Welcome back to the Yellowjackets hive! Every week we'll be interviewing someone from the addictive Showtime drama to discuss the shockers from the latest episode, get hints on what to look out for in the rest of the season, and to break down the Easter eggs that abound in the show's scripts, props, and even in its killer '90s soundtrack. (After all, it's the only series that deploys dramatic devices like Chekov's Tori Amos lyric.) Spoilers below.
For once, the wilderness didn't choose. This time, Natalie chose. The second season of Yellowjackets reveals a series of twists via flashbacks that reverberate into the present and feed into yet more surprises. The cast had told us the finale would be "devastating," and they did not tell a lie. It begins with young Nat, who returns from the "hunt" in which she was the prey, devastated that she let young Javi die in her place. Here, we see the seeds of dysfunction and grief that permeated the lives of Nat and Travis in adulthood. Once the lone outsider, the last holdout to reject Lottie's mystical mumbo jumbo, she now not only considers herself one of them, but she considers herself "worse."
But Lottie isn't so high on her own mystical supply anymore either. Misty tells her what the group did, expecting Lottie to approve of the wilderness's apparent machinations. But instead, Lottie is horrified at what they did—and that they did it in her name. It's in this moment (one that Christina Ricci teased for us) that we understand why Lottie is less than happy to see Misty in the present day timeline: it's Misty who takes the reigns as Lottie's puppet master, admonishing her for starting all this in the first place, and establishing a Svengali-like role at Lottie's side. "Lottie is happy with the wilderness's choice," she tell the Yellowjackets, with Lottie left in the attic to process her in shock and grief.
Then Lottie does the unexpected: she abdicates the role of Antler Queen and passes it on to Nat. "The wilderness chose who fed us," says Lottie. "It's already chosen who should lead us." This is another moment ("When I read it, I was screaming and I called my mom," Sophie Thatcher told us) that reaches its way into the present. Now we understand the truth of Natalie's guilt. It's not about what the group did; it's about what she did. And in seasons to come, we'll presumably discover what exactly that was.
In the present day, the gang decides to stage a hunt—complete with bespoke masks, a deck of cards with just one Queen (of Hearts, naturally), and a bonfire—as a way to buy time until a crisis team can come collect Lottie, who's in the middle of a mental health emergency. But Van had already manipulated Tai into calling off the crisis team and a little-too-eagerly draws the first card in earnest. Soon, Shauna pulls the Queen and makes a run for it. When Lisa, the Lottie acolyte who showed Natalie rare empathy, appears with a shotgun, Misty charges at her with a syringe. (Not to those who cross Misty: never bring a gun to a phenobarbital fight.) But Natalie dives in the way and takes the needle. Soon, her fellow Yellowjackets are huddled around her as she dies, while Natalie finds herself alone on an airplane, visited by versions of young Javi, Lottie, and herself. Finally meeting the death she'd spent her adulthood courting, she's not ready to go and needs their encouragement before her plane finally goes down.
For the last in our weekly Yellowjackets interview series, we spoke to executive producer and director Karyn Kasuma, who directed the finale (as well as the show's pilot), about the brutal episode. She traced how the show wove the lowest and highest moments of young Nat's experience in the wilderness into the final moments of adult Natalie's life. She also breaks down what the show has set up for Shauna (a potential rival to the new Antler Queen?), Misty, Tai, Van, and Lottie. "They're just sort of falling into this physically-ingrained pattern of utter brutality."
How has the show changed between your time directing the pilot of the show and now the finale of season two?
We are getting to go deeper with a lot of characters, and I would say that now is the time where we start to see the level of transgression and trauma in their teen lives, and how it's almost a miracle that these now middle aged women are even halfway functional. I'm interested to see sort of how they continue to put one foot in front of the other despite their past.
When you were filming the pilot and introducing us to these characters, how much did you know about where they were going and what would be revealed about their time in the wilderness?
I had some idea of a loose architecture in terms of these first two seasons—but I think Ashley and Bart, along with [showrunner] Jonathan Lisco, would probably say that they've found so much surprise in the process of being in the writers room. So as much as I felt like I knew where some things were headed, I was also surprised by all kinds of things.
What surprised you?
Well, I think it was pretty brilliant to be setting up Natalie as the antagonist to this whole experience. In her adult life, she's the person who has the most open hostility, aggression, and regret for the whole experience—like a chip on her shoulder. Then to reveal that, in fact, she became the next in line to ascend the throne of some kind of psychological power over everyone. It's so tragic to me. And it explains so much about Natalie, and I hadn't anticipated how powerful that was going to feel for me.
It was unexpected, but felt strangely authentic to who Natalie is.
I agree. Of course, when it all came down to me reading the draft of the episode for the first time, I though, Oh, how could I have not seen this coming? Of course this is what was going to happen. It makes so much sense. But you forget that sometimes the most surprising storytelling is the stuff that, if you really look at it, actually makes perfect sense. But I just hadn't anticipated that she would be chosen like that, and I found it really heart wrenching.
When Lottie appoints Nat the new leader, how much of that is truly her believing that this is what the wilderness wants, and how much of it is an excuse to pass responsibility to someone else after being horrified about what the group did to Javi?
