Part-psychological thriller and part-coming-of-age drama, Yellowjackets became a deserving word-of-mouth hit when it premiered in November 2021. The show’s split narrative was bold and instantly gripping: in 1996, we see a plane carrying a New Jersey high school’s girls’ football team crash down in the Canadian wilderness; then, 25 years later, we meet older versions of many of the same characters. Unsurprisingly, they’re all dealing with some kind of trauma caused by their time in the wild.
Because Yellowjackets essentially has two large ensemble casts — the ’90s teens and the present-day adults — this second season is a bit bewildering to begin with, especially if you watched season one a while ago. There’s a lot to take in, including an enigmatic new character played by Elijah Wood (the self-styled “citizen detective” Walter), but death is a primary plot driver in both timelines.
Out in the wilderness, teenage Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) is struggling to process the loss of best friend Jackie (Ella Purnell), who froze to death in season one after Shauna dropped the bombshell that she slept with her boyfriend — Jackie was so furious that she decided to sleep outside, which didn’t end well. Jackie is definitely still dead, but because it’s so cold in the woods, her body hasn’t begun to decompose yet and Shauna is spending a disturbing amount of time with her icy corpse. The first episode ends with a genuinely gasp-inducing moment that underlines just how fucked up their love/hate relationship had become.
In the present-day, the older and more self-assured Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) seems to be coping rather better with the fact that the cops might be onto her. As you may recall, season one culminated with her murdering the local artist she was having an affair with, then enlisting her old wilderness buddies Taissa (Tawny Cypress), Natalie (Juliette Lewis) and Misty (Christina Ricci) to help dispose of the body. Because of lingering public interest in their remarkable and still rather secretive survival story — what exactly did they eat out there? — these women are inextricably linked to each other whether they like it or not.
Season two adds another shadowy survivor to their ranks. We saw a lot of teenage Lottie (Courtney Eaton) in season one, especially after she ran out of her schizophrenia meds and began having hallucinations. But now we meet adult Lottie (Simone Kessell), who has reinvented herself as a pretentious and possibly hucksterish wellness guru. She claims she wants to help Natalie, a recovering addict who is always one poor decision away from chaos, but there are hints that her motives aren’t entirely altruistic. This is Yellowjackets, after all.
Meanwhile, adult Taissa’s behaviour is becoming increasingly unhinged as she adjusts to life as a state senator, while grown-up Misty is still desperate to forge connections with her fellow survivors despite their glaring wariness. It’s a knotty, complicated web that soon begins to reel you in thanks to a set of terrific performances — Lynskey is still brilliantly inscrutable as Shauna — and pitch-perfect ’90s nostalgia. By the time episode one ends with Tori Amos’ alt-rock banger ‘Cornflake Girl’, you’ll be ready to surrender to Yellowjackets all over again.
‘Yellowjackets’ season two premieres on Paramount+ tomorrow (March 24)