The 'Yellowjackets' Creators Discuss the Shocking Season 1 Finale and What's To Come
The first season of the hit Showtime drama wrapped up with a tragedy and a new mystery to explore in Season 2.
This post contains extensive spoilers for Yellowjackets Season 1, Episode 10.
Showtime's Yellowjackets, from Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, generated early buzz with its roster of '90s stars before it premiered in November 2021, but the series has since amassed a rabid fandom—inspiring everything from lengthy Reddit theory posts to Twitter threads already fan-casting Season 2. Although its premise about the fallout of a plane crash seemed familiar, Yellowjackets defied expectations with its incredible ensemble, its wit and dark humor in exploring teenage girls left to their own devices, and a mystery that constantly kept viewers ravenous for more.
After a very exciting 10-episode first season, Yellowjackets wrapped up with a doozy of a finale, "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi," on Sunday, January 16. In the 1996 timeline, we saw fan-favorite character Jackie (Ella Purnell) die a quiet, tragic death, and Lottie (Courtney Eaton) officially introducing the concept of cannibalism to the group and anointing herself some sort of eerie forest leader (or The Antler Queen, as dubbed by fans). And perhaps most shocking is that, in the present, we learned Lottie is still alive and leading a cult. With everything that came crashing down in the Season 1 finale, we spoke to the series creators, married couple and creative partners Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, about the ending that's sending the show's hive into a frenzy, and what to expect in the (thankfully already confirmed) Season 2.
Thrillist: One thing that I personally love about Yellowjackets and what I think people generally have been drawn to is how committed it is to showing the horrors of being a teenage girl and these feral women. Why was it important to go there in the series?
Ashley Lyle: I would say it just was never a question to us, from even early on, that we would do that and that we wouldn't shy away or blink when it came to the more horrific aspects of what happens to these girls out in the wilderness. I think, in part, that's because we're both drama fans, and that's always been really fun. And to some extent to have the opportunity to tell a story like this on a network like Showtime that's going to allow us to do whatever we want, it felt like we couldn't squander it.
But I think also, on a storytelling level, it just felt really important to us that we really honor the stakes of the circumstances that these girls find themselves in. So much of this show is about the frailty of the human body, the horror of, as you put it, being a teenage girl. I think that it's something that we really wanted to hammer home in terms of just the potential horror—not just of being out there—but of what can happen to you. We didn't want to shy away from it. It felt really important, and there's everything from [Coach] Ben Scott's leg to Episode 5 [when] the girls are all getting their period. I mean, you've never seen a more delighted group of writers than all the women in our writers' room when we did what we call the "period cauldron."
Bart Nickerson: One of the things that Ashley and I talk about, and Jonathan [Lisco], our writing partner, and all the writers in the room, it's like you're following the story where it wants to go. From the very beginning in the pitch, this was a show that wanted to be very visceral and heightened and wild and exciting, and Showtime has been a great partner. They've always seen it the same way.
I think that there's also an aspect of the show that wants to talk about—or almost try to reclaim, even a small way—something bigger and wild and dangerous and scary and amazing that is discarded or withheld from the human experience. I think that's where some of the kind of excitement, and some of the energy around the show, comes from. I think a lot of it for us is just trying to not screw that up, really.
The cannibalism is shown in the first episode and then, for lack of a better word, we only get a taste of it again at the end of the season in the finale. Why did you make the decision to only allude to it at the end and not come full circle?
Nickerson: Well, first off, I would say I think that you lack better words because there are no better words. That's the perfect phrasing. We obviously made the choice to give away the cannibalism in the pilot. One of the things that we wanted to do with that is make the question—not what happened, but why did it happen? So, everything that we've seen in the first season is about building to a place where we can justify the cannibalism, and to have it be sort of satisfying and as premise-defining as possible. It's not that we're necessarily trying to drag it out or be cagey with it. One of the things that we really want is to have the audience in a variety of ways on the ride and in the subjective experience as much as possible, so that they can get not just a view of what has happened, but on some level have an idea of the subjective experience of how what is happening feels.
I think Jackie's death is kind of perfect, because it's just so tragic as an anticlimactic death. Why did you decide to write her death that way?
Lyle: Jackie's death was something that was even part of the initial pitch for the show, and we knew exactly how we wanted her to die, and that really didn't change over the course of the development of the first season when we were in there with our writers. It was, to some extent, our north star when we were writing the first season. In a very different show or a very different execution of this premise, there were obviously very different deaths for Jackie, and to our mind her death is really a turning point for all of the characters, particularly for Shauna. We wanted it to motivate the next step, as opposed to being the next step, if that makes sense.
