“Yellowjackets” Episode 103 Recap: Never Quite As It Seems

Hello hello and welcome back to Yellowjackets. Gather round and gimme your eyeballs! We’re going into an abandoned cabin in the woods even though the vibes are most definitely off. Also, there’s an intro sequence now? We hadn’t seen that in previous episodes, right? It threw me off guard tbh! I haven’t had a chance to fully form an opinion on it, so maybe I’ll be back next week with some thoughts. Alright, Yellowjackets 103 recap (“The Dollhouse,” written by Sarah L. Thompson and directed by Eva Sørhaug) let’s go!


The episode opens on a burial ceremony at the plane crash site. I thought again of the Yellowjackets banner becoming a funeral shroud last episode. These girls have undoubtedly markered a million signs together for pep rallies and game days. But now, they’ve put that lettering to use to make diy gravestones for the fallen. They barely knew one of the dead girls. Only that she had been planning to go see Oasis, was good at trig, and maybe possibly played the flute. It’s another reminder that while some of these girls have relationships with each other beyond the field, they’re not all best friends. They’re teammates. And now they’re tasked with caring for each other in the most intimate ways, including giving eulogies. The second that plane crashed, these teens’ realities twisted into something different, a nightmare version of their lives before. Only, the nightmare’s real.

And some of them are still, understandably, having trouble processing that. Javi keeps chewing the gum his now-dead dad gave him to prevent his ears from popping before the plane took off. Part self-soothing coping mechanism, part evidence he’s in denial, the gum chewing is such an innocent, childlike behavior. Because he is a literal child! They all are! Ben’s the closest thing to an adult the crew has right now, but he’s hardly in charge. He’s a high school soccer coach, not a survivalist. They’re all out of their depths. And Travis is wound tight, angry at his dead dad, taking it out on Javi by yelling at him and pushing him around. Teen angst has a sharper edge out here in these woods.

As we saw last episode, some of the girls are still mentally catching up to the stakes of their new circumstances, falling back into old patterns and reactions as if they were merely dealing with standard high school drama rather than fighting for their lives in the wilderness. Jackie does not like it one bit when Shauna sides with Taissa in a vote on whether to stay at the plane or hike to a lake Taissa found. She takes it as a personal betrayal. “Backwash? I’ll pass,” Jackie scoffs and snips at Shauna upon Shauna merely offering her a sip of water on the hike to the lake. Girl! You’re literally dehydrated — swallow your pride and drink some water! When Shauna stares at her at the lake, Jackie returns the look for a moment before twisting her whole body away and toward Mari, saying succinctly with her body language look at me caring about someone who isn’t you. It’s gently brutal in that way young girls are so fucking good at.

Shauna finally confronts Jackie later in the episode, saying she was just going with her gut when she voted with Taissa. She didn’t mean to hurt her feelings. She was thirsty and tired and a 16-year-old girl lost in the middle of the woods with a bunch of other kids who don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. Jackie’s reacting as if this were happening in the school halls or on the soccer field. But everything has changed now. Between Travis’ rage and Jackie’s hurt feelings, I love that these characters are still experiencing big hormonal emotions like actual teenagers. It makes the characters and their choices believable and relatable — even as they navigate a horrific and not-at-all natural scenario.

Over in the present, the Dysfunctional Duo — aka adult Misty and Nat — are making their merry way northward. Misty’s merrily recounting her various failed relationships through the years (I know Misty is, like, terrifying and maybe murderous but I do kinda feel bad for all the Ls she has taken in the romance department!) and sharing her showtunes (they’re listening to Cats btw) with Nat. But Nat is not-so-merry and more grinding-her-teeth-to-keep-from-screamingy. She barely tolerates Misty’s, well, Mistyness. They stop for gas and snacks, and Nat confirms what we pretty much knew: Misty stole her car’s battery cable. There’s a subtle moment here where Nat is incredulous at Misty’s snack choice of jerky. Maybe the girls made jerky or dried meat at one point in the wilderness. Maybe jerky just seems a little too close to home (and by home I mean eating flesh). Either way, that small moment is another reminder that while everyone else seems to be trying to escape the past, Misty might actually miss it.

