“Storytelling” is available to stream now via Showtime Anytime; it will make its Showtime network premiere on Sunday, May 28, at 9 p.m. ET.
One of the crowning achievements of the first season of Yellowjackets was the impeccable casting. Not only did the wilderness characters provide nearly perfect mirrors of the adult characters, but the casting of women who were famous teen actors in the ’90s was an inspired choice that pressed all the right nostalgia buttons for viewers of a certain age. [Raises hand.] There were some minor issues with the overall pacing and tone of the first season, but it was easy to forgive inconsistencies because of the powerhouse performances from our ’90s queens and their talented “teen” counterparts.
Now one of those queens — the queen, it turns out — is gone. Adult Natalie is dead, Juliette Lewis won’t be on the show anymore, and it feels like a misstep that the present-day timeline may never recover from. Lewis is one of the most beloved and charismatic actresses on the show, and the choice to send her packing only moments after that huge reveal in the wilderness timeline seems questionable at best.
Written by Ameni Rosa and directed by Karyn Kusama, “Storytelling” feels very much like it’s toggling between two completely different shows. The wilderness timeline remains sharp and compelling, bringing gore and sacrifice to the forefront as the Yellowjackets feast on Javi and then collectively agree to worship Natalie as their new wilderness deity, all in the name of survival. The way Kusama treats Javi’s flash-frozen body is sickeningly intimate in nature, her lingering shots of pallid skin contrasting with crimson blood forcing us to really reckon with the morally sticky choices the survivors are making. The sequences that deal with the preparation and consumption of the meat seem designed to make viewers squirm in their seats. I kept waiting for the camera to cut away, but Kusama never lets up. Given the deadly serious treatment of this situation, the scene in which Travis bites into his brother’s raw, very recently beating heart is a gross-out moment that feels both plausible and earned.
The wilderness story line provides entertaining gravitas, and it continues to be a tale of survival that cranks everything to 11. However, by the end of this episode, the present-day narrative devolves into a violent yet muddled farce with everyone converging at Camp Green Pines at the absolute wrong time. It’s like an episode of Frasier … if Frasier and Niles once ate their best friend with a bottle of nice Chianti.
Let’s get into the good news first: The Walter Tattersall mystery continues to fascinate. Perhaps it’s because Elijah Wood is so good at playing creeps with ambiguous motives, or maybe it’s because his story line is so damn fun. A lot of what happens with Walter doesn’t make a ton of sense (how did he connect the deaths of both Adam Martin and Jessica Roberts to a larger conspiracy that Kevyn Tan would be involved in? I don’t know!), but the logic of it isn’t the primary draw. When we first see Walter at Lottie’s compound, he’s singing “Send in the Clowns” as Kevyn, a cop, walks in. Hilarious! And then he kills him with a laced cup of hot cocoa! It’s total psychopath behavior, and I’m here for all of it. Furthermore, Walter’s scenes with the ever-clueless but always-game Jeff provide much-needed levity, and the ambiguity of his presence has spawned an avalanche of exciting theories. (My favorite posits that Walter is a cannibal who might be looking to consume another cannibal.)
When Walter promises Misty that she and her friends won’t have to deal with the Adam Martin situation anymore, it feels as if he’s talking directly to the viewers. And we are thankful for this gift from the wilderness. This plotline has been a slog, and it’s a relief to know that it’s over, even if the details of the resolution are a bit sketchy. Unfortunately, the seedy Saracusa lives (we were all hoping he’d be the sacrifice, right?), but I sure hope he won’t be back next season. Walter, on the other hand, can come back as a doe-eyed agent of chaos anytime.
Regrettably, the rest of the adult story line never clicks. Even committed performances from the leads can’t make up for the convoluted and confused plotting. The surviving six Yellowjackets contemplate Lottie’s offer to give the wilderness what It wants, and Shauna decides to placate Lottie by saying they should give It a hunt. When Lottie twitches her way out of the sharing shack, the rest of the group discusses options. Tai, Misty, and Shauna think they should put the wheels in motion to hospitalize her, while Van and Natalie don’t want to just send her away. Van’s thought process seems to be motivated by guilt — she feels responsible for why Lottie is the way she is — but Natalie appears to want a more final solution to the situation. Her reaction raises the question: Did Natalie stay at the compound because she truly bought into the power of healing? Or was she keeping an eye on Lottie because she still blamed her for Travis’s death? We never find out.
