Opinion: ‘Yellowjackets’ takes our nostalgia for the 90s and gives it fangs

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The pilot of the “yellow vests” begins with a piercing cry: a young woman, seen only from behind, runs screaming through a snowy forest, barefoot and in a nightgown, before dying in a pit lined with sharp sticks. A figure clad in animal skin looks into the hole and we catch a glimpse of her shoes: they are totally cute pink Converse.

Showtime’s addicting new series about a stranded high school football team after a plane crash, and the consequences of that time in the characters’ lives as adults in their 40s, are several things to consider. time. Horror. Survival drama. A nostalgic trip to the 90s. Coming of age drama for teenagers. “Lost” type thriller. It’s a level of good that deserves far more ratings than it gets, despite the surge of critical interest. (Note on streaming services: why the hell don’t you offer more channel bundles?)
More importantly, the series itself is a big trap, with a searing 21st century genre critique in the offing, luring us in with the promise of supernatural scares, big reveal, splashes of gore, and comeback songs. At its core, it’s an exploration of female rage, intuition and trauma. (With a cannibalism side.)
Contrary to the programs which privilege the singular moments of the life of the women and the girls (with a predisposition to the times “young mother” or “hot teenager”), “yellow vests” ping-pong deliberately between two tense phases of femininity, the adolescence and middle age. It’s also, hilariously, a retort to a man who said of an all-female proposition from “Lord of the Flies”: “What are they going to do, collaborate to death?”
Excuse me while I LOL. Adolescent girls contain multitudes, but they are not gentle collaborators. Karyn Kusama (“Jennifer’s Body”, “Destroyer”) led the pilot, and in a recent interview she spoke of those years of combat training: “[O]One of the things I kept talking to them about and felt like they really reacted to the idea of ​​female war stories. The way we carry our past, carry our most traumatic experiences and bring them with us into the present. As co-creator Ashley Lyle observed, anyone who has ever been a teenager will know this to be true.

While the trauma is compounded at extreme (perhaps supernatural) levels in the woods, it is sown before the crash in less mythical ways. Teenager Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) endures an abusive father at home (until she doesn’t). Team captain Jackie (Ella Purnell) is shown having awkward and painful sex with her boyfriend, faking an orgasm so that he already stops. She dismisses the team’s cheering rally as primarily “to give the freshmen something to jerk off,” and returns the bird to a marquee in their town hiring a boy squad instead of the bound Yellowjackets. to nationals. Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) fouls a teammate so brutally that the girl’s shin protrudes from her leg. Two of the girls almost got into a fight at a barrel party. And the team’s deeply eccentric manager, Misty (Samantha Hanratty), gets a joke call from girls throwing acid slurs.

Ella Purnell as Teen Jackie and Sophie Thatcher as Teen Natalie in
The pivotal “yellow vests” events take place in 1996, squarely in the middle of the decade that recently dominated pop culture nostalgia. But her somber tone reflects a dissonance in this rarely discussed era: On the one hand, the empowering messages of women from music, television, and film (think riot grrrls, “Buffy” and “The Craft “), and on the other, rampant misogyny and sexism (think Anita Hill, Nicole Simpson’s jokes, all the sexual harassment that’s happening in #MeToo). As Kusama said, “[t]he way we look at the lives of girls and women in this time period, it’s interesting that we finally take into account the ways our culture specifically chews on women and spits them out, and then blames them for landing in a million. small pieces. ”

So what happens when you tear teenage girls out of this culture? In the world of “yellow vests”, they are very competent. Nathalie knows how to hunt. Shauna (Sophie Nelisse) can dress up in the field and kill. Laura Lee (Jane Widdop) is learning to, uh, fly a plane. Misty, despite all her dementia, has EMT skills and a working knowledge of herbal remedies. One of the yellow vests boils used menstrual towels next to the pot with breakfast in it. You do what you have to do.

Juliette Lewis as Natalie and Christina Ricci as Misty in

And once you’ve tasted a savage existence, the show suggests, it’s hard to reinsert yourself within the confines of civilization. In the current segments, the four main survivors are now in their 40s: Shauna (Melanie Lynskey), Natalie (Juliette Lewis), Misty (Christina Ricci) and Taissa (Tawny Cypress). Everyone lives, precariously, with the secrets of those months in the desert. Natalie, who is finishing her last stint in rehab, says she has learned to “keep the tiger in the cage”. But does she have it? Or the other three?

Housewife Shauna protects her garden by stabbing a rabbit with a shovel, then butchering it and secretly serving it for dinner. Natalie steals an old friend’s gun and blackmails another. Misty is an Annie Wilkes-style home care nurse (Hanratty and Ricci once made the terrifying Misty a fan favorite). Taissa is a Type A lawyer running for the State Senate; she spends part of her nights crouching in a tree outside her house, in a trance, her eyes wild, eating dirt.

Taissa’s psychic split reminded me of the 1989 book “Women Who Run With Wolves”, in which author Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote of the archetype of the wild woman: “We are all filled with wolves. ‘a longing for nature. this desire. We have been taught to feel ashamed for such a desire. We grew our hair long and used it to hide our feelings.

"Promising young woman"  reveals a dark river of bubbling anger

But the shadow of Wild Woman still lurks behind us during our days and nights. No matter where we are, the shadow trotting behind us is definitely on all fours. (It’s not for nothing that adult Taissa spots, or perhaps hallucinates, a wolf outside her house.)

Estes’ book had a resurgence a few years ago, and its themes have popped up everywhere. The films “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and “Promising Young Woman” were dazzling works about women breaking cultural norms. The fictional podcast “Soft Voice” follows a young woman torn between two voices in her head.
In the New York Times, Amanda Hess writes about the off-Broadway show “Dance Nation”, about a girl’s dance troupe: “Girl smears menstrual blood on her face like war paint ; another childbirth fantasy, smashing her newborn’s head on the rocks and forcibly feeding the corpses of her rivals. At their wildest, the girls coalesce into a pack of wolves, hooking fangs and snarling against them. the moon Look for similar vibrations in this Sunday’s episode.
It’s interesting that “Yellowjackets” exists in the same media landscape as “And Just Like That,” which claims to be about middle-aged women as well. For every note that rings wrong in the “Sex and the City” update – and there have been many – there’s a truly moving scene of adult Yellowjackets, none of which could be considered conventionally “likable”. Their psychological mess rings a lot truer than Carrie’s platitudes, especially right now.

Perhaps the horrors of the “yellow vests” will prove to be cathartic. As Estes wrote, “Even raw, messy emotions can be understood as a form of light, crackling and brimming with energy. We can use the light of rage in a positive way, in order to see in places we usually can’t see. “

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