Yellowjackets Season-Premiere Recap: Cornflake Girls


Friends, Romans, Countrymen
Season 2 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating 4 stars


Friends, Romans, Countrymen
Season 2 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

Well, friends, we have our first official act of cannibalism. The second season of Yellowjackets wastes no time in getting to one of the core questions that loomed large over the first ten episodes: When will these girls start eating one another? We now have the answer, but it’s complicated.

The first season of Yellowjackets was a veritable treasure trove of tantalizing questions and juicy secrets, quickly becoming a word-of-mouth sensation for Showtime. Alongside showrunner Jonathan Lisco, creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson deftly built a mystery-box show that lived up to the hype, bringing together indelible characters, stellar performances, shifting timelines, a phenomenal soundtrack, and a simmering cauldron of female rage that was always inches away from bubbling over. Now, as the show’s second season begins to unspool, the bill is coming due in terms of answers for the oodles of lingering questions in both the past and present timelines.

Yellowjackets is an incredibly fun show to think and talk about, and I’m thrilled to take the trip into the wilderness of cannibalism, unresolved trauma, and teen angst for the next nine weeks with you all. As we embark on this journey together, I’ll let you know that some of my favorite questions may not have answers for a long while: Did the Yellowjackets actually encounter an evil entity in the woods? Or were they all part of a shared delusion? And, in the present, how is their repressed trauma impacting how they move through the world? Also, can that ’90s soundtrack get any sicker?!

Okay, so we already know the answer to that last question, and it’s a resounding “yes.” Let’s start with the first of two stellar needle drops that bookend the episode. Set to the tune of “Seventeen” by Sharon Van Etten, we reenter the wilderness slowly and with purpose. The first image we see is the cabin, and it’s completely covered in snow. Winter is here, and it’s not playing. The camera pans over the bedraggled survivors as they snooze. Van Etten’s lyrics — a woman wishing she could impart wisdom to her younger self — remind us that these girls (plus Travis and even Ben) are still very young, with futures ahead of them if they can survive the brutal winter. They’re doing the best with what they have, but it might just not be good enough.

As the song fades out, Travis and Natalie gear up to go out hunting (and to search for the still-missing and presumably dead Javi), and Lottie stops them. She has a series of simple rituals that she’s concocted to keep them safe while they’re away from the cabin. Travis is all “thank you, ma’am, may I have another,” but Natalie is a bit more suspicious, especially when Lottie pricks her finger and uses it to stir a mystery elixir. Lottie reminds her that she’s been coming back alive, and Nat can’t argue with that, so she drinks the blood tea and heads out.

As it is wont to do, the show bounces between the past and present throughout the remainder of the season opener, effectively and efficiently using cuts between the teen and adult versions of the surviving Yellowjackets as conduits through time. The opening scenes of the episode serve to officially add an adult version of Lottie (Simone Kessell) to the survivors list alongside Nat, Taissa, Shauna, and Misty. By way of encapsulating Lottie’s life post-wilderness, we get a glimpse of the teen Yellowjackets in the aftermath of their rescue. As they board a plane, a cacophony of reporters behind them, young Lottie turns and unleashes a primal scream; she might not be quite ready to return to society.

Lottie’s family sends her to a psychiatric facility in Switzerland, but her belief that she has communed with something divine or transcendental in the wilderness brings out a healer in her. In the present day, we see her at the center of her purple-clad followers, rattling off a bunch of inspirational fluff. She boldly claims, “We are the ones making ourselves sick.” Oddly, she’s dressed in a burgundy orange, a shade that’s in complete opposition to lilac on the color wheel, but take that for what you will.

As we all surmised from the final moments of the season-one finale, Lottie is Natalie’s kidnapper in the present timeline. Obviously, Natalie can’t be caged, so she uses the soothing timbre of her husky voice and penchant for camaraderie to get a young woman to partially unchain her, only to stab Lottie’s follower in the face with a fork. Nat pries the fork out of the girl’s hand to arm herself against whatever’s coming (because, of course, she does) and runs, getting a tour of the picturesque compound as she attempts to flee. Disturbingly, she comes across a group of cultists in a ceremony that very much resembles the Antler Queen ritual we initially saw in the series premiere. Is Lottie using her time in the wilderness for financial gain? It sure looks like it!

We follow the rest of the adult Yellowjackets on separate paths as they deal with the fallout from the first season. Unaware of the horrific rotting tableau in her basement, Tai gets another dog to replace Biscuit. (Run, Steve! Runnnn!) Misty does double duty, both looking into Nat’s disappearance and fielding chatter on the Citizen Detective boards about the missing Adam Martin. She’s as unhinged and dedicated as ever, angrily down-voting a theory that a “mystery lady friend” could be the culprit in the Adam case. We don’t get to see the guy who posted this idea yet, but if the voice sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Elijah Wood, we’re ready for you.

