Yellowjackets Season 2 Finale Recap: “Storytelling” Loses the Plot (S2E9)

Nat (Juliette Lewis), with a look of woeful acceptance on her face in the Yellowjackets Season 2 finale

The following recap contains spoilers for the Season 2 finale of Yellowjackets, S2E9, “Storytelling” (written by Ameni Rozsa and directed by Karyn Kusama)

Generally I’ve approached these recaps by structuring my thoughts around the characters. I’ll make an outline that is just a list of names in order and then find the connections as I go, without feeling too beholden to the order I’d originally laid out. I tend to think it’s a good way to explore the resonances between the timelines in Yellowjackets in particular, and since I think TV is always about the characters, find it to be a fruitful approach.

With Yellowjackets S2E9, “Storytelling,” this hardly feels necessary, as the episode basically gives a straight line of plot in 2021 and a straight line of plot in the wilderness, but I’m going to try doing it that way anyway. Cards on the table, my initial reaction to this episode was fairly negative, but I’m hoping that I’ll feel better about it as I think it through. Because as the Season 2 finale came to a close, I found myself thinking that I wasn’t even really invested in seeing a Season 3.

Nat (Juliette Lewis) sits alone in the middle of an empty plane

A big reason for that is that they killed off my favorite character, bodily in one timeline and spiritually in the other. I’ve suggested to people before that Juliette Lewis and Sophie Thatcher should get some kind of dual Emmy for their work as Natalie in this show. In my mind, the pair is doing the absolute best job of making the teen and adult versions of their character feel like the same person (and this in a cast full of others who are also doing exemplary work when it comes to the same task, to be clear).

In the wilderness timeline, I wasn’t at all surprised by the way Nat processes Javi’s (Luciano Leroux) death. I think that tracks perfectly, and it makes sense that she moves to embrace the idea that the wilderness chose to the extent that she couldn’t live with herself otherwise. It also makes sense that when Lottie (Courtney Eaton) proclaims that the wilderness has chosen Nat to be the new leader of the group, she smiles at the thought.

Nat (Sophie Thatcher) smiling

Yellowjackets has always been about the dynamics between teenage girls (and how this affects them as adult women) as much as anything else. And Nat, the quasi-burnout at the margins of the group who is nonetheless a member, always wanted the others to accept her. She didn’t want to play their little games or pretend to be someone she wasn’t in order to belong. She wanted them to accept her for who she is and see that she’s someone of value. And she gets that through Lottie’s imprimatur, as messed up as the circumstances are. So of course she’s happy, even as it adds another river into the bucket of things that are going to eat her up inside later.

Some might jump to the conclusion on the basis of this scene that Nat is the Antler Queen, and I do want to emphasize that we do not know that. Besides the fact that fans made up the term and baked in presumptions about its meaning, I think there’s every chance that the scenes interlaced into the Yellowjackets pilot won’t occur for another full calendar year in relation to what we’re seeing in the Season 2 finale.

A figure in a shroud wearing horns

A lot can happen in a year! Perhaps it will turn out that they rotate who takes this ceremonial role, or maybe the one who performs this role isn’t really the leader of the group. Maybe it is Lottie, but she serves as more of a figurehead or representative of the wilderness than in a position of real power. Already we’ve seen Yellowjackets move her character in that direction.

Or maybe Nat just won’t remain the leader for long. As “Storytelling” nears its end, Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) is expressing resentment in her journal. She thinks it should have been her, so this may well presage power plays to come.

But regardless, the events of the hour represent a spiritual death for the young Natalie insofar as they take us to the moment where she hands herself over to the darkness. By taking this position of authority, she will be constrained by it. If she was already moving in the direction of believing the wilderness chose in order to be able to live with what she’d done, this will mean that she has to believe that, at least officially. In this sense, I’m not sure what’s left for her in terms of character development.

Nat (Sophie Thatcher) appears to Nat (Juliette Lewis) in a vision on a plane

And indeed, when Nat (Juliette Lewis) dies in the 2021 timeline, the young Nat shows up in the plane to tell her they’ve been there for years. Nat may not have died in that hunt physically. She may have let Javi die in her place. But in terms of her conception of herself and her place in the world, she never recovered. It’s quite sad.

And in that regard, this is actually a fitting end for Natalie. She pushes Lisa (Nicole Maines) out of the way and we can feel some parallel with what happened to Javi, like she couldn’t let that happen again.

Personally, I think Yellowjackets would have been a much more interesting show if instead the adult women had taken Nat’s suggestion and tried to process their trauma together. That would have been messy, and they would have been likely to fail. Or perhaps their attempt would have been interrupted by Jeff (Warren Kole), Callie (Sarah Desjardins), Walter (Elijah Wood), Kevyn (Alex Wyndham), and Matt (John Reynolds) all arriving at the compound, and we would have gotten some intersection of these storylines that had forward momentum coming out of the season.

