Adolescence is a horror show. The creators of Yellowjackets know that. They also know that it’s silly and it’s intimate, brutal and unpredictable. And for teenage girls, it’s a period of life of that can be transcendent—when two or more teenage girls are left alone together, they might convince themselves that they’ve harnessed earth’s magical powers, invent their own language, or weirder still, choreograph an entire dance to “This Is How We Do It” for no reason. The humor balances out the horror, and the humor also is the horror.
The four survivors of Yellowjackets’ plot-inciting crash that we meet in present-day 2021 prove that while our more fantastic adolescent behaviors may evaporate with age, if the brutality of teenage girldom cuts deeply enough, the scars can linger for a lifetime. Yellowjackets is a show about teenage girls and the effects of trauma; it’s a show about women of a certain age and the lives they’ve failed to lead. And it is also, very much, a show about cannibalism.
Unabashedly, Yellowjackets asks quite a bit of its audience from the very beginning. Like, from the moment the pilot starts. Beginning a relationship by announcing the worst thing you’ve ever done is a wild move, but if the other person accepts it without judgment, it can establish a level of trust not easily broken. And so, when cocreators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson (and director Karyn Kusama) open their pilot with a scene of a teenage girl running through the snowy forest in nothing but a nightgown, pursued by animal howls that sound oddly human until she plunges into a hidden pit full of spikes, they tell us the worst thing we can expect. And when they weave in three more scenes depicting that killed girl being strung up, bled out, broken down, fire-roasted, and eaten in a ritualistic ceremony by seven other girls dressed in occult animal pelt finery, they make sure that we understand this high school girls’ soccer team’s devolvement into cannibalism will not be a matter of “if,” but “when.” And further, “who” and “how many”—so if you’re not on board with a little body horror, go ahead and cancel your free 30-day Showtime trial, maybe watch a few Ray Donovans on your way out …
Which is how I’ve found myself—a pescatarian, by the way—thrilled and haunted by the same question every Sunday for the past month: When, exactly, are these girls going to start eating each other?
On top of all the other inevitable horrors and prerequisites of being a teenage girl—menstruating, cliques, unrequited love, requited love, figuring out sex, figuring out best friends, figuring out if you want to have sex with your best friends—the show has trained us to not just expect cannibalism, but to anticipate it. I mean, is anyone even thinking about the Yellowjackets actually getting rescued? No! We’re basically the equivalent of Taissa’s constituents, or Natalie’s group therapy members, or Misty’s basement-dwelling bestie/hostage, just being like, “Hey, did you guys eat the fullback out there, or what?”
This first season of Yellowjackets has created so many mysteries, opened so many narrative doors—there’s an eyeless ghost-man to contend with, sleep dirt-eating, a missing dog, haunting through the bedroom windows of New Jersey, and that’s just the Taissa stuff. So, given that the show’s creators pitched it as a five-season idea, for most of the season it seemed that its biggest question mark—looming ritualistic cannibalism—would present itself as a marathon, not a sprint. But Episode 9 changed everything: As it turns out, all it took to make major headway toward the-cannibalism-that-was-promised in the pilot was a Trapper Keeper full of magic mushrooms, a jar of rotten berries, and violently empty stomachs.
Over the course of their four-ish months in the woods, normal behavior has been incrementally worn down. With each new episode, bits of societal constraints have been shucked away, until all the Yellowjackets are left with are their basest instincts—a new foundation from which to build up a new society around them. When Misty accidentally poisons the entire team (excluding Jackie, saved by her budding nihilism) with psychedelic mushrooms meant for Coach Ben, the result is a part of the team—if you’ll allow me the pun—tripping into a savage cannibalistic hunt when they hallucinate that Travis is a stag.
The hunt for Travis is a fissure in the reality these girls once subscribed to; a chasm that can never be mended back together, only built upon as their stomachs grow emptier. These girls aren’t going to homecoming anymore, they’re not prepping their outfits for Rush Week at Rutgers—they’re hunting boys in the woods like prey.
Now, having been a teenage girl myself, I know that most 18-year-olds will happily dive into the overflowing Tupperware costume box at the bottom of their closet for just about anything: a themed frat party, a birthday Zoom, a ceremonial sacrifice to the self-appointed Antler Queen … But given the silent precision we see executed in those pilot scenes, I’ve always been of the opinion that they didn’t portray the girls’ first kill, but perhaps the most monumental. Maybe the girl we see get eaten is Jackie—it looks like Lottie, and some truly wildin’ Reddit theories say it’s Callie—but either way, that level of ritual (and the fact that none of the teens are rolling their eyes at it) suggests some fine-occult-tuning has been taking place over the winter months. Now that the girls have entertained the idea of ritualistically eating boys, it seems like that budding project may be ready for beta-testing come Sunday’s finale.
