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What Really Happened Out There?

Considering the show’s multitude of unanswered questions, it’s no surprise the ‘Yellowjackets’ subreddit has exploded. What’s unique is the way the series’ cast and crew are getting in on the fun too.

Showtime/Ringer illustration

If internet communities delineated themselves with yard signs, the Yellowjackets Reddit has chosen theirs. It’s in the style of the “In this house, we believe” black and neon-colored poster, but with a twist, acknowledging some of the subreddit’s most common theories:

Welcome to the Yellowjackets subreddit, the buzziest (sorry) and bloodiest corner of the TV-watching internet. In this house, we (also) believe: Jackie is a time traveler; Lottie is the pit girl and the antler queen; Jackie survived the wilderness and married Travis; Tai killed Travis; the wolf attack never happened; and Shauna eats her baby. Or, on the other hand, maybe we believe: Jackie is the pit girl; Lottie has supernatural powers; Misty killed Travis; and Adam is Shauna’s son. You get the idea.

Yellowjackets, which concludes its inaugural season Sunday, serves up horror in both innocuous and brutal forms; rash leg amputations, impalements, and wolf attacks are juxtaposed with extramarital affairs and teen love triangles. The show’s premise, ’90s nostalgia, and impeccable casting present a heady mash of memeability and mystery. It’s a show that sticks with you, and, accordingly, thousands of viewers have been drawn to meet around the digital campfire to share their most unhinged hypotheses and rave about their favorite characters. Plummet into the wilderness of the already 25,000-plus-member forum, spend some time scrolling, and your grasp on reality may begin to feel as tenuous as that of a teenage girl with nothing in her system but homemade wine, psychobilin, and insects. There are posts ranging from “cannibalism to vegetarianism pipeline lol” to “butterfly symbolism” to “you’ve got a little pit girl stuck in your teeth.” There are branded face masks and Yellowjackets-themed tarot card artwork.

On first glance, it would seem that the show poses just one overarching question: How did a tight-knit high school girls’ soccer team go from standard teen rancor to ritualistically hunting, killing, and possibly eating their teammates? (“They got hungry” justifies the consumption, but probably not the ritual.) But between the dual timelines and a possible supernatural bent, in actuality the show presents dozens of unanswered questions. And with that comes an exponential number of possible answers and a fervent following of “citizen detectives” ready to analyze—including those directly involved in the show.

“Frankly, I will totally admit in a whisper that I’ve been on there,” cocreator Ashley Lyle says. “Because it’s fun for us. It’s so much fun to see everybody’s theories.”

Lyle created the show with her husband, Bart Nickerson; the pair are big true crime fans, Lyle says, and easily identify with the appeal of the “citizen detective” work that so many fans are currently undertaking. The show’s ability to spawn a multitude of hypotheses was “almost a nod to our own inclinations to some extent,” she says.

“I think that if I could tell the subredditors anything, it’s like, we are them and they are us to some extent,” she says. “And there’s just so many like-minded people in our writing team and in our cast. I think that’s why everyone’s really engaging with it.”

Courtney Eaton, who plays Lottie, admitted to trolling the subreddit and pointed out the discussions analyzing her character’s antipsychotic medication. Melanie Lynskey, the present-day Shauna, said she’s “read your Adam theories, and just so you all know, there’s one that basically no one has mentioned yet.” (She also noted that the same questions have infiltrated her group texts.) Jane Widdop, who plays Laura Lee, reposted an embroidery of the creepy stick figure girl. The teen Taissa, Jasmin Savoy Brown, went as far as to warn that “whatever your theories are about the show and all the storylines, they’re all incorrect.”

There was no official conversation about how much the cast would or would not address internet speculation, Lyle says. And different cast members had different preferences for how much they wanted to know about the season. Lynskey, for example, sought out as much information as possible about her character to “create the emotional context for her performance,” Lyle says. The adult Taissa, Tawny Cypress, wanted to know only as much as her character knew—and ended up getting inadvertent spoilers from hair and makeup. Late into production, the crew remained noticeably engaged with the plotline; Lyle recalls the show’s script supervisor hounding her for spoilers and tossing out her own suspicions. In retrospect, those were the first inklings that Lyle and Nickerson were helming the next great small-screen enigma—a potential successor to Lost or The Leftovers.

“I think we definitely aspired to make a show that was engaging enough to warrant space in the audience’s life, sort of beyond the hour that it’s on.” says Nickerson. “I don’t know that I dared to hope or dream that it’d become this big. ... I mean, just the amazing art that people are making—the meme generation is just so unbelievable and hilarious and brilliant.”

