Each week Terry and Joe discuss the most recent episode of Showtime’s serialized thriller, Yellowjackets.
Spoilers follow for episode 7, “No Compass”
Plot: As starvation looms, Taissa leads a last-ditch effort and/or suicide mission. The Yellowjackets are forced to commit small talk.
We’re moving into the end game of the first season of Yellowjackets, and the show continues to refuse to show its “will it or won’t it” cards in regards to tipping fully into the supernatural realm, Joe. What I like about the show is that, for the most part, the series sets up these potentially supernatural elements that can also be mere coincidence, particularly when considering the threat of starvation and the rise in paranoia.
The episode opens where “Saints” ended, with Adult Tai (Tawny Cypress) standing at the base of a tree outside her home, her mouth covered in black dirt. She’s understandably shaken and concerned and ignores the impatient texts from Natalie (Juliette Lewis) telling her to hurry up.
Not to look too deeply into this, but the camera focuses on the tree branches as Tai scurries back into her house and they start to shake a bit after she leaves the tree. If it weren’t for the staging of the tree, I would write it off…but Yellowjackets feels purposeful in its visual direction. Like the supernatural element, the rustled leaves could be taken a couple different ways. It could be the wind. It could be just a coincidence.
Or it could suggest that there was someone else in the tree.
The ending of “Saints” seemed to prove that the woman hiding in the trees outside Sammy (Aiden Stoxx)’s room was, in fact, Tai. But earlier in the season, Sammy tells Tai directly that she isn’t the monster, suggesting that whoever he feels the need to protect himself from, it’s not his mother. There’s a part of me, Joe, that thinks that Jackie (Ella Purnell) did survive whatever hell the Yellowjackets went through…Shauna’s ghostly sightings be damned.
I know I’m almost certainly digging too deep into a single line of dialogue, but back in the 1996 section of “No Compass”, Jackie confronts Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) about why Shauna has been acting so weird. “You’re obviously hiding something from me and it’s making me feel crazy,” Jackie tells her. Then comes the single word that probably shouldn’t raise any alarm bells in my head. It’s a simple word, a throwaway line. But when Jackie followed up her statement with the word “Spill”, it brought me immediately back to the word blazened in red across Taissa’s door in 2021.
The idea of “spill” is used a couple different ways in Yellowjackets. First, back in “Blood Hive,” a seemingly possessed Lottie (Courtney Eaton) tells them they need to “spill” blood. It’s the same episode where the word “spill” is displayed across Taissa’s door and draws an obvious correlation between the two timelines. But it also seems like the threat in 2021, commanding Tai to “spill her guts,” so to speak, about the truth. Much in the same way 1996 Jackie wants Shauna to spill her guts about what she’s keeping from Jackie. I’m not saying that Jackie is actually the woman in the tree…but I’m not not saying it.
Back in 1996, Lottie’s dream hangs over “No Compass” like an ominous pall as Tai (Jasmin Savoy Brown) makes preparations to leave their cabin and find help. Everyone seems to think this is a bad idea but Tai has made up her mind and no one wants her to go alone. So the group splits up, with Jackie, Lottie, Shauna, Natalie (Sophie Thatcher), Travis (Kevin Alves), Coach (Steven Krueger), Javi (Luciano Leroux) and Laura Lee (Jane Widdop) staying.
Travis opts to remain at the last minute after Natalie basically tells him she loves him, which…ugh. Of all of the storylines playing out, her romance with Travis in 1996 just doesn’t feel real. I believe it in 2021, if only because of the emotional bonds that are presumably forged in the 19 months they had to rely on each other. But the L Word? So soon?
This leaves Van (Liv Hewson), Mari (Alexa Barajas), Akilah (Keeya King) and last minute addition Misty (Samantha Hanratty) joining Taissa on their trek. Because Lottie is still in the grips of the vision she saw, she gives Van a curiously unburnt bone from the body of the diseased deer they torched in “Saints.” Lottie says it will protect Van (whoops) and then fills her in on her dreams, which include red smoke and a lake of blood.
