Type keyword(s) to search


A Tribute to Nat, the True Hero of Yellowjackets

In the Season 2 finale, Nat is, at long last, chosen.
  • Juliette Lewis as Nat in Yellowjackets (Photo: Kailey Schwerman/Showtime)
    Juliette Lewis as Nat in Yellowjackets (Photo: Kailey Schwerman/Showtime)

    [Editor’s Note: This post includes major spoilers for the Yellowjackets Season 2 finale, “Storytelling.”]

    Yellowjackets has always been an ensemble show, but as Season 2 drew to a close, the broader mystery, suspense, and supernatural intrigue fell to the wayside. This season was ultimately about the tragic destruction of Nat (Juliette Lewis), the only hero the show ever had.

    In the present-day timeline, she lies dead on a gurney, having been accidentally stabbed by Misty with a syringe filled with fentanyl. The authorities mutter that this is just an overdose, and Nat’s long history of substance abuse will provide ample evidence for that theory. But it's made especially painful after having watched her fight across eight episodes for her sobriety, forced to revisit a youth where her schoolmates and family dismissed her as worthless trash. Despite everything she did, despite everyone she saved, she is wheeled out in the final moments of the Season 2 finale “Storytelling,” encased in plastic, as if to be unceremoniously taken to the dump.

    These scenes are made all the crueler when interspersed with what happens to young Nat (Sophie Thatcher) in the wilderness. Javi (Luciano Leroux) dies and is devoured, and their spiritual leader Lottie (Courtney Eaton), emerges from her near-death experience, having had an epiphany. She slowly tells the newly fed girls, “I never wanted to be in charge. It chose me because I was the one who knew how to listen. You all learned how to hear it. To feel it.” The girl born into immense privilege turns to the girl from the trailer park and resets the hierarchy. “You were always its favorite,” Lottie tells Nat. “We tried to kill you, and it wouldn’t let us.” One by one, the Yellowjackets line up and bow down to Nat, who has fed and nurtured them all this time.

    If Season 1 ended with high school queen bee Jackie (Ella Purnell) losing her power and ending up dead in the snow without social subordinates to protect her, Nat’s ascension is the other side of that coin, where finally, her value could be recognized. She was finally someone’s favorite.

    The show leaned into teasing a supernatural presence in Season 2, and everyone from posters in online forums to trusted Primetimer contributors/ancient mythology enthusiasts have speculated what otherworldly forces are at play. But in the season finale, “Storytelling,” Shauna revives the ambiguity, yelling, “You know there’s no IT, right? It was just us!” only for Lottie to calmly respond “Does it matter?” And in many respects, that speaks to just how it doesn't really matter who came to favor Nat all those years ago, whether the wilderness (Bacchus, it’s definitely Bacchus) saved her or it was simply that her teammates had grown to care so much about her, they’d rather watch an innocent 12-year-old drown than go through with losing her. Whoever it was, that someone chose, and it chose Nat.

    What made Nat the hero was not just how she provided for the team, hunting and feeding them before winter fell, or that she carried Jackie’s skeleton to the crash site once the team had nibbled every last morsel off her flesh, so she would appear to have died in the plane crash and not incriminate those who would hopefully someday be rescued. She literally bled to help Travis (Kevin Alves) grieve his brother, who (twist and subsequent twist aside) was surely dead. And when Coach Ben (Steven Krueger) finds alternate shelter and returns to Javi’s butchered remains, it is Nat he seeks out to come with him and start survival anew.

    “You don’t have to stay here. You are not like the rest of these girls,” he implores. But Nat turns to him steely-faced and says “Actually I’m worse. I let him die in my place. It was supposed to be me.” She is, of course, wrong. Van (Liv Hewson), our previous comic relief, says she feels no remorse and will not hesitate to eat the child she watched drown, and Travis takes a bite out of his brother’s raw heart like it’s a juicy apple before placing it in the frying pan. Nat, for all the horror and desperation of the wilderness, always held on to her humanity, forced to stand by while detestable things happened, and spiral into guilt.

    This is epitomized in her origin story episode back in Season 1, when her furious father storms into her trailer and labels her a “little slut,” which feels like just the latest in a litany of abuse. Finally pushed to the brink, she takes out his gun to get him back off, and he goads her to shoot. When she brings herself to pull the trigger, he mocks her for leaving the safety on, taking away the gun. But he trips while holding it, and Nat ends up as Schrodinger's murderer again. She both did and didn't kill her dad. She both did and didn't kill Javi. But unlike the others who are so quick to absolve themselves, Nat cannot never truly forgive herself, because the cold cruelty of the wilderness could never change the fact that Nat was a real person who understood and cared about the pain of others, even if it meant others found her pitiful.