When teen Taissa wins the vote, the girls leave behind their camp, carrying Ben on a stretcher. Teen Misty spends much of the episode laying the groundwork for a disturbing and borderline abusive dynamic with Ben. When he refuses to eat, she taunts that she can’t give him Midol for the pain if he doesn’t do so. It immediately calls back the scene from the pilot of Misty refusing to give one of her patients pain meds. Ben becomes frustrated to the point of lashing out at Misty and slapping her, but instead of backing off, she just goes in and holds him tighter. Misty routinely ignores boundaries, and that’s an understatement. It’s kind of funny when she does it with Nat as adults, but then these interactions with Ben put things back into focus. Misty’s a manipulator, and her smothering of people is like a long, drawn-out attack.

As soon as the girls hit that lake, I held my breath. The discovery is scored by The Cranberries “Dreams,” you know, a song that upfront repeats the sentiment “never quite as it seems.” I thought surely this was a wink wink that this glittering lake of hope and hydration would soon become a bad place of leeches or snakes or worse water creatures. I waited for the dream to become a nightmare. But even more so than me overanalyzing lyrics, my certainty that something bad would happen in this lake was shaped by the show’s very good bricklaying of suspense and dread. Anything could go wrong at any time. And Yellowjackets keeps surprising me. The fact that something could at any point happen and doesn’t? That in and of itself unsettles.

The nightmarish turn never comes in these lake scenes. In fact, they’re where we get some of the tenderness in the episode. Girls sunning themselves and splashing around in the water, seeming like regular teens at summer camp. Nat watching Travis with curiosity. Van and others playing a giggly game of chicken fight. Taissa doing Akilah’s hair. Akilah remarks that Taissa isn’t as much of a bitch as the other girls make her out to be.

It’s easy to see the thread that connects teen Taissa with adult Taissa. As a teen, she’s confident, headstrong, and can be ruthless. But she can be kind and caring, too. She wants to do what’s best for the group, not just for her. As an adult, Taissa’s campaign takes a hit when her opponent runs an ad suggesting she’s going to “cannibalize” taxes. The ad ends up directly impacting her family: Sammy punches a kid in the face for talking shit about his mom. And Taissa’s so focused on the campaign that she starts talking campaign strategy instead of listening to her wife’s concerns about Sammy. “Why don’t people like you?” Sammy asks. “I’m different than what people expect, and it scares them,” Taissa says. It’s still not totally clear what’s going on with Sammy, but it’s definitely apparent that Taissa’s past is impacting her present in ways she doesn’t even seem to understand or see. It doesn’t seem like a good idea for her to be running for office. But I think back to what Nat said in the pilot: Nat felt like she lost her purpose when she got out of the woods. Maybe Taissa’s feeling that, too. Campaigns are a hellscape, but maybe this makes her feel in control. We see her taking up a leadership role in the woods as a teen. She likes being in charge. And she’s better at it than Jackie.

Plot Update: We learn that Taissa hired Jessica Roberts as sort of a catch-all campaign investigator. Taissa has Jessica going around pretending to be a journalist in order to see if any of the former Yellowjackets are going to talk. Jessica also digs up dirt on Taissa’s opponent, and despite her wife begging her to focus on the issues and not go negative, Taissa uses that dirt to threaten her opponent directly. You don’t mess with this Yellowjacket and her family!!!

