the chaos. The series flashes brief moments in time of the teenage girls’ lives before and after their life-altering event, these momentary scenes giving further glimpses into their adult cognitions and who they became. While the series is clearly about the plane crash and its aftermath, it excels when it hones in on the interior lives of these girls and women. Yellowjackets is not afraid of a discussion revolving around the mental health of its characters and, in fact, seems to welcome it. The series considers each individual person and who they were before the crash and gives an empathetic look towards how the trauma and stress of the event affected who they became. As the season deepens, the young versions of the characters argue over the beliefs of one another and where they put their faith, as they ask if Lottie is the one to trust, or if they should believe in themselves.
Bringing the character work into reality are the actresses of the series, who were able to top what they did in the first. Each of these women, some who never worked before Yellowjackets and some who were veteran actresses, is a storyteller at the top of their game. Even when the series succumbs to more melodramatic moments, like Shauna’s frank discussion of Adam’s fate with her daughter, the actresses are able to elevate them with subtle looks and quirky line deliveries. Samantha Hanratty is an exceptional Young Misty, seeking validation amongst her peers to an extreme that seems boundless (while remaining pitiful). Tawny Cypress has a difficult job as she toes the line between woman-on-the-edge and outright psychotic, as Taissa’s mental state grows more fragile. Christina Ricci and Juliette Lewis are both hilarious and vulnerable in their roles, but the true stars of the six episodes provided to critics are the actresses that play Shauna. Melanie Lynskey is riveting yet amiable as Shauna, but she now has moments of intensity that rival even the scariest antihero of the past decade; there’s a moment where she and Jeff are in a deadly situation and Shauna turns icy as she becomes someone Jeff has never seen. Sophie Nélisse turns in the most memorable performance of the episodes, diving headfirst into Shauna’s slow unraveling after Jackie’s death.
The second season further expands the first’s discussion surrounding mental health; Yellowjackets allows audiences to witness the traumatic event, the immediate aftermath and the effects 25 years later. The series presents trauma as the all-consuming black hole it can be, how it can wrap someone up and blind them to reality, how it can exacerbate any mental health issue that may be dormant within someone, how isolating it feels. The writers, led by creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson (who co-wrote the first of these new episodes), are not afraid to push into the long-term effects that this particular event has caused these girls into their adult lives. Shauna clearly has rage that exists deep within, Misty has been seeking validation her entire life and has found it in various places that only have pushed her to look harder, and Taissa is dealing with something that alters the way she behaves while asleep. The girls, and women they become, are all dealing with their stress in different ways, their attempts to manage it usually unsuccessful. What sets this series apart is the way it examines these women and their collective trauma, successfully providing the audience with multiple interpretations of the after-effects of such a life-altering event happening to a young person. The directors of the series, among them Daisy von Scherler Mayer and Ben Semanoff, approach the material with a firm understanding of the characters and the dark world that consumes them. Yellowjackets knows its characters well enough to push them into these situations without ever being cruel or overbearing.
The second season of Showtime’s Yellowjackets is another string of episodes that will be appointment television. The writers dive deeper into their characters this season, exploring their trauma and futures by honing in on how the crash affected them. While the entire cast is exceptional, Melanie Lynskey and Sophie Nélisse both give remarkable performances as Shauna that somehow slide between steely, emotionally devastated and charming. Yellowjackets is not only worth your time, but also the buzz.
Season two of Yellowjackets begins streaming weekly on Friday, March 24 then airs on Showtime every Sunday.
Photo: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME