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The Other Survivors Play a Key Part in Yellowjackets' 5-Season Plan

Expanding the roles of characters like Mari and Akilah is essential to the drama's longevity.
  • Mya Lowe, Nia Sondaya, and Alexa Barajas in Yellowjackets Season 2 (Photos: Showtime/Primetimer graphic)
    Mya Lowe, Nia Sondaya, and Alexa Barajas in Yellowjackets Season 2 (Photos: Showtime/Primetimer graphic)

    Yellowjackets may thrive on the unknown, but co-creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson haven't been shy about revealing their grand plan for the Showtime drama. Lyle and Nickerson originally envisioned a "five-season" roadmap for the show, and despite making a few changes, they say they've largely stayed "on track" in Season 2. Showtime has already greenlit Season 3, but the question remains: Does Yellowjackets really have enough juice to sustain five seasons?

    While the present-day timeline has experimented with tone and offered fun glimpses into the characters' psyches, it often feels like it's treading water. A storyline about Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) covering up the murder of her lover Adam (Peter Gadiot) has moved at a glacial pace, and Taissa's (Tawny Cypress) evil twin debacle has overwhelmed her to the point that the show has seemingly forgotten she has a son, an estranged wife in the hospital, and a demanding job as a state senator.

    Natalie (Juliette Lewis) has been narratively trapped at Lottie's (Simone Kessell) cult compound, where she's embraced Lottie's New Age philosophy, a turn of events that doesn't track with the prickly woman introduced in Season 1. And though it was nice to see the adult survivors participate in their boozy "group therapy" session in Episode 7, "Burial," we're no closer to understanding the supernatural force that has followed the Yellowjackets out of the wilderness and into their adult lives, or why it's just now reemerged, 25 years after the fact.

    The real intrigue this season has been in the 1996 timeline, which continues to move the girls closer to the brutality of the pilot's "pit girl" murder and cannibalistic feast. They haven't yet started hunting one another for sport, but they have been pushed to eat one of their own (even if she was already dead when the wilderness roasted her), and most of the girls have come to believe in Lottie's (Courtney Eaton) powers.

    These storylines, as well as those about Shauna's (Sophie Nélisse) tragic childbirth and Misty's (Samantha Hanratty) involvement in Crystal's (Nuha Jes Izman) death, have packed a devastating emotional punch, but it's difficult to see them carrying Yellowjackets for three more seasons. With spring approaching, bringing fresh game and resources with it, the girls won't need to resort to cannibalism, just as more hospitable conditions lessen the demand for Lottie's mystical abilities. Conceivably, until the show works its way to the girls' second winter (given their 19-month wilderness timeline, they should be rescued shortly after the savage opening scene), the drama will be less about basic survival and more about their fraying relationships, a theme that's been underexplored amid Season 2's harsh winter.

    All this is to say that in order for Yellowjackets to succeed across five seasons, it will need to inject some fresh blood — both literally and figuratively. Lyle and Nickerson seem to understand this, as Season 2 has been slowly increasing the role of the "other" Yellowjackets: the girls who survived the plane crash, but may or may not make it out of the wilderness alive.

    Of the many girls hanging around the fringes of the core group, Mari (Alexa Barajas) has been most involved in the narrative. The cabin's head chef, Mari relishes her position as resident pot-stirrer. Last season, she tried to break up Shauna and Jackie's (Ella Purnell) best friendship; this season, she spends her days bullying Misty for poisoning the girls with her hallucinogenic mushroom soup (a sin everyone else has already forgotten) and vocally defending Lottie from skeptics like Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) and Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown). As Lottie's sway has increased, so too has Mari's screen time, though we still know little about her as a character beyond her devotion to Lottie's cult-like magic.

    Mari's main confidante, Akilah (Keeya King in Season 1, and Nia Sondaya in Season 2), has also taken on more responsibility this season. Akilah was promoted from the JV team just before nationals, but in the weeks following the plane crash, she proved her worth with her impressive medical knowledge — she stitched up Van's (Liv Hewson) face after she was attacked by a wolf — and survival skills. (She's also determined to keep up with her SAT studies, which reveals much about her character's optimistic, if naive, outlook.)

    After the sight of Shauna's blood during childbirth sends Misty spiraling, Akilah steps in as lead nurse, guiding her through a painful labor until Misty pulls herself together. Afterwards, Akilah and Mari discuss the possibility that Misty killed Crystal; when Misty overhears and reacts accordingly, organizing a search party for her dead friend, it indicates that the girls who were once observers of the action are beginning to drive it themselves.

    But what's more striking than Mari's and Akilah's expanded roles, which feel like a natural progression for their characters, is that girls who didn't even have names last season are now coming off the bench, as well. The Season 2 premiere gives voice to Gen (Mya Lowe, previously credited as "Yellowjacket #1") and Melissa (Jenna Burgess), who wonder what the other girls are talking about across the cabin. ("Gods of the dirt? Dumb jock boyfriends?" Gen suggests.) A few lines of dialogue are thrown their way over the next few episodes, but in "Burial," they finally have a chance to weigh in on the unfortunate position they find themselves in. As a group heads out to look for Crystal, Gen says the quiet part out loud: "If they find her, and she's not... I mean, that wouldn't be the worst thing that could happen, right?"

    Gen and Melissa purposely let their sentences trail off — both are afraid to offer a full-throated endorsement of eating Crystal's body — but the moment marks an important shift in the girls' mindset. For the first time, the survivors are welcoming death among their ranks, as engaging in another bout of cannibalism may very well be the only way to make it to spring alive. Clearly, the inner circle will come to this same realization by next winter, but for now, it's been spoken aloud only on the fringes. That it's Gen and Melissa, rather than Shauna or Taissa or even Misty, who ask whether it would really be so bad to eat Crystal creates a new avenue for exploration. It gives the show an opportunity to further develop their characters, both as individuals (what were their lives like before the crash?) and as potential antagonists in the inevitable debate over whether to keep eating their fallen comrades.

    If Yellowjackets hopes to keep viewers hooked for five seasons, this is exactly the kind of work it should be doing. Of course, expanding the role of supporting characters in a way that doesn't compromise the central story, but bolsters it, is easier said than done. Just look at Ted Lasso, which has used its supersized episodes to spend more time with its ensemble players. While it was necessary to move beyond Ted (Jason Sudeikis) and his anxieties, Season 3 does so in a way that siloes each character within their own story, to the detriment of a show that thrives on the interplay between its many personalities.

    However, that's not likely to be the case with Yellowjackets, and it's not just because the teenagers are in such close proximity that it's difficult to isolate any one of them. The 1990s-set timeline has remained focused on the girls' survival efforts, while also creating a pathway for Mari, Akilah, Gen, and Melissa to emerge into the light. Considering viewers haven't yet seen their present-day counterparts, their stories may be even more interesting than the ones currently being told, and they have the potential to ensure the longevity of the show. And if (or more accurately, when) these B-Teamers find themselves on the menu next, at the very least, we'll know a bit more about them as the others feast on their flesh.

    New episodes of Yellowjackets stream Fridays and air Sundays at 9:00 PM ET on Showtime. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Yellowjackets, Alexa Barajas, Ashley Lyle, Bart Nickerson, Jenna Burgess, Mya Lowe, Nia Sondaya