Is Something Supernatural Happening on “Yellowjackets” or Can Everything Be Explained?

The countdown to the first season finale of Yellowjackets begins NOW. If you’re not caught up on all the episodes and my recaps, take the time to do so, because there are many spoilers below! Yesterday, I went on a mini tangent about Greek and Roman art and mythology so, you know, I’m obviously doing super well and not at all too far down the rabbithole of this show or anything!

But in all seriousness, one of my favorite parts of watching this show is talking to people about this show. My girlfriend and I talk about it, no exaggeration, every day. I’m in a group chat with two friends where we solely talk about the show. I’ve had complete strangers DM me their thoughts and theories (and I love it! Never stop!). I can’t wait to host the virtual watch party next week for A+ subscribers. In a different time, I’m certain I would have hosted actual weekly watch parties with my friends. But alas!

One of my favorite recurring conversations to have with people concerns the genre, world, and allegories of Yellowjackets. There’s no denying the show cobbles together a mix of genres, and I love that about it! But where exactly does it fall on the horror scale? Psychological? Paranormal? A mixture? And what is going on with some of the show’s stranger moments? Can Lottie see the future? Who is the eyeless man? What is “it” that Lottie keeps talking about? What was up with that red river and that spinning compass? Why did the wolves disappear so quickly? When and why are people hallucinating? Who the fuck is Adam?

And so, here I am to present both sides of a debate: Is “Yellowjackets” part paranormal or is it completely reality-based? I want to hear your thoughts, so come through in the comments!

The stranger things that happen on Yellowjackets could very well be…abstractions of real things. They’re metaphors come to life but still not literal. They’re mere manifestations and side effects of trauma. The human mind can conjure all sorts of stories and images, especially in extreme conditions. Real life contains coincidences. Real life contains unexplainable things.

There are plenty of things on the show that are spooky but not supernatural or impossible. Like the dead guy in the attic. Like the deck of cards missing its queens. Like the etching in the woods and in the cabin.

It did seem like Lottie was briefly possessed by a French ghost, but she does speak French (not well, according to Jackie, but still!). Have you ever been at a sleepover in suburban Virginia in approximately 2004 and someone pulled out a spirit board and you swear to this day that you weren’t pushing the planchette at all and everyone swore it then, too, but somehow it still moved and you also could FEEL A PRESENCE breathing on your neck the entire time because GUESS WHAT WEIRD AND UNEXPLAINABLE THINGS HAPPEN AT TEEN SLEEPOVERS OKAY and maybe this seance really was just an extreme, bloody version of something like THAT.

Couldn’t the eyeless man just be an imagined monster dreamed up by a tiny Taissa because her dying grandmother scared her? And couldn’t that carry into adulthood, especially if Taissa is experiencing intense bouts of sleepwalking and memory loss? Couldn’t all of the hallucinations and strangeness that the Yellowjackets experience be a result of trauma and hurt and their fractured lives?

I don’t know a lot about science, but I’m pretty sure Laura Lee’s teddy best spontaneously combusting can be explained? Couldn’t it have been the side of the plane that caught fire first and Laura Lee just perceived it as Leonard going up in flames? Isn’t the combustion chamber at the front of the plane, not far from the cockpit on a propeller plane (OK YEAH I LOOKED AT PLANE SPECS; I’M BASICALLY LAURA LEE NOW)?

The hardest things to explain away are Lottie’s visions. It really does seem like our girl can see the future. She has been right about too many specific things, like the “river of blood” and the “cloud of red smoke.” And even if Taissa was able to somewhat rationalize those natural phenomena, still: HOW WOULD LOTTIE KNOW? Her visions seem too accurate to be mere coincidences. But I’ve also seen it suggested that the dreams could be a mix of coincidence and subconscious absorptions of her surroundings. Maybe she saw the deer with bloody antlers because deep down, she knew something about deer shedding their antlers and her mind produced this image.

Here’s where my argument starts to break down, because yes I do think there are weird, impossible, surreal things happening on Yellowjackets, but I also think life contains infinite weird, impossible, surreal things. My sister and I share dreams even when we’re many miles apart, even when we haven’t recently spoken. And sure, I’m sure there is some sort of psychological explanation for it, but it still seems like real-life magic. I guess if the question is more concrete like is there a mythical monster or a ghost or a wicked curse pulling the strings on Yellowjackets, then no, it’s not that simple. But I do think the supernatural can sit inside reality. I do think the woods has a hold over the people it swallows up. Nature itself can be brutal, unrelenting, mysterious.

