Your 'Yellowjackets' finale questions, answered
The first season of Yellowjackets on Showtime has posed a lot of questions about what happened to the girls on the soccer team that crashed in the Canadian wilderness in 1996, and about what's happening to the women they've grown into, 25 years later. On the first-season finale (a second season has already been ordered), some of the questions and mysteries got answers. A lot got partial answers. Some got no answers at all.
It should go without saying at this point, but: the entire point of this post is to tell you what happened on the finale, so if you're still waiting to watch it, turn back! And we should add, too: to "know" anything about Yellowjackets is to know it with an asterisk. There are things we have been told, but if one or more of them turned out not to be true, would I be shocked? I would not. Let's dig in.
Do we know how Jackie died?
We do. Jackie survived a plane crash only to die of loneliness.
Not literally, of course: She died in the snow, unable to start a fire to keep herself warm, exiled from the house that sheltered her friends after Shauna — usually her sidekick (Jackie's own word) — struck back at her with the fury and resulting devastation that only a former bestie can muster. It wasn't the crash that killed Jackie; it was the brutal dynamics of this group of (mostly) girls, out on their own, trying to survive. She made it through the initial trauma, she ate, she slept, she lived. But then she had sex with Travis, apparently in part to prove a point about how she might have been fooled, but she could fool somebody else right back. And when everything started to go downhill and she tried to turn the group against Shauna for sleeping with Jeff, it backfired. Shauna instead lashed out, and Jackie wound up exiled — voluntarily, but certainly with the group's invitation — to the outdoors in the terrible weather.
Throughout this season, this has been the Yellowjackets theme song, if you will: the melody is isolation, survival, murder, blackmail, infidelity and, of course, the looming threat of cannibalism and the occult. But the beat underneath it all is the intimacy between and among these girls, some of whom live long enough to become women bonded by their past. And the lesson here was simple: You might survive the bears and the wolves, but you cannot survive your friends turning against you. If a wolf tries to eat you, somebody might sew you up. But if your bonds with your best friend break, you won't survive the night.
Jackie's death has hung over this season as a mystery and a certainty: Unless the show was specifically misdirecting, we knew Jackie was dead, but we didn't know how she died. And in the end, all the possibilities turned out to be true at once. Killed by the conditions? Yes. Killed by her friends? Yes. Devoured by dangerous creatures? Oh, yes.
And two other details: First, Misty, predictably, is the hive-whacking troublemaker who points out that Jackie wasn't saying the prayer as Lottie was offering it. And second, Jackie's death presents the same fundamental question as so many other parts of Yellowjackets: Did this involve the supernatural (in that Jackie was directly punished by forces unknown for not participating in the prayer) or is it just that a supernatural idea got the girls worked up into the mundane ostracization that ultimately led to her death?
Did Shauna get caught having killed Adam?
She did not! She called upon her friends, and they helped her get rid of Adam's body.
Maybe the most surprising moment in the entire first season of Yellowjackets was the moment when Shauna stabbed her lover, Adam, believing — wrongly — that he was the one blackmailing her about whatever happened out in the woods with the Yellowjackets. For Shauna to kill an innocent man, who appears to have only wanted to be close to her, was a hard turn for the character who initially seemed like an unhappy mom looking for some kind of connection. Melanie Lynskey is so good at wielding her surface gentleness as menace; Shauna could do a lot more harm, for instance, than Natalie ever could, because people would see Natalie coming. Moreover, Natalie seems to do harm out of pain; she's always really trying to hurt herself (as in this episode). Shauna has a curiosity about, an almost dispassionate interest in, her capacity to hurt that does not bode well for anyone.
But Shauna's marriage has ... never been better? Maybe? Killing Adam counterintuitively drew her closer to Jeff — who turned out to have been the blackmailer all along — once she came clean. There was no trust between Shauna and Jeff, and perhaps there still is none. But what is between them is a shared secret, which is one of the strongest bonds of all, as Shauna has learned with her "friends."