Adult Misty and Nat make it to Travis’ home in the middle of nowhere. No one appears to be home, so Misty suggests: “We can go back in town, check it out, get some wings, come back later.” I love that she suggests wings??? Especially since it also, like the jerky, seems like a chaotic food choice for someone who once had to eat human flesh in the wild! I never feel like more of an animal than when I eat wings. Also, it’s at this point I realized that no I don’t merely want a Misty, Citizen Detective spinoff — I also want a Misty + Nat Buddy Picture in the style of The Heat. Unfortunately, wings are not in their future. Nat busts the window to Travis’ place to break in, and Misty keeps delivering wonderful Mistyisms: “Someone could use a trip to Tuesday Morning.” Indeed, Travis’ place looks a little barren and depressing. Misty, seasoned citizen detective, says not owning many personal belongings is a sure sign of creep activity. Nat finds an old Polaroid of her and Travis, suggesting they maybe had some sort of relationship as adults. Nat also hallucinates Travis in the mirror, and it’s not the first time Nat has imagined seeing someone who wasn’t there. She did this in the pilot with Misty at the bonfire. Is there a deeper significance to when and who Nat hallucinates? I’m going to keep tabs on this.

Taissa provides some more context for the connection between Nat and Travis. Nat and Misty end up arrested for, you know, breaking into a person’s home. And Nat calls Taissa from jail. It doesn’t seem like the first time Taissa has bailed Nat out of trouble. In fact, it turns out she paid for Nat’s rehab. But Taissa doesn’t want to help this time, especially once she hears this is all because Nat was trying to find Travis. Taissa says there’s a reason Travis disappeared on Nat. “You two are the worst for each other,” she says. The words feel particularly haunting given that we’re starting to see Nat and Travis bond in the plane crash flashbacks. These two have many years of history between them. But we don’t get to ever see Nat reunite with Travis. Nat and Misty get out of jail (Misty called Nat’s old friend Kevyn to bail them out and has been pretending to be Nat in text conversations with him — I’d simply die to see the texts!!! A Misty impression of Nat sounds hilarious) and head to the farm where Travis works. They find him there, dead, swinging from the rafters, an apparent suicide. Nat doesn’t buy it. She thinks someone killed Travis. To add to the foreboding mood, Misty reveals a note she found back at Travis’s. He wrote “tell Nat she was right.” About what? Nat claims not to know.

While teen Shauna deals with Jackie’s fragile emotions, adult Shauna attempts to ensnare her husband Jeff. Last episode, she caught him texting with someone who asked to meet in their usual spot at 4pm, and here she tests him by asking if he can pick her up from the bodyshop at that exact time. She lies; she follows him around; she attempts to coax a lobby attendant into giving her his room number. And Shauna’s very bad at all of this. She might carry a lot of secrets and keep a literal lockbox of them in her home, but she’s not good at lying and deception! It’s funny and sad to watch her fail so spectacularly, especially when she takes it way too far and says she’s with homeland security. I never know quite what to make of Shauna. What she’s capable of. What she wants. And that’s not for lack of character development — I think the ambivalence is actually very telling of who she is. Because Shauna doesn’t even seem to really know who Shauna is.

And then Adam shows up. So, Adam can’t just be a coincidental encounter, right? Shauna has now sporadically rear-ended him and run into him at a hotel bar whilst spying on her husband. He says he comes to this place for their classic martinis, but I don’t know! I’m not buying it! Plus, their entire dynamic feels just slightly out of reality. They quote Vonnegut at each other (“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”). They’re rather forward for strangers. Maybe I watch too much psychological horror, but I can’t stop thinking about the fact that we never really see Adam interact with anyone other than Shauna. I’m not immediately jumping to the conclusion that he’s a ghost or a figment of her imagination, but it does seem odd, no? I guess he sorta interacts with the lobby attendant, but not really! Is Adam real? I at least feel confident Adam is hiding something.