And this is where Yellowjackets continues to toe the line between realism and the supernatural because the scouting group does eventually come across a red river…but it’s not blood that’s giving it its hue. It’s iron and minerals, which may or may not be fucking with their compass.
There’s a lot going on in this episode, Joe, and we haven’t even gotten to the main thrust of the 2021 story! Do you think I’m stretching with my “Spill” connection and what do you think about the show’s continual supernatural/coincidence teasing? “No Compass” puts Natalie, Tai and Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) in some intimate and awkward small talk and I’m curious what you thought of their little heist plan? What are we to make of reporter/investigator Jessica Roberts (Rekha Sharma)’s little info dump to Misty (Christina Ricci) and what’s the chance she makes it out of her kidnapping alive?
Oh Jessica is right and proper fucked. As soon as Misty told her that she has no leverage because Misty was prepared to do anything to get her to talk, it was evident that Fentanyl is merely the amuse bouche of the torture buffet. Whatever Misty wants, she’ll get…although that ominous, lingering threat that the previous person who imprisoned Jessica is just as significant. We know so little about this character, it’s entirely possible that there’s far more to the reporter than initially meets the eye.
As for the information she provided, the most curious fact is definitely that she knows Travis was killed. Sure, Jessica claims that she wasn’t responsible, but her knowledge about his banking info and her proximity to his death are telling. The bitch is incredibly suspicious; even if she didn’t do the crime, she’s clearly in the know.
All this to say: I’m suddenly far more interested in her relationship with Misty now, even if they can’t agree on the success of the latter’s haircut.
Arguably the most successful part of the 2021 storylines are the intimate, character-driven moments between Shauna, Tai and Nat. I was *obsessed* with the way that Tai talks compassionately about helping Nat with her recovery. It’s not just that dangling line where she credits Nat with saving their life (although yes, tell us more); it’s the repeated refrain that Nat is missing the familial connections that both Tai and Shauna have (Misty very obviously remains an outsider, which…fair).
When Shauna questions Tai why she would fork over the dough to help Nat rather than let her pick herself up, the response nearly broke my heart. Tai implicitly understands what she (and to a lesser extent Shauna) have: a support network. Sure, both women are hiding the fact that their family lives are messed up right now, but Nat has no one. Tai’s line about fate and whether they deserve what they have is incredibly telling and it offers a lot of insight about the mentality they adopted to survive the ‘96 ordeal and how much they haven’t recovered.
Plus: the switch between Tai’s compassionate responses to Shauna and the abrupt, bark-like “Where the fuck have you been?!” when Nat returns, is absolutely pitch perfect. Tai may care about Nat, but she’s sure as hell not about to tell her to her face.
The whole escapade with Amazon’s highest rated tracking device and the Clothing Donation Bin is definitely amusing – it’s a great way to keep the women together for a sustained period of time, which I appreciate because Yellowjackets has kept them separate or in pairs. Shauna’s inquiry about Tai’s burgeoning political career and her family go nowhere, which isn’t entirely surprising, but it confirms – again – that despite everything they went through, these women are not close (at least not anymore).
And yet, there remains a bond, otherwise they would not collectively chase a person in a balaclava through a charity shop at four in the morning. Sure: coating the blackmailer in glitter and potentially getting poor Kevyn (Charlie Wright) the cop in a ton of trouble isn’t exactly the desired outcome, but they were working as a group.
Overall, it’s clear that 2021 is all about bad behaviour, isn’t it, Terry? Shauna lets Adam (Peter Gadiot) bait her into having sex in her own damn bed and they nearly get caught in the morning when Jeff (Warren Cole) returns from all-night “inventory.” Taissa is eating dirt and covering up the evidence in the dark. And Nat is deliberately pushing Kevyn away, despite confirming that she has feelings for him when she’s pressed by the other two.