Shauna, now, is unleashed in a new way. Unless you're a very good criminal, which Shauna is not, killing someone starts a clock ticking. You will keep trying to outrun that act for as long as she lives, most likely. For the second time in her life (at least), everything she knew before is gone. And it shows in her fearlessness: She knows that Randy, the same poor fella she originally told Jackie was the father of her baby, is the one person Jeff confided in about the blackmail, and she does not hold back threatening him in the event he should open his mouth to anyone about what he knows. She will end him. She will leave his body unrecognizable. Is it hyperbole? I mean, she did literally just dispose of a body! (And props to the great and good Lynskey for her dry delivery of the moment when Shauna takes one look at him and changes her order from wine and beer to tequila shots.)
Ultimately, here's how weirdly Shauna is situated: When Adam's picture comes on the news with a report of his disappearance, all three of them on the couch — Shauna, Jeff, and their daughter, Callie — know Adam was Shauna's boyfriend. But Callie doesn't know that Jeff knows (although Shauna does), and Jeff doesn't know that Callie knows (although, again, Shauna does). And only Shauna and Jeff know that Shauna killed him. It might seem like Shauna and Jeff at least have all their cards on the table, but she's got as many secrets as ever, and now they're inside her own family.
Did Jessica make it out of Misty's basement?
...Sort of? Briefly?
Misty has been the most overtly wicked of the Yellowjackets all along — both when she, as a teenager, destroyed the beacon that might have ended the group's misery and when she, as an adult, took Taissa's investigator, Jessica, hostage in her basement. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the show's commitment to its mercilessness than the way Jessica's predicament stretched out over several episodes. She improvised, bobbed and weaved to stay alive — only to seemingly earn Misty's trust through a promise to get her a publisher, escape the house, and then apparently die (?) in her car after Misty poisoned her cigarette. The idea that Jessica would take anything from Misty after seeing Misty threaten to poison her father seems ... dubious? But perhaps she was feeling proud of her victory over Misty, and pride goeth before a big puff of toxic smoke.
So what did they do about Adam's body?
Misty's love of true crime, her ice-cold blood, and her access to the really good cleaning solutions for dead bodies came in handy when the women needed to dispose of Adam's remains. Shauna dispassionately dismembering her lover in a bathtub, while Misty tucks his head and hands into the coffin of a dead woman headed for cremation, is another good reminder of the lengths to which Yellowjackets will go in underlining its nihilism. There is no redemption in sight for any of these women; it is not that kind of story. (Christina Ricci's delivery of Misty's entrance line "Who died?", which is so funny and chilling, will probably be one of my favorite moments of the year.)
Still, one of the things we learn in this season finale is that in addition to being the most ruthless killer, Misty is both the most sentimental about the reunion. I guess everybody has a soft spot?
Did Taissa win the election?
She did! She may have called upon some extra help to do so! That is a problem that we now have to think about! And it's gross!
We come now to Taissa, and especially to her wife Simone's extremely gruesome (even for this show) discovery of the altar on which the family dog has been sacrificed. Given the unsettling behavior of her son Sammy, Simone might wonder whether he is responsible for the tableau — the dog, the doll, the symbol, all the blood. But the implication is clear in the editing that there may be a link between Taissa's unlikely election victory and whatever went on in the hidden part of the basement. We already know Taissa has been sneaking off to chew on her own hand and, it appears, losing time to blackouts. It's not hard to imagine that she is herself the one who killed her own dog, just as she told Simone she feared she might have.
What's interesting is that back in the woods, Taissa remained a skeptic about the supernatural. We learn in this episode that her rejection of the idea that something unknowable is happening in the woods alienated her from Van, and maybe even helped move Van toward Lottie and her developing cult. Even though we have also seen that her family has a connection to the eyeless man and maybe the symbol that predates the plane crash, Taissa didn't seem like an occult-believing type. But it does appear that sometime between here and there, she became one.
