Yellowjackets Wrings Thrills and Mystery Out of Tragedy and Survival

Yellowjackets Showtime. Sunday, November 14, 10, 10 p.m. 

Life is full of surprises, and not just about narwhals and the severed heads of sea slugs. You sit down to watch a TV show about a plane carrying a girls’ soccer team that crashes in the middle of nowhere and—wait a second—this is not another Lord of Flies remake at all. Maybe not completely, but maybe mostly. Showtime’s new drama Yellowjackets There are many things that can be done, and teenagers’ ability to rip away the veneer of civilisation quickly is just one.

It’s a murder mystery. It’s also a feminist tale. It’s also a political play.  It is a story about the coming-of age. It is a ghost tale. It’s a ghost story. You can watch it all the time, and you’ll have a lot fun.

Two timelines are simultaneously followed by the show. One is in 1996, when the Yellowjackets—New Jersey high school champs flying to a distant tournament—go down in a grisly plane crash that kills or cripples much of the team (and all the adults) and will leave the rest of the girls wandering in the wilderness for 19 months. One is 25 years later, where a few of the remaining survivors find that somebody has been following them around, seeking out the truth about what actually happened.

The crash, of course, was regarded as a tragedy—not just for the loss of life, but the Quality of the lives. Looking around, the principal tells a reporter, “Some of those kids, no major loss, if you’re honest,” he says. “But These are the people girls were special. They were the champions. But not everybody is convinced. Their math teacher says, “Not one of them gave a damn about trigonometry.”

It is possible that the trig teacher might be closer to reality. The team’s dysfunctional relationships are evident in the hijinks that took place at the party before their departure. You don’t have to be a bong, or a fool to get high. One of the model-students snaps at the team’s punks during an argument.

Their homes are not better. One girl has schizophrenia medication, while the other must be woken up by her mother to take her to the airport. These cracks quickly turn to crevices and bloody ones when the plane crashes. While some girls survived the experience, others were left scarred. The girls have all changed their names and fled to Unabomber-style shacks. They are also buried in frumpy joyless marriages or repeated stints in rehabilitation. All of them don’t look like the heroes their principal expected.

Shauna (Melanie Lynskey, Castle RockAfter being Brown bound before the crash she was left with a wife who hates her, and a son whose only idea of a sexual fantasyland is for his daughter to pretend that he’s a furniture customer. Even though Natalie (team punk) is not in the hospital, she still Amy Winehousing. Misty (Christina Ricci), the dorky and dateless team manager, is as clueless and needy about men as ever—but to compensate, she has a talking bird named Caligula and a job as the Nurse Ratched of a nursing home.

Taissa, a Yellowjacket middle-aged who has all of the championship qualities they foresaw in her life is the only one. The Blacklist(), is an efficient operator, both on and off the fields. She’s now a gay icon who’s running for the state senate—and, not coincidentally, the mastermind of the plan, all those years back, for the girls to keep their mouths shut about what happened out in the woods.

However, this plan appears to have gone sour. Taissa broke her own rules by implying she was the hero in the crash. Her ads claim that Taissa will “lead New Jersey from the wilderness”; however, her opponent isn’t afraid to use old and untrue rumors about what might happen. His ads say that a Taissa win would result in the “cannibalization of your tax dollars,” and include creepy pictures of meat roasting. While she prepares a counterattack, Taissa must also contemplate the difficulties of her troubled young son, whose disturbing and sometimes macabre drawings at school have alarmed his teachers.

Perhaps coincidentally (or perhaps not), somebody—or maybe two somebodies—is trying to contact the survivors and get them to talk. While a fake newspaper reporter offers a one-million-dollar book deal, anonymous and suggestive postcards are found in Yellowjackets mailboxes.

It sounds like there are a lot of balls in this air. Bart Nickerson (writer-producer) and Ashley Lyle (producer), previously collaborated in the production of hardball. Narcos shows about Latin American traffickers, do a good job of juggling their storylines and, even more importantly, keeping their characters consistent over a quarter of a century of story. The scripts as well as the actresses are seamless in their flow through all of these timelines. Lewis becomes a cynic, Ricci becomes a victim and Ricci is a victim. Cypress transforms from a hateful student pol into a dangerous professional. Lynskey has the determination to not be a middle-aged punching bag to her family.

This dialogue cuts like a knife. A girl says, “I saw him overcome by an elevator.” She was glad she wasn’t here when You was in high school.