The ability of the show’s creative team to make big course corrections on the fly and write their way out of tight spots was one of the most astounding parts of Better Call Saul. It is a mind-boggling thought to consider, for example, that there might have been a different version of Better Call Saul in which Jimmy McGill underwent the transformation into Saul Goodman during the first season of the show.
Better Call Saul, being a prequel, had the additional challenge of figuring out how to balance the storylines of characters whose destinies are already determined with those of significant newcomers: Kim Wexler emerged as the co-lead of the series despite having only a minor role in the pilot. This brought its own set of issues due to the fact that she does not appear in any episodes of Breaking Bad. (The same can be said about the character who stole the show, Lalo Salamanca; he was such a powerful foe that it was hard to see anyone winning a battle of wits against him.)
Better Call Saul’s status as perhaps the best prequel ever made, as well as the fact that it more than lives up to the heights of its predecessor, is a testament to the fact that the show’s writers are at the top of their game despite continually making things tougher on themselves. Better Call Saul more than lives up to the heights of its predecessor.
Yellowjackets may not be a straightforward prequel, but it walks a tricky narrative tightrope all the same by cutting back and forth between two timelines. The first timeline follows a high school girls’ soccer team that becomes lost in the Canadian wilderness in the 1990s.
The second timeline follows the survivors of that experience as they come to terms with the trauma of what they went through. Yellowjackets also have some characteristics of a puzzle-box series, dangling mysteries for the audience ranging from which teenagers escape the inevitable plunge into cannibalism to the question of whether or not there are supernatural powers at work in the woods.
As if that wasn’t enough, Yellowjackets also has some elements of a horror series. Yellowjackets were one of Showtime’s most talked-about new series because, at its finest — which is to say, the entirety of its first season — it seemed like an intriguing blend of Lost and Twin Peaks, and as a result, it became one of the network’s buzziest debuts. Yellowjackets gained much of goodwill for getting off to such a promising start; yet, the overarching issue was whether it could keep this momentum, and how patient viewers would be watching a series in which concealing the real truth is part of its genetic makeup.
In spite of the fact that Yellowjackets hasn’t had a decline quite as severe as that of the other Prestige Soccer Show, the show has definitely gone through something resembling a sophomore slump. The narrative structure of the series has become its own worst enemy in many ways.
With an apparent road plan of five seasons, cocreators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson don’t want to give away their cards regarding the most important questions concerning the people in both timelines. As a consequence of this, the present-day survivors are separated for the majority of the second season (it isn’t until the end of the sixth episode that everyone finally converges at Lottie’s cult compound), while the stranded teenagers spend a significantly greater amount of time in the throes of intense starvation than they do going full Lord of the Flies on each other.
The feeding frenzy on Jackie’s corpse and Jeff becoming an endearing source of comic relief are two genuine highlights, but on the whole, it seemed like Yellowjackets was caught in a self-inflicted holding pattern. Yellowjackets are still capable of producing the stomach-turning thrills and morbid humor of its first season.
The fact that Yellowjackets’ Season 2 finale, “Storytelling,” genuinely advances the story is the most positive thing that can be stated about the episode; yet, the question of whether or not these choices are in the best interest of the series as a whole is a whole another one.
After allowing unfortunate Javi to die in her place during what should have been the first of many ceremonial wilderness hunts in the episode that serves as the season’s penultimate episode, Natalie is given the title of Antler Queen by the other members of the gang. “The wilderness chose who fed us,” explains Lottie. “The person who will guide us has already been selected.” It’s an unexpected turn of events and one that may add some exciting new depths to Natalie, who has constantly proven to be the most genuinely nice person in the group; her willingness to let Javi die in her place was stunning in part because it felt so out of character.
If this turns out to be true, it could add some intriguing new qualities to Natalie, who has frequently proven to be the most fundamentally decent person in the group.
If Yellowjackets had been interested in exploring the ramifications of knowing that Natalie will (at least temporarily) take on the mantle of Antler Queen in the present-day timeline, it could have had significant repercussions for the path that the character is taking in that timeline.