While the 1996 scenes are ramping up the supernatural elements, as well as the starvation and the death, the present day scenes remain gripping because all of these shitty decisions are obviously symptoms of repressed trauma.
And, whoo boy are the ‘96 girls in for a world of that considering the end of the episode. Poor Van, the lesbian teenager who simply wants to find her way out of the woods so that she and Tai could go to NY for soft pretzels and a dumb horse-drawn carriage ride (but not CATS!).
We’ve known a death was coming for a while, Terry, and I think we both guessed that it would be Van, but this still sucks. Not only is Yellowjackets down an incredibly talented and likeable actress, but also it’s lost an out and proud queer character. Genre TV doesn’t have a great track record with lesbian relationships in particular, so the fact that Van is is the first main death on the series is…disappointing.
I’m not immediately screaming that this is another example of ‘Bury Your Gays’, but I can’t completely disregard such an accusation either. Obviously the writing was on the wall the moment that Death Harbinger Lottie put the unburnable bone around Van’s neck and hugged her goodbye, but…yeah, why did it have to be the lesbian first?
Terry, I realized that I didn’t answer your question about Jackie and the repeated refrain of ‘Spill.’ Have you climbed out on a limb a little? Yes…but everything is on the table with Yellowjackets, so I’m not ready to disregard anything. I will say that I’m more inclined to believe the Internet claims that Adam and Javi are the same person, though, particularly considering how Shauna’s discovery of Javi in the attic in 96 transitions to Adam standing outside her house in the present.
What do you think of the Adam/Javi theories, Terry? Is Van a victim of ‘Bury Your Gays’ or am I being too sensitive? Did you enjoy the adventures of the women vs the Glitter Bandit? (I cackled at Tai’s full-on tackle!) And what do you think of Jackie finding out the truth about Shauna’s pregnancy?
The Adam/Javi theories have been strong on Twitter, Joe, particularly among some of our acquaintances. This revelation would not surprise me in the least, considering the nationalities of the characters in question. Adam’s introduction seemed too coincidental, particularly since he pursued Shauna in the beginning. What started as a somewhat innocent accident turned into him calling her because she hadn’t taken her car in.
This episode seemed to push that envelope a bit more, too, with his insistence that they fuck in her house. While I’m going out on ledges, looking at small bits of dialogue to suss out what Yellowjackets is selling, I might as well go hard on Adam’s bit of dialogue when he’s discovered outside of Shauna’s house. “You feel exactly what I’m talking about running between us,” he tells her. “Every single cell in your body wants to blow things up and see what happens. That’s who you are.” The final part of that statement suggests Adam knows (or thinks he knows) the truth about Shauna.
That’s probably not something that could be sussed out in the little amount of time they’ve spent together. It suggests he knows her on some deeper level and if we discover that it’s because they spent an intense 19 months together…well, it’s not exactly surprising is it? The biggest questions, if this is the truth, are how he managed to “die”/survive, how he got out of the wilderness and how easily he could have duped her? It’s been 25 years, sure, but when you’ve spent that much time together in an intense situation, I would think you would implicitly know someone.
Honestly, I was expecting this midnight tryst/early morning escape to reveal that Adam was the one blackmailing them. That he would leave some glitter behind or she’d see something sparkle on his skin because I feel like this blackmailer has to be someone we know and the obvious choice is Adam.
Another part of me, since I’m going out on all of the limbs now, wonders if Shauna is involved with the blackmail as well. It’s weird she didn’t get the letter–and, truthfully, if I were trying to hide my guilt, I’d probably say I received one – and considering how bored she is in her current life, a little $50,000 nest egg would be a nice amount to try to start life anew, elsewhere. I could see Adam and Shauna Bonnie and Clyde-ing it up. I know it’s a stretch and probably not where Yellowjackets is heading…but Shauna is very suspicious. She seems the least interested and invested in figuring out what’s going on.
