SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched the series premiere of Showtime’s “Yellowjackets.”
The women of “Yellowjackets” have a problem.
In the 1990s-set storyline on the new Showtime drama, a group of teenage soccer stars who have the world in front of them are jolted when their plane crashes on the way to a game. Stuck in the wilderness, they face limited resources, no real shelter and clashing personalities. But for the ones that survive and are eventually rescued, things are no less complicated 25 years later when they’ve tried to move on from their experience.
The women came back with secrets of what went on during their time together, and now not only is a reporter sniffing around but someone is sending postcards bearing a symbol that was etched on the elements way back when, with motives unknown. And, of course, they still have their own complex emotions about what they went through then, which greatly shaped who they are now.
Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) seems to keep herself isolated, with a guard up, while Natalie (Juliette Lewis) has relied on numbing herself time and again, and Misty (Christina Ricci) embraced a hardness and darkness that she hides behind a look that is stuck in her adolescence. Only Taissa (Tawny Cypress) appears to be thriving — in a loving relationship and running for political office — but how much of that is a cover for residual inner turmoil remains to be seen.
Here, the executive producers of “Yellowjackets” talk about exploring trauma through multiple timelines, bringing boys into the picture and answering the present-day mystery in the first season.
The focus of “Yellowjackets” is on a few female soccer stars and who they become years later after they survive a plane crash. But it’s not only young women who are stranded together. What inspired you to include a few guys in that storyline?
Ashley Lyle: We knew going in that we wanted this to be first and foremost an exploration of female friendship. And particularly when you’re younger, I think that boys are a complicating factor in female friendships. We also wanted to explore not just specifically their reaction to the extreme circumstances that they find themselves in, but also a more universal experience. And so, to our mind, this first experience of love and lust and figuring out how to process relationships and sexuality was important to us to be able to explore across the board, both in terms of heteronormative relationships and other relationships — exploring the different personalities and just paths that people go down as they’re figuring out who they are. And so, we wanted to make sure that we were allowing ourselves to have all of those factors at play, not just the way these girls are interacting with each other.
Jonathan Lisco: If you’re going to watch a group of young women free themselves of gender conventions in the wilderness and then build up a new society free of that hierarchy, it seems a little false to do so in the absence of testosterone. That doesn’t seem quite right in a way — it seems overly simplistic. When we started to imagine where those storylines can go without the usual societal prejudices and conventions at work, it got very exciting.
It seems like who they are stranded with, in addition to the environment itself, will greatly inform how they respond — at least at first. Which characters learn to adapt and which have something dormant in them — their true self — finally brought out by this experience?
Bart Nickerson: The question of what is imposed on them by the environment and what is released as a result is actually one of the fundamental questions that we’re trying to play with throughout this series. So we probably haven’t made any decisions, I guess maybe except in the case of Jackie, which is, I think maybe the only character that had a story function crystallized at the beginning and that the character was actually created that way. We wanted her to be this character who was the most endowed by societal norms in terms of the authority over the team that was given to her by a social environment — and then to have all of that stripped away from her in the wilderness and you watch that play out.
Lyle: I think all of our characters become their truest selves when they’re out there, it’s just that can mean very different things. Some of them thrive and some of them really struggle. But what, across the board, we were looking to do was find those things that are dormant — things that we are more likely to hide about ourselves or the protective mask that everyone puts on.
In the wilderness scenes, every character is just reacting out of survival instinct, but when you cut to 25 years later, they have had years to process what they went through. What research went into determining who might still have PTSD, who might be avoiding their trauma, et cetera?
Lyle: Trauma is a big theme of this show and we did do research — we wanted it to feel authentic — but we also didn’t want to get overly clinical about it. And so, we were really dependent largely on personal experience. The writers’ room is a magical place where writers who are constantly thinking about the world around them can come together and talk about it in this really profound and intimate way. One thing that I know I’ve always thought about and find really fascinating — and the older you get the more you realize — [is] trauma is an experience that most people have been through to one degree or another. Trauma is just a fact of life, to some extent, particularly for women, and so we really wanted to get personal as opposed to clinical and explore it that way.
You do have four main characters who live very different lives in 2021 and seem to have worked through their trauma very differently.
Lyle: Shauna, to us, felt like our entry point and our avatar of sorts for the audience. She’s somebody who’s a bit of an observer and she has allowed herself in her high school experience before this pivotal event to be sidelined, and I feel like that’s a really common experience — to feel like you’re waiting in the wings to become the person that you really are. That’s, to me, a very universal feeling of being a teenager. And so, that’s part of why we wanted to bring everybody into the story via Shauna’s point of view. And then, in terms of Misty and Natalie and Taissa, it just felt like they’re so different. And we wanted to have this really rounded out experience of not only being a teenager, but also having to deal with the trauma of the experience that they had, but also the trauma of growing up and the trauma of adulthood, which I think is its own experience that can go in many different directions. There’s a lot of disappointment when you reach a certain age and you start having to reconcile the fact that your life maybe didn’t turn out the way that you thought it would. And so, we really just wanted to look at really different women who are processing that in very different ways.
Nickerson: Yeah, it’s not like we started by saying like, “OK we need four fundamental strategies for negotiating trauma,” but I guess that was where the character and story took us because you have a character in Shauna, who is in some ways disassociated from her life and her truest self and is very stalled, and then you have Taissa, who has done the opposite — who has continued to achieve and move forward by sheer force of will to prove to herself that she is OK. And then you have Natalie who has had this chaotic addiction strategy, just trying to feel things in the most pumped up way and continually being shattered by that and then put back together. And then Misty probably has the most acceptance around who they became out there and, as much as possible, has embraced the totality of themselves.
Lisco: Misty is arguably the character who never 100% wanted to leave that environment because she was at her best in that situation and is still is sort of living it day to day, moment to moment, because of her relationships with these women and the way in which her relationships in her mind at least define her.
What about the others in the wilderness with them? Will we see some of them in future episodes or should we assume that if we don’t see or hear about someone in present day, they did not survive?
Lyle: The answer is neither. We have chosen to focus our attention this season on on Shauna, Natalie, Taissa and Misty. That is not to say that there aren’t other survivors who are alive. And our plan is to have the type of story where we can continue to turn over cards when we feel like we are narratively ready to.
There is someone sending them reminders of their time in the wilderness. Is this something that will be answered by the end of the first season?
Lyle: We do answer that question by the end of the first season. We hope it will be a satisfying answer. We’re old-school television fans, and I think that if you ask a really big question, you do need to be prepared to answer it.
Lisco: But that mystery that will resolve in Season 1 will be a handoff to arguably a second mystery, which will take us into Season 2. And while we love the concrete plot, the three of us really are very interested in this psychological and emotional plot even more.
There is a lot of danger built into the wilderness, from both the external elements and the fact that these girls won’t see eye-to-eye on everything. How does the danger level compare in present day with this mysterious person contacting them?
Lisco: I don’t know how much we should spoil, but I will tell you that one of the things we want to explore is paranoia. So obviously, there’s a great deal of real threat and real jeopardy baked into the present-day storyline, but just like in the wilderness, we’re wondering if the threat is external or actually alchemically from within.
Nickerson: We’re trying to build a rise of an internal force or state that is moving in parallel in both ’96 and 2021, and then some of the plot stuff, while incredibly important, is actually going to be charting this multi-season rise. And so, there will be a lot of resolution of storyline on a plot level through the first season [but] what we’re trying to do is just continue to amp up the internal pressure of this thing that we’re using as a metaphor for what they got down to in terms of inside the human soul.
“Yellowjackets” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime.