Crashing into the mysteries and fun of 'Yellowjackets' : Pop Culture Happy Hour The Showtime drama Yellowjackets is a series in two halves: In the first part, a plane crashes in 1996, and a high school girls' soccer team is stranded in the Canadian wilderness. The other part follows some of the girls more than 20 years later, as they realize the full ramifications of what they did during the time before they were rescued. Part horror and part suspense, Yellowjackets boasts a killer cast and a tangle of dark mysteries at its heart.

Crashing into the mysteries and fun of 'Yellowjackets'

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A plane crashes in 1996 and a high school girls soccer team is stranded in the Canadian wilderness. Their desperate attempts to survive make up half of the Showtime drama series "Yellowjackets." The other half follows some of the girls more than 20 years later as they realize that the full ramifications of what they did during their time before they were rescued are just beginning to emerge. Part horror and part suspense - "Yellowjackets" boasts a killer cast of actresses and a tangle of dark mysteries at its heart. I'm Linda Holmes, and today we're talking about "Yellowjackets" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.

Joining me today is Vulture TV critic Roxana Hadadi. Hey, Roxana. Welcome back.

ROXANA HADADI: Hey, Linda. Thank you for having me.

HOLMES: Of course, and making her POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR debut - this is always so exciting - is Jordan Crucchiola, a writer and producer and the host of the podcast "Feeling Seen" on Maximum Fun. Welcome to the show, Jordan.

JORDAN CRUCCHIOLA: Linda, thank you so much for having me. I am thrilled to be here.

HOLMES: It is tough to sum up this show briefly.

CRUCCHIOLA: (Laughter).

HOLMES: The first thing I will say is that there are mysteries that have unfolded over the first eight episodes of this first season. There are two episodes left in the season, so we're going to divide this discussion in half. The first part is going to be pretty low-spoiler, talking pretty generally about what's working and what's not. Then we'll take a break, and then we'll have a nice spoiled-rotten discussion of all...


HOLMES: ...The very weird things that have happened so far. So in the 1996 story, the team of high school girls that crashes includes Shauna and Jackie, a pair of best friends with a secret between them, Natalie, who seems like the tough bad girl of the group - but, you know, there's always more to it than that - Taissa, a leader in waiting, and Misty, an awkward nerd with some very handy skills who starts to come into her own in this very bizarre situation. There's one eligible teenage boy stranded with them. His name is Travis. He's the son of the coach who didn't survive the crash. His younger brother Javi did, as did more members of the team, including the mysterious Lottie, the religious Laura Lee and the tough Van.

In the present, we follow four of the girls, so we know that they at least survived - Shauna, played by Melanie Lynskey, has become an unhappy mom with a rickety marriage. Taissa, played by Tawny Cypress, is a politician who wants to protect her career as well as her wife and son from the fallout from her past. Natalie, played by Juliette Lewis, has been dealing with addiction for years and seems the most outwardly troubled, while Misty, played by Christina Ricci, has become a nurse and is still a very, very unsettling person.

CRUCCHIOLA: (Laughter).

HOLMES: In the past, the same four characters are played by Sophie Nelisse, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sophie Thatcher and Samantha Hanratty. This show was created by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, and one of the executive producers is the director Karyn Kusama, who also directed the first episode. Kusama is an established director who's known for, among other things - and it seems most relevant to me - the film "Jennifer's Body." So...

CRUCCHIOLA: (Laughter).

HOLMES: ...Roxana, you have sort of been my touchstone for this show. Did it have you from the beginning?

HADADI: It did not have me from the beginning. So I probably started watching two weeks after it premiered. But then as soon as I started, I was just burning through screeners because I think that pilot episode is so strong in terms of its tone. We talked a lot about, like, how dark, mysterious - it starts off with a cannibalism scene, so you know from the beginning you're getting something very dire.


