I’ve thought long and hard about all the ways Yellowjackets went wrong in its second season. I’ve laid out a number of the problems with the show leading up to the finale, and then wrote a pretty scathing review of that episode. But there’s one more piece of this puzzle (at least) that I think I need to address: Season 2 just wasn’t very scary.
It was dark, sure, and bleak. Sometimes it was hard to watch because of this. But Season 1 had this wonderful sense of rising dread and menace that was so visceral and raw.
When I reviewed Doomcoming, I wrote:
Yellowjackets is a crazy good show that does two things very well.
First, it soaks everything in an implacable sense of dread and menace. Second, it keeps its mysteries on a slow boil.
A great deal of this was thanks to the instrumental music composed by Craig Wedren and Anna Waronker that the show used to such great effect in the first season. Those haunting choral voices could almost inspire panic. Paired with the many terrifying horror movie moments in Season 1, it often left me deeply creeped out and unsettled.
In Season 2, the instrumental score was largely pushed aside for a bunch of (admittedly often very good) 90s’ hits. Sometimes this worked well, but by the end I found myself really missing the first season’s approach. "God Is Alive Magic Is Afoot" by Buffy Sainte-Marie was the only song in the finale that really added a sense of dread, but it feels wasted on such a lousy episode. Zombie by The Cranberries is just wildly overused in TV and film. It’s a great song but a little on the nose. I’d have preferred this. Two versions of The Killing Moon by Echo and the Bunnymen also seemed a bit much, and that’s also a terrific song and quite appropriate for this show. I get why it was used.
It’s not just the music, however, that kills the horror vibe. There just aren’t really any great scary scenes, and the ones that should have been scary felt rushed. Compare the rising sense of menace and madness in Doomcoming to the hunt for Natalie in the penultimate episode of Season 2. In Doomcoming, there’s so much build-up and suspense. The way that Jackie and Travis having sex works as a catalyst for Lottie and her pack’s feral intervention. The way that sex turns to hunger as they begin biting at his skin. The terrifying chase through the woods as they hallucinate that he’s a stag. Shauna’s almost inhuman snarl to Javi to “Run!” All of this leading to Lottie sticking the pinecone in Travis’s mouth and Shauna very nearly slitting his throat. It’s terrifying!
There were so many great moments like this in Season 1. Tai eating dirt outside the cabin when Lottie stumbles on her; then later, Tai outside of Sammy’s room eating dirt in the tree. The whole segment with Tai finding the corpse in the attic and how that was interwoven with her discovering the doll in the present timeline and seeing the Man With No Eyes as a child. Chills! When Simone finds the decapitated dog shrine it’s such a deeply unsettling moment.
The horror was palpable in Season 1, from the creepy séance to Jackie’s (or, rather, Shauna’s) dream. Even the very end, when Nat is kidnapped and the woman leaves the voicemail about Lottie, just makes it sound like something truly diabolical and terrifying is on its way.
And then in Season 2 . . . nothing. A Lottie is just a new age guru running a pretty boring cult. We learn nothing about the Man With No Eyes and barely focus on Tai at all. There were a couple scary moments with Tai early on when the Other is coming out, but those are basically dropped for the rest of the season.
The scene where the girls hunt Nat is certainly intense, but there’s almost no build-up, and we know she gets away for obvious reasons which robs a lot of the dramatic tension. They start howling and get all feral again as they give chase, but it feels forced and rushed rather than organic and terrifying. Perhaps the scariest scene of them all is when Shauna sees the girls and Coach Ben eating her baby, but it’s just a dream! When Shauna almost beats Lottie to death, it’s just bizarre that nobody tries to stop her, and then this leads directly to the group deciding that they need to kill someone else to save Lottie’s life and everyone just shrugs and goes along with it. No debate, no build-up, no tension between disparate voices.
Oh, and the adult timeline hunt scene—where they’re all sort of slowly jogging through the woods—was just laughable.
In my review of Doomcoming I noticed a couple other things. First, I was having a great time writing about the show. It was just so damn good that it made writing about it so fun. People think I love to hate on shows, and that can certainly be fun, but I much prefer a show that makes me think and feel, that’s scary and surprising. I much preferred writing about Game Of Thrones before it started getting bad.
The second thing is this passage I wrote at the time, in which I vocalized my fears for a second season:
Just one more episode left of Season 1 and then the long wait for Season 2, and all the gnawing doubt that comes with a second season. Frankly, a part of me wishes they had come up with a complete story that would wrap up in just one season.
A limited series would have ensured that the story wasn’t dragged out, that all the mysteries were solved and that we walked away happy even if we didn’t get more content. The risks of going with a multi-season approach are very real. We’ve seen it happen too many times to count.
A show starts off with a brilliant first outing and then slowly devolves into forced plot-lines, tired twists and a bloated, meandering narrative.
My hope is that they have all the pieces worked out already, and that they just need one or two more seasons to weave it all together into a satisfying conclusion. I’m hopeful that’s the case, but nervous.
I’m so sad that this is how things played out. I basically described Season 2 in a nutshell. Like I’m Lottie friggin’ Matthews predicting the future. What a tragedy.