Yellowjackets season 2 on Paramount+ review: gore galore! The hit survival thriller is more gripping than ever

Yellowjackets season 2 premieres on Paramount + on March 24 (Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME)
Yellowjackets season 2 premieres on Paramount + on March 24 (Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME)

The first season of Yellowjackets was something of a sleeper hit. It came from seemingly nowhere, staggering out of the forest to build a devoted fanbase and became studio Showtime’s second most streamed show in the process. So now it’s back, can it keep up the momentum?

The thriller, about an all-girls high school football team, whose plane crashed in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, was everything that previous teenage versions of Lost failed to be. Compelling, genuinely scary, a nice bit of gore and a rich mix of complex, divisive characters.

Season two manages to take the thrills and chills from season one and ratchets them right up. As with the first series, it plays out over two timelines: the Nineties with the team’s fight for survival in the aftermath of the crash, and the present day where the survivors try to move forward while coping with all the resulting trauma.

The end of season one left viewers with a major cliffhanger: brilliant, frustrated housewife Shauna (Melanie Lynskey), who is trying to cover up a murderous secret, is starting to crack. The dark side of politician Taissa (Tawny Cypress), once the star of the football team, is beginning to dominate her personality and Juliette Lewis’ Natalie, an addict who has been in and out of rehab, has been kidnapped. All this while the weird star of the show, Misty (Christina Ricci), who works in a nursing home, is still trying to connect the dots in her own unorthodox ways.

Christina Ricci as Misty (Kimberley French/SHOWTIME)
Christina Ricci as Misty (Kimberley French/SHOWTIME)

The cast is superb across the board, though witnessing Lynskey’s winning over new fans with this, as well as The Last of Us on Sky Atlantic, is a particular thrill – and she wholeheartedly commits to the role of housewife-turned-murderer. It’s amazing to think back to her extraordinary turn opposite Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures in 1994, and though she’s had a very solid career in the US, she’s only now getting the recognition she deserves here.

If there is a standout though, it’s Ricci, an expert in humanising eccentric characters (her recent revival with this show and the Netflix hit Wednesday is also not before time). It’s a delight to watch her portrayal of the sociopathic, yet very funny, Misty.

And there are newcomers too in this series: there’s the welcome addition of Elijah Wood – yes Frodo Baggins himself – as an amateur detective, who, somehow, manages to out-weird Ricci’s Misty (an excellent bit of casting). The chemistry between them is electric and their flirty bickering brings much-needed comic relief to the otherwise claustrophobic proceedings.

But fans will feel comfortable in this world. Season two presents more mystery, more violence and more gore, though it likes to take its time; several episodes in, it’s still littered with unanswered questions from the first series. Is there actually something out in the wilderness watching the team? What is the geometrical symbol found nearby when anyone dies? And how on earth did they actually make it out of the woods?

The shows’ creators and writers, Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickersen, manage to sidestep the melodramatic traps it could so easily have fallen into and instead create a tense psychological, and supernatural, thriller nicely spattered with jump scares. The dialogue is snappy, the plot well-handled. It’s a bit of a romp, but it also explores serious issues of long-standing trauma and turns a satirical gaze on the present day.

What makes this such a compelling watch is the structure of having not one mystery, but two running in parrallel timelines. And brilliantly, the show pulls it off. So often with plot devices like this, one is executed so much better that the whole show capsizes under the uneven weight of it all. Not here; viewers will be pulled just as deep into the present day goings on, as they are into how these young people survive the terrifying wilderness in the Nineties.

Talking of the Nineties, one aspect that made this show stand out from the crowd in the first place is how hard it leant into the culture of the decade. Nostalgics loved the banging playlist that ran from Never Tear Us Apart by Paloma Faith to Dreams by The Cranberries. Wisely, season two has doubled down – the first episode opens with Seventeen by Sharon von Etten and it only gets better from there.

The showrunners have confirmed a third season, so it seems likely they’ll keep stringing us along for a while yet. The audience they drew in in the debut series will not be disappointed by this one. Can the Yellowjackets keep the winning run going? I wouldn’t bet against it.

Yellowjackets is streaming now on Paramount+