Misty, Tai, Van, and Lottie, wearing masks and holding knives in the Yellowjackets Season 2 finale

But, alas, that’s not what happens. Everyone comes together in this place while the adult Yellowjackets move to reenact their wilderness ritual. Lottie (Simone Kessell) is into it for real, while Shauna (Melanie Lynskey), Misty (Christina Ricci), and Tai (Tawny Cypress) all think they’re going to play along until they can resolve the situation another way.

Misty calls a crisis intervention team, and I think it’s important to how things play out to realize that she and Shauna continue to think that this team is on its way through most of the scene that unfolds. Tai, on the other hand, is convinced to call them off when Van (Lauren Ambrose) insists that they owe Lottie more than that. Being in an institution isn’t going to help her. It’s their job to help her.

Van (Lauren Ambrose) with a pained and hopeful look on her face

That’s a fair point, really, but it seems clear as things unfold that Van is actually into it. Maybe she thinks that the wilderness might cure her cancer. That’s not an excuse, but Van increasingly feels like a true believer in the 1996 timeline, so it tracks with her character if she’s secretly on board with Lottie’s plan. It sucks to see my bestie become so evil, but I’ll allow it. Still, where do we go from here in terms of character development?

To be clear, if it turns out in Season 3 that Van’s cancer has gone away, that would be the absolutely lamest thing that Yellowjackets could possibly do. I would actually be offended. But that butts up into another issue with the Season 2 finale, and indeed perhaps Season 2 as a whole: there has been virtually no development with regard to anything that seems supernatural.

Lottie (Simone Kessell) looks upwards, with smeared mascara from crying

Now, it’s true that in one sense Yellowjackets Season 2 has played with the idea of a supernatural element a lot. In the 1996 timeline, we’ve seen the group embrace a belief in the wilderness, which culminates in “It Chooses” as they let Javi die. And in the 2021 timeline, Lottie has been grappling all season with the worry that she’s never been mentally ill. Maybe it was all actually real, and her problems stem from trying to deny it.

That’s all well and good, except Season 2 gives us practically nothing to make us think that way. In Season 1, Lottie not only killed a bear but predicted that the bear would arrive to feed them. That’s something. The closest parallel in Season 2 is the thing with the birds, but that’s far easier to explain away, particularly when we know there is some kind of weird electromagnetic thing happening in proximity to the cabin.

Teen Lottie lies on the snow

When Lottie and Nat have their competition, spurred by the belief of girls like Mari (Alexa Barajas) in Lottie’s powers, Lottie comes up completely empty and almost dies. Praise be.

Maybe her vision of the mall was a sign to be interpreted, which could have led the group to Javi’s cave, but that didn’t happen either. The most powerful thing that Lottie does in Season 2 is when she lets Shauna beat the piss out of her, but there’s nothing there to make us think the spirits might be real.

The teen Yellowjackets sit around a table at the mall

Back in the Season 1 finale, Jackie (Ella Purnell) saw a man in the doorway that many have taken to calling Cabin Daddy. What’s up with that? What happened at this cabin previously that led to a corpse in the attic? Why was the deck of cards missing its queens, and where did Javi find the queen of hearts?

Who is the Man With No Eyes and what does he have to do with all of this? The closest Season 2 comes to engaging with what seems to be supernatural is in this storyline with Tai (Jasmin Savoy Brown). The Other One says she follows the Man With No Eyes and that seems to lead to her finding Javi. But that doesn’t really go anywhere in the episodes that follow, and we don’t learn if Javi’s friend was not-Tai or if he was referring to someone else.

And then the cabin burns down. This, on top of Javi’s death, makes it feel like avenues of inquiry are closed off. Maybe they aren’t, and indeed maybe all of these things together will form the crux of Yellowjackets Season 3, but S2E9 doesn’t leave us feeling the weight of those questions so much as it does the opposite.

The Yellowjackets stand in a line, reacting to the burning cabin

Maybe the writers of Yellowjackets got a little too hung up on wanting to leave things ambiguous with regard to the possibility of a supernatural element and leaned too far in the other direction. Because it feels fairly definitive in “Storytelling” that Lottie is just super mentally ill, and that colors how everything else comes across.

When she suggests that it makes no difference whether “it” exists or if it was just the actions of the group in the wilderness, Lottie hits on what should be landing for us. Or, at least, this is what I’ve insisted on all along: it doesn’t matter whether the supernatural is real in this story or not. That’s the wrong question because it implies that if the supernatural is real, then our friends are off the hook. That wouldn’t be true!

Lottie taking this in the absolute opposite direction should feel compelling, but it doesn’t because the feeling that maybe there really is something paranormal going on hasn’t been properly serviced this season. Unless anyone thinks that some wilderness spirit was actually appearing to Lottie when she thought she was going to therapy, and that just doesn’t feel very plausible to me.