I like to think there’s real forces at play behind the bad shit that goes down on Yellowjackets: starvation, disorientation, trauma, fear, paranoia, panic. But those forces are so extreme, compounding each other to the point of creating otherworldly effects. Not exactly like Taissa, but I’ve experienced sleeping issues that have felt like a supernatural curse. Real people can be monsters. We can intuit things before they happen. These are possible impossibilities.

I guess this is all my way of saying: What do you think? What’s behind the mysteries of Yellowjackets? Do you believe in ghosts on this show? In monsters and in forces beyond worldly explanation?

The finale is coming. I want to hear all your theories and musings leading up to it!

Also don’t forget: I’m hosting a watch party for A+ members of the finale this weekend.


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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 394 articles for us.

36 Comments

  1. Much like my girl Taissa, I’m firmly in the ‘no ghosts’ camp. I love the spooky vibe of the show but think that all the creepy imagery, hallucinations, Lottie’s general behaviour can be explained by trauma, pre-existing mental illness, and starvation (and now the shrooms, of course).

    I think the show is much more interesting as a case study of human depravity, the lengths they will go to survive, and how the fuck they manage to re-assimilate (or not) back into ‘normal life’ once rescued.

    I do think the show is purposefully straddling the line of ‘is it supernatural or not’, and I think this will be a turning point for the girls to separate into clans: the believers and the non believers. You can see the nihilism creeping in already, so some sort of ‘religion’ or cult-like structure totally makes sense as a way for them to assign meaning and spirituality to their circumstances.

    It’s also a hell of a lot easier to hunt and eat your pals if you’re convinced there’s some divine force giving you permission.

  2. This tension is also one of my favorite parts of the show!

    I’ve really been enjoying how layered the show’s approach is, both in the visuals and in the writing and narrative structure, so that it holds open these different possibilities – but one can also reasonably argue for paranormal/supernatural activity, or the opposite, and still be 100% reasonable and grounded in the world of the show.

    I keep thinking about how Nat mentions that Travis never believed in any of the supernatural stuff, so it does seem like this could fracture the group.

    In this past episode, the shrooms aside, I feel like the presentation of Lottie toward the end was suggestive of psychosis.

    I’m also interested in the both/and option: that there might be unexplainable, strange, unsettling things happening (like, maybe Lottie is prescient in some inexplicable way), and also a lot of other elements can be accounted for by trauma, grief, how memory shifts and changes, starvation, being off medication, etc.

    Honestly, these teens are doing pretty well, all things considered. I feel like if a group of kids from my high school had ended up in this situation, we’d probably not be alive at this stage still!

  3. It is definitely easy to go down a never ending rabbit hole with this show! At this point, I’m just enjoying the thrilling rollercoaster ride with each episode. I just hope the series finale doesn’t reveal that it was all just a dream Biscuit was having…🤪

  4. I keep coming back to that YJ was first talked about as an adaptation of lord of the flies. It is so much more and so much better than just a LOTF gender-swap, but this central tension is at the heart of that story too. From what I remember, in LOTF, the boys end up justifying killing one another due to a belief in a ‘beast’ that can be explained away by actually being the parachute and body of a soldier that drifts down from warfare up above that some of the boys think is an actual giant monster. I like the same read of YJ, that there is nothing inherently magic or supernatural happening, but the girls are starting to believe it and will be more and more OK with violence because of it. Maybe leading to a split between two groups, believers and nonbelievers. In some ways the show is splitting the audience in the same way, putting us into the minds of the characters with this ambiguity and different levels of belief.

    My opinion is that there is nothing supernatural happening, and instead we are seeing mental illness, trauma, flight/fight/freeze nervous system responses, starvation, etc play out. I don’t love that they are using Lottie’s mental illness as a plot device leading to violence, but I think that that is what it is – Lottie is experiencing visions, hearing voices, paranoias, what have you, that are now going to be interpreted as something more. I think it can in some ways bring up an interesting question about how psychosis is interpreted in western society as an illness whereas in some cultures and history these same symptoms or experiences are interpreted as spiritual. Though I still am feeling wary of the show and do not want it to perpetuate stigma around schizophrenia.

    In some ways I expect we will never get an answer, because this is the exact question the show wants to raise and let us sit in: why are the girls acting these ways, and what, really, can explain it – something internal, or external, or both?

