"Yellowjackets" takes a page from "Flatliners"

Van Palmer (Yay! It's Van!) mentions a few movies in this episode, but one popular '90s thriller takes top billing

By Kelly McClure

Nights & Weekends Editor

Published April 21, 2023 3:05PM (EDT)

Simone Kessell as Lottie (Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME)
Simone Kessell as Lottie (Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME)

Van Palmer — the teflon goalie and outspoken movie lover played by Liv Hewson as a teen and Lauren Ambrose as an adult on "Yellowjackets" — has an affinity for rom-coms, but how does she feel about thrillers?

At the top of "Two Truths and a Lie," we get a proper introduction to adult Van and spend our first few moments with the character witnessing her dole out movie recommendations. There's a hat-tip to "Party Girl," the 1995 cult classic starring Parker Posey (directed and written by Daisy von Scherler Mayer, who also wrote this season's first episode, "Friends, Romans, Countrymen.") And there's also mention of "The Watermelon Woman," the 1996 queer must-watch by Cheryl Dunye. But one '90s title goes unmentioned, though it barely needs to be said for how strongly its influence is felt.

Wasn't it Nietzsche who said, "If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you?" Yeah. It's like that.

As clearly as you can read the movie titles on the letterboard behind Van's register at the '90s ephemera store she owns and lives above — While You Were Streaming — "Flatliners" jumps to mind when we later see Lottie (Simone Kessell) guide Natalie (Juliette Lewis) through a hypnosis session held at her "intentional community," stirring up a darkness they have both, in their own individual ways, called upon and alternately fought to suppress since crashing into the Canadian wilderness 25 years ago. 

Both hoping that the session will reach back into the past and surface a better understanding of what Travis (Andres Soto) meant when he wrote a note just prior to his death reading "Tell Nat she was right," they get more than they bargained for — similar to the characters in "Flatliners," who cheat death for answers and live to regret it. 

If you've never seen it, or need some help sinking back into your own memory, the movie stars Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, Oliver Platt and Kevin Bacon as a group of medical students who use their training to intentionally stop each other's hearts just long enough to briefly experience death before quickly being resuscitated. As this is a thriller, and one directed by Joel Schumacher no less, things are not as easy as all that. After being resuscitated, their lives are not how they left them and their worst memories are made new having brought a little of death back with them.  

In a dark room, with only a small light shining into her face, Natalie has this very experience when she taps into the memory of a past overdose that stopped her heart and comes back with an ominous realization that has been teased in each previous episode. 

"We weren't alone out there," she says. "The whole time there was something. A darkness out there with us, or in us. It still is. That's what I was right about."

She describes seeing the crash site that left her and her teammates stranded, but the vision in her mind is not as it actually happened.

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"It's us, but we didn't make it," she says, giving viewers a flash to the wreckage, and the charred bodies of everyone inside.

Both in Natalie's vision, as well as in the present-day setting she and Lottie currently share, the shadow of The Antler Queen looms — not a visage of Lottie's "powers" in this instance, but of the oppressive force and manifestation of trauma that has plagued her for more than half of her life, just as "The Bad One" has plagued Taissa's (Tawny Cypress and Jasmin Savoy Brown). Wasn't it Nietzsche who said, "If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you?" Yeah. It's like that. And Natalie, Lottie and Tai aren't the only ones getting a good look. 

Lauren Ambrose as Van (Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME)

Go back to your family, Tai, and leave this poor woman alone!

Having moved all the hell the way to Ohio in an effort to run from her past, Van is ripped back into it when Tai inserts herself back into her life. Taking refuge in Van's home, leaving her son, comatose wife and newly purchased shelter dog to worry about themselves, Tai gives Van a glimpse of what the adult version of her "bad one" looks like, delivering a chilling message in the process.

After falling asleep on the couch, fugue Tai walks up to Van and roughly kisses her.

"You're the other one, aren't you?" Van asks. "What do you want?"

"This isn't where we're supposed to be," she replies after a chilling pause, walking away to, what, take an inventory of Van's VHS collection? Go back to your family, Tai, and leave this poor woman alone!

As much as these women want to forget the darkness they've encountered, they need it to a certain degree. When Misty (Christina Ricci) and Walter (Elijah Wood) finally make it to Lottie's compound, with Misty fully intending on "rescuing" the woman she believes to be her best friend, she's sent away. And in a flashback to the '90s timeline, we see what happens to "best friends" when they turn on Misty. RIP, Crystal (Nuha Jes Izman).

"She's helping me reflect, or whatever," Natalie says, explaining why she won't leave Lottie's commune. "I'm doing a thing here and I don't need you getting in my way."

It's true what they say about the only way out being through, and now that Natalie has tapped into death again, and gotten some answers from it, that could mean a lot of things. 

Since this show comes with a fan community that loves to pose theories on what we've seen so far, and what can be expected down the road, this episode gives an opportunity for a big one. What if they didn't survive that crash and everything we're seeing now is what could have been, or should have been, had darkness never intervened? Or, even wilder, what if the versions of them that returned from the wilderness aren't actually them at all? I have never, until this episode, entertained anything other than practicality when it comes to what we've been shown, choosing to believe that trauma and inner strife is causing all of this upheaval. But now, I guess I'm down the rabbit hole as well. 


  • The needle drop of Danzig's "Mother" right as Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) goes into labor is almost as perfect as Season 1's "Rumpshaker" right as Lottie killed that bear. 
  • It's arguable that, out of every other generation, Gen-X is the most "stuck in the trauma of our teens." As illustrated by Van's store and my own Mad Balls and Garbage Pail Kids strewn home office. 
  • What's with this show and strawberries? Shauna ate a strawberry during the banquet hallucination when they were actually eating Jackie (Ella Purnell), Jeff (Warren Kole) bemoaned not taking up the offer to use that strawberry lube, and now Randy (Jeff Holman) uses strawberry lotion as fake jizz. 
  • Detective Matt Saracusa (John Reynolds) is so gross. Never say "take a leak" in front of a woman. Rude.
  • "I do not like monkeys." - Misty
  • "Maybe he did die, and that's his ghost," – Melissa (Jenna Burgess) . . . See, her saying this about Javi (Luciano Leroux) makes me wonder even more if they ARE all dead. 
  • Why does adult Natalie seem visibly turned on every time adult Lottie is near? Aside from the obvious answer, which I'm totally on board with, it makes me wonder if she's being slipped something in her smoothies. Libido-enhancing supplements perhaps? 
  • "You're gonna change everything," – teen Lottie to Shauna's unborn child, who is 100% going to die.

By Kelly McClure

Kelly McClure is Salon's Nights and Weekends Editor covering daily news, politics and culture. Her work has been featured in Vulture, The A.V. Club, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Nylon, Vice, and elsewhere. She is the author of Something is Always Happening Somewhere.

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