[Jackie's] friendship with Shauna is so central to the first season, and to our minds, this confrontation between Jackie and Shauna would've happened whether they were in the wilderness or whether they were back home. It felt to us this was absolutely coming and the circumstances that they find themselves in make the consequences of that confrontation so incredibly different, and so incredibly tragic. In terms of what that does to Shauna moving forward, that was something that we really wanted to set up to be able to play out later.
Personally, I don't think there's anything supernatural going on in the woods, but will we learn more about that mystery going forward? What can you say about that?
Nickerson: Yes. I don't even know how to phrase it because I don't want to be too clever. But I guess the question of whether or not there is [an element of the] supernatural is one that we will be elaborating on and coming back to. One of the things that we've talked about is, not necessarily wanting there to be an ambiguity around the supernatural, but a sort of unknown. One of the questions that the show wants to play with is, what would it mean for these things to be real? And what does it mean to be real?
There is a phenomenology of a variety of certain supernatural occurrences. People have experiences, like possession or ghosts, and you can have your opinion and your interpretation about the cause of these things, but there is an individual inhabited experience. There is sense data generated as a result of something. And what your interpretation is, which is probably in large part based on your experiences, your biases, your own belief system—but this thing is happening, and what it means and how it shapes you and what an individual character believes about it, and to what extent that belief is even something that they have control over is one of the central things that we want to play with and explore in the series generally.
Lyle: Every single writer in the room would have a very different opinion about that. I think that's what we find so fun about it. Early on in the writer's room, we took a poll, and just said, "Okay, who believes in ghosts?" and the room was pretty evenly divided. Some people absolutely beyond a shadow of doubt are like, "Oh, yeah, ghosts are real, ghosts definitely exist," and then other people are like, "Are you insane? It's nonsense. Ghosts definitely do not exist." What's interesting to us is those beliefs, what they're based in, what has created a belief system in a person, [and] can those things change. Ultimately, there is no definitive answer in the real world to these things. As much as people might strongly fall on one side of the divide or the other, I don't think anyone can say with absolute certainty that they're correct.
I'm sure you can't say a whole lot, but what can fans expect from Season 2?
Lyle: On the general front, I would say that fans can expect for things to get even more complicated and even darker and even wilder for our characters. We intend to introduce another survivor—possibly multiple survivors—into the present-day storyline. So, that story will expand accordingly, and the characters that we have will have to deal with that. I think in general, in Season 2 in both storylines, the word "reckoning" has come up quite a few times—in terms of their circumstances, in terms of their own actions. There is a reckoning of sorts coming.
Hopefully it will be every bit as fun as—at least we had making—Season 1. First and foremost, our goal is always to entertain and to give everybody a really fun ride, but we plan to dig in even deeper.
You mentioned meeting other survivors. The Season 1 finale revealed that Lottie is still alive. Are we led to believe Lottie has some sort of cult? What can you tease about that?
Lyle: [Laughs] Yeah, that implies it.
Nickerson: I guess what we can talk about is that we'll meet Lottie. As we see through the course of Season 1 in the '96 story—whatever is going on out there, whether you believe it is psychosis or the supernatural or some sort of place in between—Lottie seems to be the one that is the closest to it, the doorway to it, or has the strongest connection to it. So, we'll be meeting someone in the present day who evolved from that.
We've met obviously some characters and we'll continue to meet characters, but [going forward, we'll] also get at least a little bit of look at what has happened to the actual force, for lack of a better word, that shaped a lot of their experiences out there. We've met characters so far in the present day that, for a variety of reasons, have tried to hold many of those experiences at a distance—and Lottie is probably the character that was the least able to do that in her life after coming home.
In the scene where we find out about the cult, we learn it's Lottie who runs it because Suzie (Colleen Wheeler) tries to tell Natalie (Juliette Lewis) over the phone that she is who took the money out of Travis' account, and presumably had him killed. Why might Lottie want Travis dead?
Nickerson: Yeah. What can we say?
Lyle: I don't know that we can say much about that.
Nickerson: Yeah. I'm not even sure that we can confirm that she wants him dead.
How much of the show do you have mapped out already? Do you already know what the ending will be?
Nickerson: Yes. From the very beginning, we had a multi-season plan. We actually pitched a final scene as part of the pitch. Now, we don't know how many seasons it'll take to get there, so it would be irresponsible of us to say, "This is going to be five seasons." We feel like the story will guide us to length, and that we'll know when we turn that final corner and come down to the homestretch.