HADADI: But I also thought it captured very well sort of the extreme emotional range of being a teenage girl and that sort of yearning and longing to both grow up and stay exactly the same. And I think every episode walks that tightrope very well - sort of capturing who these girls are in the 1996 timeline. And they're in flux, they're transforming. They are adapting to the environment and also to their changing friendships. And then also in 2021, there's the sense of, is this all there was? Is this what we survived for?

HOLMES: Right. Right.

CRUCCHIOLA: For real, yeah.

HADADI: I think the show does this great job sort of walking that line. But Jordan is, you know, our Karyn Kusama expert, so I will toss to Jordan. What did she think?

CRUCCHIOLA: (Laughter) Relevant to me in all things is that Karyn Kusama directed "Jennifer's Body" because relevant to me in all things is "Jennifer's Body," which is why when I saw the trailer posted for this, I knew I was going to organize my entire personality around it...


CRUCCHIOLA: ...That it was going to become an obsession of mine. Karyn back on the teen savagery beat.


CRUCCHIOLA: Watching, it was like, well, this better be gay as hell. And there is clearly going to be murder, and there's survival in the woods. So really, I mean, this was a perfect nonalcoholic cocktail beverage served up for Jordan from the immediate moment of its being teased.

HOLMES: Yeah. I remain a little bit of two minds about this show, and I think it is in a lot of ways two shows - not only because of the structure where you have the in the wilderness show and the many years later show, but also because there is this combination of really a horror show, but then there's also this one that is a much more kind of naturalistic mystery or suspense show about being blackmailed and about bad marriages and people who are traumatized. My frustration with the show when it started - I don't think it's any kind of spoiler to say they make it very clear at the beginning that there is a kind of an occult sense to what went on with these girls out in the wilderness. There is that suggestion of cannibalism that we've already mentioned and kind of ceremonies and...

HADADI: Rituals.


HOLMES: And it's kind of like, what exactly is going on here? That's the stuff that, for me, is not my cup of tea - that kind of thing. But I was ultimately really drawn in by these girls and this very odd moment that they're in, in terms of body and mind and relationships. And they're right at that point where girls, I think, are sort of feeling their power in a certain way but also feeling very frustrated by a lot of things that are unfair to them. And this is in the '90s, so they have a different set of cultural references than either I had when I was this age or people would have now, right?

But I was ultimately really drawn in by the 2021 story. I think that cast of women - hoo-boy (ph). If it was just Juliette Lewis and Christina Ricci who were both childhood actors playing off of each other in this very kind of odd relationship that they have, I think that would be enough for me. And then, you know, Melanie Lynskey is one of my absolute favorite actors, and I think having her in this grounds it in such a great way. And it takes a while, I think, for the comedy of what she's doing to come out.


HOLMES: But there's such a funny kind of tone to what she's doing. And I don't know - I do really, really like it, even though I kind of don't care about, like, the symbol and the - that kind of stuff. I'm like, I don't really care about that (laughter).

HADADI: In both storylines, I think there is sort of the sense of, where could this go? Because with the ritual stuff, you do have to then fill in, is there really an occult element or are the girls just sort of in their hysteria?


HOLMES: Right.

HADADI: Are they sort of imagining this? So you are sort of probing that tension. But then in the 2021 storyline, I think the question sort of becomes, when the blackmail story is over, where does this go? Both timelines have this sense of forward momentum that has a lot of open doors, and it does give this ensemble, who is so good, universally so good...


HADADI: ...A lot of room to play with what is reality, what is not reality. And I think Lynskey - as you mentioned, Linda - is perfect because she is such a grounding force. And you sort of think, like, oh, OK, so this character has sort of been worn down by domestic life. But then she butchers a rabbit and feeds it to her family.


HADADI: And there are these moments of sort of subversive - like...


HADADI: ...Maybe the forest made these girls or young women who they really are or revealed who they...

HOLMES: Right.

