Yellowjackets season two review: Pulpy survival drama is turning into an increasingly second-rate adventure

When William Golding published his groundbreaking 1954 novel Lord of the Flies, it was described, in a contemporary review, as “not only a first-rate adventure but a parable of our times”. It’s testament, then, to how little our collective psychology has evolved in nearly 70 years, that Yellowjackets, Paramount Plus’s unmasking of the dark recesses of the human mind, could be talked of in almost the same terms. Adventure meets social satire, presented in neatly digestible chunks.

This second season continues with the same time split as its predecessor. In the late 1990s, a group of high-school football stars fight for survival in the harsh Canadian wilderness, while, in the present day, the survivors of that traumatic plane crash reckon with what it took to survive. By now we know the protagonists: Shauna (Sophie Nélisse, young, Melanie Lynskey, older), Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown/Tawny Cypress), Natalie (Sophie Thatcher/Juliette Lewis), and Misty (Sammi Hanratty/Christina Ricci). But others are starting to emerge from the wreckage of their shared history, not least Lottie (Courtney Eaton/Simone Kessell) whose mysterious visions seem to be pushing the girls down a violent and all-consuming path.

Fittingly, for a show about a football team, Yellowjackets has always been a game of two halves. The second series is no different. In the ever more frigid wilds, the squad are dealing with what it will take to survive. “It’s not like this Wicca bulls***’s doing us any good,” designated hunter Nat announces, as she’s forced to drink a tea of her own blood (yum!). “Well, you keep coming back alive, don’t you?” strange Lottie replies. Meanwhile, in the present day, a fresh set of wounds have opened. Shauna is covering up the fact she accidentally murdered her lover, while Taissa’s position as a New Jersey state senator is under threat from her unravelling psyche. And, of course, Nat has been secreted away by the grown-up Lottie to an upstate commute for some, much-required, healing.

It must be said, the teenage Lottie is significantly scarier than the Frappuccino-swilling wellness guru she becomes in adulthood. Indeed, even though the narrative of the survivalist drama has slowed to the glacial pace of a stream in the Ontario winter, it remains a more coherent plotline than the disparate threads of the present day. And Misty, such a deliciously malevolent presence at first, seems diminished by Lottie’s rise as leader of the cannibalistic cult. “I try to do something nice – try to help my friend cover up her crime of passion – and this is what I get?” she moans, relegated to a bleach-wielding, true-crime loving sidekick.

The highest compliment I can pay Yellowjackets is that it’s always been fun. Preposterous, but fun. Gruesome, but fun. Tantalising, but fun. Yet there comes a point where the show must produce a pay-off. It is the trap that series like Lost, another plane crash drama, fell into: teasing the audience with juicy morsels of an overarching mystery, but failing to deliver an orderly final menu. With a reported five-season plan for the show, our stomachs are sure to be growling soon enough.

Fine work by Lysnkey and Lewis, particularly, will always elevate Yellowjackets from much of the televisual pack, but there’s no doubting that this return to its dog-eat-dog world represents a loss of momentum. Pulpy and playful, Yellowjackets has a lot going for it, but viewers will find it hard to remain invested in a survival drama that seems to be playing for time. A parable of our times, sure, but an increasingly second-rate adventure.

Thus far, Yellowjackets has been an exercise in delayed gratification, frustrating even its fans with the absence of good ol’ cannibalism. So, when Shauna, hunched over a burned (or, perhaps more accurately, seared) body, whispers “she wants us to”, it’s hard not to beg them to dig in. The bouche has been amused; the main course is overdue.