yellowjackets shows how teenage experiences shape our desire

5 mins
18 Apr 2023
yellowjackets shows how teenage experiences shape our desire

With its parallel timelines, this groundbreaking preogramme is able to show the long-lasting consequences of teenage girlhood

image courtesy of Paramount+

words Billie Walker

Whether it’s the familiar pang of rejection that still hits us when we are not invited to a social occasion, or that petty colleague who reminds you of high school rivalries, our teenage years are formative, shaping who we will become as adults. No television show knows this better than Yellowjackets.

Yellowjackets disgusted and wowed audiences last year with its messy brutal depictions of teenage girlhood. When the football team’s plane crash lands they must learn to survive in the wild. What makes this show so unique - besides the cannibalism and the killer soundtrack – is its parallel narratives. We watch the survivors at the point of disaster and in the present day. Seeing not only the aftermath of the crash but how trauma continues to affect the survivors.

When we meet these troubled women, it’s clear that it’s not only their nightmarish past that’s made them who they are today. Alongside the violent past, the show explores teenage girlhood as we know it, including the firsts loves, lusts, friendships and fights that are an integral part of our young development. Executive producer Karyn Kasuma (director of Jennifer’s Body) was drawn to Yellowjackets because of its depictions of the relatable horrors of womanhood. Coming into womanhood is a fending for yourself and “it may look as thorny and problematic as any clan that's fighting for its survival.” She told Vanity Fair in July last year. Yellowjackets understands that for better and worse our early sexual experiences impact our desire beyond those early years.

The first time audiences are introduced to adult Shauna (Melanie Lysnkey), she is masturbating in her daughter’s room. It’s a scene filled with resentment for the life she leads, a perfectly problematic opening to who Shauna is. Before the crash she was a girl brimming with potential and now she’s a bored housewife with a marriage that’s lost its spark. Shauna’s affair in the first season comes as no surprise, it’s a classic storyline for a bored housewife we've seen played out in films and TV shows time and again. However, by understanding her sexual beginnings as a teenager her affair is more than the cliched narrative that it appears to be. To the outside, teenage Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) is a good student, but rebellion has always excited her; she craves the taboo. Thanks to back and forth between the past and present, we know Shauna lost her virginity to her best friend Jackie’s (Ella Purnell) boyfriend Jeff (Warren Pole), and continued to hook up with him before the crash. While Shauna spent lots of season one battling her urges, now she is finally opening up about her cuckolding kinks and is beginning to accept the truth about herself.

It’s not surprising given Nat’s traumatic upbringing that she is not particularly phased by the wilderness. As Sophie Thatcher, the actor portraying young Nat explained to i-D, she "has had a survivor mentality her entire life.” For the first time in the present day, thanks to Lottie’s compound Nat doesn’t have to survive anymore and can focus on her relationships with others. Juliette Lewis, portraying adult Nat stated “she’s a lover in the second season”. After years of fighting, she is finally beginning to soften. Coming from an unstable home it makes sense that Nat clings to her love for Travis (Kevin Alves). Unrequited, unreciprocated love is all that she has ever known and neither teenage or adult Nat have ever believed they deserve more.

Taissa is a unique example of a queer womanhood, one that Jasmin Savoy Brown (young Tai) relishes playing, as she is “breaking boundaries”. While Tai and Van’s (Liv Hewson) relationship is welcomed by the team and adult Taissa (Tawny Cypress) is open about her lesbian identity, there is a disconnect. Her intimacy in the present day is limited to a posed photo with her wife. She is consumed by political competition. Like the rest of the team Tai is struggling to be harmonious with herself denying her darker side and even her passions to pursue control.

While TV is going through a sexual abstinence phase, Yellowjackets is keeping its foot on the gas. However, these scenes don’t exist for salacious reasons, each intimate moment offers further insight into how the girls became the women they are today. It’s an important depiction of female sexuality that refuses to shy away from its messy, problematic nature.

Yellowjackets leads its audience from the first sexual experiences through to the present day. In its first season Yellowjackets gifted us a group of messed up women who were marked by their teenage trauma. In its return in season two, the women of the present day are coming to terms with themselves, darkness and all. Whether that be Shauna learning to love and explore her kinks, Nat accepting the love that she deserves or Taissa allowing herself to feel passion. It can take a life to build the self-confidence necessary to accept your sexual self. So it’s a delight to watch middle aged women finally come to terms with their desires, accepting themselves for the passionate, if slightly twisted, women that they are.

_ Yellowjackets is on Paramount+. New episodes are released on Fridays_.

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