Welcome to your Yellowjackets 104 recap. Pour yourself a chocolate martini or pop your favorite mixtape in your cassette player! It’s time for some dangerous activities like letting hormonal teenagers with zero firearm training hunt live animals and also playing mini golf while drunk on cheap vodka. Catch up on past recaps, and feel free to drop any theories in the comments below. Also, find my thoughts on the main title sequence, which was introduced last week, at the end of this recap!
Ensemble shows can be tricky in the sense that you want to let viewers spend a little time with every character but also manage to dig deep into each of those characters as individuals. Yellowjackets has so far excelled at striking the right balance between making these episodes still feel like they’re exploring the collective ensemble while also shining a spotlight on specific people week-to-week.
That’s especially crucial on this show, because the mere concept of the individual vs. the collective is baked into its premise. The teens find themselves having to fight to survive — together. But they’re also their own people with their own baggage. Moving as a group is difficult. They’re all processing at different speeds and in different ways. Surviving will require more cohesion, more cooperation. They’re a literal team. They know this. When Travis and Nat team up as hunting partners after being the only two to pass Ben’s prescribed two-round shooting challenge, they’re out of sync. They’re acting as individuals — Travis in particular. He’s focused on getting a ring back from his dead dad’s buried corpse to try to assuage some of Javi’s grief. And when he can’t go through with it, puking as he digs up his decaying dad, Nat steps in and does it for him. She takes out a knife and cuts through bone to get him the ring. He doesn’t deserve this offering from her — he’s a sexist dick all episode. But Nat knows the specific ways he’s hurting. She knows people are messy. Nat also knows they’re only going to get shit done if they work together. And it isn’t until they connect over the damage their dads have done to them that they finally are able to work together. They only speak this Dad Baggage in brief confessions. Travis says his dad never even liked him, and Nat offers this: “It doesn’t matter how shitty they are. It still fucks you up when they’re gone.”
But before we get into all that meat of the episode, I want reiterate this point: To survive, the Yellowjackets must work together. They must adopt a collectivist mindset.
And yet. Working together might have a dangerous side to it, too. Because we’ve seen the places they go together. That cannibalism sequence from the pilot doesn’t look like a bunch of individuals making individual choices. It doesn’t look like an every-person-for-themselves scenario. It looks like a distinctly communal ritual. The risk of groupthink in this case is explicitly lethal.
So yes, back to the crafting of an ensemble narrative. There’s all that happening on the teen side of things, and then there’s the present, where each of these characters — Taissa, Shauna, Nat, and Misty — exist on their own now. They’re trying to live lives completely severed from what happened to them. And yet, they keep being thrown back together. They can never really be rid of each other. Teammates for life. (Misty is definitely a bit of a different case than the other three. She actually does want to be tethered in some way. We’ve seen the lengths she’ll go to in order to be around Nat.) Structurally, the past few episodes of Yellowjackets have checked in with all of these characters, spinning threads between their past and present selves while also spotlighting one in particular. Last week, that was Taissa. The week before, it was Misty. Now, it’s Nat. But I wouldn’t say last week’s episode was Taissa’s Episode and this one is Nat’s Episode. The focus is subtle. And the story development still largely feels so connected and even enmeshed, even if on the surface it seems like the adult versions of the characters are in their own little corners. Yellowjackets isn’t shaped like a square. It’s more of a Möbius strip bending back into itself.
After all, Yellowjackets rather expertly uses time to establish that subtle focus on individual characters episode-to-episode — and not in a linear fashion. Whoever gets the “flashback-within-a-flashback,” so to speak, is our focus character for the week. “Bear Down” opens on the plane crash once again. We see the group collectively screaming and flailing, and then we move in close on Nat. She hallucinates someone next to her. It’s her father, and when he turns, a chunk of his head is missing. “You’ve already got blood on your hands,” he says. Nat wakes up from this nightmare to the cabin, where Lottie is awake and frightened. Nat comforts her by reminding her they buried the skeleton from the attic, and Lottie offers something like a reverse premonition: “Bad things happened here.”