There are a lot of fun image motifs the show keeps repeating. In particular, there are a lot of animal parts/figurines and taxidermy that keep popping up. Shauna’s kitchen is full of bunny figurines, and it makes me laugh every time I see them because I’m just immediately reminded of her new hobby (killing bunnies in her garden). When digging through Misty’s glovebox, Nat finds a lucky rabbit foot. After the lake, the girls make their way to a cabin they spot in the distance. It’s long abandoned, covered in cobwebs. There are cans of rotten food and a stack of porn magazines. No one has been here for a very long time. But at least it can be a roof over their heads. But Lottie (who takes her last pill in this episode) has a bad feeling about the place, and rightfully so. The cabin looks like a typical hunting cabin. Full of mounted antlers, spikey traps, knives. But those objects stir up violent images. These animal-related props and set pieces throughout — including that rabbit foot — immediately evoke the snowy scenes from the pilot. People dressed in animal skins and antlers. Fire-roasted flesh. An animalistic horrorshow.

“The Dollhouse” features its own little self-contained horror image motif as well. Eyes. In the opening scene, the funeral prayer circle stirs up a memory for Taissa. We flashback to her as a small child, visiting her Nana on her deathbed. This first scene is actually pretty sweet. Nana assuages little Taissa’s fears of all the medical machines around her. “Dying is nothing to be afraid of,” she says. That nightmare turn I was waiting for with the lake instead comes here. Taissa’s memory twists. As little Taissa sings to her grandmother, her Nana suddenly starts talking to no one, looking in a mirror. We can’t see what she sees, but her terror is immediately palpable. “Who are you?” she asks. She says there’s a man with no eyes. “Don’t let him take my eyes,” she wails, and we get a quick glimpse of the figure, an eyeless man. EYE am simply screaming!!!

This comes back in an incredible sequence at the end of the episode. We move between little Taissa at her grandmother’s open casket funeral; teen Taissa waking in the middle of the night to footsteps coming from above; and adult Taissa waking up after having fallen asleep on the couch and realizing Sammy’s doll Manny — who she confiscated as punishment for his playground altercation — is missing. The three Taissas cross three thresholds: Little Taissa bends down into a casket. Teen Taissa finds a door and ladder to the cabin’s crawlspace. Adult Taissa descends the stairs of her own home’s basement. Everything is off. Eyes aren’t where they belong. Little Taissa pulls back her grandmother’s lids to find nothing but white looking back. Teen Taissa finds Lottie huddled in a corner, looking at a decaying corpse whose eyes are long gone. And Adult Taissa steps on an eye. Specifically, on one of Manny’s eyes. The doll sits lifeless on the floor, eyeballs gouged. “The Dollhouse” delivers plenty of horror. Just not where you’re expecting it. Which is, of course, all the more frightening.

This cabin isn’t a refuge. It’s the start of something. We get a glimpse of that recurring etching on the floor of the cabin when Taissa sees the dead body. And in some ways, that unsettled me even more than the actual corpse.

“Wolves can kill anything if the pack’s big enough,” Ben says when the group encounters a dead bear in the woods, its entrails spilling out, its body ravaged. The Yellowjackets are their own pack of wolves. We’re only starting to see what they’re capable of.

Last Buzz:

  • When Laura Lee said let’s hold hands, I did fully think they were all going to sing “Wonderwall” over the dead.
  • Is it just me or does Rekha Sharma’s delivery of “if you want me to bust some kneecaps, it’ll cost extra” sound incredibly flirty?????
  • People have been picking up on teen Taissa and teen Van vibes, and I have to agree. When Taissa’s doing Akilah’s hair, she looks out at Van longingly — for not the first time. Also, Van prying the compass off of the plane to use on the hike? Unparalleled Outdoorsy Gay vibes.
  • Top Mistyism Of The Episode: “Caligula hasn’t learned to use the phone yet.”
  • We don’t technically see Jeff doing anything salacious with the blonde woman Shauna sees him in the hotel with, so I do wonder if something else is happening here. (Credit goes to my girlfriend for planting this theory seed in my brain.) What if he’s secretly meeting with someone in order to sell the rights to Shauna’s life story or something like that? Shauna and Jeff are clearly having ongoing financial issues, so they could use the money from some sort of book or movie deal. And Shauna has made it very clear she doesn’t want to do that, so this would still be a betrayal in its own way. I mean, sure, it would still be weird for them to meet at a hotel if this really were just a business thing. Or do we also think this woman could somehow be connected to Jackie? She couldn’t BE Jackie, right???? In any case, I think we’re still missing part of the puzzle here.
  • I had some additional thoughts last week on Misty including “escalators” as a turn on: To me, that seemed like very realistic nostalgia for 90s mall culture someone Misty’s age might have! My girlfriend then pushed this one step further by pointing out 90s teens were often warned of the deathly dangers of escalators. It tracks that Misty might be attracted to something considered casually lethal.
  • The official Spotify playlist has been updated to include “Mother Mother” from last episode!