There's a lot of wild fan theories out there. Have you been reading them and do you have any favorite ones from throughout Season 1?
Lyle: We have. I am the culprit here, more than Bart, but then everything gets filtered through me. I'm definitely holding up my phone and showing him my favorite memes, and telling him some of the wildest theories, and some of the most entertaining theories. They've been, by and large, incredibly creative and entertaining, so it's been a lot of fun to see people engage, theorize, and have fun with it in that community forum. It just really warms our hearts.
There's been a lot of conjecture about the symbol. People are digging up all chemical symbol tables, they're digging up Hobo Code, they're digging up trigonometry. Just the fact that they are all engaging on that level of detail is really thrilling for us. Then, of course, there are some really wild theories. There was a theory at one point that Adam was actually Shauna's child [laughs]. I was like, "Wow, you guys went straight to incest." So, our dark hearts are, again, very charmed by that—although he was not her son [laughs]. We did not go there. Bart, you liked that Callie theory.
Nickerson: One of my favorite ones was the idea that the girl that we see running in the teaser of the pilot was actually [Shauna's daughter] Callie—that what we were seeing was not a flashback, but a flash forward to Callie being kidnapped and brought back into the wilderness [laughs]. I mean, I know it's not Callie. I just thought that was such a fun, clever, creative idea. Although, it also steps on some stuff that we saw immediately later in the pilot because we then obviously unveil Misty. So, we can't do that, but the fact that somebody was thinking that in almost the fifth dimension and having what would actually be a fourth timeline in the pilot, I was just like, "Oh, that's just really fun."
Speaking of viewers having an attention to detail, my coworker noticed that in the finale Misty is reading The Magus by John Fowles, which is a book about psychological illusions and mastering trickery. What can you say about the significance it might have in the plot?
Lyle: I'm so glad that somebody noticed that. We've had a lot of fun with the books that appear. The other one that I love is that [when Misty is getting prank-called in the flashback, she's] reading The Cheerleader by Caroline B. Cooney, which is something that I loved when I was about that age. It's about a girl who makes a deal with an ancient vampire and offers him different victims in order to become popular, which just felt like a very Misty book.
In terms of The Magus, it's actually one of my favorite books, and it's a bit of a psychological thriller as well. Supposedly, the movie The Game was loosely based on it. So, what that book plays with—in terms of subjective experience and the way that people react to extreme circumstances—I don't think we intended anyone to very literally draw a one-to-one connection with the plot. But in terms of what that novel explores, I think psychologically it's pretty relevant.
We also just think it's a great opportunity sometimes to hopefully introduce people to really cool books or works of fiction, or there are certain movie references throughout the series. Sometimes it's just things that we love and we would love for other people to love as well.
Nickerson: I think that's completely right. It's a book that I love that Ashley actually introduced me to very early in our relationship. I think at its core, on some level, the book is really about the primacy of a kind of experience in a swirling, unstable reality. Although it is not in any way a Rosetta Stone or a key to understanding the plot that's happening in our show. We're always talking about tonal references and flavor, and it's more like referencing a feeling that you're trying to create in your own way. So, it's an internal guidepost to these experiences that you're trying to capture.
The show has gained a big following over the course of the season. What has it been like to see it blow up into this pop-culture phenomenon?
Nickerson: It's been crazy. It's obviously very exciting, but it's been weird [laughs]. It's this thing that's happening [that] feels far away from you, but all around you. I guess it's also a special experience to have so many people get so excited. I think, in the best way, it creates a sense of a responsibility to do right by the affection and care that has been put into this show. So, as we moved into the creation of the particulars of Season 2, we have this sense that we really want to continue to be worth that kind of excitement.
Lyle: It's funny, before the show started to air, we were talking with a friend of ours who's [a writer and has] been through it before, about how existentially terrifying it is to put so much of yourself into something and to work so hard on it and then to put it out into the world. You can't help but be anxious about how the world is going to receive it. He said to us, "Don't worry. These days, there are a couple of shows that people actually talk about because they love them, and a couple they talk about because they hate them, and everything else falls in the middle and no one will pay that much attention." That made us feel a lot better. Now we're like, "Oh, no, they're paying attention!"
But I think as Bart said, aside from being thrilled that people seem to really be enjoying the show, I think that there's a really strong sense of responsibility. We don't want to disappoint people who've given us the gift of their time and attention, their passion, and their enthusiasm. So, all we can hope for is that they continue to go on this ride with us and continue to enjoy it.