'Yellowjackets' deftly toggles between timelines in tale of survival - Albuquerque Journal

‘Yellowjackets’ deftly toggles between timelines in tale of survival

Christina Ricci as Misty, Melanie Lynskey as Shauna, Juliette Lewis as Natalie and Tawny Cypress as Taissa in “Yellowjackets.” (Brendan Meadows/Showtime)

Fans of the great, albeit much-debated, ABC series “Lost” will forever remember “Through the Looking Glass,” the game-changing episode in which we learn at least some of the survivors of Oceanic 815 made it off the supernatural-soaked island and are back home in the States – but, in some ways, still stuck on that island. I was reminded of that all-time classic episode while watching Showtime’s ambitious, chilling and horror-tinged limited series “Yellowjackets,” in which we learn from the get-go that some of the survivors of a plane crash eventually made it off the site and have tried to lead normal lives – but, every time they think they’re out, the past pulls them back in.

Created by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson of “Narcos” distinction, “Yellowjackets” also has obvious elements of “Lord of the Flies” and is reminiscent of the recent Amazon series “The Wilds” in that both “The Wilds” and this show center on a group of teen girls of different backgrounds who go to great lengths to ensure their survival and often turn on one another after a plane crash leaves them deserted, with little or no hope for rescue. Still, this is a well-filmed, original work with great production values that deftly toggles back and forth between timelines and genres (horror, teen girl drama, adult soap opera, dark comedy) and features stellar performances from the parallel casts of young actors and familiar veterans portraying characters some 25 years apart.

The year is 1996 and the girls’ soccer team has won state and is on its way to the nationals. Go, Yellowjackets! Before the squad boards the plane to Seattle, we get to know a little bit about a number of players, including:

• Jackie (Ella Purnell), the bright, beautiful and much-admired team captain.

• Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown), who is so competitive and driven that she might have purposely hurt a teammate who wasn’t ready to play at the next level.

• Shauna (Sophie Nelisse), Jackie’s best friend, who is outwardly sweet and reserved, but is a bit of a schemer and maybe not to be trusted.

• Natalie (Sophie Thatcher), a punky stoner who wouldn’t be spending a moment with these mainstream jocks were it not for the fact she’s a damn fine soccer player.

• Misty (Sammi Hanratty), a student assistant on the team – a geeky loner and outsider who is hyper-enthusiastic, cheerful and almost disturbingly intense, and is the butt of cruel jokes.

The Yellowjackets have mastered the art of teamwork on the pitch, but they’re a fractured bunch who often engage in backstabbing and in-fighting between matches. It’ll be an upset if most of them remain friends for life – if they have long lives, that is. When the plane to Seattle crashes in a harrowing scene reminiscent of the plane crash in, yes, “Lost,” resulting in the deaths of the pilots and at least one other male adult figure, the girls (along with their severely injured coach and two boys who were part of the traveling contingent) find themselves stranded deep in the unforgiving woods in the middle of nowhere – and, after a couple of days, it’s clear help is NOT on the way. Personality conflicts heighten and the power dynamic shifts as the previously unseen Misty becomes one of the de facto leaders due to her first-aid training and her willingness to do whatever it takes to survive.

Meanwhile, in present day, the adult Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) is a deeply unhappy wife and mother who is sure her husband is having an affair, while she is contemplating one of her own; Taissa (Tawny Cypress) is running for state office while dealing with a young son who is having disturbing visions; Natalie (Juliette Lewis) is fresh out of yet another stay in rehab; and Misty (Christina Ricci) is a nurse and amateur online detective who is even more annoying as an adult than she was as a teenager. We learn that the group – well, most of the group – eventually made it home after some 19 months, but they never talk about the apparently horrific things they experienced, and they’ve gone their separate ways. Now, however, they’re back in touch after they’ve each received a mysterious postcard depicting a cryptic etching that clearly has great, and possibly terrifying, implications.

“Yellowjackets” makes terrific use of mostly period-piece music, from Liz Phair’s “Supernova” to Paloma Faith’s version of “Never Tear Us Apart” to “Cambodia” by Kim Wilde. (In one of the series’ many stunning “reveal” moments, the upbeat recovery anthem “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips is played as a counterpoint to someone taking drastic actions that will forever change everyone’s lives.) Each episode drops hints of the horrific, logic-defying events that transpired back in 1996, and how those events continue to have chilling and, in some cases, bloody consequences a quarter-century later. Instead of saying “Go, Yellowjackets!,” perhaps we should be saying “Run, Yellowjackets.” Run for your lives.


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