Nat’s backstory, in particular, twists into itself. Last week, we got that great triple Taissa sequence at the end, but even though it all blended into a coherent three-layered horror dip with some overlap, Nat’s memories in “Bear Down” intersect even more. Quite literally. There’s that pop of a memory-hallucination during the plane crash. There’s also a gorgeous and aching sequence when adult Nat returns to her childhood home. Her mother’s still there, using an oxygen tank and offering less than zero affection toward Nat, romanticizing the past when Nat’s father was alive. And even without yet knowing at this point in the episode just how delusional her mother’s interpretation of that time is, her words ring false and twisted. Sitting down, adult Nat watches as her younger teenage self — hair not yet dyed her signature bleach-white blonde but instead dark brown — walks through the door, past a younger version of her mother asleep on the couch, leading a young version of Kevyn to her bedroom so they can talk about Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr., “Feel the Pain” playing on Nat’s boombox. Watching Nat literally watch her past self is devastating. There’s so much feeling and pain there. Without anything needing to be said.
Both young Nat and adult Nat are remembering the same exact day but for different reasons. This narrative conceit doesn’t seem to just be for the sake of convenience but is actually rooted in emotional truth in both instances. Adult Nat flashes back to the day her father caught her in her room with Kevyn because her mission in this episode is to try to get some information out of adult Kevyn. She uses a dash of emotional manipulation to meet these ends, agreeing to dinner with him and convincing him to dig up the toxicology report from Travis’ death. When adult Nat flashes back to this day, we get to see some of the warmth between her and Kevyn. It’s a sharp contrast to her scenes with Travis. Nat might not entirely return Kevyn’s obvious crush, but these two care about each other. She offers to paint his nails black so he doesn’t have to Sharpie them. Cute goth shit! But that warmth is violently interrupted when her dad comes home, yells at them both, and calls Nat a slut after Kevyn scurries away.
Young Nat only recalls that interruption and its aftermath. Only the violence. These flashbacks are brought on by the hunting challenge. When Ben proposes that everyone participate in a series of tests to see who will be in charge of the group’s only gun, the camera moves in on Nat. It’s clear she has some previous experience with a gun, and the second the dad flashbacks start (coupled with that opening image of his blown-off head), the assumption is of course that she killed her father.
Yellowjackets twists this into something else though. In another scene that jumps between two timelines, echoing the Taissa eyeballs sequence from the end of last episode, teen Nat and Travis finally encounter a deer in the woods. Nat’s got the gun. In the past, Nat’s got the gun, too. Her dad taunts her, even as the gun’s pointed right at him. She tries to fire, but the safety’s on, and he yanks the gun out of her hands and belittles her and her mother — who he has brutally beaten — while Nat shakes and cries. In the woods, Nat has forgotten to click off the safety, too, and Travis does it for her, encouraging her to breathe and focus. The fact that both Nats forgot the safety feels meaningful beyond plot contrivance. Nat hasn’t really chosen guns, hasn’t really chosen violence. They’ve happened to her. And they’ve become necessary tools for survival. Surviving her home and surviving the woods. She doesn’t kill her father. He trips and blows his own head off after she screams at him that he’s useless.
It’s easy to see parallels, too, between Nat’s dad and Travis. Nat aims the gun at her dad. During one of the shooting tests, Travis aims the gun at Nat. Just because she called him Flex, a nickname that reminds him of being bullied in seventh grade. Yet he has no problem making a gross and sexist joke about blowjobs to Nat earlier in the episode. Travis has a temper. Travis could be dangerous. Adult Taissa has informed us in dialogue in past episodes that Nat and Travis end up in an ongoing toxic relationship, and it’s easy to see the roots of that taking hold.
Adult Nat is spiraling about Travis’ death from last episode, convinced (probably correctly!) he was murdered. She reiterates this over the phone to Misty, who has an online article pulled up in front of her about what to say and not say to someone grieving suicide. I think it’s safe to say Misty is like a nerdy version of Villanelle in the empathy department. At episode’s end, she calls Shauna to tell her Travis is dead, saying it all through a giant smile. Again, she’s the only one who’s happy the band’s back together. Misty tails Nat’s date with Kevyn, ordering herself a chocolate martini in the process, and she also spots Jessica Roberts doing some spying of her own. Misty — in her Mossimo-ass floral pullover — marches over to Jessica and threatens her. Jessica is very much not threatened (and still delivers every line like it’s a flirtation? Is that just me? Does Rekha Sharma just inevitably ooze chemistry with EVERYONE?!). But it’s true: People don’t see a threat when they see Misty. But they should.
