For the past few weeks, my head has been filled with questions that make little sense out of context. I’ve thought long and hard about why a high school girl would eat dirt and what middle-aged man could be covered in glitter. I’ve pondered the meaning of everything from psychedelic mushrooms to a high school soccer coach’s pep talk to a missing bullet in a cop’s gun. I even re-watched the video to see if a goal winning the state championship was offside — and don’t get me started on how much I’ve been thinking about cannibalism. What I say is: yellow jackets has completely taken over my brain. I haven’t been so obsessed with theorizing about events on a television show since the cast of Lost discovered the hatch.
At first glance, there are some very clear connections between Lost and yellow jackets. Both are about a plane crash where the survivors find themselves in the wilderness where a lot of weird things start to happen. Both jump around in time, exploring not only the events in the wild, but also the lives of the cast before and after the tragedy. Most importantly, both are absolutely packed with secrets, making theorizing about what actually happens is arguably the most enjoyable part of the experience.
It’s not like there haven’t been any weird mysteries since then Lost. I mean, I watched the ongoing Microsoft Surface ad known as: Under the dome. But none of them? Lost‘s successors grabbed me in the same way that yellow jackets has. I actually got to the show a few weeks late and binged the first half in one night, before fitting the Sunday night viewings into my schedule. It didn’t take long at all; I’ve been hooked since the first five minutes.
It starts in the perfect way: pure what the fuck? energy. A young girl, chased through a frozen forest, with disturbing whispers and screams in the background, finds herself impaled on nails in a trap beneath the snow. Then there’s a horrific ritual that I’d rather not think about too much. From there, things get a little saner and shift to the titular Yellowjackets, a New Jersey high school soccer team that just won the state championship, earning them a spot among the nationals. (I remain convinced that the winning goal was in fact offside, but I need to see some better camera angles to be sure.)
Many different kinds of dramas happen in yellow jackets at the same time. There’s the typical pre-crash teenage stuff, when the girls deal with parties and boyfriends and their dynamics on the pitch. there is the lord of the flies-style disturbance in the woods, as the team – and a few other people who happened to be trapped on the plane, such as the obsessive and possessive equipment manager Misty – try to survive in the wilderness. And then we have the present, where the survivors struggle to keep it together after all they’ve been through; one just comes out of rehab, while another unleashes a reporter looking for juicy details about the crash. And all this against the musical background of this one mixtape that I made myself in 1995 by recording Smashing Pumpkins songs from the radio.
It’s this combination of bizarre moments, intense drama and time-shifting stories that make yellow jackets work so well – and make it so ideal to theorize. First you see something that is either shocking or confusing. It can be dark, like a ritualistic murder or a suspected suicide or a child with antlers like some kind of mystical goddess. Or it could be something smaller, like a strange symbol that keeps appearing without explanation. These moments all raise questions and as the story shifts in time, things rarely get cleared up. Instead, it piles up the mysteries and makes you wonder if the answer you seek might be found in another time. A good example of this are the survivors; until someone appears in the present, or you watch them die, you never really know if someone has passed the ordeal in the wilderness.
If every Lost fan will tell you that this kind of structure can be frustrating, especially when it doesn’t pay off. That show was a deluge of cool, weird ideas – a smoke monster! a hatch! also polar bears? – that ended up going nowhere. But I still loved it. The mysteries were fun enough even without satisfying answers, plus they were also an excuse to spend a lot of time with these characters. the cast of yellow jackets is a delight and totally unpredictable, to the point that I would look forward to the Riverdale-style drama only. (Seriously, Misty scares me, and that’s true at any period.)
so far, yellow jackets evokes all those same feelings in me that Lost did. Sure, I’d love to see the finale to satisfy my lingering curiosity and find out who’s really behind the antlers. But the ride so far has been great. It is the journey, as they say, not necessarily the destination. Only, in this case, the trip involves teens eating each other and a seance goes awry.
The last episode of yellow jackets‘ first season aired on Showtime on January 16.