It is everyone’s worst fear: a plane crash — in a remote wilderness — for 19 months. In the new drama series Yellowjackets, a female championship soccer team, known as the Yellowjackets, are rescued 19 months after their plane crashed in a remote frozen wilderness. Those 19 months were literally Hell on Earth. The teens would be tested to the brink of their abilities to survive and it left scars in their psyche that would begin to slowly erupt 25 years later when the buried sins of their past would be resurrected. There is a saying that “you cannot escape your past” and, in Yellowjackets, that is the curse for those who survived those brutal 19 months.
Humans are born innocent and free but, as our lives unfold, the choices we make throughout our lives is what determines our ultimate fate. For the Yellowjackets survivors, their individual and collective choices during those 19 months haunts them. Terror is an emotion you feel when you are powerless and, for each of them, the secret of how they survived terrorizes them, as one day the prices for the sins of their past will need to be paid.
From the harrowing true story of the Donner Party to the fictional televised series of Lost, stories of survival after an airplane crash invokes a visceral reaction because it makes your hair stand on end and you can just feel the chills crawling down your spine. Being cut-off from the civilized world that we live in which has phones and internet for communication, cars for transportation, homes with electricity and running water, and grocery stores to provide sustenance, human nature reverts to its base instinct of doing anything and everything to survive — and because survival in the wilderness triggers the most base instincts to survive, first and foremost, food is essential. Cannibalism is a horrifying concept in our civilized world, but when cut-off from all that makes humans civilized, the base instincts of survival take over. In the 1955 book The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, it illustrated how easily a group of teen boys adopted an almost animalistic behavior in response to such a predicament.
Everyone says that they would never resort to cannibalism to survive. But one would never really know until they were actually put in that situation. Yellowjackets dares to share the story of teen girls who were placed in a survival situation and they did everything they felt they had to survive. It is half a story of the harrowing circumstances and choices that those girls made to survive, and half the aftermath after they were rescued. For a time, it is easy for one to deny and try to forget those 19 terrifying months. Some will rewrite their survival in their minds in order to cope with who they had become. Some will turn to substance abuse to aid in forgetting the unforgettable. And some will embrace their awakened inner-beast and use that ruthlessness to carve out a new life for themselves in society. But the choices that each makes only placates and buries the truth for a time.
Yellowjackets dares to see where the survivors ended up 25 years later, and it is not as idyllic, peaceful, or as each hoped. It strains their psyches and inner-selves leaving them frayed and brittle. Thus, it was only a matter of time before one of them snapped.
During a special Q&A panel during the 2021 Summer Tour for the Television Critic’s Association, the cast and producers of Yellowjackets candidly shared what it was like for them to bring this “ticking-time bomb” tale of the burden and toll that buried secrets take on survivors years later. When asked what was the appeal of tackling such damaged characters thrown into such extreme circumstances was like, they shared:
MELANIE LYNSKEY [adult Shauna]: “I honestly just was so excited to read something that was so different. You read a lot of things that are different, for the sake of being different or trying to be edgy. There was a genuine sort of edge to this. There was something very tense in the writing, and I really loved [that] it was so female-centered. Every single one of the women was so well drawn and interesting . . . . They were all unique individuals. . . . I really loved how the story really got to the heart of female relationships. . . . It was really complicated and really ground in something that I believed in my heart. . . . It has been a topic that I’ve been really fascinated in exploring.”
SOPHIE NELISSE [teen Shauna]: “I think we felt very scared, and it really helped us get into our characters’ bodies and motions. . . The [teens] are kind of put in a situation where you get to know yourself on a deeper level . . . . I think we have all imagined what it would be like to be facing a life and death situation, and it brings out the worst in us, but also the best in us. I think it is that conflict that is really interesting. We all think we know ourselves, until we are put in this situation. Just to see how far these women will go, and how they have to rely on each other but are also kind of against each other, is just a very interesting thing to do. I loved my character . . . . I loved how kind of shy she is. She is an introvert. She is kind of a spectator and the observer. But then inside of her a slow burn, that will develop as the show goes on, and you can see how she’ll start to speak for herself and have a voice and find her voice.”
JULIETTE LEWIS [adult Natalie]: “I am always interested in dichotomies or contrasts and all these multilayered problems within a human being. I just loved the way my character is, on the surface, faking her way through life . . . . [She had] single-purposed mission to go home and find out a few things. . . . I have always been attracted to what I call the ‘primal energies’ and ‘high stakes’ genre or dramas . . . . That is so fun. . . . I always had this empathy as a kid for hardship in others. And when I would look at people and imagine their worlds, I just had a sensitivity, oddly, to pain and emotionality. I don’t know why, but I had it in myself. . . . It is a transference.”
SOPHIE THATCHER [teen Natalie]: “It was a really immersive experience. . . . There was just like this adrenaline-rush that all of us had. For Natalie, I really just admire her grit and her resilience, and how from the very beginning she just remains true to herself, and her lack of filter. It is been interesting, within these past four months I have found myself trying to incorporate a lot of those qualities into who I am. And it is cool, because I get to live — like half of my time is living that on camera — it is empowering. And I think that says a lot about the script and how rich and complex Natalie is. She is incredibly layered. She has this sensitivity that is not really brought out until a couple episodes in. And I don’t think anybody was expecting that side. She has so much lightness in her that she is really hiding and masking. She is a teenager. But she is really, really complex. And she has made a profound impact on me, which is rare.”
