Yellowjackets: Season 1 Review

In the mid-nineties, a plane carrying a girls’ soccer team crashes in the Canadian mountains, leaving the group of teenagers stranded for 19 long months. Twenty five years later, those who survived attempt to get on with their lives, until the grim truth of what really happened threatens to surface.

by James Dyer |
Updated on

Streaming on: Sky and Now

Are girls inherently more civilised than boys? Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson’s Yellowjackets, which begins with a terrified high schooler being impaled in a pit of sharpened stakes, would answer with an emphatic ‘no’. Gleefully carving strips off the carcass of civilised society, the show takes paradigms of the teenage social order and slow-roasts them, gradually regressing the (almost) all-girl survivors from Alanis-bopping teens to atavistic ferals with a taste for homo sapiens cuisine.


We meet the Wiskayok Yellowjackets in 1996, as they prepare to fly to a state championship in Seattle. Team captain Jackie (Ella Purnell) is struggling to maintain morale after firebrand Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) deliberately throws a brutal tackle during practice, crippling the team’s weakest link. Meanwhile, Jackie’s best friend Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) is sleeping with her boyfriend, class tearaway Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) lashes out at those around her, and oddball Misty (Samantha Hanratty) is derided by the entire squad. Hardship and depravation, it turns out, aren’t needed to feed these girls’ bestial sides, but once the crash (a brutal, extended sequence that ends in DIY amputation) leaves them stranded in the Canadian wilds, even the illusion of civility is dispelled.

It’s to the series’ credit that, as gripping as the survival horror story is, it quickly becomes the lesser of the show’s twin narratives. In 2021 we rejoin Natalie (Juliette Lewis) fresh out of rehab, Taissa (Tawny Cypress) running for state senate, and Shauna (an outstanding Melanie Lynskey), now a disaffected housewife. Mysterious postcards, an apparent suicide, and the threat of blackmail force them to team up with Misty (Christina Ricci) in order to discover who is on to their secret. Pitch-perfect casting makes the regular shifts between decades organic, the latter years filling in pieces of the earlier puzzle, while revelations of the girls’ ordeal sheds light on the fractured adults they all become.

A girls-in-the-wild series that puts a modern, female spin on the fragility of social order.

Yellowjackets draws much of its inspiration from Alive, The Donner Party, Heathers, and even It, but its mystery story and intertwining timelines most strongly conjure echoes of Lost. As with JJ Abrams’ show, the puzzle box cracks open just enough — an abandoned hut, a rusting plane, an ominous symbol carved into trees — to hint at something both deeper and darker lurking within. But unlike Lost’s rudderless mythology, Yellowjackets gives the impression of a more concrete destination. The first episode teases a glimpse of the girls, clad in fur and antlers, faces obscured by masks, feasting on the flesh of a recently butchered classmate, providing a fairly grim assurance of where this particular field trip is headed. This is a show concerned less with the where and more with the how, savouring the gradual dissolution of the world before and the emergence of a new, more savage order that inverts established norms. Misty, once a pariah, thrives in the post-crash world (“I took the Red Cross babysitter training class. Twice!”), while homecoming queen Jackie flounders, weakness soon relegating her to the bottom of the pile.


The pilot’s propulsive start does give way to a more sedate cruising speed for much of the show’s 10-episode run, divulging just enough to keep us captivated, without ever fully showing its hand. The lack of readily-available answers might have proved frustrating if the characters weren’t such excellent company. The women riff delightfully off each other as they chase down leads in the present, old wounds reopening and past traumas leaving their mark. Taissa is plagued by blackouts and bouts of sleepwalking, while Shauna’s simmering resentment at the banality of her existence threatens to boil over at any moment. Meanwhile, Ricci’s superbly sociopathic Misty is as coldly manipulative as she is desperate to be liked. Meanwhile, their younger selves are raw and real, making and breaking alliances while never falling into lazy teen stereotypes.

The show makes excellent use of its timeframe, too, both with a selection of banging '90s needle drops (an a-capella performance of Seal’s 'Kiss From A Rose' deserves special mention) and some deliciously on-point writing that fondly pokes fun at the era (“She’s never gonna hear Wonderwall again,” someone laments over a freshly dug grave).

Lopping the Y chromosome from Lord Of The Flies, Lyle and Nickerson have cooked up a girls-in-the-wild series that puts a modern, female spin on the fragility of social order. With a thumping finale that layers on both tragedy and greater intrigue, it now leaves an agonising wait until we return to the wilderness for Season 2.

Gruesome, gripping and blackly comic, this tightly-plotted mystery-horror is meaty in all the right (and wrong) ways.
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