Cults, cannibalism and cruel betrayals: Showtime’s survival drama Yellowjackets has become a word-of-mouth sensation – and its unique take on female barbarity is breaking the mould. Warning: spoilers for the first season of Yellowjackets ahead.
What do women really want, anyway? If you’ve been anywhere near Twitter in the past few months, you’ve probably seen some answers in the form of the viral “feminine urge” trend. “The feminine urge to spend £3 on a silly little latte every time you set foot outside,” observed one woman. “The feminine urge to go blonde when a minor inconvenience happens,” quipped another. In the world of Yellowjackets, however, feminine urges are a little more complicated.
Yellowjackets has been something of a slowburner. The breakout show, which premiered back in November, has gained legions of fans with each new weekly episode. Now, in the wake of the season one finale, the survival drama has firmly cemented itself as a pop culture phenomenon.
Created by married duo Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, Yellowjackets follows a girls’ high school soccer team that spends a year and a half surviving in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash. Oscillating between two timelines in 1996 and the present day, we slowly piece together that the girls did some pretty twisted and weird stuff to stay alive – and that their nightmarish time in the woods continues to haunt them to this day.
It’s culty, creepy, and endlessly intriguing – in many ways, it’s a female version of Lord Of The Flies. “Lord Of The Flies is about how socialisation falls away and how society is a facade,” Lyle explained in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “We thought, who is more socialised than women? As girls, you learn early on how to make people like you and what the social hierarchies are. It’s a more interesting way of having things fall away.”
“Yes,” Yellowjackets seems to say, “girls have it in them to become unhinged and cannibalistic in the woods, too.” And, unsurprisingly, when they do, it’s arguably a far more compelling watch.
Yellowjackets has struck a chord with women because it dares to suggest that the messiness and brutality of femininity can and does exist alongside the softness and beauty. In fact, they don’t just co-exist – they are all part of the same thing. In Yellowjackets, we get a long overdue version of female violence that isn’t always pure or linear. It’s entwined in and among steadfast female friendships, dance parties, trippy pseudo-religious rituals, killer outfits, moments of biting cruelty, and, of course, raging teenage hormones. It’s a multifaceted, contradictory, and compelling version of brutality that is distinctly female.
Perhaps the most groundbreaking thing about Yellowjackets is the way it brings this complicated version of brutality into each and every one of its characters and their relationships. The girls have the capacity for true kindness, loyalty, and love – but, as we are constantly reminded, they also have the potential for devastating violence.
The core of the show is arguably the friendship between Shauna and Jackie, and it serves as a perfect example of this dichotomy. These two best friends are inseparable. They love each other with a fierceness that is unique to teen girls. It’s a protective, intimate, almost romantic kind of love. “It’s really complicated,” Lyle told the Los Angeles Times. “The intensity of those feelings and the intensity of that love that you have for your friends can, in certain ways, transcend a straightforward platonic friendship.”
So all-consuming is their friendship, it ultimately leads to destruction. At the beginning of the show, Shauna sees Jackie is growing up and maturing out of the bubble of their friendship. She retaliates by sleeping with Jackie’s boyfriend. When Jackie finds out, the betrayal is so devastating, it leads to the climax of the season – a vicious fight between the girls, which leaves Jackie sleeping outside where she freezes to death. The moment when Shauna finds her is a raw, unfiltered portrayal of heartbreak.
Most of us wouldn’t go as far as murder or cult-like rituals or cannibalism, but perhaps we have all, at one time or another, felt the unnerving realisation that we are capable of violence, especially in a fight for survival.
Lyle and Nickerson have certainly tapped into our hunger for a more complex, twisted version of femininity. In fact, Yellowjackets falls neatly into a steadily expanding category of television that delivers darkly funny, genre-bending storytelling for, by, and about women.
It has the viciousness of high school friendship as seen in the likes of Heathers or Pretty Little Liars. It has the occult, inexplicable mystery of The Craft. It has the alluring psychosis of Killing Eve. And, it has the more subdued and mature version of brutality seen in Big Little Lies.
Plus, we all love a good 90s needle drop or a Pinterest-worthy antler headdress dripping with lace –somehow, in spite of its darkness, Yellowjackets still manages to be fun.
Women are, if you’ll forgive the pun, starving for entertainment that captures the full spectrum of femininity – love, friendship, fashion, cruelty, and, sure, some cannibalistic cults. It’s no wonder Yellowjackets is satisfying all of our feminine urges. Watch Yellowjackets and, in the words of our favourite demonic-cult-leader-slash-forest-fashionista Lottie, you “won’t be hungry much longer”.