So far, Nat hasn’t really experienced what Misty’s capable of. Sure, Misty messed with her car. But Misty’s capable of much worse forms of manipulation. As an adult, we’ve seen her withhold pain meds from a patient as revenge. And as a teen, she is doing the most to ensure Ben doesn’t want her but needs her. She’s smothering him, not even abiding his simple request that she remain quiet while he tries to defecate and instead singing “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” while he’s in agony. Her chaos knows no bounds! She also kicks Ben’s crutch to make him fall, and the look he gives her suggests he might be catching onto just how devious she is.
Early on, we get explicit confirmation that Shauna slept with Adam at the end of last episode. In “Bear Down,” she goes on a full-day adventure with him. She tells him she wants to make up for her misspent youth, so they sit in a liquor store parking lot in Adam’s car and try to ask someone to buy booze for them like they’re ID-less teens. Two adults doing a bunch of stupid teenage shit because one of them didn’t get to do so in actual high school could easily be the premise of a mumblecore rom-com. It’s sweet and funny. If, you know, you forget that Shauna’s married and also that the real reason she didn’t get to do all these things in high school is because she was in a plane crash and had to survive in the wilderness for nearly two years and ended up getting swept up in ritualistic cannibalism. Really, Shauna’s impulse to turn an affair — already a fantasy space in and of itself — into a fantasy of youth and childlike rebellion is quite disturbing! Quick bursts of horror often interrupt the moments of warmth in “Bear Down,” and that happens just as Adam and Shauna are about to plunge into the river for their last teen activity of the evening, piercing the fantasy. “Someone’s gonna get hurt,” a hallucination of Jackie tells Shauna. It’s the first time we’ve really seen Shauna lose track of reality. But in a way, Jackie’s apparition is more real than what she’s currently doing with Adam.
OKAY, Adam theory time! Last week, I went out on a limb and suggested that Adam is maybe not real/a ghost/a figment of Shauna’s imagination/IDK. I’ve enjoyed that this show is currently making it blurry as to whether anything supernatural is going on. It could go a lot of different ways for a lot of different situations. Does Lottie have some sort of Theodora Crain-esque psychic ability? Is Taissa’s son being manipulated by a spectral presence or has he just inherited her trauma? And who or what is Adam! Yellowjackets remains ambiguous in its narrative underpinnings, and it’s not withholding for the sake of crafting cheap intrigue. It’s genuinely enthralling in its ambivalence! Again, another tricky balancing act. And tbh, the show will have to start delivering some answers/payoff on this front, but for now I’m still very much along for the ride!
All that said, while I’m not formally withdrawing my theory that Adam is Not Real, I have spoken to a bunch of people who are of the belief that he could be a grownup version of Javi, and I think there’s some solid evidence to support that! In this episode, we see young Shauna and young Javi connect when Shauna offers him some sheets of paper from her journal. I’m not fully convinced yet though. I’m most definitely overthinking it, but I just find that the actors who play young Javi and “Adam” have very different mannerisms. And this show has been so intentional and honestly uncanny in the ways it has matched its sets of actors that that alone throws me. But then again, I hope my current self doesn’t have the same exact energy as my adolescent self, because yikes! I wish we had seen what Javi was doing on those pages Shauna gave him — is he drawing and does it look good? Because then, yeah, maybe he became an artist like Adam is.
Adult Taissa’s first scene in the episode provides an intimate look into her marriage with Simone. We’ve seen them mostly in conflict throughout the episode so far, but this scene calls back to the very first time we met these two. In the pilot, Simone softly comforted Taissa when a photographer overstepped with a comment about her traumatic past. It made me wonder how much Simone might know (likely not everything, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s the only person Taissa has opened up to a bit). Here, she quizzes Taissa on details about the potential donors that will be at the event they’re readying for. But she also encourages Taissa to be herself, to not make herself fit whatever idea these powerful people have of her. Even if she doesn’t know everything about her past, Simone does really understand and support Taissa. Their marriage feels lived-in and, sure, messy. In the way marriages often are. At the event, the host gleefully informs Taissa that a whole roasted pig (“nose to tail!”) will be served, and Simone’s immediately concerned about her wife. “You forgot to eat beforehand, didn’t you?” she mutters to her.