Frodo is hot on Shauna’s trail, and she’s doing a terrible job of covering her tracks. She enlists Jeff’s help checking out Adam’s art studio, and when they discover a stalker-esque number of paintings featuring Shauna, they both get turned on. The sex is hot — and scored to the obsessive and sultry tones of Garbage’s “#1 Crush” — but it’s hard to tell what Shauna is thinking. Later, they bungle the burning of the remainder of the evidence by almost burning their yard down and then leaving the ashes in the grill. A suspicious Callie finds the remains of Adam’s ID and pockets it.
It’s interesting to watch Callie in the present day as she’s juxtaposed with teen Shauna & Co. in the wilderness. It’s borderline funny to watch Callie turn her nose up at hot dogs, opting instead for a veggie burger from her family’s plentiful food supply, while teen Shauna rations bear meat into ever-tinier portions. But the emotional crux of being a teenage girl remains the same: Protect your status at all costs.

If Sharon Van Etten’s “Seventeen” provides an aural bridge between past and present as the episode opens, then the conclusion of the hour sees Tori Amos enter the chat, returning us to the heartbeat of the series. Amos’s music pulsates with primal feminine rage, and her influence served to define a generation of musicians in the ’90s (and beyond), so it’s surprising that this is the first time her music appears on the show. In “Cornflake Girl,” Amos sings about cornflake girls and raisin girls, the former referring to girls who would resort to betrayal at a moment’s notice and the latter being more loyal. However, the lyrics eventually illustrate that there’s no escaping from cornflake girls because human motivation exists on a spectrum.

Jackie and Shauna’s toxic relationship exemplifies exactly what Amos was singing about. Throughout their long friendship, the two girls attempted to control each other, lied, cheated, and (literally) froze one another out. But they also loved one another. So it makes sense that Shauna would have difficulty letting go, especially since she’s plagued with guilt over the circumstances of her friend’s death. And this episode establishes that Shauna never really did let go of Jackie. Instead, she became her.

Throughout the episode, teen Shauna carries around Jackie’s graying ear like a lucky rabbit’s foot. (“Things are getting kind of gross,” Amos sings.) She contemplates it, caresses it, and finally chomps into it with gusto. It’s a shocking visual. She eats the ear, y’all. And sure, it’s the first moment of cannibalism in the show, but Shauna doesn’t consume a piece of her friend because she’s hungry or has weird pregnancy cravings. An ear has, what, like ten calories? No, this gesture encapsulates the moment Shauna decides to consume Jackie’s hopes and dreams as penance for what she’s done, essentially giving up on any life she may have imagined for herself before the crash.

The great conundrum of teenage-girl friendships is that they often require walking a tightrope of social survival and genuine connection. This contradiction threatens to swallow up teen girls whole in the best of situations, but in the twisted world of Yellowjackets, there’s no division between cornflake girls and raisin girls, only a pursuit to satiate a never-ending hunger for something more.

Buzz Buzz Buzz

• Jessica Watch: The “Previously On” gave us a beat with political operative Jessica Roberts as she succumbed to the effects of Misty’s fentanyl-spiked cigarette, but we didn’t check in with that dangling story line. In the age of prestige TV, if you don’t see a body, there’s still a chance, so I’m rooting for her to return at some point.

• Tai and Van say I love you. Awww! In blood. Awww?

• Jeff jamming out to “Last Resort” by Papa Roach in his car is a hilarious beat.

• Misty’s “punch kit,” including a ladle, Tupperware, and fancy Hawaiian Punch — is also hilarious.

• Shout-out to actor Andy Thompson, who plays Larry, the acerbically funny hotel clerk who butts up against Misty in her search for Nat. At first, he tries to send her away by claiming that the hotel has no amenities to offer but discretion — no WiFi, even! — but once she threatens to hang out indefinitely, he caves immediately. I would not be mad if the show found a way to write him back in.

• The wilderness timeline has added in a bunch of redshirts who all seem to have been added for the express purpose of adding fresh meat to the mix, possibly literally. One character in particular, Crystal (Nuha Jes Izman), starts to cozy up to Misty, which absolutely cannot mean good things for her.

• The theme song remains as fantastic as ever, while the staticky VHS credits once again contain cluelike snippets that likely cryptically foreshadow things to come throughout the season. I’m sure the good citizen detectives on Reddit will have thoroughly catalogued every frame by the time you read this, but so far, IMHO, the most startling image is the one of Misty in a black turtleneck with a red curtain in the background. It’s giving Twin Peaks, and I’m terrified.

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Yellowjackets Season-Premiere Recap: Cornflake Girls