I did love the way “No Compass” staged a reverse heist, in some ways, as the trio went on a stakeout that ended with them chasing, tackling and shooting at the blackmailer. The 2021 storyline has focused on a very small set of characters and we haven’t seen them working together very much. So it was fun to see the trio together, trying to solve a mystery. The dialogue between the three of them worked incredibly well, as you rightly suggested. Their younger selves working together has simply highlighted the gulf between the characters as adults and I’m glad “No Compass” finally forced them together.
As for poor Van…I’m not jumping on the Bury Your Gays bandwagon just yet, though it is incredibly disappointing that she’s the first death. I already assumed Van died at some point in the 1996 timeline because there’s been no mention of her in 2021. It probably lessens the blow, too, because Tai is somewhat happily married, with a kid, in 2021…but I am side-eying the choice to have Van be the first major death of the series. Too often, queer death is used as a centering point in narratives, so that people can “awww” at the emotional devastation it causes.
Finally, Shauna’s pregnancy has been a ticking time bomb for a few episodes and I’m glad “No Compass” forced the issue, finally. It couldn’t come at a worse time, with the group fractured between the scouting party and those staying at the cabin. Added with the first post-crash death and the hormones and the implicit betrayal…well, things are going to get interesting as we head into the final three episodes.
Speaking of: I’m wondering what you expect to happen, Joe? Will the scouting party come back to a home camp in disarray? Do you have any thoughts about who this “asshole covered in glitter” is? Finally, Lottie seemed very confident in her assessment that the bone necklace would protect Van…does Van’s death showcase Lottie’s failure as a fortune teller?
Hmm, you raise an interesting point about Lottie’s fallibility that I hadn’t considered, Terry. We hear from Van earlier in the episode that Lottie has a reputation for being right, but last week it also seemed clear that Lottie resists her gift. I wonder if it’s less that she got Van’s death wrong, and more that Lottie thought giving Van the bone could help her to protect herself because the wolf attack was inevitable.
Sidebar: that attack scene is pretty great. It is pretty obviously telegraphed when Tai reassures the others that the wolves are both far away and afraid of humans, but that doesn’t make it any less memorable. I particularly liked how Tai awakens in a tree – which is starting to read like a sleepwalking response to stress and/or danger – then progresses when she finds the others holding the wolves are bay with torches. That then moves into discovering poor Van has been dragged away, a shot with a flare that I half thought would be the thing to kill Van, but no…the wolf just managed to rip half of her face open. It’s a terrible way to go, but a pretty exciting way to end an episode that’s been light on action in the 1996 scenes.
So where will Tai’s group go next? I have a hard time believing that the remaining girls have enough faith in her after this incident, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them turn tail and return to the safety of the larger group. Still, it would be interesting if this was the start of the rift: perhaps these few are unable to find their way back and begin to go feral? Shauna could easily leave camp and join them after Jackie confronts her about the affair with Jeff.
Then there’s the present day scenes, which I’m far less confident predicting. Your proposal about Shauna being involved in the blackmail would be a major surprise, but, as we’ve repeatedly said, Yellowjackets excels in this kind of subversion. At the very least, I could see the Adam/Javi reveal being something Shauna has known all along: after all, their entire relationship has been little more than a series of role-playing (all of their trysts have involved acting like teenagers or other people). Admittedly that might be a step too far for a series that – supernatural elements aside – is relatively grounded, though. I guess I’ve joined you out on that speculative tree limb, Terry.
One sure prediction for the future: Jackie is going to unleash hell on ‘96 Shauna and it’s going to get *messy*. If this wolf attack/loss of Van isn’t, in fact, the start of the rift between the plane crash survivors, I feel exceedingly confident guessing that the Jackie/Shauna showdown will be the turning point.
We’ll see next week when we return to Gayly Dreadful for episode 8, “Flight of the Bumblebee”
Yellowjackets airs Sundays on Showtime