Over the past few weeks, my mind has been filled with questions that, taken out of context, make little sense. I thought long and hard about why a high school girl would start eating dirt and what middle-aged man might be covered in glitter. I pondered the significance of everything from psychedelic mushrooms to a high school football coach’s pep talk to a missing bullet from a police officer’s gun. I even rewatched the video to see if a state championship game-winning goal was offside — and don’t get me started on how much cannibalism I thought. What I’m saying is: yellow jackets completely invaded my brain. I haven’t been this obsessed with theories about the events of a TV show since the casting of Lost discovered the hatch.
On the surface, there are very obvious links between Lost and yellow jackets. The two focus on a plane crash in which the survivors end up in the desert where a bunch of weird shit starts happening. Both jump in time, exploring not only the events in nature, but also the lives of the actors before and after the tragedy. More importantly, both are full of secrets, which makes the theory of what’s really going on the most fun part of the experience.
It’s not like there haven’t been weird mysteries since Lost. I mean, I watched the ongoing Microsoft Surface announcement known as under the dome. But none of Lostthe successors of me grasped quite the same as yellow jackets at. I actually arrived at the show a few weeks late and got through the first half in one night, before fitting the Sunday night viewings into my schedule. It didn’t take long at all; I’ve been hooked for the first five minutes.
It begins in the perfect way: pure What is this mess? energy. A young girl, chased through a frozen forest, with unsettling whispers and screams in the background, finds herself impaled on pikes in a trap under the snow. Then there’s a macabre ritual that I’d rather not think about too much. From there, things get a little healthier, moving on to the titular Yellowjackets, a New Jersey high school football team that just won the state championship, earning them a berth at the nationals. (I remain convinced that the winning goal was, in fact, offside, but I need to see better camera angles to be sure.)
There are many types of dramas that take place in yellow jackets simultaneously. There’s the typical pre-crash teenage stuff, as the girls deal with parties and boyfriends and their dynamics on the pitch. There is the lord of the flies– style breakdown in the woods, as the team – and a few other people who were stuck on the plane, like the obsessive and possessive equipment manager Misty – try to survive in the desert. And then we have the present, when the survivors struggle to stay together after everything they’ve been through; one fresh out of rehab, while another drops a reporter looking for juicy details about the crash. And all this against the background of this mixtape that I made myself in 1995 by recording songs from Smashing Pumpkins on the radio.
It’s this combination of bizarre moments, intense drama, and time-shifting stories that makes yellow jackets works so well – and makes it so ideal for theorizing. First, you will see something shocking or confusing. It could be dark, like a suspicious ritual murder or suicide or a child wearing antlers like some kind of mystical goddess. Or it could be something smaller, like a strange symbol that keeps popping up without explanation. These moments all raise questions, and as the story moves through time, it rarely clears things up. Instead, it piles up the mysteries and makes you wonder if the answer you’re looking for could just be found in another time. A good example of this is survivors; until someone makes an appearance in the present, or you see them die, you never really know if someone survived the ordeal in the desert.
Like any Lost fan will tell you, this kind of structure can be frustrating, especially if it doesn’t pay off. This show was a deluge of cool and weird ideas – a smoke monster! a hatch! also polar bears? – who ultimately never went anywhere. But I still loved it. The mysteries were fun enough even without satisfying answers, plus they were also an excuse to spend a lot of time with these characters. The cast of yellow jackets is a delight and totally unpredictable, to the point that I would watch the Riverdale-drama style alone. (Seriously, Misty scares me, and that’s true at any time.)
Until now, yellow jackets conjures up all those same feelings for me that Lost do. Of course, I’d like the finale to satisfy my lingering curiosity and find out who’s really behind the woods. But the ride so far has already been a blast. It’s the journey, as they say, not necessarily the destination. Only, in this case, the trip involves teenagers eating each other and a session gone wrong.
The last episode of yellow jackets‘ season premiere aired on Showtime on January 16.
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