Online fan dissection of a drama’s twists and turns is not new; the Westworld and Game of Thrones subreddits have 1 million and 2.9 million members, respectively. But until recently, shows and their Reddit communities have been in conflict. At times, predictions and theories were so off-the-wall (and enjoyable to parse) that the real plotlines ended up paling in comparison. Other times, creators were forced to adjust episodes after Reddit figured out the twists long before the actual reveals. Some shows have outright feuded with their fandoms: “We love to fuck with Reddit as much as possible,” joked Westworld cocreator Jonathan Nolan in 2018. Only in the past year or so have showrunners begun to accept that Reddit sleuthing is inevitable if audiences are given a mystery box. By playing along with their fans, Yellowjackets has taken it a step further.

Filming had finished completely by the time of the premiere, Lyle says, which eliminated any chance for “metacommentary” in the show about online theories. The nods to potential theory communities—one episode features a clip of a Yellowjackets Reddit—and the cast embrace of the subreddit also weren’t developed in hopes of sparking an online community. It was very much organic, Lyle says. “We’re all just genuinely fascinated and entertained.”

The result is a multifaceted viewing experience and playful engagement that Nickerson compares to a jazz solo. “Hopefully there is something about this show—although it is exploring things that are so sort of like dark and trying to explore trauma—that there is something sort of heightened and playful about it in a way that tends to kind of invite this sort of playful engagement,” he says. The involvement of the cast in theorizing creates a feeling of breaking something beyond the fourth wall, he says. “It’s like breaking the eighth wall in the fifth dimension.”

To keep the community from getting too unwieldy, the site relies on five subreddit moderators to weed out repetitive theses and forestall accidental spoilers. (The show doesn’t officially air until 10 p.m. Eastern on Sundays, but is available to stream on the Showtime Anytime app beginning at midnight ET, which creates a conundrum when it comes to blocking out episode reveals.)

William Townsend, 28, joined the subreddit after the third episode. He’s familiar with the dangers of online speculation—“I was burned by a lot of theories that came up with watching WandaVision on Disney+ last year. So now I do chill out on some of the more outlandish theories,” he says—and is now one of the moderators. “The community is definitely very passionate about the show,” he says. “You can see that in a lot of the posts that come up, a lot of the theories from the normal ones to some of the more outlandish theories that you come across on a day-to-day basis.”

His personal favorite theory: Jackie is still alive. His least favorite: Shauna eats her baby in the wilderness. (“The eating the baby just seems too dark, even for Showtime,” he says. “That’s not to say some of the stuff we’ve seen in the show isn’t dark already, but that will just take it to a whole ‘nother level.”) And he’s seen everything you could possibly imagine in regard to Adam, Shauna’s (now-deceased) lover.

“That character definitely had the most theories being thrown around about him, almost to the point where I was kind of glad to see the character die off,” he says. “But it is good to see that enthusiasm.”

Determining the potential importance of Adam is a compelling task, and an apt example for how subplots in the show can blossom into full-blown speculation. Is he simply a stranger whose random appearance in Shauna’s life sets up an emotional arc about Shauna’s marriage? Or do his connections to the Yellowjackets run deeper?

“There was one that was very entertaining to both of us, which was: People really did a deep dive on the bumper sticker on Adam’s truck in a way that I found very unexpected, and it was very creative,” Lyle says. Some conclusions drawn from the posts about the sticker—a multicolored COEXIST with a unique design in the “O”—are that Jackie transitioned in adulthood and is now Adam … or maybe Adam is a PI working with Lottie’s family to seek vengeance on the living survivors.

“There have been a few that I really didn’t anticipate. And in particular there have been a few details that people have assigned a lot of meaning to in ways that were a little bit surprising to us,” Lyle says.

Statistically, if there are 10 predictions, at least nine will be wrong, Lyle says. But she does note that a lot of them have proved correct, and there is “at least one person on the Reddit who has come close to the ballpark on almost everything,” she says. “Our hope is that people are having enough fun just with the incredibly creative theory generation that’s going on that even if they don’t ultimately prove right, they’re still having a good time.”

In the meantime, there are about 48 more hours for the subreddit to continue designing finale bingo cards and posting book club memes. As long as there’s an episode remaining, there’s still work to be done for citizen detectives. Townsend and the moderators are girding for a tumultuous weekend, and given the show’s confirmed second season, months of post-finale speculation. “Just wait until after it airs,” assured one Redditor to another lamenting that this is “the longest week ever.” “The wait for Season 2 is going to be as brutal as surviving the wilderness itself!”