The Antler Queen sitting in Lottie's living room

Meanwhile, as someone who was fully prepared to be Lottie’s acolyte at the end of Season 1, I can’t help but feel disappointed by her arc in Season 2. She never really takes up the mantle as charismatic Pope of the Wilderness or as a charismatic cult leader in 2021. I don’t even think it’s fair to call her community in 2021 a cult. I think she was actually helping people. And that’s fine, but I struggle more with how things play out for teen Lottie.

She’s at most a reluctant leader, when she is one, and ultimately she’s more of a victim than anything. The others form the ritual without her. Misty (Samantha Hanratty) badgers her into saying she’s OK with what they’ve done. And it’s all just really sad, honestly. I feel bad for Lottie.

Maybe it’s just a matter of my personal desires as a viewer of Yellowjackets, but this all also feels to me like a case of subverting expectations for the sake of doing so. I don’t feel like it serves the character well. Indeed, as with Nat and with Van, I’m left feeling like we’ve gotten the whole story about Lottie. She’s mentally ill, and in the face of trauma and harsh circumstances, the others took advantage of her.

Misty (Samantha Hanratty) tends to Lottie (Courtney Eaton) in Yellowjackets S2E8, "It Chooses"

Misty has killed her best friend… again. And though there is something humorous in the idea that Nat was Misty’s best friend, we can at least accept that Misty thought so. It’s nice to see her and Walter getting together, but the Adam Martin plotline also feels pretty wrapped up in the Season 2 finale.

Sure, it’s possible that Matt won’t play along, or they’ll discover the phenobarbital in Kevyn’s system, or that there’s some other way that Walter’s plan won’t work properly, but frankly that sounds boring. I can’t really say I’m interested in seeing a plotline like that at all.

Walter smirks at Kevyn

The most intriguing dangling threads in the 2021 timeline surround Taissa, but Yellowjackets has almost encouraged us to forget about them. For instance, she’s a State Senator now, and has just gone missing for at least several days. She left her wife, Simone (Rukiya Bernard), lying comatose in a hospital bed, and who knows where Sammy (Aiden Stoxx) is. I guess he’s probably with Simone’s mom. I think that’s where they went when Simone left Tai. But what about Steve? Is the dog OK??

The issue of the Other Tai has also not been resolved. We might posit that she wanted Tai and Van to go to Lottie’s compound, and that this is what she meant when she told Van they weren’t where they were supposed to be. We might further speculate about the possibility that she took over during the reenactment of the ritual in 2021, though I’m not sure that line of thought takes us anywhere worth following.

Tai (Jasmin Savoy Brown) looks into a window and sees two reflections of herself that differ from one another

In the 1996 timeline, meanwhile, it feels a lot like the thread has been dropped. Earlier in the season, Tai was shocked to learn that she’d eaten Jackie’s face, and with her seeing another version of herself in “It Chooses,” we might have gotten to thinking about it being not-Tai who engages in the ritual and the hunt.

And that might be true! Maybe she’s been not-Tai ever since some moment in S2E8 before she insisted that they kill and eat someone other than Lottie, but it’s hard to feel like Yellowjackets has provided much to feed that thought.

Shauna (Sophie Nelisse) looks on with a pained face

There remain some things worth exploring with regard to Shauna. Thinking about what we’ve seen of her in both timelines, I’ve come to the conclusion that she’s never believed in The Wilderness for a single second of her life. She knows they killed people. She decided to kill people, knowing that this is what she was doing, and she’s the one who did the difficult work of dismembering those bodies to feed everyone.

Shauna, with her back to the camera, prepares to dismember Javi

The resentment she expresses in her journal makes sense. What she does isn’t easy, but someone has to do it. That’s almost her defining maxim: to do the nasty thing that needs to be done because no one else will. And I think she was being completely honest when she told that guy earlier in Season 2 all about how much she enjoys murdering people. It gives her a sense of power to see that look in the eyes of a living thing when it knows it’s going to die, and that compensates for how she continues to feel a lack of social recognition.

So maybe there are fruitful places for that to go. Maybe Shauna’s resentment will lead to a fracturing of the group in the wilderness, as so many have variously predicted. Or maybe that won’t happen and the other group is just whoever set the cabin on fire.

Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) with her arms spread to her sides, in disbelief

The odds-on favorite for having done that would seem to be Ben (Steven Krueger). After Nat spurns his offer to join him in Javi’s cave, we see him trying to start a fire, so Yellowjackets is definitely planting seeds to make us think that he burned the cabin down. It would also be easy enough to see his motivation for doing so. That’s not at all to say I think he would be justified, to be clear.