    There’s a scene in the Season 1 episode “No Compass,” where the contradictions of who Nat was and how the other Yellowjackets viewed her were set in amber. Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) asks Taissa (Tawny Cypress) in the present day why she continues to put up with Nat’s substance abuse and pay for her rehab over and over again. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her,” Taissa explains. But that previous sense of superiority has resurged in the present, and as Nat confronts their blackmailer, saving them from who turns out to be Shauna’s husband, the two sit in their position of comfort and ask why their lives are so much outwardly better. “Did we do something to deserve that? It’s just fate that gave us that. Who does Natalie have?”

    But Shauna and Taissa are both nightmare mothers and partners — just a few episodes later, we see Shauna stab her lover to death and Taissa disembowel her dog Biscuit. Nat may have been deemed worthless by society once more, but she has become Cassandra, the oracle of ancient mythology cursed to speak the truth but never to be believed. She is the only honest person in “No Compass” when she screams at Shauna and Taissa, “You guys are just as f*cked up as I am, you are just better at lying to yourselves!”

    Juliette Lewis has shown a similar candor in real life, openly expressing her unhappiness with playing Nat’s “de-evolution," calling her role “depressing” and saying it was “not how it was explained to [her].” At present we can only speculate as to whether this contributed to Nat’s fate, and in the years and months that follow the season and the series, Lewis may prove equally candid about how she felt playing Nat in Season 2. But one can only hope that she is able to feel proud of the character that she and Sophie Thatcher created, their portrayals seamlessly blending into one. For all her misgivings, Lewis brought such pathos to Nat that her loss is unbearable; and part of what made her performance great may have been her open desperation for this misery to end. 

    In her final moments, dying of fentanyl invading her bloodstream, Nat’s misery seems like it may finally be ending. She sees Javi beside her on a crashing plane and he reassures her “there is nothing to be afraid of.” Then nihilism sets in, the plane plummeting as she replies to Javi “No, I’m not supposed to be here.” But Nat then turns to a vision of her younger self who, as always, speaks the truth: “We both know that is not true. This is exactly where we belong. We’ve been here for years.” And our hero, in her dying moments, has no choice but to sob and accept oblivion.

    As the lake thaws, the snow melts, and that pesky murder investigation into Adam has been scuppered, hope should spring anew for our Yellowjackets. But Shauna’s baby is dead, as are sweet, showtune-singing Crystal and the morally upstanding Detective Kevyn Tan. 12-year-old Javi died trying to save his friend and was eaten by those that became his maternal figures. But worst of all Nat is dead — Nat, who saved them time and time again, whose humanity meant she felt the flickering flames of hell more than most.

    Nat’s life was pain from the start: raised by an abusive father whose face was blown off in front of her, later forming a toxic bond with Travis, whose death destroyed her further, then starving in the wilderness and eating her friends for 19 months. She had barely a moment of respite until she too was killed by someone who claimed to love her. There’s particular cruelty in Misty delivering the death blow: She finally found that much longed-for boyfriend, but there is no romance in their reunion as she sobs to Walter (Elijah Wood), “I killed my best friend.”

    Travis’ final words were to “Tell Nat she was right,” but we may never know what he was referring to, nor is it clear that it matters. Nat was always right but rarely taken seriously, and reestablishing the toxic bond with Travis in trying to solve the mystery of his death provided her little comfort. She suffered for years, with only fleeting moments of triumph. But even when the world thought she was trash, Coach Ben knew she was different. For him, seeing her join the rest of the cannibalistic teens to feast on Javi means the wilderness has finally won. If Nat is lost, there is no hope of redemption, and everyone would be better off dead. The horror of the cabin being engulfed in flames almost extinguished all hope in the past, but losing Nat in the present snubbed out its final embers.

    Yellowjackets Seasons 1 and 2 are now streaming on the Showtime app. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Leila Latif is Contributing Editor to Total Film, the host of Truth & Movies: A Little White Lies Podcast and a regular at Sight and Sound, Indiewire, The Guardian, The BBC and others. Follow her on twitter @Leila_Latif.

    TOPICS: Yellowjackets, Showtime, Juliette Lewis, Sophie Thatcher