That is such a good question because I actually think it's the latter. I think she's found a really convenient successor. And she can make it somebody else's problem, the madness that is obviously starting to fuel this group of people. I don't know if it was conscious on Lottie's part, but I think you've hit upon a central gray area of not just the episode, but of the whole series: to what degree are we led by real beliefs or callings versus by even more mysterious urges than faith?
It was an interesting surprise to watch Lottie react with such horror to the news of what the group did to Javi in her name. What's Lottie's general state of mind in that moment?
A couple things were at play that Courtney was really paying attention to. Lottie's just had kidney damage, she's had her face punched in, and she's been brought to her knees both literally and figuratively. So I think that the notion of a spiritual calling has become a distant bell. Now she's just more in touch with wanting to live. And the idea of consciously choosing a victim to die, even to ensure the survival of more people as opposed to the near-certain death of everyone, is a really horrifying choice to have to make. And it was made for her, in absentia; she wasn't able to be a part of that decision. So I think she's recognized that beyond her leadership, beyond her spirituality, beyond her potential wisdom or lack of wisdom, the survival instinct has a life of its own. These girls are going to do what they need or want to do. And I think that is the really horrifying revelation about it all: that maybe Lottie doesn't really matter that much in this whole scenario.
When I interviewed Christina Ricci, I asked her why Lottie is so displeased to see Misty at her compound in the present day when they seem so aligned in the flashbacks. She teased that there was more to their relationship that she herself learned in the finale. That scene seems to explain it.
Yeah, with Christina and Samantha, we would talk about the concept of Iago, about the concept of the professional number two, the person who's able and willing to act as a faithful servant or loyal lieutenant, but in fact has very strong desires to pull the strings themselves. And that's very much Misty. We've seen her behave that way over the course of these two seasons, but the final episodes really reveal the degree to which she will manipulate an outcome. She'll allow somebody else to take center stage to some degree, but in the end, Misty was pulling the strings. It's interesting to see these dynamics deepen and develop as we get to know more about what happened out there in the wilderness.
When Shauna has to essentially butcher Javi, there's a moment when she pulls her scarf over her eyes and continues by touch. There's been talk between the adult Yellowjackets about how much each of them even remembers of what they did in the wilderness. I've gotten the impression that perhaps there are things Shauna doesn't remember. Does this scene imply that she has in fact suppressed moments like this that are so starkly brutal?
I think that's a really good question. I think the nature of memory in the context of of traumatic events is very slippery. And I think there's a case to be made that some of these characters—and I would say Shauna is probably one of them—have made hard work out of repressing those memories. Both Sophie Nélisse and Melanie Lynskey play deeply sensitive souls. You can see that they're really feeling, vulnerable people. So imagine going through all of that Shauna went through and still be able to get out of bed in the morning in your single family ranch style home? I don't quite know how you do that without repressing a lot.
I also think that for someone like Shauna, having secrets is a comforting fallback position for her, psychologically. She likes to hold secrets. So to me, it makes sense that she can have experienced such traumatic, horrifying events and have had to do stuff that was so gruesome, and then somehow can behave as if it didn't happen.
When Lottie announces that the wilderness has chosen a new leader, we see shots of three specific characters—Misty, Tai, and Shauna—looking like they anticipate or hope it might be them. Why these three characters?
We've been setting up this question of: How much power or agency or influence does any one of us really want? To what degree did Misty, who seems so comfortable playing the good lieutenant, want to be named Number One? To what degree did Tai, who's been a more type A personality from the beginning, want that level of responsibility? Or to what degree did Shauna, who's begun to reveal this about herself, want it? My sense is that Ashley, Bart, and Jonathan are seeding all of those questions for successive seasons.
At the end of the episode, we see Shauna writing in her journal and express bitterness at not being chosen as the new leader after all the things she's done—like butchering and preparing Javi's body to be eaten—to keep everyone alive. She writes, "I used to think it was Jackie who made me feel invisible but..." I had thought the show was setting up Lottie vs. Nat as the leaders of warring factions in the woods, but does this mean it'll actually be Nat vs. Shauna?
You know, to be perfectly frank, I don't know. That being said, I would offer that what I think is really interesting about the writer-creators of the show is that they ultimately don't see things in such black and white terms. In the end, I feel like the concept of Lottie vs. Nat or Nat vs. Shauna as diametrically opposed, can't be entirely true. If we look at the storytelling so far, there's some part of them that is forever bound up and entangled together. So I'm gonna guess they have something up their sleeve that's even more complicated and and terribly true to life in some way.
Maybe the Yellowjackets vs. Coach Ben? The man couldn't use flint two scenes ago, but is he the one who burned down the cabin?
[laughs] There are a lot of questions outstanding!
In the present day, Natalie has often referred to her anguish over what happened in the past. When the others indulge Lottie, it's Nat that says, "Have you all forgotten where that leads?" When she tries to warn off Lisa, she tells her "I appreciate you trying to teach me forgiveness. It's a nice idea." With the revelation that she was the group's leader, at least for a time, does this mean that in those moments, Natalie was really talking about an anger and forgiveness towards herself?