The hunt itself starts out well enough. As the women pass the deck of cards, trauma-induced flashbacks serve as a reminder that Natalie did once choose the queen of hearts in the wilderness and that she has a debt to pay. When Shauna finally selects the card of death, the rest of the group dons their masks and prepares for the hunt. They all start to chase Shauna, but Callie miraculously comes to her mom’s rescue by shooting Lottie in the arm. Then Lisa appears, and she’s holding Natalie’s shotgun. The idea that two interlopers would stumble upon this scene at the same exact moment, guns in hand, is pretty ridiculous. A scuffle ensues, and Misty tries to take Lisa down by injecting her with a deadly dose of fentanyl. Instead, she accidentally stabs her bestie Natalie.
A dreamlike sequence follows in which a dying Natalie spiritually communes with Javi, her teen self, and teen Lottie. Where is Travis, I ask! Juliette Lewis does what she can with this scene, but the rapid-fire cuts between Misty’s reaction in the present, Natalie’s descent into the afterlife, and a smattering of flashing emergency lights lend a cheap and cheesy feeling to the proceedings. I also truly hate that they blamed Nat’s death on a drug overdose when she was actively trying to stay sober.
Inexplicably, Nat’s death in the present takes place just as they crown her Antler Queen in the past. As the girls (and Travis, now the Antler King) pledge their fealty to Nat, emotion, hope, and unspoken conflict run through the improvised ritual like an electric current. I’m very excited to see the excellent Sophie Thatcher bring all the sure-to-be-shocking Antler Queen revels to life in future seasons, but without Lewis as a foil, it feels like any meaning that reverberates into the present-day timeline might be tempered.
If you squint and look at the episode in the right light, you can see what was being attempted: Presumably, the moment when Natalie allowed Javi to die in her place was the moment she should have died. Here, in a similar situation, she tries to do the right thing, saving an innocent at her own expense. Unfortunately, the season doesn’t earn this moment because Juliette Lewis was bizarrely sidelined for much of its runtime. Instead of using her acerbic presence, feline physicality, and astounding chemistry with Christina Ricci, the show stuck her in Lottie’s purple purgatory. We only checked in with her sporadically, and while her friendship with Lisa did grow, it never reached the critical mass needed to make her belated sacrifice resonant.
Even though we saw a hunt and a sacrifice in the present, there’s still no definitive answer to the question of whether the group was experiencing something supernatural out there in the wilderness. When Shauna declares that “It” was just them, Lottie asks if it makes a difference. Perhaps it doesn’t. The episode explores themes of fate and faith in various ways, most overtly through three needle drops in the back third: Buffy Sainte-Marie’s musical interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s meditation on spirituality “God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot” plays as Lottie prepares for the hunt, “The Killing Moon” by Echo and the Bunnymen thrums over the final credits, and a sweet cover of the song accompanies Natalie’s crowning as queen.
“The Killing Moon” was once described by Echo and the Bunnymen front man Ian McCulloch as “addressing the eternal battle between fate and the human will,” and the conclusion of the finale sees the Yellowjackets continue to battle back against fate as their precious shelter goes up in flames. It’s heavily implied that a starving and horror-stricken Ben sets fire to the cabin after witnessing what the group did to Javi, but it’s possible that something else is at play here. Is it possible that the wilderness wants the group to shift to a new location?
Thanks to Shauna’s late-night journaling, everyone gets out just in time with most of their meager supplies in hand. The billowing smoke seems like it could signal potential rescuers, but we know there are at least ten months to go in the wilderness timeline, so that won’t be happening anytime soon. The final beats of the episode promise that the wilderness group will have to find another shelter — either going to live in the plane or perhaps inhabiting the still-mysterious underground root system in the symbol tree — and spring might be around the corner.
Losing adult Natalie stings, but the mysteries of the wilderness remain compelling. What’s the symbol? What was the pilot doing out there? Who will be the next to die? How will they get rescued? As the show moves into its third season — pay those writers! — I’m more concerned about how the present-day storyline will reintegrate with the goings-on in the past. If the wilderness does indeed hear us, I hope it brings us more cohesion in season three.
Buzz, Buzz, Buzz
• Big Donnie Darko vibes with the use of “The Killing Moon” at the conclusion of the episode. For what it’s worth, the intro of that movie sees a character reading It by Stephen King.
• As they’re taking Lottie away, she tells Van and Tai that It is pleased with the sacrifice. She pointedly looks at Van when she says, “You’ll see.” I’m taking this to mean that Van’s cancer has been magically cured.
• Do we think any of the other survivors escaped death after choosing the queen during a wilderness hunt? If so, who?
• Does Lottie just have phenobarbital on hand in the kitchen, like in the spice rack or something? Both she and Walter were able to access it very quickly.
• To my eye, we’ve seen all of the foreshadow-y snippets in the opening credits except for one. Just before Natalie toys with Lottie’s keys, we see a flash of a very blurry figure that appears to be a girl wearing a red shirt. What or who could this be? Will it be revealed in a potential bonus episode that co-creator Ashley Lyle alluded to before the season started? Only time will tell!