Hi everyone! I was away for the week that the finale came out and Andrew Grevas was kind enough to take over my recapping duties. However, I couldn’t let the season end without contributing one last long, rambling, curmudgeonly review, so here we go! — Saskia
So, it’s not that I’m happy this finale was so bad. I’m not. I wish it had been great! I would even have settled for good! But I will say that it was at least a little satisfying to have my concerns about the season validated by this all-time series low of an episode. All season, I’ve become less and less sure that any of these storylines were building up to anything of substance and — surprise, surprise! — it turns out they weren’t.
Let’s get into it.
F*ck Them Kids
Starting with the (just barely) stronger of the two main storylines: we find our beloved cannibal teens lugging Javi’s frozen body back to the cabin. Honestly, I’m so happy for them! Had Javi ever been a fully realized character, I would perhaps have more complex feelings about this, but he wasn’t, so I don’t.
Coach Ben, on the other hand, is feeling all types of ways about this. Do we know what types of ways? Not really. It mostly seems to add up to: “cannibalism bad.” He suggests to a still shell-shocked Nat that they run away to Javi’s cave together because she’s “not like the rest of them.” And I guess I’m just wondering how he came to this conclusion? It’s not like Nat refrained from eating Jackie or that she’s behaved distinctly differently from any of the other girls aside from her overall disinterest in Lottie’s cult.
Gripe #1 (I don’t know why I’m numbering these, just trying to find new and creative ways to be a hater, I guess):
There are consistent contradictions between what the show is telling us and what it’s showing us about the importance and depth of different relationships. While some of the issues this season were continuations of smaller issues that began in the first season, I feel like I can pretty confidentially say that this one wasn’t. Relationships in the first season were allowed to develop and change organically. This season, however, the writers spend a lot more time telling viewers about the importance of certain relationships than they do actually showing these relationships develop. Ben and Nat are one such duo. Though Season 1 gave them plenty of time together, they’ve exchanged little more than a few sentences this season and yet, despite how both of the characters have changed (pretty drastically in Ben’s case), we’re told that their relationship is just as strong as it was in the previous season. In fact, it’s strong enough that Ben believes that Nat is essentially the only Yellowjacket who deserves to live.
Speaking of: Coach Ben is supposed to be a villain, no? I ask because I’m concerned that the answer really is no, when I can’t see any evidence that he’s anything but. He’s the only adult in a group of teenagers. These are children he has been in a position of authority over. And now, because of how they’re behaving as they’re starving and losing their minds in the woods, he sees them as a threat that must be extinguished. And, like, that could’ve actually been a really interesting and thematically resonant storyline. The first season focused on the ways in which the girls found a strange sort of liberation in the woods that left a hole in their lives once they returned to the real world. It was a great contrast to the Lord of the Flies narrative. While the privileged white boys who populated that story destroyed each other in attempts to recreate systems of power and violence, the girls (many of whom hold additional intersectional identities related to race, class, sexuality, and ability) have a more complex reaction to their isolation and distance from normative society. Though this reaction is not without its own violence and power structures, the woods allow the girls an opportunity to form a community for themselves instead of one that excludes them or that they have to change themselves to fit into.
A lot of good material could’ve been mined from contrasting Ben’s response (a longing for the safety of normative society and to be restored to his position of authority) with the response of the Yellowjackets team members. This also would’ve been a great way to further elaborate on the themes laid out in Season 1. And the fact that Ben has other identities that complicate his relationship to power could’ve served to make a deeper, more nuanced exploration. But instead, these other identities are used to create a a forced sense of false equality between Ben and the girls. Somehow, it seems, we are supposed to forget that Ben is a grown man and a teacher because he’s queer and newly disabled.
All this is why Ben’s storyline this season never hit for me and why the final development of Ben burning down the cabin (yes, I know I’m jumping way ahead) left me more frustrated than anything else. The story of Ben’s regrets about not living an out and proud life already felt weak and half-baked to me. While I generally try not to single out individual performers when critiquing the show, Steven Kreuger just… doesn’t have the range. And neither, to my genuine surprise and sorrow, do the writers. Ben’s boyfriend was the laziest wisp of a character, more a stand-in for Ben’s sexuality than a flesh-and-blood person. Every flashback to their relationship was like a flashback to queer narratives popular in late 1990’s/early 2000’s TV: two generically attractive masc guys with zero physical chemistry and nary a whiff of deviancy fighting about whether to risk the relative social power they enjoy in order to live out and proud.
And! Still! I could’ve gotten into it. There was still the hint of something interesting there. For instance, if Ben’s been inclined towards assimilation in the past, how might that inform the way he reacts to the girls breaking away from social norms? (Honestly, I genuinely thought they were going to explore that in more depth this season up until the last couple episodes. My bad.) If he has regrets about this assimilationist mindset, how might his mindset change in this new environment? But instead, after an entire season of Ben grieving his own missed opportunities to free himself from the expectations and constraints of normative society, he looks at this group of young people who have significantly less power than him and who are trying their hardest (despite grave missteps) to survive unimaginable circumstances by forming a community that addresses the needs of their environment and his takeaway is, “they broke the cannibalism taboo and so deserve to die and I should be the one to kill them.”
And, listen: as always, I want to acknowledge that it’s possible this is the point of the storyline, but after an entire season of assuming the best of the showrunners and writers, my faith in them has dwindled.