CHRISTINA RICCI [adult Misty]: “I felt like a character, like this, who is so socially inept and so emotional and emotive, but unable to really mold those emotions to fit with other people and to be socially successful. Once that person is an adult and they are thrown out there, and the pressures of — and unprotected by childhood and sort of the structure of school and all that sort of stuff, and parents, what happens to them. And I feel like my Misty is sort of the Misty who has been squeezed and punished by life — from the time that they were rescued until we see her. So my image is more sort of that functioning, getting through with the passive-aggression and the artifice. Because I feel like artifice is something you learn as a coping mechanism in adulthood. So that is sort of my thing. If you take young Misty and you just like squeeze and punish her for years, and what comes out? And I decided it was passive-aggression.”
SAMANTHA HANRATTY [teen Misty]: “She is such a fun role to play. I think it is so nice on Episode 2 [that] we get to see kind of this little glimpse. Because then it even shows more of an arc of like who she was, who she is, and then who she has become. It is definitely somebody who has been bullied, and everything that is who she is, and wants to be accepted and wants people to like her so badly. To constantly be hit with rejection over and over again. But she is such almost like an optimistic like, ‘No, I’m not going to let it get me down. I am not going let it get me down.’ It is just fun to see when it does start to break her. . . . [After the crash] for the first time ever, she is hearing people talk behind her back, and it is not a negative thing. It is a positive thing. And it is thrilling and exciting, and she has purpose. Then she makes a decision to continue that purpose for as long as she can. And yeah, I don’t think that she feels bad about it. It is exciting and it is liberating and thrilling.”
ELLA PURNELL [teen Jackie]: “What I like about Jackie is that it is all ‘front.’ You don’t see that. Nobody knows that. Her peers don’t see that until [later]. The stark contrast between Jackie is social standing between Episode 1 and Episode 2 is amazing. I loved playing it. I think that when you take these kids out of the society that they’re in . . . . Who is the popular one? Who is the nerd? They are all athletes. But that kind of hierarchy system that they’ve created and participated in. And you put them in this unbelievable life or death scenario. . . . You can surprise yourself in so many different ways, because the true essence of who you are comes out. And I think what is interesting for Jackie — it is flight or fight or freeze. And Jackie is a freeze person. As much as she wants to take control, as much as she wants to rally the troops, she cannot get her body and her legs and her brain to move. And that is something beyond your control at this very tender age. I think that is extremely frustrating for her — that she doesn’t know where she stands. She loses her footing. She has no idea who to be out here. Whether she picks that up or doesn’t pick that up throughout the rest of season, you will find out.”
TAWNY CYPRESS [adult Taissa]: “I would say practicality is her strong point. She is definitely most comfortable at the helm. And as far as the genres go, she seems to have her entire life together. Everything is on the up and up, and then of course the mysteries start happening, and all of the sudden we are in a completely different feeling for the show. . . . It is always fun to play people who crack a little bit. Like when she had the scene with Shauna in the pilot. You can see that she is not the one in charge. And that drew me to her. Because it is easy to play somebody powerful, but it is more fun to play somebody who just thinks they are powerful.”
JASMIN SAVOY BROWN [teen Taissa]: “I think that is one of Taissa is strongest points — but also weaknesses — is this incredible competence and this incredible brain and ability to see the world for what it is. Because that offers solutions, but it doesn’t offer a lot of comfort, at least not on a deeper emotional level. Tawny and I — I’m a nerd for the enneagram, so I did a lot of Enneagram research and presented her with what I think Taissa is Enneagram Number is, and everything that means — and we discussed that. It was a really good tool for me, and she is a very practical person.”
ASHLEY LYLE [Executive Producer/Showrunner]: “It is about how these girls were able to really work together as a group, and then to see how that might really start to fall apart and shatter over the course of a season. And as I think Sophie Nélisse said: the circumstances bring out both the best and the worst in them.”
KARYN KUSAMA [Director]: “[The] larger question that the series is asking, which is: What are human beings capable of? To go from keggers and carpools and winning a soccer match in high school, to something so extreme that is meant to happen — and 19 months later, it begs the question of: what are people capable of?”
Ultimately, that is what terrifies us most. The question of: what are you capable of? What would you do to survive? The answer to these questions haunts everyone. Human beings are capable of anything and everything. That is the horror stories that we see each and every day in the news and throughout history. Survival drives us to the brink of our humanity. Is it human to strive to survive — no matter what the cost? Emotionally? Physically? Mentally? Ethically and morally? The secondary question then becomes: can you live with it? That answer is even more scary. For many, the answer is: No. And then for some, the answer is: Yes. Think about it: What would you do? And can you live with it? These are the nightmares we contemplate and live with. To live is to survive, but only as far as you can live within the aftermath.
Yellowjackets is a 10-episode series, which premieres on Sunday, November 14, 2021 on Showtime. Yellowjackets was brought to screen by co-creators, co-executive producers and co-showrunners Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson along with co-executive producer and co-showrunner Jonathan Lisco, and executive producer/director Karyn Kusama. The series stars Melanie Lynskey, Tawny Cypress, Christina Ricci, Juliette Lewis, Sophie Nélisse, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sophie Thatcher, Sammi Hanratty, and Ella Purnell.
As a special sneak-peek, Showtime has made the first episode of Yellowjackets available for early viewing on YouTube: