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Look, Yellowjackets Is Just an Over the Garden Wall Sequel

Malevolent forest spirits, cannibalism, Elijah Wood: Even citizen detectives can’t deny this kind of evidence. Photo-Illustration: Vulture. Photos: Showtime; Cartoon Network

In the first episode of Yellowjackets season two, a new character enters the picture in the present-day timeline. He’s mysterious, goes by an alias, lurks in corners, is obsessed with murder, and we only hear his voice. No, he’s not another villainous spirit like the Man With No Eyes. He’s just Walter.

Elijah Wood’s Walter meets Misty (Christina Ricci) through the citizen-detective message boards they both frequent. He posts under the name PuttingtheSickinForensics, and we don’t see his face until episode two. But by introducing the character through voice-over alone, the scene immediately invokes Wood’s second-most-iconic (and second-most-cosplayed) role: Wirt, the animated teen he voiced for Cartoon Network’s Over the Garden Wall. There, he stars opposite another grown-up voice actor playing a teen, Melanie Lynskey, doing the exact same American-accented, sweetly sarcastic voice she uses for Shauna to play Beatrice, a human trapped in the form of a bluebird. Even though Wood and Lynskey haven’t shared any scenes in Yellowjackets (yet), his casting is enough to make that show’s season two an Over the Garden Wall reunion — anything can be a reunion if you’re obsessive enough. And because Yellowjackets is a wild enough show that no fan theories are truly off the table, let’s try one more: These shows take place in the same universe. The Yellowjackets are stuck in the Unknown.

A primer: Over the Garden Wall is a ten-episode limited series from 2014 about three kids lost in the woods for an unspecified but extended amount of time. The kids in question are Wirt, an under-confident and overly skeptical teen boy in a pointy hat; Beatrice, cursed into bluebird form after throwing a rock at one; and Greg (Collin Dean), Wirt’s hyperactive, imaginative kid brother. These woods — mysterious, dangerous, and supernatural — are referred to as the Unknown. A mysterious, evil entity that feeds on human sacrifice (the lost souls of children) haunts this place. He is only ever seen fleetingly and in shadow — a humanoid with antlers and glowing, vacant white holes for eyes. It just feels right that he’s the same dark-sided forest god haunting the lost-in-the-woods Yellowjackets. The Beast can take other forms or possess beings, and he has the power to telepathically “speak” to people, convincing them to kill and sacrifice souls to him. This would explain the Antler Queen seen in the Yellowjackets cannibal ritual in the pilot: She(?) is wither a form of the Beast or someone (Lottie?) under the Beast’s control.

In Over the Garden Wall’sChapter 7: The Ringing of the Bell,” Greg and Wirt meet Lorna, a quiet, sweet-natured teen girl who is possessed by a malevolent spirit that compels her to cannibalism. It’s the same transformation the girls of Yellowjackets are undergoing the longer they spend in the forest. (Lorna is voiced by Shannyn Sossamon, who was the preferred choice on dozens of Reddit threads and fan-casting blog posts to play adult Lottie in season two — is this anything?) In Yellowjackets, we see the Beast’s influence on Tai, whose body plays unwilling host to an evil force that might be the Man With No Eyes but who, for my argument’s purposes, is simply another manifestation of the Beast. In Over the Garden Wall, the brothers meet a witch of the woods named Adelaide, who attempts to trap and enslave them in her cottage. She says she hears and obeys the Beast’s voice, and it’s implied that the Beast imbued her with her powers in exchange for sacrifices — not unlike Lottie’s whole, uh, deal.

Like Van in Yellowjackets, the Over the Garden Wall characters are attacked by a wolf. We learn it was once Beatrice’s dog, transformed into a wolf by eating a turtle. These small, ink-black turtles pop up all over the series, and fans theorize they have something to do with the black oil milled from Edelwood trees that were once children sacrificed to the Beast. The wolf attack in Yellowjackets could have been a natural occurrence, or it could have been the larger power — the Beast! — in the forest messing with them, as he did with the white moose this season. On the subject of wildlife, when Beatrice was transformed into a bluebird, her whole family was similarly cursed into avian form for her actions. It’s the kind of human disrespect for the law of the woods that Yellowjackets is dabbling in. And like grown-up Shauna in Yellowjackets, Lynskey’s Over the Garden Wall character is dealing with the burden that she has brought some sort of “curse” to her family and is haunted by the recurrence of her violent turn in the woods. (We have yet to see young Shauna chuck a rock at a bird, but the girls have all done … worse.)

But all of this Beast stuff is just one angle. I probably sound like citizen detective Elijah Wood to you or, worse, hot cop John Reynolds. I need more evidence …

Like pagan sacrifice rituals! In Over the Garden Wall’s “Chapter 2: Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee,” Wirt, Greg, and Beatrice stumble into a farming town in the Unknown called Pottsfield, where residents fashion masks out of pumpkins for a very nefarious “harvest ritual.” When sentenced to hard labor, the trio realize they’ve been tasked with digging their own graves and fear they’re being offered up to the giant pumpkin figure, Enoch, whom the citizens dance around like a maypole. Underneath those masks, we learn, the pumpkin people are just skeletons — “potter’s field” is an old American term for mass burial sites. From the rustic disguises and archaic rituals to Enoch’s rough resemblance to the Yellowjackets symbol (big round head, conical body, spindly limbs sticking out), there’s a lot suggesting Yellowjackets exists in the same space and with the same god, who perhaps is kinder to dead humans than to living ones. If only that creepy skeleton in the attic of the girls’ cabin had found Pottersfield. He wouldn’t be so lonely!

Another thing connecting the Yellowjackets to the Unknown is Lottie’s pesky tendency to stumble into long, impossible tunnels. She’s transported into one when she’s baptized by Laura Lee in the first season, and in episode four of season two, she finds another during her hunting competition with Natalie. While the show presents these moments as manifesting in some sort of mind space, all of the Unknown itself is sort of a mental plane too. And boy oh boy, does it have its fair share of impossible halls and passageways. In “Chapter 5: Mad Love,” the kids stumble into the mansion of tea baron Quincy Endicott, whose house is so big and full of hallways that he often gets lost. He has built so many hallways, in fact, that they end up connecting to a different mansion full of even more convoluted, impossible hallways: the home of his crush, Margueritte. I’m convinced that the Yellowjackets’ cabin is connected to a real network of tunnels the girls will discover before the end of this season.

But one of the biggest parallels in the series is that, like Jackie (Ella Purnell) in Yellowjackets, the brothers fall asleep outdoors as it begins to snow heavily. Wirt stays asleep and comes close to dying, the forest reclaiming him by growing tree roots around him. But Greg ends up in some sort of creepy, warm, idealistic death dream that shares a ton of DNA with Misty’s sensory-deprivation-tank trip in the most recent Yellowjackets episode, “Burial.” Both characters’ innermost psyches present themselves as hyperstylized musicals, in which talking animals and guys in funny little hats sing to them about their own innocence, goodness, and importance in the face of dark forces. “Let your troubles melt away / you’ll be sitting pretty in the moonlight’s gaze,” Caligula sings to Misty. “Everything is nice and fine all the time,” the Cloud City Reception Committee sings to Greg. Misty’s dream is meant to evoke something between a vaudevillian Fred-and-Ginger number and Mulholland Drive, while Greg’s looks like a blend of The Wizard of Oz, Winsor McCay, and other old-timey toons (Misty’s also has some animated elements). However, by the end of Greg’s dream, he has grown a bit and decides to take on more responsibility for his older brother. In contrast, Misty almost reaches a point of self-awareness before Caligula’s voice (John Cameron Mitchell!) talks her down, reaffirming her delusional worldview. Regardless, Yellowjackets finally having a talking bird brings it that much closer to Over the Garden Wall.

All of these overlapping elements can be waved away as fitting enough happenings in any spooky, lost-in-the-woods puberty parable. But I’ve saved the defining evidence for last: I’m convinced that Wirt and Greg grew up in 1990s suburban New Jersey. The evidence is all there: The series defines the town as a generic northeastern suburb, and the cars look old-fashioned in the way many did during the decade. Wirt’s twin bed has very ’90s-looking sheets with a logo for something called “Battle Space” on them, and he’s making a mixtape (as in, cassette tape) for his crush — a girl from school named Sara. Also, a jock named Jimmy has what sounds like a more prominent Jersey accent. Moreover, the show’s creator, Patrick McHale, grew up in New Jersey. This is all the evidence I need to assume that that’s where this generic northeastern suburb exists.

And, just like in the Yellowjackets pilot, the teens of this unnamed town have parties where they grip cups of things they claim are “not age inappropriate” and gather outdoors. Wirt goes under the bleachers after a school football game to meet up with Sara.

Because Sara is the school mascot.

And her mascot suit …

… is a bee!

Which might as well be a Yellowjacket! There’s no way of knowing for certain!

The wilderness where the Yellowjackets crashed is a liminal space — especially accessible, for some reason, to kids from New Jersey, who are drawn into it against their will and have to survive the elements and a malevolent god if they want to make it out. That’s why it takes so long for anyone to find them. They’re in the Unknown. Elijah Wood and Melanie Lynskey are just making a return trip.

And what does all of this mean for the future of Yellowjackets?

Probably nothing. Thanks for reading!

Look, Yellowjackets Is Just an Over the Garden Wall Sequel