Yellowjackets: An Improvement On The Survival Series

(L-R): Jenna Burgess as Teen Melissa, Sophie Thatcher as Teen Natalie, Samantha Hanratty as Teen Misty, Jasmin Savoy Brown as Teen Taissa, Sophie Nélisse as Teen Shauna, Alexa Barajas as Teen Mari and Nia Sondaya as Teen Akilah in YELLOWJACKETS, "It Chooses". Photo Credit: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME
(L-R): Jenna Burgess as Teen Melissa, Sophie Thatcher as Teen Natalie, Samantha Hanratty as Teen Misty, Jasmin Savoy Brown as Teen Taissa, Sophie Nélisse as Teen Shauna, Alexa Barajas as Teen Mari and Nia Sondaya as Teen Akilah in YELLOWJACKETS, "It Chooses". Photo Credit: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME /

Many shows, books, and movies have told the story of a ragtag group, or individual person, lost to the wild, alone, and struggling to survive until rescue comes.

Lost is one of the most famous portrayals of a series questioning what a group of people will do stranded on an island alone. For six seasons, Lost kept its audience in suspense about what really happened to this group of survivors, where they were, and what the future held.

However, after only two seasons so far on Showtime, Yellowjackets has stepped up to show what a survival series can truly become.

The amount of storylines found on a survival show tend to be repetitive. How do they find shelter? How do they create drinkable water? Where do they find food? Will they be rescued? Yellowjackets does ask all of these questions, but it very quickly establishes itself as a show where the stakes are far higher, and the characters can be significantly more ruthless in what they are willing to do to survive.

When a high school girl's soccer team's plane to compete in Nationals crashes somewhere in the Canadian wilderness, a long way from civilization, it is up to the remaining survivors to find a way to keep themselves alive until they are eventually rescued nineteen months after crashing.

Of all the obstacles that Yellowjackets could have thrown at its survivors, it is quick to point out three specific problems. The first is that the only living adult around has his leg quickly chopped off, which pushes him to the background after trying to determine which of the rest of the group will take on the role of lead hunter. The second comes in the form of Shauna's pregnancy, which is certainly an issue out in the woods without a doctor or hospital nearby. The third is the weather.

Winter is approaching, and by turning the weather into its own obstacle, it crafts a different sort of villain, one that needs to be waited out, rather than defeated. The brutal freezing cold, and the lack of game due to Canada's icy terrain, makes it abundantly more difficult for the Yellowjackets to survive.

Yellowjackets, however, also knows how to make its growing cultish survivors empathetic, as the show becomes about people and the desperate lengths they are willing to go to survive, as well as how their actions still impact their behavior twenty-five years in the future.

Except, their time in the woods may have added another layer of trauma to them, but in some ways, it simply brought out aspects that already existed. Tai went on to have the exact same future she envisioned for herself before being stranded. The secrets in Shauna and Jeff's dynamic had been there before the crash, as they had been sleeping together while Jeff was dating Jackie. Nat was constantly struggling with her sense of self worth. Misty's connection to playing God, kidnapping, and murder, seemed to be a natural progression. While being in the wilderness showed a deeper and more desperate understanding of how far this group is willing to go in make it to the next day, it never appears as if they had transformed into entirely different people.

Other survival-based shows, such as The CW Network's The 100, use politics, morality, and ethics to determine many of their storylines surrounding leadership and how far different groups are willing to go to survive. Clarke Griffin is constantly placed in the position of having to choose her people versus the opposition.

The 100 shows different practices of government before introducing more devastating turns of events, such as Octavia and Abby resorting to cannibalism during the Dark Year in the bunker or the dark secrets of the Primes being body-snatchers on Sanctum.

However, The 100 never uses something as simple as weather to be an antagonist for its survivors. One hundred years after the bombs destroyed the world, the main non-villainous thing Skaikru has to worry about is Praimfaya, the next destruction of Earth. Even Clarke and Madi's time alone in the valley is never shown to be met with resistance and issues surrounding freezing weather that would prevent them from finding animals or berries to consume.

