Light Spoilers for Season 1 of “Yellowjackets”!
Until recently, I did not realize how much fictional media there is about plane crash survivors in remote locations, like the notorious book “Lord of the Flies,” the television series “Lost” and many film iterations of plane crashes in the Arctic. However, “Yellowjackets,” the new Showtime series about a high school girls soccer team stranded in the Canadian wilderness in the ’90s, brings a fresh and more reflective perspective to the survival genre — diving much deeper in its exploration of trauma during and after the crash.
As context, the New Jersey Yellowjackets soccer team prep and get on a plane to travel to the 1996 Soccer Nationals in Seattle. From the start, the show divides into two timelines: one during the team’s time in the wilderness (which is revealed to be a year and a half) and one during the present day of 2021 New Jersey. We also learn about the confirmed survivors alive 25 years after: Shauna, Natalie, Taissa and equipment manager Misty. From there, “Yellowjackets” builds dread and suspense very effectively, as the characters in the wilderness start betraying each other, alongside the survivors in the present facing murder mysteries and anonymous blackmail. We also get hints of supernatural influences, implying the character Lottie’s prophetic visions culminate in her own sacrificial and possibly cannibalistic cult in future seasons.
Even with the possibilities of the supernatural and cannibalism, the show’s darkness ultimately comes from how truthfully they represent the trauma each character deals with. Though all of the survivors want to suppress their traumatic experience of the crash, their suppression manifests into different coping mechanisms, specifically with Shauna, Natalie and Taissa. Shauna becomes impulsive in situations where she doesn’t have control, seen through her killing a rabbit, starting an affair with a stranger and impulsively killing said stranger later on in a moment of panic. Natalie also has this impulsivity, but it revolves around her reliance on alcohol, drugs and sex — ultimately numbing herself while dealing with the recent unexplained death of Travis, one of the coach’s sons whom she fell in love with while in the wilderness. In a sharper turn, Taissa’s suppression of trauma manifests into unconscious territory, especially in times of stress. During her campaign for state senator, Taissa starts sleepwalking and dissociating only to wake up in trees — a response originating from her stress in the wilderness.
Altogether, their trauma begins to complicate each characters’ present lives as they continue to mask their vulnerability. Their trauma feels realistic and raw, and it becomes increasingly clear how each character wants to silently move past this trauma without really addressing it to anyone else. To me, this dives deep into the reality of surviving and living past something insanely traumatic, as this need to fully avoid reliving the trauma serves as an obstacle to healing from it. This is what makes this such a captivating addition to the survival genre: not only is it about surviving the horrors of the unfamiliar wilderness, “Yellowjackets” realistically depicts the struggle in surviving the unexpected horrors of one’s mind.