Though she first appeared at the end of last week’s episodes, this week’s Yellowjackets, “Two Truths and a Lie,” finally gave us a good look at the present-day life of Van Palmer (Lauren Ambrose), who made it out the wilderness and into a gig running her own retro video store — with all the wonderful VHS tapes and financial hardship that implies.
We learn a lot about Van over the course of the episode, including her personal struggles and what did and didn’t happen between her and Taissa (Tawny Cypress) in the years since the Yellowjackets were rescued. We also learned a lot about her taste in movies thanks to the video store and her second floor apartment just above it, both of which are packed with Easter eggs and cinephile references for fans to pore over.
There’s so much to look at in the store, in fact, that we went ahead and did some of the poring for you. From background posters to rentable tapes stacked throughout Van’s life, here are our picks for the must-rent movie from Van’s shop, and why they might carry a special meaning for Yellowjackets fans.
Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)
The first tape we see Van pop into her little race-car rewinder at the beginning of the episode is a copy of this Todd Solondz classic, the story of a junior-high girl (Heather Matarazzo) just trying to emotionally survive in a landscape of misunderstanding, cruelty, and flat-out vicious teen personalities. It’s an essential piece of ’90s teen cinema, and like Yellowjackets, it’s a story of just how hard-core young people can get with their backs to the wall.
It wouldn’t be a video store in the Yellowjackets universe without at least one survival story tucked away in there, so it totally makes sense to see a poster for Frank Marshall’s Alive on Van’s wall. Like Yellowjackets, it’s the story of a sports team fighting to survive after a plane crash leaves them stranded and forced to resort to cannibalism to survive. Unlike Yellowjackets, though, the story depicted in Alive is true, as the film adapts the harrowing story of a Uruguayan rugby team’s survival in the Andes. This adds an extra layer of dramatic emphasis to this particular background reference, and more weight to Yellowjackets’ own fictionalized account.
Little Women (1994)
The March sisters definitely had their struggles, but they still managed to (mostly) make it to adulthood a little easier than the Yellowjackets girls, despite a love triangle that plays like a much more wholesome version of Shauna-Jeff-Jackie. It’s not a one-to-one comparison, but Gillian Armstrong’s heartwarming classic is an essential ’90s movie with a depiction of the magical thinking of girlhood in times of hardship that still shines through today.
Garry Marshall’s classic film about the lifelong ups and downs of female friendship doesn’t involve cannibalism, but Yellowjackets fans will certainly relate to the layers of resentment, betrayal, and ultimate peacemaking that come through Barbara Hershey and Bette Midler’s performances. Plus, if you’re just itching for more stories about women told across a long timeline, it’s an essential watch.
The Fisher King (1991)
Arguably Terry Gilliam’s best film (I said what I said), The Fisher King follows two unlikely friends as they learn to trust and love each other, even as one of them indulges in a rich fantasy life that’s emerged from a trauma-driven psychotic break. Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges are fantastic, and the film’s way of infusing magic and possibly supernatural events into ordinary lives makes it perfect for Yellowjackets fans.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Is it a coincidence that we see a poster for this film about a woman whose pregnancy is hijacked by dark forces right as we’re about to learn more about the fate of Shauna’s baby in the wilderness? And is it even more of a coincidence that it sort of feels like Lottie is doing her best to influence the pregnancy through her own strange, possibly dark, gifts?
The Watermelon Woman (1996)
Van personally recommends Cheryl Dunye’s indie classic in the episode’s opening scene, and The Watermelon Woman is indeed, as Van says, a landmark film in the history of queer cinema. It also happens to be the story of a lesbian who works in a video store (sound like anyone we know?) who sets out to take control of a key historical narrative by digging up an important piece of the past that’s been forgotten by too many. There are a lot of thematic connections there, and they could get even deeper as the show goes on.
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Van’s home décor reveals that she clearly has a lot of love for Billy Wilder’s Hollywood noir classic, and it might not be a coincidence in terms of the whole Yellowjackets story. Like the series, Sunset Boulevard opens with a body, then backtracks to explain how that body got there, and who killed him. We don’t yet have all the answers for Yellowjackets’ haunting opening scene in the snow, but we’re on our way, and Norma Desmond’s break with reality in Wilder’s film might prove even more relevant one day soon.
The Godfather Part II (1974)
Van clearly has a lot of love for the Godfather films, but for our purposes, Part II is probably the most relevant. Like Yellowjackets, it’s a story told in the past and in the present, and might just be the best two-time period film in cinema history. Also like Yellowjackets, it’s the story of how far people will go to protect those closest to them, and how that creates legacies of violence and sin. Lookin’ at you, Shauna and Jeff.
This isn’t Scream’s first appearance in Yellowjackets, as Shauna saw that Jackie had written about it in her diary during that awkward visit to Jackie’s Mom back in season one. Is it a coincidence that it also shows up in Van’s video store? Maybe, but whether it really ties into Yellowjackets or not, Wes Craven’s meta-slasher remains an essential piece of ’90s horror, and one of the best teen genre films ever.
Friday the 13th (1980)
Speaking of essential horror, there’s the legendary first entry in the Friday the 13th franchise. The easiest connection to make here is that it’s also the story of young people fighting for survival in the woods while someone wants them dead, but there’s also something else worth probing here. Friday the 13th is, at its core, the story of fallout from a lost child, as well as the story of the kind of magical thinking that turns that child into a boogeyman by the end of the film. What does it mean? Maybe nothing, but we’re definitely intrigued.
Terms of Endearment (1983)
One thing we learn about Van over the course of this episode is that she had a complicated relationship with her mother, who eventually died of cancer in her care, leaving a store of drugs behind. How much that informs Van’s future actions on the show remains to be seen, but having Terms of Endearment, one of the ultimate Complicated Mother-Daughter Feelings movies, on the wall in her home is definitely … something.
Sam Raimi’s wild ode to pulp vigilantes and monster movies features a main character who, like Van, has to wear a series of bandages after a traumatic event. That same main character also emerges with a dark alter ego who’s much more violent and unstable than he was in his regular life. Does that sound like a certain state senator-elect who also happens to be Van’s ex-girlfriend?
There’s no serious thematic connection here that we’re aware of, but putting a poster for an air-disaster spoof in the background of a show that’s kickstarted by a brutal plane crash is exactly the kind of blackly comic fun we’ve come to expect from Yellowjackets. Respect.
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