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(L-R): Nuha Jes Izman as Teen Crystal, Samantha Hanratty as Teen Misty, Alexa Barajas as Teen Mari, Sophie Nélisse as Teen Shauna, Courtney Eaton as Teen Lottie, Nia Sondaya as Teen Akilah, Sophie Thatcher as Teen Natalie, Jasmin Savoy Brown as Teen Taissa, Steven Krueger as Ben Scott and Liv Hewson as Teen Van in YELLOWJACKETS, Season 2. Photo Credit: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME. /

When Yellowjackets introduces its first real show of cannibalism by the group, it is a feast that is mutually horrifying and devastating. The scene is shown in two parts. In both iterations, the group is ravenously feasting. But, in one version, they are devouring their friend Jackie's body after it was burned. In the other, they are disassociating themselves from the moment to such a degree that they view themselves as Greek Gods dining on fruit and wine to not think about what is truly occurring.

While in The 100, Skaikru steps into already existing government systems of the Grounders, Sanctum, or Bardo, in Yellowjackets, similar to "Lord of the Flies," what the survivors say, goes.

The group of teenage girls subvert the expectation that girls can not be violent, and would lean toward teamwork rather than chaos. Yellowjackets fully embraces the unhinged participation of these teenage girls as they unravel in the wilderness, crafting their own rituals to lean into something, anything, that gives them a sense of relief or hope toward the growing devastation of their situation.

When Shauna finally gives birth to her baby, it is an emotional minefield. The birth of a baby should be a happy event, and one that the girls are initially excited for when it comes to events such as baby showers. It gives them a sense of normalcy and hope when they are given something to celebrate. But, given their situation, could that happiness really hold out?

Shauna has been starving for months, just like the other girls. They are stuck in the wilderness. Is this ideally the best place to have a baby? How will they take care of a baby when they can barely take care of themselves? The initial plot twist of showing the group devouring the baby is a tragic fear given that the group had already shown their willingness to eat their teammate when they grew desperate and starving enough.

However, when Yellowjackets flips the script on Shauna and the audience by revealing that Shauna's baby had not survived the birth (and had avoided the dark fate shown in Shauna's dream), it is mutually tragic and relieving. While a baby's death is not a happy moment, the idea that the show quickly writes out the fear that this group could eventually look to the baby as a food source allows the audience not to have that thought in the back of their minds for the show's remaining run.

The Showtime survival series pushes its characters beyond the limit. Creating a sense of government is not significant, as their leadership system is based on the crowning of the Antler Queen, who is based on whoever the Wilderness deems fit, Lottie's visions that give her a sense of where danger lies, and Nat's hunting the local animals.

The show steps outside the boundaries of how one survives, to instead make this series an allegory for when girls are pushed beyond their limit, how they handle the inescapabale horrifying situation they are placed in, how those decisions set the foundation for what it means to actually survive the encounter with the wilderness (which has its own characterization), and come out the other side without ever truly moving on.

Mutually showing how their actions as teenagers have impacted their outlook on life as surviving adults back in civilization is also a wonderful way of keeping things interesting, especially as it constantly offers the show a chance to deliver different story and relationship dynamics in the past.

The referenced toxic on-and-off relationship between the adult counterparts of Nat and Travis is given a much deeper layer after season two reveals that Travis' decision to try and save Nat from being the next sacrifice in the hunt led to his younger brother's death and the use of him being the next protein source.

It is not just about how this group survived the wilderness in the 1990s, but how they continue to live with and survive through the memories and remaining feelings and darkness that surround them as adults years later, as they never quite dealt with the emotional and mental ramifications of all they had done in their need to survive.

One of the best attributes ofYellowjackets is how it steps outside the box of the ordinary survival series. While it may very much be about surviving a plane crash until they are finally saved, it is also about so much more. Utilizing the characters themselves and their relationships, along with how these decisions impact them, helps elevate this show to another level, as Yellowjackets is not afraid to push the boundaries into darkness of what this group of people is truly capable of.

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