HADADI: ...Really are. And so I think there is sort of this savagery to that place; that even if there is no occult element - right? - it's just about, like, being in a dangerous situation and what does that reveal about who you are. And I think each of the eight episodes has done a very good job sort of showing a different facet of how do you become someone different or someone new in a place like this.

CRUCCHIOLA: Horror's my bag. When I - for my whole life and then when I was working at Vulture, that was very much my beat.

HOLMES: Right.

CRUCCHIOLA: Honestly, what I like about the opportunity for the occult stuff is that it provides a runway for us to just get more nuts.

HOLMES: Right.

CRUCCHIOLA: It provides, as genre does wonderfully, more extreme scenarios to just see the ordinary play out in extraordinary ways.

HOLMES: Right.

CRUCCHIOLA: So when you have this fantastical element introduced, it just gives you a more intense forum through which people can start realizing things. And, like, real or not, the paranoia and desperation these girls feel is extremely real. And as long as you believe that and feel that intense fear...


CRUCCHIOLA: ...You're going to start latching onto certain things that may or may not be materially actual. And if that leads to, I don't know, Lottie rioting (ph) as the pagan deer god in a cannibalistic ritual circle of eating your sisters, like, that is a phenomenal possibility to me and the fun of horror. It lets us go to the craziest places to access the, like, what's this person really about question.

HOLMES: Right. So when you talk about, like, the Melanie Lynskey character, like, butchering the rabbit, that's where it starts to be like, OK, yeah, I kind of dig this; this is getting wacky in a good way. I think that Christina Ricci performance as Misty is so weird; like, just never seen anything...


HOLMES: ...Like it. Yeah, it's amazing.

HADADI: No. I mean, everyone is performing a version of themselves, right? And that's such a good revealing thing about female characters of any age is this sense...


HADADI: ...Like, how do you react to societal expectations? Christina Ricci's Misty...


HADADI: ...I love her in the scenes where she is at work because she is so pointedly cruel...

CRUCCHIOLA: (Laughter).

HADADI: ...In those moments. And it is a really great performance from Christina Ricci in terms of plumbing this...


HADADI: ...You know how other people see you, and so you're going to give back to them what they expect in a very pointed way. But I also think that something that at least appealed to me about starting off so weird is then it does create this sense of trust between the show and the viewers, I think. And so I don't think there's been anything that I have not accepted yet. And I think that's sort of why people have latched on to the theorizing and sort of, like, this communal fan experience for this show is that I think they've done a pretty solid job incrementally raising the stakes each week so that you go along with whatever the next thing is that is, like...


HADADI: ...The shocking moment of that hour.

HOLMES: I think that's right.

CRUCCHIOLA: One of the things that I'm most anticipating about this show that it has very much delivered is Bart Nickerson, Ashley Lyle and their writers so clearly respect and understand the intricacy of psychological violence between teen girls. Because, like, to me, the first stone that is truly thrown in the wilderness is when Jackie and Shauna are clearly at odds. Shauna's out in the lake that they've found, and Jackie's back sitting next to Mari on the beach and intentionally staring down Shauna in the water and sidling up physically closer to Mari.

I put the subtitles on in that scene, and you can see what Mari's saying 'cause I couldn't really understand it. And she's like, you know, it's just, like, so great that we're getting closer now. And, like, I think when we get back, like, we can move our lockers next to each other, you know? Like, I just think that would make sense.


CRUCCHIOLA: And Jackie just, like, looks at Shauna, then looks back at Mari and goes, oh, totally. And I was like, oh my...


CRUCCHIOLA: ...God. Like, the knives came out. And that - I mean, I love what that tells us about our dear Jackie.


CRUCCHIOLA: And that this show gives those moments the high-stakes treatment that, like, eating someone has, like, that is a...


CRUCCHIOLA: ...Respect for the teen girl...

HOLMES: Absolutely.

CRUCCHIOLA: ...Experience that I treasure.