Ben looks pained in Yellowjackets S2E9, "Storytelling"

There are only a couple of other available possibilities, given that the fire was clearly started from outside of the cabin and the door was barricaded shut.

It’s putatively possible that Crystal (Nuha Jes Izman) didn’t actually die, and this is why Misty couldn’t find her body. That seems far-fetched, but I don’t know that we can rule it out, or some variation where Crystal has become an ice zombie with no eyes who’s now defined by a murderous streak.

The other main possibility is that Javi’s friend is a real person who is mad that they killed him, or the variant where “real person” means spiteful wood nymph or something like that. That seems more plausible, and while it would put Yellowjackets at risk of repeating Lost if it turns out there are Others in the wilderness, it would at least create some narrative momentum.

And, to be utterly clear, I’m not against the idea of an angry undead being or supernatural creature of the trees. That might actually be fun.

The Man With No Eyes in the woods in the opening credits of Yellowjackets S1E3

I know a lot of people out in the world have had issues with Yellowjackets Season 2, and I do want to affirm that I largely have not been one of them. I’ve been fine with the pacing. I’ve been fine with the Ben storyline and his visions of Paul (François Arnaud). I’ve found the ways in which reality was blurred to be compelling, and I have been fine with the visual cues to indicate such things are going on.

I reacted negatively to “It Chooses” but was moved to reconsider some things as I sat with it for a week. But “Storytelling” is worse, and I fear that reflecting on it at length isn’t going to really improve my assessment.

Among other things, this conclusion to the adult Lottie’s Season 2 arc seems to be waving its hands at a couple of questions that felt really pressing at the end of Season 1. We wanted to know what happened to Travis and what he thought Nat was right about. And when we got an answer to that from Lottie in Season 2, it didn’t feel right. Especially with all of the ways other events in the season are distorted by perspective, I felt pretty confident that we weren’t getting the unvarnished truth. But in light of S2E9, I fear we’re just being asked to accept this as the answer and move on.

A small notepad with pencil around an outline that reads "Tell Nat She Was Right" in Yellowjackets Season 1 Episode 3

Along similar lines, one might recall that when Suzie (Colleen Wheeler) called Nat at the end of Season 1 to relay who had emptied Travis’s bank account, she sounded properly terrified as she spoke the name Lottie Matthews. Why would that be when it seems like Charlotte has just been running a little intentional community that makes and sells honey?

In short, I still don’t believe Lottie’s version of events, and that would be fine—it would be good, even!—if I didn’t leave the Season 2 finale feeling like I’m being asked to.

The symbol as a pendant in front of a purple shirt

Maybe there’s a clue in the episode’s title—“Storytelling”—that should be taken to indicate that we aren’t getting reality so much as a version of it. Maybe there’s more to the way Natalie saw Misty at the party back in the pilot and how this image recurs as she dies in S2E9. Maybe there’s more than meets the eye. But if there is, at this point it’s going to feel more like Yellowjackets is pulling a big twist out of nowhere than it is like the show has done patient work in the background to lay the foundation for a turn that’s surprising but still tracks with everything that’s come before.

In reconsidering my reaction to “It Chooses,” I noted how I’d let what I wanted Yellowjackets to be to get in the way of taking the show for what it is. I’m going to try to avoid making that mistake again.

Callie and Jeff share a look in Yellowjackets S2E9, "Storytelling"

I thought this might be a show that actually grapples with trauma; how the event of it cuts time into a Before and an After that are irreconcilable, and how one must live in light of that fact. I thought Yellowjackets might be exploring the wilderness of the primordial feminine and the kind of chaos that lurks outside or underneath the established patriarchal order.

But it turns out the show we’re watching is much more like Pretty Little Liars. Sure, Yellowjackets has great production values, a stellar cast, incredible music… and cannibalism. And I don’t mean to imply that Pretty Little Liars lacks all of those things. The point is that we’re probably better off thinking of Yellowjackets as a show that’s fun than we are thinking of it as a show that’s deep.

Misty in a black shirt, in front of a red curtain, with animations around her including a syringe and Walter dancing in a suit and hat

Maybe Yellowjackets will continue to hit some of the marks I’d hoped it would hit as it moves forward, but it seems more interested in making our jaws drop and giving space for quirky banter. And that can make for a good time. I suppose that’s fine if that’s all this is.

The team’s lost their cabin, so I guess they’ll have to figure out how to live without it. I saw someone suggest they saw the lights of a town as the camera panned up to close the Season 2 finale, but I think those are just stars. Let me know if I’m missing something.

A smoke filled sky, with stars in the background

I’d like to close with what I’m looking forward to about Season 3, but I’m afraid it amounts to just those things I laid out above that Yellowjackets doesn’t seem to be attending to as Season 2 ends.

Give me the Man With No Eyes and Cabin Daddy, and if this show is going to go off the rails, let’s go for it.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

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