  5. I mean, maybe? Something is definitely off in the forest. Not to mention in the intro trailer we see this hideous thing standing there, staring at them. That teddy bear thing made no sense but it’s left me super intrigued. The show is still holding on to more mystery if anything.

  6. The jaded part of me says there’s a supernatural force at play as a plot device that will emerge as a deus ex machina when the writers need it to. That the show is not as smart and erudite in the ways that we want it to be – it’s good tv straddling the sweet spot between true crime/psychological thriller and paranormal and knows it can use that tension to keep both parts of its audience hooked.

    But I want to be wrong and I want there to be no resolution! The tension is the best part, the possibility that this is entirely a psychological response is not unbelievable and if there is a resolution I would be more satisfied if that was the final word.

    I could write essays (books even) arguing for or against supernatural forces in the world in general. I’m a lot more interested in the confluence of human behavior and the belief in the supernatural leading to religions and cults since forever. I was already pretty deep in an obsessive research stage about Greek cults, cults of various saints, and the interplay and influence of both on alchemy, nigromancy, and necromancy in medieval Europe when I stared watching this show so my delight in the direction it’s taking knows no bounds.

    Humans make up stories to explain our existence and find meaning, whether that story tells us nihilism is the meaning and our actions have no real consequences, or that there is something larger that controls us – and so our individual actions don’t influence real consequences. Both viewpoints, Jackie’s empty shell and Lottie’s something is out there, offer a framework for abdicating individual responsibility. And even Tai and Laura Lee have a framework that gives them permission to take individual action without concern for the larger impact – the only I can save us (which, particularly for Tai, may translate on a deeper level to only I can save myself).
    They’ve stumbled on a place full of things they don’t understand (even rifles and hunting knives were outside the understanding of most of them) and can’t explain, that have saved them and terrified them. There’s so much tension just in their relationship to the cabin and their invented creator of their salvation, Jacques. It’s the perfect setup for a compressed timeline of a new religion/culture to grow organically. And we’ve clearly seen that not all these girls are going to let things happen organically.

    Which brings me to my final point in what has turned into an unintentional essay without a planned outline or actual points which is – even if the supernatural is real, does it exist before us or do we create it? Can a ghost haunt a place if we don’t say it’s haunted? Can an external spiritual force control our fate if we don’t acknowledge that it exists? I don’t know! I don’t even really know what I think! But I’m fascinated by that question and also by the writers room for this show to apparently see my browser history and just craft a show around it.

    I do want to hear more people’s thoughts on Lottie, mental illness, etc. I’m really torn because on the one hand the history of how mental illness has been seen throughout history (even in western cultures seeing things could make you a saint, mental illness that didn’t threaten social norms could be elevated in a way) is an interesting one to explore in this context of a culture incubator. On the other hand, we don’t need anymore stigmatizing portrayals. And on the third hand, I love Lottie and I love unhinged characters instigating bacchanalian chaos! And characters who refuse to have their very serious and real “the vibes are off” feelings ignored.

      • The way Lottie’s mental illness is portrayed is upsetting. Schizophrenia is already so stigmatized, I’ve heard folks outright say schizophrenia is not real. It’s just being able to convene with spirits. I’ve had incidence that are like mania, it’s not convening with spirits. You see things and they are scary. I’ve heard people who have schizophrenia who cannot tell what is real and what is not. I’ve at least been able to be somewhat sane and could somewhat differentiate what is real and what isn’t. I love this show a lot, but this could have been handled better. They just could have had a phsycic teen. The writing is good, the writers could have done it.
        If mental illness wasn’t so stigmatized I think this would have been a fine interpretation, but because of how schitzophrenia (or having mania, seeing hallucinations, etc cetera) is portrayed and how the masses view the illness I think Yellowjackets portrayl is pretty shitty.
        I’m still gonna watch it though…

        • Yes, good points. I’ve been thinking more about it today (when I should have been working whoops) and realized that part of what was upsetting to me, and making me feel like I couldn’t love Lottie as much as I do, is that at first when they showed her counting her remaining pills I was hopeful we’d see a good portrayal. Whenever I pack to travel I always bring way more days worth of meds than I’ll need because I imagine all these scenarios that leave me stranded (in airports mainly, not the wilderness) and just the thought of being without meds for a few days in an already stressful situation is enough to make me panicky. So I had hope that, for once, medication for mental health wouldn’t be tested as a thing that changes who someone is and keeps them from being in touch with some deeper part of themselves. Personally, it’s meds that let me be me and I’m touch with deeper parts, but I’ve had enough friends and family and therapists make it plain they think I’m using meds as some kind of easy way out. But now the show is just following that same tired trope of meds blocking some inner awareness plus the trope that mental health = unstable violence.