HOLMES: I agree. And I think this is a perfect time to move into some more specific discussion of things that have already happened on this very crazy show. And so we are going to move into that more spoiler-y (ph) conversation about "Yellowjackets." We will see you in a second.

OK. Time for spoilers. This is your last chance to hop out.


HOLMES: If you have not seen the first eight episodes of this season, which we have seen, that is what we're going to talk about.

Roxana, you have been coming up with theories about "Yellowjackets" for quite a while now.


HOLMES: Tell me what the thing is that you are most curious about at this point.

HADADI: For me, what I'm most curious about is who actually survives.


HADADI: Because we've had these four adult characters - because we've only met the four of them, then you have this expectation that it's just them. But I think...

HOLMES: Right.

HADADI: ...You know, fingers crossed, if we get five seasons of this show - we're at least getting a second season - I think there is the possibility of other characters being alive whom we just haven't met yet.

HOLMES: That it wasn't just the four of them that...

HADADI: Right.


HOLMES: ...Survived - and Travis.

HADADI: Yeah. I'm very curious. So, like, the Adam as young Javi theory I also, like, love.

CRUCCHIOLA: That's my favorite of yours that you talk about.

HADADI: Yeah. Like, I think that could be very compelling. But I also - you know, like, I could see a season finale where we see, you know, an adult Van or an adult Lottie or any of them, really, just because they've done such a good job making them very compelling in youth form that I - I don't know. I can't...


HADADI: ...Imagine that it's only the four of them. So that's sort of what's been driving my interest each week is like, is this really the entire adult world or is...

HOLMES: Right.

HADADI: ...There more?

HOLMES: I assumed at the end of the seventh episode that Van was dead. And when people were speculating, like, we can't really tell if she's dead or not, I was like, she's dead.

CRUCCHIOLA: (Laughter).

HOLMES: She's very dead. Did you see her? She's super dead.

HADADI: Half of her face is torn off (laughter).

CRUCCHIOLA: Did you see her teeth inside her face through her open face?

HADADI: Right.

HOLMES: But I was wrong. She was not extremely dead.


HOLMES: And so you do have all those people who may have survived. There are even a couple of other girls who really haven't even spoken, who as far as I know don't even have names.

CRUCCHIOLA: (Laughter) Yeah.


HOLMES: There aren't a ton, but there are, like, a couple of 'em.

HADADI: I think there are four.


HADADI: Because in the next episode, there are sort of four girls that I've, like, sort of seen floating around...


HADADI: ...The perimeter. So I do think sometimes the show is a little bit fluid (laughter) in terms of...


HADADI: ...How many people there really are.


HADADI: But I was talking about it with my partner, and he was like, well, they need meat for later on, so maybe that's what...


HADADI: ...We have these additional character.

CRUCCHIOLA: I feel like you can't just eat Jackie immediately.

HOLMES: It's true.


HOLMES: It's true.


HADADI: Right.

HOLMES: I feel like we've all been assuming that they eat Jackie.

CRUCCHIOLA: No, it's definitely - it's not - it can't be Jackie from the intro - totally different mouth, totally different face. This could be just, like, a trip off, but, like, that actress - yes, they use a stunt double and then there's also the actress, like, they do closeups on - that actress is not Ella Purnell in those snow scenes from the beginning.

HOLMES: Fair enough.

CRUCCHIOLA: My hopeful speculation - Jackie's alive. She's the one terrorizing them.


CRUCCHIOLA: But then also that it's Mari. Mari gets the heart necklace that belongs to Jackie.


CRUCCHIOLA: Because further best-friend warfare we know is going to ensue between Jackie and Shauna.


CRUCCHIOLA: And so that necklace is going to change hands. That's going to be the sisterhood of the traveling cursed necklace.

HOLMES: I get that.

CRUCCHIOLA: I rarely go back and look for Easter eggs, but we do have a girl in a - pretty sure it's Van - I went back and watched that opening death scene last night.

