Yellowjackets’ Cannibalism Isn’t What You Expect

Yellowjackets finally goes there, but its first incident of outright cannibalism is strangely and subtly moving.

Photo: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

The following contains major spoilers for Yellowjackets season 2 episode 2.

We’ve always known that the girls of Yellowjackets were going to start eating one another. After all, the very first scene of Showtime’s survivalist thriller features a young woman running for her life through a dark forest before being impaled in a carefully hidden pit trap, drained of blood, and then seemingly devoured by her teammates, the same girls she would have at one point likely called her friends. We’ve always known that cannibalism was a key piece of this story and that some (maybe many) of these characters weren’t going to make it out of this series alive.  

But since one of the key questions of the show is what really happened to the championship girls soccer team who spent 18 months stranded in the Canadian wilderness, Yellowjackets has taken its time unspooling the answer, leaving viewers to wonder whether they’d really go there, despite all the overt implications of the dark choices these young women ultimately made. Would someone really get eaten? If so, who? When would the group become desperate enough to turn on one another for food? And what’s with all the creepy headdresses and dark rituals?  But while the (incredibly titled) season 2 episode “Edible Complex” may finally introduce cannibalism to the show’s canvas for real, it’s not in any hurry to tell us the answers to the rest of those questions. In fact, though the sequence is as gruesome and disturbing as many of us likely thought it would be, it also arrives in a completely unexpected way. 

Cannibalism isn’t a topic that often comes up on mainstream television, to be sure. But part of Yellowjackets’ appeal has always been its willingness to cross boundaries, subvert established storytelling tropes, and center the messy, fraught realities of the relationships women navigate with one another. Even if we didn’t already know the question of eating one another to survive was going to come up, the show’s focus on the intense, consuming, often dark bonds of female friendship means it probably wouldn’t have arrived as much of a surprise. 

Ad – content continues below

The scene of the Yellowjackets squad’s first act of overt cannibalism is shocking, not because it happens but simply because it is initially so accidental. (Particularly compared to the deliberate hunting we saw take place back in season 1.) After the girls discover that Shauna’s been doing Dead Jackie’s make-up and posing her like an extremely creepy doll, they decide it’s time to finally let their former team captain be put to rest for the good of everyone’s mental health. But since they can’t bury her, they have to burn her body instead, a choice that will ultimately set them all on an incredibly dark path. 

The heavy snow that eventually blankets Jackie’s pyre falls from a tree while the girls are asleep—you can decide for yourself if it plummets due to simple gravity or if the dark forces of the wilderness give it a little nudge—-and quietly roasts her body with no one the wiser. Presumably drawn outside by the smell—remember these girls are literally starving—the group’s discovery of the cooked corpse has a certain dream-like quality to it, as though neither the girls (or, let’s be real, the audience!) want to look too closely at what’s in front of them. 

Of course, it’s Shauna who speaks first, who tells her teammates that consuming her body is what Jackie actually wants them to do. Shauna, who has spent every moment of this season grieving and hating her dead BFF by turns; and who both feels responsible for Jackie’s death and is desperate to keep some piece of her friend with her. Who, after all, has already crossed this line in secret. She cut into Jackie’s flesh (even if she told herself it was somehow Jackie who wielded the knife) long before her body was literally laid out like a banquet. Who has wanted to worship, consume, keep, and destroy her friend at various points over the course of the series.

Unsurprisingly, Yellowjackets doesn’t shy away from the gruesome nature of the act itself, in a scene that will likely rank as one of the most disturbing things any of us will witness on TV this year. The series doesn’t fade to black or rely on delicate implications, allowing viewers to maintain some degree of distance from what’s happening onscreen. It makes sure to show us the girls literally cutting off and putting pieces of their dead team captain in their mouths even as it intercuts the sequence with a sort of hallucinatory Roman dinner party, complete with the team dressed in togas, that indicates the characters are all trying to disassociate from the truth of what they’re choosing to do. (Traditionally, such events were about spectacle and excess, and after months of ever-decreasing rations, this must have literally felt like an otherworldly feast.) 

Yet, despite the fact that we’ve been waiting for a dozen episodes for this moment, it somehow never feels sensationalized or cheap. It’s anxiety-inducing to be sure, and genuinely horrific, but it’s also heartbreaking and strangely moving. We all cared about Jackie as a character, and probably even felt some relief that she died of exposure, assuming that meant she wouldn’t be part of the darkness we all knew was eventually to come. But perhaps this twist was always an inevitable one. Back in the series pilot, Coach Martinez (RIP!) tells Jackie that he’s made her captain of the eponymous soccer squad not because she’s the most talented player, but because she is a leader that the rest of the girls will follow. So on some level, it’s probably fitting that she’s also the reason they finally cross over into committing this greatest of taboos as well.

New episodes of Yellowjackets season 2 premiere via on Fridays and Showtime onSundays.

Ad – content continues below