          And yet I do still love chaotic characters so much! They could have just left out the medication shots and back story and it would have been better. Just give Lottie the backstory that she has visions and learned to hide them from her parents!

          And they killed Laura Lee off too quickly after her budding closeness with Lottie to do any worthwhile exploration of the damage religion can often have on mental health and the way many religions treat mental illness as either not having enough faith or seeing god. Both equally bad setups and ways to isolate or blame the person in need of help.

  7. Ok so my HOT TAKE is that there’s both at play. Why were the symbols already there? What creepy candlelit room is Lottie descending into next episode???
    I also think there is something of a Bermuda Triangle effect in play – the crash happening there specifically, the MUMMY IN THE CABIN, the plane exploding over the lake, the expedition being fowled by WOLVES, the compass going haywire. I am also thinking about Taissa and the eyeless man, as well as Lottie’s full on premonitions.

    Like… shrooms and literal berry moonshine are wild substances. But I’m just not sure you’d go full on “we should eat Travis WHO IS A DEER NOW” just with that mix?

    I DO also think they are riddled with like… hunger and PTSD and fun stuff like that, but I also think… something’s Wrong With Those Woods.

  8. I love watching this show with my person because they are firmly in the “everything is supernatural” camp and I am firmly in the “everything is real and can be explained” camp so we have some pretty lively arguments. I think the most INTERESTING answer is probably a mix of both, or leaving it open-ended and unresolved.

    I love that the show is ultimately about human behavior, so the focus isn’t on solving a mystery but more “how does a belief in the supernatural or lack of belief affect what these kids do?” It’s fun to speculate but ultimately irrelevant what the “true” answer is IMO.

    Maybe Lottie had a Penny from Happy Endings moment and is secretly fluent in another language but only when intoxicated/incapacitated!

  9. I’m also team both. Lottie also had a vision of Laura Lee bursting into flames when she was baptized. Lottie has something going on with her and I hope we see her adult self in the finale. I can’t even imagine what she grew up to be.

    I love the tension of supernatural vs more ‘realistic’ problems and the push and pull of both are why I love this show so much.

    Another show I love, The Terror (season 1), had this same tension but was more obviously a supernatural element. But the scariest part of that show was the slow destruction of the ships’ crew because of their own white colonial arrogance, fear, and just simple mistakes that turned deadly.

    In YJ, there’s a similar thing at play (except you know, the whole dumb white colonial explorers who refuse to listen indigenous wisdom). They’re teen girls who don’t even know how to survive properly but are trying their best. What would be petty teen drama is amplified because of how precarious a situation they are in.

    I think that the supernatural elements are going to matter less than the fucked up people they were/are/became.

  10. I’ve been watching the show with my sister who’s a doctor and she’s been diagnosing everyone as we go. Like she saw Taissa eating dirt and was immediately clocked it as Pica. I’m not sure about a lot when it comes to Lottie, but my sister said that psychotropics can trigger schizophrenic breaks so she bets that Lottie’s gone and the antler queen is probably here to stay. I have a theory that we’re going to find out that Lottie survived but is institutionalized somewhere.

  11. so i echo other commenters when i say that i am BIG nervous about lottie, her anti psychotics, and her whole thing. having the only mentally ill character be the instigator of cannibalistic cult violence isn’t a good look! (ofc in the present timeline they all have trauma out the wazoo) i think they would have to confirm one way or another if there’s supernatural elements for me to make up my mind on how i feel about it? on the one hand she’s a fascinating character and i do think the line between real and not real is important to explore. on the other hand why’s she gotta be the ringleader?

    i think i’m leaning towards ‘it can all be explained’ with a dash of ‘there are things in this world that we cannot explain’ because hey, sometimes you dream true things or give a ghost a ride to the airport. i think an exploration of how quickly ‘civilization’ can fall apart is infinitely more compelling than ‘monster in the woods’ horror!

    also leonard (rip little buddy) was absolutely over a plane part prone to fire when ill maintained, nothing spooky there. the real spookiness was them not doing ANY pre-flight checks at all

    i also think that belief/disbelief in otherworldly forces is going to become the cleavage point for the group’s splintering! i can’t see taissa, for example, rolling with ‘we need to kill travis-deer because the woods said so’

  12. My take, as a therapist, a person with a long family history of being ‘sensitive’ as well as generational and personal trauma, is that it’s a “both/and” situation.