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Kayla

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 342 articles for us.

25 Comments

  1. No lie the tension in this episode was A LOT. I also kept expecting something terrible in the lake and the whole time they were in the cabin. That dagger/knife on the table and the etching were way more disturbing than the corpse. The Taissa child/teen/adult sequence was so, so good and terrifying (and if there’s much more of the eyeless man in the mirror type moments I might need to start reading recaps before I watch the episode).
    The animal furs and antlers in the cabin settled an eye rolling nagging question for me from the pilot – how the hell did a bunch of weaponless kids get so many furs and antlers? And way Shauna touches that antler and the look on her face feels like more than just generic foreshadowing. Really interested to see who she becomes in these group dynamics.
    I also know there is something off with Adam, although I hadn’t considered ghost/hallucination. More that he is somehow behind the postcards or connected to one of the dead (or not actually dead) girls. And even if Jeff is just cheating I won’t be surprised if she is connected in someway. We saw the girl whose leg was broken (Allie?) in the opening interview montage in the pilot right? Could it be her?
    The dead bear is ominous, and the whole “it’s wolves” really annoyed me other than in the symbolic sort of way, and as a way of showing all the ways Ben is not at all a leader (he could say it probably died and scavengers ripped it open if he wanted to keep a pack of kids functioning) but also, sure a wolf pack could take down a bear but why and also why tear it open and not eat it. Honestly, I don’t love the hints of supernatural that this episode played on, I don’t think the set up needs it. A creepy cabin, weird symbols, and a bunch of teens is enough to start a survival cannibalism cult.
    And speaking of cannibalism, Misty (can’t help loving her character even though she’s definitely more horrifying than we know yet), and Ben. You know how in the book “The Road” they find someone chained up who is being butchered for meat one limb at a time and healed in between? Can’t not think of that.

    • The girls definitely aren’t quite weaponless, right? We know they have the safety axe that Misty uses to cut Ben’s leg off, and since this is a private plane they could theoretically have other, smaller things, I’m thinking craft scissors or nail clippers. I’ve been wondering what else is in the hard plastic box that Lottie kept her medication in.

    • i think last week was sort of the Misty episode, no? she got the flashback-within-a-flashback at least (the phone bullying scene at the beginning). i do love that even when a particular character is spotlighted in the episode, it doesn’t feel entirely like it’s only THEIR episode. there’s such a great ensemble feel to the show but then we get to dig a little deeper into them as individuals too

  2. this episode felt much slower, like now that the exposition dump is over we’re settling in to get to know everyone.

    could Adam be a grown Javi? Is it plausible that Shauna wouldn’t recognize him?

    truly teen Taissa giving van The Gayze made me certain Van was going to die a horrible death! which may yet occur!

    the fucking. eyeless doll missing its leg (like Ben, like where Jackie has poison ivy) gave me the mega creeps

    Lottie, my love, please forget it’s 1996 and schizophrenia is stigmatized and tell one of your friends! reality check buddy time! also would she already be experiencing withdrawal/symptoms, or is this fear of the thing causing the thing?

    Fake reporter who I keep calling Jessica rabbit instead of Roberts seemed to be at the same gas station as the one Nat and Misty stopped at- was she on her way home from killing Travis?

    thank you for a great recap Kayla!

  3. Sadie and I both watch the episode at midnight Sunday AM, then we read your recaps on Monday, then we rewatch it! Your recaps and the way you are tying it all together make this whole watching experience just a fucking treat. Thank you, Kayla!