As winter grows nearer, and as Lottie the recently revealed Antler Queen grows more imposing, the series has taken a surprisingly quick and organic turn toward the concept of eating a human. Now the question becomes not just who the Yellowjackets eat in that pilot scene, but who they ate first. How did they transition from girls who still keep petty secrets from one another and break into spontaneous “Kiss From a Rose” renditions to girls who slit one another’s throats?
I’m no Lottie—absolutely no amount of possession could make me speak fluent French—so I have no way of knowing what’s going to happen in Sunday’s finale. But my prediction is that at least one person bites it and/or gets bitten as the Yellowjackets’ first entrée into the cult of forest cannibalism. The only people we can feel certain won’t be eaten in this forest are the five people we’ve seen with our own eyes in the present day: Shauna, Taissa, Natalie, Misty, and Travis (RIP eventually, though). With a little help from beyond the grave, here are my predictions for the likeliest candidates for the Yellowjackets’ first course.
9. A Redshirt Yellowjacket
Dead Cabin Séance Guy says: “Très unlikely.”
Has the term “redshirt” ever been more appropriate than for the randomly occurring, little-seen, never-heard spare members of the soccer team? In TV, a redshirt is a stock character (named for the red-shirted security personnel on Star Trek), usually sent out to die in order to show that a situation is dangerous to a main character; in sports, redshirting extends a player’s eligibility period by delaying their participation; on Yellowjackets, the six unnamed players who survived the crash alongside our main girls appear so rarely and randomly that even the best Citizen Detectives on Reddit struggle to keep them straight.
Now, these gals may come in handy when we’re four seasons in and needing some fresh blood. But so help me, Antler Queen, if one of these girls suddenly gets a line in the finale, slips on a tree root, and becomes the first kill, I will cancel my Showtime subscription without even watching a couple of Ray Donovans. There are no stakes around the redshirts—and the stakes for eating your friends should be as high as they get!
Dead Cabin Séance Guy says: “Not on my watch!”
The thing about Van is that she stays in peril—if she’s not nearly burning alive in a plane then she’s nearly burning alive on a pyre because her friends thought she was already dead from a wolf attack. But the other thing about Van is that she always manages to survive said peril in a way that makes you think: Hmmm, why is this forest so intent on keeping Van alive? Is it because the forest ALSO wants aughts-queen Lauren Ambrose to show up as grown-up Van at the finale’s high school reunion? If Van ever dies in this forest, there’s almost no chance it will be by the team’s hands or the forest’s hands, which makes her an unlikely first cannibalized candidate.
Dead Cabin Séance Guy says: “If you’re not scared of Lottie, you’re not listening.”
If Lottie transitions from being the hunter to the hunted in the span of one episode, I will be shocked. And I’m not just saying that because I want to watch her stare into the ether and whisper, “We won’t be hungry for long,” for many seasons to come. The forest seems to have big plans for our presumed Antler Queen, and a coup would be unwise …
Unless, of course, you’re on Lottie’s bad side, in which case, Jackie, you should definitely consider a coup.
6. The Pending Baby
Dead Cabin Séance Guy says: “Please, Deer God, no.”
I don’t want this to happen; no one wants this to happen (except maybe whoever or whatever keeps prompting Lottie to hiss things like “hungry … hungry … it’s already inside you” in the near vicinity of Shauna’s stomach). I suggested above that the Yellowjacket creators opened the series with the worst thing these girls ever did, but if they eat a baby, that will absolutely be worse than the spikey murder pit! Mostly for logistical, meat-volume reasons, eating Shauna’s baby seems an illogical choice. Like, teach a soccer team to cannibalize and they’ll eat for a year; give them a baby to eat and they’ll irreparably traumatize themselves for a lifetime.
Unfortunately, there’s no denying that something is going on with this pregnancy. We know that Shauna’s only daughter, Callie, is too young to be the result of the forest pregnancy, and most damning of all, we know that Shauna keeps dreaming she’s giving birth to a rotisserie chicken. Luckily, like me, Shauna is no Lottie—her dreams probably just reflect her very hungry subconscious and not, like, the whims of the forest gods or whatever.
Dead Cabin Séance Guy says: “It couldn’t happen to two sweeter girls.”
Two of the likeliest candidates from the actual named members of the Yellowjackets team are adorable hangers-on and circumstantial BFFs Akilah and Mari. We know them enough to miss them, but they don’t mean enough (yet) to the main characters to completely derail the 1996 plot. However, they’ve also firmly aligned themselves with the “down to cannibalize” crowd, meaning they’re much less likely to be cannibalized themselves. Short of a freak accident, these two seem destined for animal hoods come winter.
