It’s been a little over a year since Yellowjackets took our TVs by storm with a juicy Lost-style mystery that brought us all back to our days of fervent speculation. Showtime’s psychological thriller about a high school girls’ soccer team stranded in the wilderness in the mid-’90s, and what became of the survivors, had it all: multiple timelines, psychological horror, suburban comedy, and, of course, the dreadful knowledge that many of the girls who survived to the present day probably had a dark cultlike dalliance with cannibalism.
Now the show is finally back. After a season 1 finale that left us longing for more (in ways both good and less so), what’s most remarkable about the season 2 premiere is that it just feels like… the next episode in the first season. This isn’t necessarily bad — Yellowjackets is a pretty stuffed show, and easing back into things so viewers can remind themselves of everything in play before leaping into new dilemmas is a solid approach. It just feels a bit slow, given all the anticipation — perhaps giving plenty for fan theorists to chew on, but leaving others wanting more.
“Friends, Romans, Countrymen,” as the premiere is called, moves as quickly as it can in its introduction to the many plates Yellowjackets has left spinning in midair since last year. In the present day, Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) has a murder to cover up with her husband Jeff’s (Warren Kole) help, Tai (Tawny Cypress) is celebrating her success in local politics while simultaneously losing her family thanks to a condition that’s causing her to do disturbing things in her sleep, and Nat (Juliette Lewis) got kidnapped by a cult.
Nat’s kidnapping is where the real forward momentum happens in “Friends, Romans, Countrymen,” as many fan suspicions are confirmed: The cult is headed up by Lottie (Simone Kessell), who appears to be frustratingly benign even though everything about her cult (and everything we know about teen Lottie) leans kind of sinister.
The ’90s cast mostly gets some good character work, as Jackie’s (Ella Purnell) death leaves the group rocked and Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) struggles to cope. And then there’s a new layer added: a brief flash a little bit further to the Yellowjackets’ lives immediately post-rescue, mostly focusing on Lottie and her difficulty reintegrating back into normal life.
As an episode of television, “Friends, Romans, and Countrymen” is merely fine. As a conversation starter? It’s pretty excellent. The introduction of present-day Lottie will doubtless reignite speculation if she really is the Antler Queen, but at the same time, Yellowjackets writers seem laying it on a bit too thick for that to be the answer. (Kessell herself argues that she’s playing a character that genuinely wants to help the present-day survivors heal. But that could mean a lot of things.) There’s plenty of tension around the rest of the present-day cast, with Tai’s aforementioned troubles and Shauna’s new side gig in murder, having to avoid the authorities and her nosy teen daughter. Also that post-rescue flashback? A great idea. Let’s hope there’s more.
But once again, the most gripping part of Yellowjackets is, well, the Yellowjackets’ survival story, and watching them slowly fracture, reset, or unspool. For all of the plot threads the series is juggling, the show’s writers don’t seem to have lost their iron grip on this one. And they’re making sure the girls continue to struggle in some… delicious ways.