  4. I think Shauna misses the time in the wilderness nearly as much as Misty does. Notice the pine scent freshener she chose for her car? How she got hot and bothered with Jeff after killing and preparing that rabbit? All the bunnies she has all over her house? The other known survivors, Taissa and Natalie, I agree would rather never think about it again if that was possible.

    Another one of the repeating images is the gold necklaces the women frequently are seen wearing – clearly meant to remind us of Jackie’s gold necklace she loaned to Shauna at the start of the flight, which the dead girl in the opening seemed to have.

  5. I want so much more of Misty and Natalie on the road, getting into hijinks! And so much less of Shauna, Jeff and Adam! This storyline is getting so much screentime – it better be about something more interesting than bored housewife / heterosexual infidelity.

    Taissa and Van at the lake were so cute but I’m scared to get invested because I don’t think Van will make it out alive :/

  6. I’m into the “Adam is imaginary” theory. You hit the nail on the head re: the weird vibes of their interactions.

    Taissa badly needs to pick up a “Signs Your Child Is Haunted” pamphlet at the pediatrician’s office. Don’t buy that kid a creepy doll! That is just exacerbating the problem! I fully expect to see his head spin around next episode.

    I guffawed when Misty casually dropped that she’s been catfishing that dude as Nat. Christina Ricci is perfection

  7. i love that i have no idea if this show is supernatural or not. are things like the eyeless man, travis’s reflection, etc, visions of ghosts? or are they manifestations of trauma?? i’m sure you feel the same way but when watching TV is literally your job, it’s harder to be surprised by plotlines, but i feel like i have NO idea what’s going to happen in this show at any given moment, and i love that so, so much. (the lake is the perfect example. my dad and i were like “teens! there could be crocodiles! or undercurrents! or bacteria! you have open wounds!! what are you doing!!!” and then nothing happened and i was like PLOT TWIST! haha) i’m so invested. buzz buzz buzz!

  8. I am amazed that out of this group of almost 20 people, that no one has thought to place a big SOS sign (made from down trees and rocks) or string out that big yellow jackets banner on that deep beach. The visibility there is very good and a bright yellow sign would go a long way to attracting a rescuers eye, or just anyone flying by. I know this group is young, but one of them must have thought about trying to get rescued and flagging down passersby.

  9. Adult Misty is deranged no doubt (Christina Ricci is CHEWING the scenery) but aside from the very fucked up impulsive decision with the black box I’m not reading teen Misty as irredeemably fucked up yet; her coaxing the injured coach into eating his first calories in two days seems like part of a running theme of her having way more of a head for survival than the people around her, and I gotta say she’s right for being hellbent not to let the only adult die., Watching him smack the kid who’s been keeping him alive is disturbing in it’s own way- doesn’t bode well for the kids that the only adult in the woods is already losing it to the point of actually hurting them. I think seeing Misty’s character as having an arc- how does she get from a kid having extreme but human reactions to her circumstances, to the scary adult she becomes?- makes her more interesting than pigeonholing her as “the fucked up one” from the jump.

    I’m also reading Shauna as VERY smart; a hardened survivalist in a setting that gives her no outlet for it, with a husband and kid who underestimate her (you know this woman had what it took to survive the wilderness for 19 months, why are you treating her like she’s dumb!). My read on the Adam interactions is that he’s pretty fake deep and corny, and she’s leagues smarter than him and just playing along for her own satisfaction. It’s a fun dynamic to watch. For ruthlessness and intelligence, I think she’s really the one to watch.

    So far this is also a show that constantly gives me the horror-movie urge to scream at the characters to make different decisions! Why not stay at the plane and send a small scout group to the lake first, instead of dragging the whole group including the one on a stretcher? And Taissa, PLEASE call a child psychologist!!

    The graphic depiction of a post-suicide(?) body was pretty rough; a note about suicide content at the top of this recap might be useful, actually.

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