HADADI: The coed soccer T-shirt.

CRUCCHIOLA: Yeah, the coed naked soccer shirt - standing over the pit of a body. And so that was the one thing I'm like, OK, well, Lottie is physically taller than everybody and the deer god is physically taller than everybody and not just because the antlers - because of where the eyeline is. That's the only thing I'm trying to do because I just want to know who the deer god is.


CRUCCHIOLA: And I need Jackie to be alive. Like, I get it. The show won't let me down if it's not, but, like, I personally need my mean girl queen to be alive because that's how I operate.

HOLMES: Roxana, you've taken the position that you think the deer god is Lottie, right?


CRUCCHIOLA: Love that.

HADADI: Because I think that she has been the one who has been accumulating the most, quote-unquote, "followers," part of me thinks that we're supposed to doubt her visions, but part of me also thinks they've all been right (laughter).

CRUCCHIOLA: As Van tells us - well, Lottie did predict those two things that happened in high school.

HOLMES: Right.

HADADI: I could see her being the deer god. I also think something that is interesting about the Jackie question is that what I really love too is what the characters don't say. And something that was very interesting to me in terms of the Shauna-Jeff, you know, lunch tuna quiche meal with Jackie's parents is Jackie's parents never say how she died.


HADADI: It's just that she is dead.

HOLMES: No, that's true.

CRUCCHIOLA: Or when, re her journals.

HOLMES: Exactly.

HADADI: Right. And so the journals have references to, like, "Bring It On," which is a movie from 2000.



CRUCCHIOLA: Yeah. "American Beauty" was a movie that came out in 1999, and that's one of her favorite movies.


HADADI: I mean, I think we see that there are different clans, theoretically. So if other people have survived, if we've seen that people can sort of assume new identities because finding Travis is sort of difficult for the girls to do, then I do think it opens up a whole new possibility of, you know, if you came back to a world which was desperate to figure out what you did out there, you probably did, like, go off the grid and maybe start a new life. So I think that sort of opens up again the question of where could Season 2, Season 3, Season 4, Season 5 go in imagining futures for these girls.

HOLMES: I should say we haven't talked too much about Taissa yet, and I think...



HOLMES: ...She's the one who to me kind of coming apart in the most immediately alarming way in 2021. Like, Misty is Misty, right? She is...

HADADI: She seems unfazed. She seems like she would always be like this.

CRUCCHIOLA: Misty's the constant.

HOLMES: She's just herself, right?

HADADI: Right.


HOLMES: They reveal very early on that she actually perpetuates them being stuck out in the wilderness because she kind of digs the fact that the social order has kind of been scrambled, and she's now in a very different position because she has certain, like, survival skills and stuff like that, which she does not hesitate to use.

CRUCCHIOLA: (Laughter).

HOLMES: But I think Tai is the one who - in the current moment, what is up with her eating her hand and all that stuff? That is the stuff that I am the most confused by. Why is she eating her hand?

HADADI: Don't you think she has a taste for flesh?

HOLMES: I mean, I guess, but, like, what happened? But, like, if you're turning to cannibalism in order to survive...

HADADI: Right.

HOLMES: ...Like, does that mean that you necessarily want to chew on your hand like a wolf in the middle of the night?

HADADI: Well, she's like a vegetarian, right? We see her spit out meat at the political fundraiser. So I feel like in terms of how much have each of these women repressed what happened out there, it seems like Tai did a whole nothing happened and I'm going to live like nothing happened...

HOLMES: Right.

HADADI: ...Mentality.

