Each week Terry and Joe discuss the most recent episode of Showtime’s serialized thriller, Yellowjackets.
Spoilers follow for episode 3, “The Dollhouse“
Plot: The Yellowjackets debate the merits of probably dying while staying put or probably dying while looking for shelter. Taissa (Tawny Cypress) navigates a dirty attack ad and the other C-word. Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) sees about a boy.
Well Terry, I may have spoken too soon about supernatural events, because episode three of Yellowjackets certainly suggests that we’re dealing with a multiplicity of different antagonists. Not only are the present day survivors contending with everyday affairs like political rivals and infidelity in their marriages, but there’s now (potentially) someone killing them off, as evidenced by poor Travis (Andres Soto), who is discovered at episode’s end hanging ~20 feet in the air from a crane.
Could this be a simple case of murder? Absolutely. But there’s more weird kid energy from Taissa’s son, Sammy (Aiden Stoxx), who beats up another kid for mentioning Taissa’s cannibal past; all of the stuff with her grandmother’s deathbed; and, in the 1996 time period, there’s a spooky abandoned cabin the girls discover by the lake with a literal skeleton in the attic, who seemingly died from a self-inflicted gunshot.
In other words: there’s a lot going on!
Let’s tackle what’s working, because pairing up Misty (Christina Ricci) and Natalie (Juliette Lewis) – the show’s oil and water – is everything I hoped for and more. Ricci’s comedic delivery is absolutely killing me, even when she’s doing super shady things like pretending to be Nat so that she can catfish Kevin, the cop from the bar last week. It winds up benefiting them when Kevin bails them out when they’re arrested for breaking, but it’s still not a great look for Misty. Clearly this is a woman who can’t be trusted, but Ricci’s performance and line delivery of “Uncomfortable silences make me uncomfortable” absolutely won me over. The woman is a genius, Terry!
Meanwhile, back in 1996, Jackie (Ella Purnell) and Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) have begun battling for leadership of the group. When Taissa abandons the makeshift funeral for the dead, she discovers a lake in the distance, then encourages everyone to side with her when she and Jackie disagree about staying or going. It’s a bit of a no-win situation: Jackie is correct that staying at the crash site is the smart approach, but Taissa wins everyone over because of their dwindling supply of water.
In the end Shauna (Sophie Nélisse)’s vote is a deciding factor, which causes a rift in her relationship with Jackie and causes Taissa to mistakenly believe Shauna sided with her. I’m glad that all of this got mostly sorted by episode’s end: Shauna clarifies that she went with her gut and makes up with Jackie when the soccer captain has a mini break-down. This initial crack in the friendship will only widen in the episodes to come, however, especially since the truth about Jeff looms large.
Of course, things between Shauna and Jeff (Warren Kole) aren’t any better in the present day. I was hoping the show would subvert our expectations and reveal that he isn’t having an affair, but Jeff is, in fact, meeting up with Bianca (Lisa Penz), a standard young blonde, at a swanky hotel. On the plus side, we do get Shauna’s abysmal stake-out – complete with a terribly conspicuous effort at tailing, and lying about being Homeland security – which does give Lynskey some fun moments.
And it brings Adam (Peter Gadiot) back into the mix, introducing yet another supernatural element when he explains that he was led to the hotel by a feeling and he often just “goes where he goes”. Is this mere chemistry, Terry, or is there something more nefarious going on? And will Shauna regret going into room 2106 with a relative stranger?
Also: what are your thoughts on the mystery cabin by the lake? Is Taissa’s ‘96 crush on Van (Liv Hewson) going to end in disaster? And how much longer until poor Coach Scott (Steven Krueger) bites it? Because those flies circling his amputated leg do not look good.
The thing I’m enjoying the most about Yellowjackets, Joe, is the way it sets up a mystery and then (mostly) solves it in an episode or two. In “Pilot,” we see adult Natalie with a gun and a murderous glint in her eyes as she stalks Misty, only for the opening of “F Sharp” to pull the rug out. Natalie (maybe) isn’t seeking revenge. She’s looking for the person who’s sending the potentially threatening postcards.
Here, we have the solution to a mystery that’s been troubling (most of) the adult survivors: who is “reporter” Jessica Roberts (Rekha Sharma)? Turns out she’s working for Tai and trying to get the women to fess up about their past because Tai is worried about her numbers going into the election and doesn’t want an October surprise. It’s a small reveal, but I appreciate it because, in other shows, we’d get long, drawn-out secrets to be revealed as the season winds down. Not so with Yellowjackets, which continues to keep the pacing tight in “The Dollhouse.”
About that cabin, though…the moment they see the reflection in the woods–which, side note, feels less happenstance than intentional, given what we’re seeing this episode–and end up at the cabin, I literally wrote, “seriously. There’s a ‘cabin in the woods’ in this horror series?” Where’s the ghosts or demons or interdimensional gods?
When I suggested in the last recap that there seems to be something supernatural going on, I didn’t expect to go full horror, with spooky ghosts reflected in mirrors. Nor did I expect a flashback to very young Tai, visiting her dying grandma who shouts, “That man with no eyes! Don’t let him take my eyes!” But here we are, with the skeletal remains in the attic, the same rune we saw on the tree and the 2021 postcards and Lottie (Courtney Eaton) saying she told Tai there was something off about this place.
Before this even happens, though, Teen Travis (Kevin Alves) gets into a fight with his brother Javi (Luciano Leroux) over gum and Javi’s idealized version of their dead dad. “He’s the only reason we’re in this hell and he’s dead,” Travis yells at him. A sense of fatalism hides under the subtext…or one of cosmic revenge, in a way, because “The Dollhouse” brings up the notion of punishment that “F Sharp” comically discussed.