The other significant plot turn in “Storytelling” occurs when the adult survivors give in to Lottie’s request to go on yet another hunt in order to appease the purported spirit of the wilderness, which is usually referred to as “It,” but has no resemblance to the sewer clown from Stephen King’s novel. Taissa and Van call an audible to resolve the matter internally, and it appears that replaying the old ritual brings back the characters’ violent inclinations.
The initial objective was to get medical specialists on the site and reinstitutionalize Lottie before anything could happen. (There’s a spooky pause right in the middle of the conversation as Taissa unmistakably transforms into her evil alter ego.) Following Shauna’s drawing of the unfortunate Queen of Hearts, the other ladies begin to chase after her with knives in hand. However, Callie steps in and shoots Lottie in the arm to stop the chase.
The gathering is then disrupted once more by Lisa, the wayward young lady that Natalie befriends at the facility. Lisa is the first outsider to realize just how wounded the survivors are, and she does so as a result of her encounter with the group. During Misty’s attempt to administer a lethal dose of fentanyl to Lisa, Natalie steps in and saves her life, despite the fact that she is willing to sacrifice her own for the benefit of a child.
Despite the fact that Natalie’s sacrifice fits in quite neatly with the remorse she has been harboring for decades over the fact that she let Javi die, the sequence’s execution is so sloppy that it borders on being ridiculous. It is never made clear why Misty is seen walking about with a potentially lethal needle in her back pocket, and the fact that Callie and Lisa both stumble upon the hunt in the middle of the woods within moments of one other is the kind of narrative convenience that smacks of a desperate attempt to tie up loose ends.
Misty’s motive for carrying around the syringe is never discussed. The same can be said about the nice and tidy solution to the problem of Shauna being on the hook for murdering her old lover in Season 1, which occurs after Misty’s new (and equally deranged) love interest, Walter, kills one detective and blackmails the other detective into silence. (Because it was previously established that Walter is a hacker on the show, the conclusion asks the viewer to believe that he is able to manipulate bank and phone records in order to link a member of the law enforcement community with a complex web of murder and corruption.)
Putting aside the absurdity of Walter Ex Machina, “Storytelling” is a worrisome indication that Yellowjackets may not be equipped to write itself out of sticky corners, let alone keep track of all of its wandering subplots.
This is a concerning indication since it suggests that Yellowjackets may not be able to write themselves out of sticky corners. (Remember when Taissa was elected to serve as a state senator in the state of New Jersey? The second season most certainly did not!) And even if Yellowjackets has the right to murder major characters, the timing of Natalie’s death feels like it will be counterproductive to the story.
Her acts as the Antler Queen in the past will no longer have any bearing on what takes on in the present. Given Natalie’s struggles with addiction and suicidal thoughts since the beginning of the series, the fact that her death was declared an accidental drug overdose is an exceptionally cruel twist of fate. (On a side note, does it imply that Lisa never shared what she saw in the woods with the police officers that responded to the scene?)
Juliette Lewis has indicated, through many interviews and panel discussions, that she is unhappy with the trajectory that Natalie takes in Yellowjackets. Considering the events that take place in “Storytelling,” it is difficult to hold it against her.
If removing Natalie from the equation on Yellowjackets has somewhat hampered the program’s ability to move forward, the good news is that the show still has the potential to improve. After all, the Yellowjacket’s brain trust had originally intended to murder adolescent Van, which would have prevented viewers from seeing Lauren Ambrose in the role of an adult. Additionally, Javi was at one point thought to be the secret identity of Shauna’s lover, as several fans had previously hypothesized.
If this isn’t the case, then every mistake will continue to weaken the characters in both timelines, and there won’t be any growth until the series knows for sure where and how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. There is still a great deal of potential with Yellowjackets, but moving forward, the program needs to have a more reliable internal compass if it is to avoid getting hopelessly lost in the wilderness.