Yellowjackets: A Gender-Swapped Lord of the Flies

Emerson Furgason ‘24 / Emertainment Monthly Music Section Editor

Showtime’s newest psychological teen drama, Yellowjackets, is currently all the buzz—literally and figuratively. The show revolves around a star-studded group of high school soccer players who are involved in a plane crash on the way to their national championship game in 1996. What follows after the crash is a grueling fight for survival as the girls find themselves stranded in the cold, Canadian wilderness for months, with no rescue in sight. As interpersonal problems come to light amongst the teenage girls and winter slowly creeps upon the woods, it is implied that the starving soccer players eventually resort to barbaric methods to survive, like participating in cultish rituals and practicing cannibalism. While the show’s first season leaves many unanswered questions revolving around the girls’ survival tactics, the fact that the show takes place in two different timelines bridges the gap slightly. In the present day, four of the survivors of the aforementioned plane crash struggle to cope with what really happened out in the woods 25 years prior. Therefore, we know that at least a few of the teens managed to survive their stay in the wilderness to grow into adulthood. However, it is still relatively unclear by season one’s finale how Shauna (Melanie Lynskey), Natalie (Juliette Lewis), Taissa (Tawny Cypress), and Misty (Christina Ricci) managed to outlive the rest of their teammates and coach. 

Thus, while Yellowjackets’ first season only scratches the surface in regards to the team’s collective descent into madness, it is incredibly easy to find similarities between it and author William Golding’s classic novel, Lord of the Flies. While Lord of the Flies revolves around a group of young boys who survive a plane crash and attempt to self-govern, Yellowjackets revolves around a group of teenage girls who find that their high school social hierarchy doesn’t necessarily translate to their new crisis. The boys in Lord of the Flies and the girls in Yellowjackets are undoubtedly thrust into incredibly similar situations and seem to adapt in the same manner. Without the presence of an abundant amount of adult leadership, both sets of characters slowly transform from civilized to savage as they fight for the top rungs of their newly established hierarchies of power.

However, while Charles Darwin’s famous “survival of the fittest” theory seems to be on prominent display in both Yellowjackets and Lord of the Flies, Showtime’s series undoubtedly ups the ante. By focusing on a group of young female survivors instead of young male survivors, Yellowjackets alludes to (and vehemently criticizes) the innate cliquiness of high school-aged girls. The girls’ struggle to survive in the woods parallels their struggle to survive the trials and tribulations of high school life back at home, where we witness several instances of backstabbing and deceit between so-called “friends” and “teammates.” Hence, when the soccer players find that out in the wilderness who was popular and who wasn’t back at their New Jersey high school doesn’t actually matter, everything they’ve ever known comes crashing down. Therefore, Yellowjackets delves even deeper than Lord of the Flies when stressing the humanistic tendency to rely on pre-established social hierarchies. Thus, the series spotlights the survivalist tendencies of a group of maturing girls to emphasize the bloodshed and hell that breaks loose when pre-existing power structures are tested and broken. 

Spoilers ahead. 

As previously mentioned, Yellowjackets boldly displays the brutal gore and atrocities that come with an unexpected plane crash and an 18-month stay in the barren wilderness. The show’s open display of violence and brutality begins within its second episode, where viewers are presented with the grisly aftermath of the plane crash. There’s a shot of a teenage girl impaled in the chest by a metal rod, a sequence of a girl screaming while getting burned alive, and a shot of the mangled bodies of the pilots who were killed on impact. However, the grandest display of carnage undeniably comes later on in the episode when a teenage Misty (Samantha Hanratty) chops the crushed leg of the team’s assistant coach Ben Scott (Steven Krueger) clean off with an ax. The only adult survivor is thus rendered practically useless, hobbling around on one functioning leg. However, the violence and brutality don’t stop with the crash itself. Out in the wilderness, there’s a horrendous wolf attack that results in part of former goalie Van’s (Liv Hewson) face getting bitten off. Furthermore, there is a sequence where the girls—high off of shrooms found in the woods—almost slit the throat of their deceased head coach’s son Travis (Kevin Alves), after hallucinating him as a deer they can eat. There are plenty of other disturbing and gruesome scenes besides these, most notably all of the scenes where teenage Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) butchers up wildlife for the group to eat. 

Thus, while Yellowjackets’ first season ended without offering its viewers clear-cut proof that the girls killed and ate each other, it isn’t necessarily hard to see it coming. The teens’ ability to normalize gore hints at their eventual turn to savagery, as well as the fact that we see the power dynamics within the group shift. Initially, team captain Jackie (Ella Purnell) attempts to maintain control over the group, spurred on by her leadership position back at home. However, when the rest of the girls find that Jackie’s charisma doesn’t necessarily make her a good leader in the wilderness, she is slowly dethroned by the increasingly erratic Lottie (Courtney Eaton). Lottie grows influential amongst the group as she begins to have premonitions that inevitably become true, resulting in the girls revering her. Jackie is one of the only girls who doesn’t believe Lottie is “God-like,” resulting in the previously popular girl becoming a social pariah amongst the group. Jackie’s inability to adapt to the wilderness and accept the shift in power makes her a clear-cut symbol of the girls’ old lives in New Jersey, where things were peaceful and they abided by societal rules. Thus, Jackie’s eventual shocking death during the season one finale serves as a turning point for the rest of her teammates. Jackie’s death is symbolic,  as the girls’ humanities, civilized natures, and connections to their old lives seem to die along with her. Jackie seemed to be the last vestige linking the girls to a civilized world, and this is further proven following her death when newly elected group leader Lottie hosts some sort of pagan ritual with a bloody heart.

While similar in premise to Lord of the Flies in its open depiction of violence and focus on social hierarchies, Yellowjackets differs slightly from Golding’s novel. This is because this “survival of the fittest” mentality present in the wilderness also parallels the girls’ experiences back home in their regular New Jersey high school. Before the girls even become trapped in the wilderness, their savage natures are implied through their backstabbing and underhanded tendencies at home. For example, teenage Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) purposely breaks a teammate’s leg during soccer practice after perceiving her as the “weakest link” and a potential threat to the team’s ability to win nationals. There’s also teen Shauna who secretly hooks up with her “best friend” Jackie’s boyfriend out of jealousy for the girl’s popularity. Not to mention, equipment manager Misty intentionally destroys the black box of the plane to prevent the girls from getting rescued. After she discovers the girls are dependent on and appreciate her survival skills in the woods, Misty decides that she would rather die out in the wilderness than return to a life of being bullied at school. 

Therefore, while Yellowjackets is incredibly similar to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the show goes the extra mile to highlight how cruel teenage girls can be to one another, whether in a life or death situation or not. Consequently, the show seems to comment on the often tumultuous power dynamics prevalent within high school friend groups and the humanistic tendency to establish and follow specific social orders. As a result, Yellowjackets could easily be considered an incredibly entertaining, modern take on the classic novel that many high schoolers are forced to read.

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