For the last few weeks, my mind has been filled with questions that, out of context, make little sense. I’ve thought long and hard about why a high school girl would start eating dirt and which middle-aged man might be covered in glitter. I’ve pondered the significance of everything from psychedelic mushrooms to a high school soccer coach’s pep talk to a missing bullet in a police officer’s gun. I’ve even rewatched video to see if a state championship-winning goal was offside — and don’t get me started on how much I’ve thought about cannibalism. What I’m saying is: Yellowjackets has completely taken over my brain. I haven’t been this obsessed with theorizing about events in a television show since the cast of Lost discovered the hatch.
On the surface, there are some very obvious connections between Lost and Yellowjackets. Both center on a plane crash in which the survivors find themselves in the wilderness where a bunch of weird shit starts happening. Both jump around in time, exploring not only the events in the wild but also the cast’s life before and after the tragedy. Most crucially, both are absolutely jam-packed with secrets, making theorizing about what’s actually happening arguably 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 ad known as Under the Dome. But none of Lost’s successors has grabbed me quite the same way that Yellowjackets has. I actually came to the show a few weeks late and binged the first half in a single night, before fitting Sunday evening viewings into my schedule. It didn’t take long at all; I’ve been hooked since the first five minutes.
It starts out in the perfect way: pure what the fuck? energy. A young girl, chased through a frozen forest, with unsettling whispers and screams in the background, ends up impaled on spikes in a trap beneath the snow. Then there’s a gruesome ritual that I’d rather not think about too much. From there, things get a little more wholesome, shifting to the titular Yellowjackets, a high school soccer team from New Jersey that just won the state championship, earning them a spot at nationals. (I remain convinced that the game-winning goal was, in fact, offside, but I need to see some better camera angles to be sure.)
There are many different kinds of dramas happening in Yellowjackets simultaneously. There’s the typical teenage stuff from before the crash, as the girls deal with parties and boyfriends and their on-field dynamics. There’s the Lord of the Flies-style breakdown in the woods, as the team — and a few other folks who happened to be stuck on the plane, like the obsessive and possessive equipment manager Misty — try to survive in the wilderness. And then we have the present day, when the survivors struggle to keep it together after everything they went through; one is just getting out of rehab, while another lets loose on a reporter looking for juicy details on the crash. And all of this is set to a musical backdrop of this one mixtape I made myself in 1995 by recording Smashing Pumpkins songs from the radio.
It’s this combination of bizarre moments, intense drama, and time-shifting storytelling that makes Yellowjackets work so well — and makes it so ideal for theorizing. First, you’ll see something that’s either shocking or confusing. It could be dark, like a ritual killing or a suspicious suicide or a kid wearing antlers like some kind of mystical goddess. Or it could be something smaller, like a strange symbol that keeps appearing with no explanation. These moments all provoke questions, and as the story shifts around in time, it rarely clears things up. Instead, it piles on the mysteries and makes you wonder if the answer you’re seeking might just be found in a different time. A great example of this is the survivors; until someone makes an appearance in the present, or you see them die, you never actually know if someone made it through the ordeal in the wilderness.
As any Lost fan will tell you, this kind of structure can be frustrating, particularly if it doesn’t pay off. That show was a deluge of cool, weird ideas — a smoke monster! a hatch! also polar bears? — that ultimately never went anywhere. But I still loved it. The mysteries were fun enough even without satisfying answers, and besides, they were also an excuse to spend lots of time with these characters. The cast of Yellowjackets is a delight and totally unpredictable, to the point that I’d watch for the Riverdale-style drama alone. (Seriously, Misty scares me, and that’s true in any time period.)
So far, Yellowjackets is evoking all of those same feelings for me that Lost did. Sure, I’d love the finale to satisfy my lingering curiosity and to find out who is really behind the antlers. 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 journey involves teens eating each other and a seance gone wrong.
The final episode of Yellowjackets’ first season airs on Showtime on January 16th.