    Lottie’s visions seem clearly prescient, but also confusing to her. Most of her life, she has been forced to suppress that part of herself by her parents/meds/etc. During her flashback in the car crash scene, she had her reaction and then immediately snapped back into normality. With all of the stigma and suppression that came after, she would not have learned any skills to filter her sensitivity or cope with its effects on her, which would make her vulnerable to a mental break in the woods after a) stopping meds b) mass trauma c) shrooms d) some sort of supernatural presence that she, again, has no skills to respond to.

    I think Lottie is being corrupted/used, in other words. And think about the generally decent girls that followed her in the Travis attack… they’re motivated to buy into an explanation for why they acted that way. Not to mention needing an organizing belief system to justify their presence in the woods and their survival. So, trauma/psychological explanation.

    (I’m not thinking too much about this show at all)

    • I really appreciate your assessment on Lottie, particularly pointing out her not learning the skills or not knowing how to cope, especially since she is having to deal with the multiple factors you listed. It’ll be interesting what will be in the finale and how the teens deal with things once they sober up.

      Also, I really like how you ended your comment with the line about you not thinking too much about the show. Me too, Kari, meeeee too! 😉

  13. All I really want is for Taissa to live the #vanlife as long as she can. They’re so cute 😭
    But more seriously. I’d love to think there’s some supernatural stuff going on, but also human bodies/brains are capable of some wild stuff. I think it could go either way right now, but I’ll lean towards supernatural stuff!

  14. I am definitely in the both/and camp, if only because it makes the show more interesting. I also think it’s left to interpretation, and I love that so much! It reminds me a lot of Twin Peaks and Fire Walk with Me, which are essentially different perspectives on the same horrifying story. In one, you can believe you’re watching a literal demon possess someone and make them do horrible things, and in the other, I think there’s a lot of textual evidence to suggest the whole thing you thought you just saw is actually a personal mythology employed by Laura Palmer to process her trauma. It’s both supernatural violence and an ordinary cycle of abuse, which, when you really think about it, have a lot in common.

    That’s how I read the supernatural elements in Yellowjackets too. Like, is Lottie experiencing psychosis? Yes, probably. Does Lottie have prophetic visions? Also yes. It can be everything all at once. Yellowjackets is a show that makes me think a lot about David Lynch’s “evil in these woods” from Twin Peaks – the idea that there’s this invisible, elemental evil that never really goes away but crosses over into our reality and manifests in human behavior. I interpret Lottie’s “It’s in all of us” as a similar idea – the capacity for evil is in all the Yellowjackets already, but there’s something about where they are that’s amping it up. In a way, that in itself could be a metaphor for trauma, or just extreme conditions like the ones these characters are living through.

    Also, if we’re talking about the Lord of the Flies source material, Laura Lee is 100 percent Simon, right? The Christ figure who dies tragically? Spoilers for a book I read in high school.

    Love the recaps, Kayla! Can’t wait for episode 10!

  15. I honestly had no idea people were thinking there were any supernatural elements to this show at all until it was brought up in the recaps, but then I’ve also been watching this through the lens of “Canadian Wilderness Literature” so, like, the wilderness is majestic and beautiful and an inanimate force indifferent to whether you live or die, but also it is very much alive and wants to kill you specifically.

    So I’m of the opinion that there’s nothing supernatural going on but in a very specific ‘the wilderness is inherently menacing and wants them to eat each other’ kind of way.

  16. I’m really hoping for both real & supernatural. I think probably a lot of the hallucinations are manifestations of trauma & hunger but also…I think the woods don’t want these girls to leave! I think they brought in the various religious aspects (laura lee, shauna’s interest in saints, etc.) to bridge the real & the mystical.

    My biggest fear is honestly that they’re going to over-explain. I don’t need to know the backstory of the spooky woods, just let them be spooky.

  17. Someone on Reddit said that the fuel line on that plane goes right under the passenger seat so it’s a reasonable place for the fire to begin before traveling to the engine and causing the explosion.

    Anyway, I think the answer is WE WILL NEVER KNOW! I think it will be ambiguous forever and some of the characters will think it is supernatural and some of them won’t and we will never know who to believe!

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