Following up an acclaimed debut season is a daunting task. But following up a critically lauded, word-of-mouth sensation that has inspired a level of audience fervor not since Lost popularized the puzzle box TV drama? Well, that feels damn near impossible. Somehow, though, Yellowjackets, which returns to Showtime for season 2 on March 26, manages this feat. The batch of new episodes may lack the indelible feeling of chaos that permeated the first season, but Yellowjackets season 2 is a welcome return for the drama. It’s as mean, blackly humorous, and brutal as ever, and there’s nothing else like it on television right now.
Yellowjackets’ two timelines pick up in different places, with the present-day timeline more or less beginning where the finale left off. Taissa’s family is in turmoil after her wife discovered the dog-head-adorned altar in their basement. Shauna is still processing her murder of Adam and its subsequent cover-up. Natalie is chained to a bed at Lottie’s cult headquarters wellness center. And well, Misty is being Misty (namely, practicing police interrogations with Shauna in her murder basement). Meanwhile, in the past, two months have passed and a thick blanket of snow has settled on the cabin the stranded Yellowjackets call home, and they are getting hungry and losing their minds.
That Yellowjackets is able to give ample time to almost everyone in its ensemble is telling of the level at which the show is operating — no character feels neglected at any point during season 2’s initial episodes (six of which were provided to critics for review). Every key player gets their moment and the show even takes time to introduce some new girls (presumably those in the background of season 1, but who feel destined to be eaten as soon as they utter their first lines regardless). To highlight any particular moment here could potentially ruin a number of shocking reveals, but it’s safe to say that the kids are not all right. They are praying to a forest deity, talking to their dead best friend, and seeking out their ex-girlfriends in violent fugue states. It’s all just another day in suburban New Jersey and the Canadian wilderness.
The only thing that Yellowjackets season 2 struggles with is the split between timelines. The past remains far more compelling than the present-day timeline, and it doesn’t help that the show is quite purposely pacing itself in revealing the layers of mysteries in the wilderness. Some of the present-day plotlines feel stagnant as the larger pieces of the season are moved into place. Fortunately, the present-day has Melanie Lynskey, who continues to turn in an all-time great performance as Shauna. Newcomers Simone Kessell and Lauren Ambrose (who play adult Lottie and Van, respectively) provide enough intrigue and excitement, although they also feel intentionally shrouded in mystery.
The frequency of the flashbacks and flash forwards increases in Yellowjackets season 2, which may exacerbate this issue. Still, the present speaks to the past with the continued use of thoughtful transitions between timelines. It also answers plenty of questions while leaving other mysteries lingering. They never linger in a way that feels entirely frustrating as the intention behind the storytelling is evident. The show isn’t throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. This is Yellowjackets stretching its legs and settling in for the long haul. Creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson have been vocal about their five-season plan for the show and, as Yellowjackets looks towards its middle half, a kind of calmness settles over it like winter settling over the wilderness.
That’s not to say Yellowjackets season 2 is calm — it is anything but. There are big stylistic swings (some of which work, some of which don’t) and surprises that come out of left field while still feeling rooted in the story that is being told. There’s something to be said about the confidence in the way Yellowjackets does these things and whether it’s a product of the reception to season 1 or simply because Lyle and Nickerson are great storytellers (it’s both). When it all coalesces as the season comes to a head, it’s easy to forget the misses when the hits pack as big of a punch as they do here.
Yellowjackets season 2 lacks the propulsion of its debut, the feeling that anything could happen. In some ways, it’s the opposite; most twists and turns land satisfyingly like puzzle pieces falling into place. Audiences still don’t have the bigger picture, and it’s certainly frustrating at times, but the fact that the show’s version of settling down is still this twisty, exciting, and riveting is a good sign of things to come. With the series already renewed for season 3, Yellowjackets has the opportunity to do what a lot of others don’t these days, and it’s using that to its full advantage. Stellar performances and excellent character work aren’t necessarily hard to come by in the era of Peak TV, but Yellowjackets still feels truly special.
Yellowjackets season 2 premieres March 26 on Showtime.