Did Natalie get to the bottom of Travis' death?
Not the bottom of it, no. She did make progress — so much that she rattled someone's cage enough that she was kidnapped at the very moment she was contemplating taking her own life.
The trauma Natalie has experienced around her relationship with Travis has been one of the most ambiguous but compelling elements of this first season. It's been clear that their bond was intense; it's been less clear exactly what form it took. Now we know that they believed themselves as teenagers to be genuinely in love, and that she helped rescue him from a sexual assault and possibly a violent death during "Doomcoming." It's interesting that in this show that is about trauma, there is a recognition that the traumatized — here including Shauna, particularly — are also not uncommonly the traumatizers. What Travis endured on the night of the Doomcoming would be expected to affect him just as much as what's been inflicted on the girls, and that's no less true because they are also in such pain.
And we still don't know what happened to Javi. Although if something pretty bad hadn't happened to him, wouldn't Natalie be trying to contact him about Travis?
How was the reunion?
Oh, it was swell. Nice Reservoir Dogs walk through the party for Taissa, Shauna, Misty and Natalie. Lots of alcohol. Compelling video tribute to the class, to the dead, and specifically to Jackie. It's interesting to wonder what if anything it says about both the girls we know are dead, like Laura Lee, and the girls whose fates we don't know yet, like Van, that they weren't specifically talked about in the tribute and they also weren't asked after by classmates as far as we know. "What ever happened to Van?" asked nobody.
What in the world is going on with the whole ... cult thing? The antlers? The incantations? Did they tell us about the cannibalism?
Not directly. The promise of cannibalism has been to this season of Yellowjackets what the "hey, people eat rats" was to early seasons of Survivor: It looms larger in the minds of people who don't watch the show but have heard about it than to people who have actually seen it. We're getting to it at some point, clearly (a flash-forward being a particularly committed version of what we might call here Chekhov's slurp), but that seems to still be a ways off.
But we know a little about the folks who may be heading in that direction. As has been predicted for a while by close watchers including Vulture's Roxana Hadadi, the leader of the antler group (can I call them that? just for economy?) seems to be Lottie. We see, at the very close of the finale, her first ritual with followers. Her first two converts: Misty, who wants desperately to be included and is feeling rejected both by the girls and by Ben; and Van, who survived a wolf attack and found Taissa not receptive to her need to talk about spirituality and magic. It's hard to believe the Misty we know believes in all this kneeling and ceremony the way Lottie and Van clearly do, but a socially motivated follower is just as good as a spiritually motivated one if you're trying to start a movement.
How much do we know about what's supernatural and what's just high school?
This theme comes up explicitly in Natalie and Shauna's conversation while they're cutting up Adam's body. Shauna suggests that Travis's death might just be a tragedy, not a conspiracy; that Travis was a traumatized person just like the rest of them, and that his death flowed from that. With Taissa, we've been given pretty clear indications (including the man with no eyes and the chewing on her own hand) that she might be possessed, or the subject of intergenerational spiritual trauma or something of that nature. But that might just be the lens through which her trauma is reflected.
It's possible that Taissa was always going to have visions and such, and that Shauna would always be violent, and that Lottie would always be a mystic or whatever she is becoming. But the trauma they suffered manifested in these different ways for these different girls. Misty became a highly organized death obsessive, for instance, because that was within her and the isolation experience brought it to the surface.
We do know that Lottie has some sort of power to charm animals, or so it seems — she calms the bear long enough to kill it. Other than with Taissa, that's about as explicit as they've been about anything supernatural that you can prove through observation, as opposed to through subjective experience like Van's visions.
What's up with the title of this episode?
The title of the episode, "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi," means something like "thus passes the glory of the world" — related to the idea that earthly things are not forever — and it's been used, for one thing, in the coronations of new popes. So ... there's that.
See you next season!
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