I'd always felt this about Natalie, even from the pilot, but it's interesting to see the full circle quality of her arc: She's driven by shame. Every fiber of her being is living in this terrible sense of shame and guilt and regret. And that stuff kills you. I do think what the finale reveals is why she's so filled with this guilt and regret. It starts with Javi's death, but it gets horribly twisted into something even messier, emotionally, that she then be named the next Antler Queen because of it.
And even messier considering that she seems happy about the decision.
Oh, to welcome it! To feel validated, to finally feel seen. Yet I can only imagine how gnarly that position really is. Which I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more of in season three.
In the present day, Lottie tells Natalie that she was always the wilderness's favorite. She sees it as a compliment, but Natalie sees it as—
What kinds of conversations did you have with Juliette Lewis about her final scenes, both in the woods and the vision on the airplane?
Well, so much of the scene was just about losing the life force that had been a huge part of Natalie. I mean, there's something about Juliette, she walks into a room and you feel her charisma, you feel her wildness. We were trying to explore this idea that in making this highly sacrificial move to put herself in front of Lisa, she was letting go of all that guilt and shame by just doing something in the moment that felt like the right thing to do, which was to protect this person caught in the crossfire of the madness of these women's lives. And so we talked a lot about surrender. And we talked a lot about that guilt. And how the being named Queen actually informed Natalie's sense of shame, and having to take responsibility for for what she's done in the past.
It felt gutting to see that Natalie, who just had a gun to her head at the end of last season, doesn't want to die. How did you approach that with Juliette?
We talked a lot about our own histories, our own lives, the people in our lives that we've loved, that we've lost. There was a sense that it can't be that easy if you're in the middle or the prime of your life to give up and say, "I surrender." And we talked a lot about ego and pride and the survival instinct, and how those things keep you going. It's meant to be somewhat touching and surprising that she's not ready to go. In the end, she still wants to work her stuff out, which you it's part of the tragedy of it.
But the whole point of this arc for this character is that we'd watched her cheat death many times, and something has just caught up with her cosmically. And there was something really deeply—narratively sound about it, yes—but something really emotionally heart wrenching about that it too.
During the scene where the adult Yellowjackets are drawing cards—ostensibly as a ruse to distract and preoccupy Lottie before they decide what to do with her—there are a lot of fast cuts between past and present that add a disorienting effect to the scene. What is it about this group that makes they go from zero to feral so quickly?
That's something we all had to talk about and think about a lot in the process of making it. The concept was really about the way we can fall into reactive, knee-jerk patterns almost faster than we know how to put words to it and hit the brakes on it. So it was important that we feel a sense that they didn't have a choice, even though they did. They're just sort of falling into this physically-ingrained pattern of utter brutality that has been burned into their life experience and into how they see and feel and experience the world. So we knew that it was a kind of a theatrical leap, but we hope that for some of our viewers it makes emotional sense.
It does seem to live inside them, whatever that urge is, even when they're not at the height of their group psychosis. "Let's call a crisis team to get Lottie, but in the meantime, let's make elaborate masks that perfectly mimic the ones we made 20 years ago in the wilderness."
Yeah, exactly. They could have just been cardboard and styrofoam. That bad sign number one!
When Tai draws a card after Van and Lottie's prodding, her face shifts to a very grave and stony—and familiar!—expression. Has she become Other Tai in that moment?
I think the idea is that it's not "Tai" of right mind. Some other energy is kind of taking over, yeah.
In flashbacks, Travis tells Van that she should be ashamed, and she says she isn't. Then in the present day, she moves to keep Lottie from being institutionalized, she volunteers to draw the first card before the hunt, and in the aftermath when Lottie tells Van and Tai that the wilderness is pleased, Van looks comforted. Has she fully fallen into old patterns in a way the others haven't?
I think some people want to believe that our faith will reward us. I mean, it powers billions of people across the globe! So I don't feel like I'm saying something too shocking. And I think Van is one of those people who believes that if she follows certain rules and guidelines and shows certain loyalties, perhaps she will be rewarded for that sense of faith. I think she might be the most vulnerable to that way of seeing the world, and strangely always was.
During my interviews with the actors, several of them alluded to how devastating this finale was. It's clear that they weren't just saying it would be devastating for viewers, but that it was devastating for them to film. What was it like shooting those final scenes of all the women still together?
It was hard. First of all, it was cold, in the middle of the night, out in the Vancouver wilderness. So we were literally sloshing through two feet of mud, and it just had a vibe of brutality somehow. And it was just rough to, you know, look over at Tawny and see tears pouring down her face. It was really hard.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Nojan Aminosharei is the Entertainment Director of Men’s Health and the Special Projects Editor of Harper’s Bazaar. He was previously the Entertainment Director of Hearst Digital Media, and before that a Senior Editor at GQ. Raised in Vancouver, Canada, Nojan graduated from NYU with a master’s degree in magazine journalism. The late Elaine Stritch once told him, “What the fuck kind of name is Nojan? I’m 89 years old, I don’t have time for that shit.”