I’ve been waiting to see if any of the adult Yellowjackets would have complicated relationships with meat. Back in the woods after Nat and Travis fell a deer, there’s a sequence of all the Yellowjackets in close up chowing down on the meat ravenously. Picking at flesh with their hands, juices covering their faces. It’s impossible not to think of the pilot’s scene of characters doing the same with human flesh. (It’s also difficult not to think of the skilled movement of someone slicing a girl’s throat in that pilot when we see Shauna slicing the throat of a deer.) Nat seemed incredulous that Misty would choose to eat jerky last episode. And Taissa is clearly disturbed by animal parts and meat. She downs champagne on an empty stomach and then hallucinates the plattered pig head as a deer head. Circular camerawork here does wonders; Taissa’s time at this event indeed feels like a dizzying display of wealth. And the people there are like vultures when it comes to Taissa and her pain.
After hallucinating a wolf prancing away, she manages to escape from a couple asking invasive questions about the plane crash, seeking solitude in a dark and quiet room away from the party where she can smoke a cigarette in peace. A rich white woman whose endorsement Taissa has been after approaches and, at first, appears as a friend, offering to split a Cliff bar with Taissa. But she’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, her true nature becoming clear in a subsequent scene where she, too, wants to know what really happened to Taissa. “You trust me, don’t you?” she says before then self-righteously and patronizingly touting everything she has done “for Black women’s causes.” She also tone polices Taissa in the same breath. This racist, entitled bitch thinks she’s owed Taissa’s pain and also her obedience. It’s downright nasty. And it has been a recurring experience of Taissa’s. People are ravenous for her trauma. They mask inappropriate prying as mere curiosity. In essence, they want to cannibalize her story, sensationalize her survival.
Taissa is more than just what happened to her. So are Nat and Shauna. But Taissa gets it far worse from these hungry, rabid trauma porn hellhounds, and I don’t think it’s as simple as her being in the public eye as a politician. She’s also queer and Black, and white and straight people love to consume tragic, traumatic tales of marginalized folks, because it perversely makes them feel good about themselves. Taissa’s pain is hers. Her life is hers. But this woman at the party doesn’t want her to feel that. She’s as much a horror presence as a wolf in the woods.
- So! I didn’t really write about the main title sequence last week, because it honestly surprised me! I wanted to wait to really let it sink in. Here’s my conclusion: It rules!!! And I’m told by my director friend (and friend of AS) Carly Usdin that the sequence was done by Digital Kitchen (the team behind other fantastic openings like that of Six Feet Under, Dexter, and True Blood) and that it was shot on handheld DV camcorders. It indeed has a very retro, home-video style but like make it Yellowjackets in the sense that images/shots of these young girls and women have a sharp, ugly edge to them instead of just seeming like your usual suburban smiley camcorder footage. There’s puke! There’s blood! It’s bodied and haunting, much like the series as a whole. Into it. I’m playing with the idea of analyzing one still/shot from it in this “Last Buzz” section in future recaps, so let me know if you’d be into that.
- Credit to my girlfriend for pointing out to me that Misty is drinking from a mug with her pet bird on it! When will we actually meet Caligula?
- Again, this show is so good at establishing tension, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO THE GODDAMN WATER. Seeing teen Shauna casually swirling her foot around in the water just instantly filled me with dread. It’s extremely possible nothing bad is going to happen in the water at all for the entire season, and yet. I will hold my breath every time? Torture!
- Jackie in her argyle sweater vest is killing me. She does seem like the type of girl who would be concerned with still sporting Looks even at a time like this! Frankly I can relate!
- Also, Jackie and Van are good now because Jackie saved Van’s life when Laura Lee chaotically decided it was a good idea to hop into an abandoned old ass propeller plane the girls came across in the woods and start pushing a bunch of buttons. Laura Lee! Stick to praying.
- Simone being a comp lit professor feels right and good. Love an academic gay.
- Ben provides some expository dialogue: 1. He knows about hunting because his dad used to take him and 2. They don’t have to worry about ammunition because whoever lived in the cabin before had so much it looked like he was preparing for an apocalypse.
- Before Nat shuts her down, Misty suggests they can “pop some pins in the old cork board” and solve Travis’ murder case together. Misty offers her own cork board but also assumes Nat’s got one, too. Also, later on, Nat yells at Misty that they’re not Rizzoli & Isles, to which I say: But couldn’t you be!!!!!!! Where is my Nat & Misty: Citizen Detectives spinoff!
(I didn’t search “Misty Quigley/Natalie ‘Nat’ Scatorccio” on ao3 YOU DID. But also there’s only one fic in there? Help me, homosexuals.)
- Are you listening to the official playlist? I can’t stop listening to the official playlist.