Christina Ricci as Misty, Melanie Lynskey as Shauna, Juliette Lewis as Natalie and Tawny Cypress as Taissa in “Yellowjackets”. (Brendan Meadows / Showtime)
Fans of the great, if much discussed ABC series “Lost” will forever remember “Through the Looking Glass,” the seminal episode in which we learn that at least some of the survivors of Oceanic 815 made it to the supernatural to leave the island and be back home in the states – but in some ways still stuck on this island. I was reminded of this classic all-time episode watching Showtime’s ambitious, scary, and spooky limited edition series “Yellowjackets,” where we learned from the start that some of the plane crash survivors eventually made it off the side and tried to lead a normal life – but every time they think they’re out, the past pulls them back in.
Created by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson of “Narcos”, “Yellowjackets” also has obvious elements from “Lord of the Flies” and is reminiscent of the most recent Amazon series “The Wilds” in that both “The Wilds” and this show center about a group of teenage girls of diverse backgrounds who go to great lengths to ensure their survival, often attacking each other after a plane crash leaves them with little or no hope of rescue. Still, this is a well filmed, original work with great production values that skilfully shifts back and forth between timelines and genres (horror, teen drama, adult soap opera, dark comedy) and features outstanding performances from the parallel line-ups of young actors and well-known veterans, the characters represent every 25 years.
It’s 1996 and the girls’ soccer team has won the state and is on the way to becoming a national team. Come on, yellow jackets! Before the squad board the plane to Seattle, let’s get to know a few players a little, including:
• Jackie (Ella Purnell), the bright, beautiful and much admired team captain.
• Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) who is so competitive and motivated that she may have deliberately injured a teammate who wasn’t ready to move on to the next level.
• Shauna (Sophie Nelisse), Jackie’s best friend, who is outwardly cute and reserved, but a little scheming and maybe not to be trusted.
• Natalie (Sophie Thatcher), a punk stoner who wouldn’t spend a moment with these mainstream jocks if she weren’t a damn good football player.
• Misty (Sammi Hanratty), a student assistant on the team – a geek loner and outsider who is hyper-enthusiastic, happy, almost disturbingly intense and the subject of cruel jokes.
The Yellowjackets have mastered the art of teamwork on the pitch, but they are a fragmented bunch who often get involved in ambushes and fights between games. It will be annoying when most of them stay friends for life – when they have long lives. When the plane to Seattle crashes in a harrowing scene reminiscent of the plane crash, yes, “Lost”, resulting in the deaths of the pilots and at least one other adult male figure, the girls (along with their seriously injured trainer and two boys who part of the travel contingent) stranded deep in the merciless forest in the middle of nowhere – and after a few days it is clear that NO help is on the way. Personality conflicts increase and the power dynamic shifts as the previously invisible Misty becomes one of the de facto leaders due to her first aid training and willingness to do whatever it takes to survive.
Meanwhile, the adult Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) is a deeply unhappy wife and mother who is certain that her husband is having an affair while she contemplates one of her own; Taissa (Tawny Cypress) runs for state office while dealing with a young son who has disturbing visions; Natalie (Juliette Lewis) is fresh from another rehab stay; and Misty (Christina Ricci) is a nurse and amateur online detective who is even more annoying as an adult than as a teenager. We learn that the group – well, most of the group – eventually made it home after 19 months, but they never talk about the seemingly terrible things they went through and they went their separate ways. Now, however, they’re back in touch after each receiving a mysterious postcard showing a cryptic etching that is clearly having a major and potentially terrifying impact.
“Yellowjackets” makes great use of music from the period, from Liz Phair’s “Supernova” to Paloma Faith’s version of “Never Tear Us Apart” to “Cambodia” by Kim Wilde. (In one of the series’ many breathtaking “reveal” moments, the upbeat recovery anthem “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips is played as a counterpoint to someone taking drastic measures that will change everyone’s lives forever.) Each episode contains references to the terrible, logically inconsistent events that occurred in 1996, and how those events a quarter of a century later still have terrifying and in some cases bloody consequences. Instead of “Come on, Yellowjackets!” to say, maybe we should say “Run, Yellowjackets”. Run for your life.