Feast on "Yellowjackets" and the lies we tell

At the most important moment in the series so far, why does the story cut away to fantasy?

By Alison Stine

Staff Writer

Published April 2, 2023 10:10PM (EDT)

Courtney Eaton as teenage Lottie in a "Yellowjackets" fantasy flashback (Showtime)
Courtney Eaton as teenage Lottie in a "Yellowjackets" fantasy flashback (Showtime)

The following contains major spoilers from "Yellowjackets" Season 2, Episode 2 "Edible Complex."

First things first: if you haven't already seen the second episode of Showtime's "Yellowjackets" sophomore season and are a fan of the buzzy show, go see it. Save yourself from the spoilers you know are coming on social media, fast and hard as the snow in the somewhere in Canada wilderness. Save yourself for supper and watch.

Once you've had your fill, you're going to have some questions. Why is Travis having glowy visions of Lottie when he's having sex with Nat? Who is the man with no eyes again? One question gets soundly answered in this episode, punily titled "Edible Complex." As Collider writes, "It was never a question of if the team would resort to cannibalism, it was simply a question of when." But why in Wiskayok does the show cut away from its first and most important cannibalism scene, splicing it with an extended fantasy sequence? The answer rests in trauma and the lies we tell ourselves.

We knew it was going to happen, but we might not have known it was going to be Jackie (Ella Purnell) to get the first bite taken out of her — except for the fact she's been stored in the meat shed since freezing to death; I suppose that was a dead giveaway. Props to the show, I guess, for making cannibalism look like a BBQ. It's not simply near-starving hunger that drives the girls and Travis (Kevin Alves) to devour their departed friend, it's that she smells delicious, having been accidentally cooked instead of cremated. The team wakes up to the smell, like bacon at your mom's house on Saturday morning.

In their own heads, the characters look different. They look beautiful, classy, washed and serene.

The decision to start to eat is an extended one, made even more dramatic by the inclusion of Radiohead's "Climbing Up the Walls," which also had a great turn in "Peaky Blinders." Music is going to be a big deal this "Yellowjackets," season, thanks to the addition of new music supervisor Nora Felder, formerly of "Stranger Things," who helped my tween son finally believe me that Kate Bush is amazing. Looper describes the Radiohead song as "mysterious, popular" and it certainly fits for a creepy moment in the woods, infused with tension. 

Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) is the one who goes first with the cannibalism. The others seem to look to her as if for permission. She's the leader in this and the only one with any secret experience (she ate the ear, after all). Jackie's best friend and representative in the afterlife, Shauna says eerily, "She wants us to," which seems to imply that Jackie is asking for it.

Sophie Nélisse teenage Shauna in a "Yellowjackets" fantasy flashback (Showtime)We knew the cannibalism was going to be upsetting, but we didn't know it was going to be sexual exactly. But the scene of tearing into Jackie's body has that heightened energy. After hesitating, then jumping in, then totally forgetting themselves in the frenzy, the girls and Travis look like feral monsters to Coach Ben (Steven Krueger) who backs away slowly, hiding in the cabin, not partaking — and in doing so, perhaps marking himself for future danger.

It makes sense that the teens would go to a fantasy of ceremony. The Yellowjackets have already relied upon ritual to get through their ordeal. 

But to themselves, in their own heads, the characters look different. They look beautiful, classy, washed and serene, and sitting at a grand table in the forest. In the fantasy sequence, which the episode cuts with gritty flashes of ripping into Jackie's corpse, the teens are seated at a banquet table, a feast laid out before them of roast meats (not human ones) and delicious fruits. They're dressed in Greek finery with togas, robes (which seem to predict adult Lottie's robes when she's cult leader supreme) curls and laurel wreath crowns. Their mannerisms at the table are sweet, shy, almost childlike and polite. They are gods, maybe, or at least royals. That's before they dig into the feast. Then they can't believe their luck, nor how good all the food seems to be.

Sophie Thatcher, Sammi Hanratty and Kevin Alves as teenage Nat, Misty and Travis in a "Yellowjackets" fantasy flashback (Showtime)In reality, there is only one food and it is Jackie. But a lie the teens tell themselves is that it's all something else. They are something else. Coach Ben has already been retreating into his own private fantasy of domestic bliss — of the past, or of what could have been — for a long time.

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It makes sense that the teens would go to a fantasy of ceremony. The Yellowjackets have already relied upon ritual to get through their ordeal. Lottie leaves the heart of the bear she's killed as an offering. She must "bless" Travis and Nat every time they go hunting. As humans, how do we try to make sense of the senseless? We organize it. We say it has meaning, like the symbols in the woods. We sometimes fall back upon patterns and tell ourselves they're protecting us. 

And like the Yellowjackets, we look away to survive.

By Alison Stine

Alison Stine is a former staff writer at Salon. She is the author of the novels "Trashlands" and "Road Out of Winter," winner of the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others.

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Cannibalism Commentary Showtime Streaming Trauma Tv Violence Yellowjackets