Yellowjackets’ Cannibalism Could Be its Biggest Red Herring

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The first season of Showtime’s Yellowjackets has come to a close and with it the potential promise of cannibalism unfulfilled. Since the first episode of the series, even the trailers frankly, there’s been an allusion to the fact that perhaps the surviving Yellowjackets that made it out of the woods did so by feasting on some of their teammates. This was so heavily telegraphed in the pilot that many fans spent the entire season wondering when they’d start to chow down, but the series made it all the way to the finale without a single rump roast over the fire which has us thinking, there was never any cannibalism and we should maybe stop expecting it.

Much of Yellowjackets‘ style of storytelling is planting the seeds for one thing within its narrative only to turn around and reveal something else entirely. This isn’t how it handles everything in its story, but it usually happens at least once an episode. Some examples of this from the first season include:

  • Jeff wasn’t having an affair, he was in debt to loan sharks 
  • The glitter in the closet was there because Jeff was the blackmailer
  • The multiple shots of different Yellowjackets in/near antlers teasing who might be the Antler Queen
  • Adam was just a guy and not grown-up Javi or the blackmailer
  • Taissa’s fugue state, aka The Bad One, is real and wasn’t a hallucination by Lottie
  • Van wasn’t killed by the wolf at the end of episode 7
  • Natalie didn’t kill her father, he died by accidental gunshot
  • Shauna wasn’t having a vision of Jackie at the Halloween party, it was her daughter wearing Jackie’s uniform.

You get the picture.

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(Photo: Showtime)

When it comes to the cannibalism angle there’s already been plenty of instances where the show plants seeds that it may have happened. Consider Nat’s aversion to Misty getting beef jerky as a gas station snack or Tai’s reaction to learning she accidentally ate meat at the fundraiser. To take it a step further, the attack ad that Tai’s opponent runs shows her messily eating ribs, implying that she resorted to cannibalism in the woods and prompting her to threaten retaliation. Is all this because they actually did resort to cannibalism? Or is this just the show cementing its characters’ personalities in ways that simply feed into this narrative that we’ve made as an assumption?

The characters have routinely been swapping clothes throughout their time in the wilderness, making it nearly impossible to determine which of the cloaked figures in the pilot correspond to which Yellowjackets (except Misty who is shown taking her mask off). What we should consider with the pilot episode’s ritual sequences that do most of the heavy lifting for the cannibalism imagery is that no part of the meal that they share is directly shown to be from the Pit Girl (the young woman that dies in the opening minutes and whose body is assumed to be what the group is eating).

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(Photo: SHOWTIME)

What do we see in the sequence? Pit Girl runs, clearly being chased by unseen forces that make wild noises, before falling into and dying in the pit trap in the ground. A few masked members of the group are seen dragging the Pit Girl’s body through the snow, stringing it up, and then bleeding it out from cutting her neck open. There’s a major cut here to the group around a fire, meat dripping onto the embers having been roasted to near perfection. One member of the group hands out the food and everyone chows down in truly disgusting fashion with shots of the dead pit girl intercut between each chomp, but nothing in the entire sequence of the group eating indicates this meat is human. Nothing. But by watching these scenes in the order they’re presented we connect the dots in our minds as audience members and make the leap to cannibalism, putting us in the same place as literally everyone else that the Yellowjackets come across in their everyday lives that assume they resorted to eating each other. 

How many people ask them “what really happened out there?” and how often is that a coded question for “you ate people, right?” throughout the series?

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(Photo: SHOWTIME)

I could be wrong and the show could really be building toward the cannibalism, or maybe it will get there and reveal they only ate someone who had died and they all hated it and decided never to do it again. In any event, the creatives behind the show are sticking to their guns about the eventuality of the cannibalism, or are they?

“When I first got involved with this project, I had long discussions with Ash and Bart about the cannibalism of it all. And that’s not what the show is about,” executive producer/showrunner Jonathan Lisco told Variety. “In fact, some of the commentary that I’ve most appreciated from our very enthusiastic fans is, like, ‘Wow, this is a show where cannibalism is the least interesting thing about the show!’ And that’s because we’ve tried to have these characters with a great deal of specificity, and psychological nuance. Because ultimately, the show is not about if cannibalism, it’s about why cannibalism, and how cannibalism. And it’s about this group of people, young women in the mid-’90s, who suddenly wind up – ironically – more alive than they’ve ever felt in their entire lives. Because there’s a kind of rhapsodic freedom when they are stranded.”

Just like the show itself, the above quote may want us to think of cannibalism literally, especially with regard to the why and the how; but at its core Yellowjackets is a show about survival and how sometimes people put their own interests above someone else, perhaps to their detriment and perhaps even stepping on someone’s throat to get their way.

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