In “F Sharp,” the girls bond over the little sins they’ve committed that might have landed them here and Travis’s pronouncement that they are in hell continues that thread. But so does Adult Tai who talks to Sammy after he pushes a kid off the playground equipment. She tells him, “when people do bad things, they should be punished, right?” Are these young men and women being punished in the wilderness as a kind of purgatory, reminiscent of some of the theories that floated around in LOST? It remains to be seen, I suppose…but “The Dollhouse” is definitely hinging on the idea of punishment and revenge.
As for Tai’s apparent crush on Van, this moment made me realize two things, Joe: I’m really curious if there’s an adult Van in 2021 and I realized that the reason Van looked so familiar is that she was the teenage daughter in Santa Clarita Diet (RIP)! I can’t imagine her crush going anywhere but sideways in these 19 months, though! Knowing the direction these young women are heading suggests that relationships probably aren’t going to last long. And speaking of not lasting long, Coach Scott is absolutely not lasting another episode…maybe two. How he dies, though, might be more interesting than a grisly-looking amputation.
I’m calling it now: whether it’s a mercy killing or one of retribution, Teen Misty (Samantha Hanratty) is going to end his life.
We’ve already seen that she’s impulsive, wants to be liked, and wants to be in control when she smashed the plane’s recorder last episode. Here, we get a clumsily humorous attempt with Misty to help the Coach: “Take your shirt off, I’ll squirt you.” Hilarious. But he (understandably) rebukes her and then when he’s having his frustration pity party at the cabin, he more forcibly pushes her, yelling “Get the fuck away from me, Misty” before splitting her lip. I immediately wrote, “Welp, she’s going to kill him.” Maybe the way she handles the irritant patient in 2021 is a future clue to how she’s going to handle Teen Misty’s current patient…
Do you think there is something supernatural going on here, Joe? Or is it a feint to distract us? And if it is supernatural, you mentioned in our last recap that you think it would dampen the very human drama, so I’m curious if this episode worked for you or not. What did you think of the way “The Dollhouse” shot Tai’s three different era reveals? Are you disappointed that Jeff’s mistress Bianca seems like just some random person not connected with the past? And while we’re on the subject of Adult Jeff, if they’re so worried about money…why is he paying for valet at an expensive hotel?
The present day Jeff stuff definitely needs some parsing out, because not only does the money not line up (I think that’s just an oversight; unless the business is in trouble?) but it seems too mundane. In some ways this plot feels like a means to an end to get Shauna and Adam together, though my bet is that he is not going to be a random person. They’re too cute together for this to simply be a “stepping out on your marriage” story. Thus far Yellowjackets has much larger ambitions.
I’m still a bit on the fence about supernatural elements. Obviously I was highly resistant last week, but the spooky cabin in the woods definitely won me over. Like you, I was delighted at the prospect of the girls being forced to take up residence in such a creepy space (I feel you, Lottie!) so if this is what a supernatural vibe on the show looks like, then I’m here for it.
The truth is that I don’t entirely believe that’s what’s going on, though. Yellowjackets is playing with Big Themes like redemption, fate and responsibility (which – combined with the plane crash and focalized storytelling – is definitely why we keep coming back to LOST). I can’t help but feel that the series is interested in examining the short and long term implications of seemingly innocuous decisions. How did the actions of the girls in ‘96 turn them into the adults of 2021? How does breaking the plane’s black box affect the lives of two dozen people? When the rift between Jackie and Shauna inevitably opens due to the Jeff stuff, will that be the end of not just their friendship, but also Jackie’s life?
That’s why I’m a bit more patient with the less grisly, spooky stuff in the present day – because it’s all tying back.
It’s never been more apparent than the three period split between Taissa, which was a glorious moment of editing that made all the hair on my arms stand up. Ohh, what a delightful sequence leading to a multiplicity of pay-offs. I love it when shows make an effort to jazz up what could have otherwise been a fairly standard reveal in a visually exciting way!
Alright, Terry, take us home: Did this episode convince you that the series is definitely supernatural? Who – or what – killed Travis? Did Tai go too far threatening her political rival or not far enough? And, finally, do we know who the mouthy girl competing with Nat for Travis’ attention at the lake is? Was she breakfast in the series opener?
I’m glad you brought up the question of whether we know the name of a particular girl in the 1996 storyline, Joe. While watching this episode, I realized that the narrative has focused on our core group of women, but that there are some teens that I’m not sure have been given names yet. Or their names are said, but it’s so dark that I can’t quite tell who’s who.
So to answer your question, no, I’m not sure who the mouthy girl competing for Travis’ attention is yet. Hopefully we get a name soon.
Regarding Travis and the supernatural, I’m not really sure. At this point, my only suspect is Misty. Sure, she’s been with Natalie the entire time they’re searching for Travis, but we don’t really know how long he’s been hanging from the noose. She’s already shown some sociopathic tendencies, so I wouldn’t put it past her. I also wouldn’t put it past Tai, who is slowly proving that she’s willing to do whatever it takes to win the election. Hiring someone to tail the women, hurling not-so-veiled threats at her rival…shutting up Travis doesn’t seem so far removed from what she’s willing to do. I do feel like that threat is only going to escalate tensions, though.
All I know is I’m hooked and I love that Yellowjackets is slowly teasing out more and more tantalizing details while answering questions. Hopefully we’ll continue to get answers as we go back to Gayly Dreadful for episode 4, “Bear Down.”
Yellowjackets airs Sundays on Showtime