Moving right along… well, what else is there to address in this storyline really? It felt like this episode just breezed right through the teen storyline. They eat Javi, of course. Travis — after a genuinely interesting exchange with Van (one of the only characters this season with a real-feeling and unexpected trajectory) — chows down on his brother’s heart, which is fun, I guess. Misty undertakes some more Grima Wormtongue machinations with a down and out Lottie, which results in… dun dun dun… Nat being crowned Antler Queen! And the fact that I’m relaying this information in such a glib tone should tell you all you need to know about how this development landed for me. Like with Javi’s death, I wish I cared more. Maybe if it wasn’t clear from the beginning of the season that adult Nat was probably going to die. Maybe if they spent more than a couple throwaway scenes developing teen Nat and Lottie’s relationship. Maybe if teen Nat had more of a focused trajectory this season instead of consistently being used as a tool for plot movement. But alas…
Never Promise Crazy a Bacchanal
As unsuccessful as the teen storyline was this season, the adult storyline was far worse. At least I cared what happened to those baby cannibals. At least there was enough to hold onto that I could feel anything about it at all, even if that feeling was disappointment. And the adult storyline was what drew me to the show in the first place and a huge part of what kept me so invested throughout the first season. Never could I have imagined that I’d be watching Juliette Lewis, Melanie Lynskey, Tawny Crypress, Christina Ricci, and Lauren Ambrose chase each other around a cult compound in an insane bid to appease some nebulous forest spirit and feel nothing but… apathy.
We kick off right where Episode 9 ended. Lottie, who is going full Lady Macbeth, stage actor crazy in a way that really doesn’t work for me, is all gung-ho about her poisoned drink idea and Shauna is like “slow your roll, baby, how about we do a lil hunt instead like old times?” And Lottie, who is now two steps away from Fairuza Balk at the end of The Craft, mutters her support of this idea and then runs off to “prepare” and to clear the compound of the other cult members. Where will they go? No clue. Maybe they get a discount at a local motel or something. Meanwhile, Shauna tells everyone else that this is simply a ruse to distract Lottie while they get her 5150ed. Which, even after all the wild sh*t she’s pulled, is perhaps the cruelest thing adult Shauna’s ever done on the show.
Speaking of clearing out the cult members, Nat goes to visit Fork Girl to warn her away from the property.
I honestly could not ask for a better example of the type of sh*tty writing that’s taken over the season. This entire conversation made no sense. First of all: is Lottie a powerful charismatic leader figure or not? If she is, why would there be any question as to whether or not her literal acolytes would follow a direct order from her? If Nat, who’s been shown to be one of the more emotionally intelligent characters on the show, truly cares about Fork Girl, why would she warn her away from being on the compound that night? Wouldn’t it be more likely that she’d listen to Lottie and just leave? Wouldn’t an additional, cryptic warning from Nat be more likely to make her stay to see what’s going on? It’s such a transparent device to get from point A (Yellowjackets participate in a hunt) to point B (oh no, there’s an innocent person caught up in the hunt) that I literally rolled my eyes.
And, going back to my question about whether or not Lottie is supposed to hold any real power, if she’s not a powerful cult leader, literally what is the point of the cult at all? Though, to be fair, they basically did nothing with the cult this season, so I guess there’s not really any point to it either way you slice it.
Meanwhile, Walter has completed his transformation into a living deus ex machina. He quickly teams up with Jeff, handily dispatches Kevyn, and teams up with Copstache to cover it up and pin all of Shauna and co.’s crimes on his dead partner. Convenient!
Wtf is this pacing? The season opened with some major developments right off the bat, then spun its wheels for about five episodes, and finally stuffed about a half a season’s worth of plot development into the last two. It feels simultaneously rushed and meandering. But, more than anything, it feels lazy.
Anyways, Van clearly has ulterior motives for the hunt (hm, maybe it’s the cancer, idk) and tried to interfere with Lottie’s involuntary hold. Good for her, to be honest. The hunt ends up taking place for whatever reason and Shauna’s the one who draws the queen of hearts this time. The others sort-of-but-not-really chase after her and then Callie shows up with a gun and shoots Lottie in the shoulder, which appears to have essentially no effect on her. Maybe instead of being a charismatic leader, she’s just a superhero? Then, Fork Girl shows up (natch) and Misty — ever the practical one — is like, “oh great, we can kill this rando instead of Shauna” and lunges for Fork Girl with a syringe she brought for the occasion. And, of course, Nat steps in between them and gets got instead.
They should’ve killed Callie. Why did Callie get so much screen time this season if they weren’t going to go anywhere with her story? I think she got more dialogue than Javi, adult Van, and teen Tai combined.
We’re treated to a death dream sequence that shares some similarities with the one Jackie experienced at the end of Season 1 but is about half as interesting or satisfying. RIP to a real one. Nat had the potential to be a great character and Juliette Lewis put her heart and soul into this performance. However, I can see why Lewis wanted to leave the show. So little care was taken by the writers to give Nat much of an inner life besides “addict” and “in love with Travis.” I had high hopes for her in the second season, but her character felt tossed aside.
This part of the season comes to a close with the mental institution coming to pick up Lottie, who pointedly tells Van that the forest got what it wanted. So, Van’s cancer is gone, I’m assuming. Big of them to give us two whole episodes and about ten minutes total screen time of tension around that story, I guess. And, Nat’s time eventually came so many years after she drew that queen card back in 1996, I guess we can assume Shauna’s number is up next.
Anyways, that’s it for this season of Yellowjackets! Thank you all for being readers despite all the hateration and holleration in this dancery. Because I’m ultimately a sucker and a glutton for punishment, you might even see me once the show picks back up again for Season 3!