Dead Cabin Séance Guy says: “They’re not killing people, they’re killing boys.”
Is anyone more alone in this forest than poor Javi? No one is outright mean to him or acts burdened by him, but as the lone tween boy, he’s simply neglected.
Mostly ignored by his brooding brother and forgotten by the teenage girls competing for control all around him, Javi is a strong candidate for postmortem cannibalism. After Shauna growled “RUN” at him like she was Anna Farris in The House Bunny, Javi ran off into the forest, not to be seen again before the end of the ninth episode. The finale would be a mighty convenient time for him to suffer a natural death, creating a slightly more moral entry into cannibalism for the girls who recently tried to kill his brother while they were high. (The word “slightly” is doing a lot of work in that sentence.)
3. No One
Dead Cabin Séance Guy says: They WOULD try some shit like that.
There is a chance that no one will die in the finale, or that if someone does, they won’t be eaten by their forest family. And if that happens, there is a small chance that it’s because all of these suggestive cannibal scenes have simply been … something else. The assumed cannibalism flashbacks could be a trauma metaphor; the assumed cannibalism flashbacks could actually be some sort of sacrifice to whomever or whatever Lottie said “wants [them] to spill blood”; the assumed cannibalism flashbacks could actually be cannibalism flash-forwards.
When I consider potential blindsides to the cannibalism narrative, I can’t help but think about the fact that Jeff read Shauna’s journals years ago and has simply been sitting with whatever he learned. Now, Jeff is such a Wife Guy that he also hardly flinched when Shauna confessed (with very little remorse!) that she’d recently killed the man she was having an affair with … so presumably he could also be unfazed by learning that his wife ate a few of her friends to survive too.
That said, it’s also possible that Shauna’s guttin’ blade knew only animals until she met Adam.
Dead Cabin Séance Guy says: “Sure, expect the expected.”
In high school, Jackie had enough influence to become the captain of a varsity soccer team headed to nationals despite not being the best, or even the most committed, player. In the forest, Jackie has enough influence to suggest a doomsday party that results in her getting locked in a closet while the evening devolves into cannibalism. Throughout their first four months in the wilderness, Jackie’s priorities remain the most unchanged by the Yellowjackets’ new circumstances. By Episode 9, Jackie and Lottie have been firmly set in opposition to one another, respectively clinging to and violently rejecting the social contracts that once bound them. If we accept Lottie as the Antler Queen, then we must also accept that Jackie may not survive her reign. After all, “Don’t you understand? You don’t matter anymore” is a pretty damning statement from the person leading around a pack of screaming girls.
From the first close-up of her bloodied necklace in the pilot, Jackie being eaten by her teammates has remained both too obvious and too shocking to imagine happening—and so, it cannot be ruled out. I am extremely committed to the idea of Rebecca Gayheart showing up on Shauna’s door and going full Pretty Little Liars on everybody’s asses … but we cannot deny Jackie’s strong candidacy to be intentionally killed and eaten by the teammates she continues to alienate.
1. Coach Ben
Dead Cabin Séance Guy says: “Welcome to the club, buddy, I can’t wait to haunt these girls with you.”
Jeff’s book club wail was, of course, the runaway line of Episode 9—but I would put Coach Ben’s “Fuuuuck, I think Misty poisoned me again,” as a close second. Not only because it was funny, but because Coach Ben’s resignation to being poisoned again by the forest’s Annie Wilkes suggests that he’s already seen the writing on the wall. From Misty chopping the remains of his leg off, to Misty nonconsensually cauterizing his leg, to Misty poisoning him, to Misty poisoning him again, Coach Ben’s already hellish circumstances just get worse and worse. He may have survived a plane crash, but if he survives this tiny teenage sociopath, it will be an actual miracle.
And yet, the main reason I know Coach Ben is surely not long for this new world is because I’ve grown to really like Coach Ben over the past few episodes. He’s developed a sweet friendship with Nat as the only other adult on the island, and he was as kind as possible to Misty about her crush until he was finally forced by a combination of magic mushrooms and sheer exhaustion to yell at her that he’s not in love with her because he’s gay. Which, of course, means that if Ben isn’t already dead, Misty will be sure to put it on her to-do list.
This is the face of someone who just learned that hunting people down is now considered a bonding experience. Godspeed, Coach Ben.
Jodi Walker is a freelance pop culture writer with bylines in Entertainment Weekly, Vulture, and Texas Monthly. She writes about The Bachelor franchise at absurd length in her newsletter, These Are The Best Things.