CRUCCHIOLA: When she recites all those things that she - I was going to go to college and do this and I was going to go to grad school and do this and Shauna's like, you did literally all those things. She got back and the clock restarted as soon as she got back on the field. I did love that moment on the bed for - with Shauna and Taissa when she comes to her and is like, I'm afraid to fall asleep, and Shauna's like, you can stay here and I'll stay with you. And that was - I, like, was weepy at that. And then the mirror back to that in the '96 timeline where Shauna does the same thing and it's interesting. You have, like, almost this snow globe scenario in this conversation where nothing turned out like Shauna thought it would and she didn't go to Brown and she ended up staying in her hometown. Taissa did everything she said she was going to do before the crash. Taissa did live that life. And that - the fact that on that bed neither of them has the answer about what would have been better or what else there is is like - it kind of takes that idea of the grass is always greener and just sort of buries it. It's like, yeah, but still you can still get everything you ever said you were going to want even though this thing happened and, like, is that better?


HADADI: But I want to ask Linda - Linda, what are your thoughts on eyeless bloody man? Do you think that is real?

HOLMES: That is exactly the kind of thing that I'm like, I don't have any idea, and I don't care that much. Like, I don't feel invested in that.


HOLMES: When I first started watching it, I sort of thought they were going to answer a lot of these questions at the end of 10 episodes.


CRUCCHIOLA: (Laughter).

HOLMES: Like, the show is so structured toward, like, figuring out all this weird stuff...

HADADI: Right.

HOLMES: ...That I have, like, mixed feelings about how I feel about the possibility of it being, like, a five-year commitment.

HADADI: Like, what's the runway on the other stories? Like, if we find out who is doing the blackmail, which I think we're sort of tipping toward, then what is the future of the rest of these characters? I think that's fair. And I sort of think if you're mixed on the occult stuff and the horror stuff and that's what can really expand this storyline, then maybe there isn't five years of story for you.

HOLMES: Right. I think that's right because when you bring up the eyeless guy, I'm like, oh, yeah, that, I don't care about that.

CRUCCHIOLA: Eyeless man - as long as he keeps affecting deleteriously the characters around him that I like watching, great, happy you're here, eyeless man. You are a chaos agent. I welcome you.

HADADI: So for me, eyeless man feels like some sort of spirit haunting Taissa's entire family.


HADADI: So I personally think that eyeless man could be a representation for some sort of generational trauma or even mental illness because we do see that Taissa, quote-unquote, "becomes another person" at nighttime and that there are things that she doesn't remember. So I have jokingly said that eyeless man is possessing her. But I do think it is sort of this manifestation of something else that is going on of the trauma that we've been talking about has been fueling all these storylines. There are a lot of places that we could, like, guess that this is going to go. But this other stuff for me is like sprinkles on a cake. I enjoy it and it's, like, sugary and fun, but really I care about, like, how did these girls grow up to be who they are now? And is there anything like happiness or fulfillment that can come out of a trauma this deep? I don't know. And I'm sort of curious if the show ever digs deeply into that or if we do sort of just keep jumping from, like, occult thing to occult thing.

HOLMES: I definitely think that for anybody who is curious about a genuinely unusual show about teenage girls, adult women that addresses kind of this moment in their lives when they are so wrapped up with both emotional stuff and, like, a ton of body stuff about fertility and pregnancy and sex and at the same time that they're just trying to, like, not die of exposure, like, I do think it's an incredibly interesting show. And, boy, I'm waiting on that season finale and then I'm going to be waiting on the next season. Again, it is on Showtime. You can watch it on your regular cable Showtime if you're an old person like me. You can also watch it on demand. They've got, as we tape this, two episodes to go, and then we will wait for another season. We want to know what you think about "Yellowjackets." Find us at and on Twitter @pchh. That brings us to the end of our show. I am so delighted that we had both of you here to talk about the show. I could not have asked for a better panel.

HADADI: Thanks, Linda.

CRUCCHIOLA: I'm sad we're done talking.

HOLMES: I know. Let's just stay on for another hour.

CRUCCHIOLA: Let's stay on (laughter).

HOLMES: And, of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. If you have a second, subscribe to our newsletter. It's at We will see you all tomorrow when we will be recommending some great 2021 movies we missed.

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