SPOILER ALERT! This story contains plot details from episode 2 of Showtime’s Yellowjackets. Do not read unless you have watched the episode!
After young Shauna enjoyed that special Jackie snack in the premiere episode, you knew it was only a matter of time before everyone shared in on the, ahem, fun. Here, Executive Producer Jonathan Lisco — who wrote the second episode that’s been aptly titled “Edible Complex” — talks about finally filming the scene they’ve been teasing since the beginning, and what it means to the Yellowjackets going forward.
DEADLINE Before we get into “Edible Complex,” I want to ask about that speech you gave at the Yellowjackets premiere in Hollywood. You talked about fear. What did you mean by that?
JONATHAN LISCO I was partially talking about the feelings of going into the second season because obviously it’s this funny thing, right? You know what they say: success belongs to everyone and failure is an orphan. When you’re in the echo chamber of your own writer’s room, you don’t really know how things are going to connect with an audience. Then you create a season of television that connects with an audience as vividly and dynamically as ours did, you would think that would be a great thing and you could feel terrific about it. But in fact, what it does in the dark night of your soul is like, ‘oh my God, now the show belongs to everybody and everyone has a theory about it.’ We’ve got to cut out the noise and trust our instincts. So I was talking about creative fear and the desire to be as good as we were in the past. I hope it doesn’t sound pretentious, but we are trying not to just be sellers of products. We want to be writers. In order to like really do that, you have to have faith in your own instincts. Otherwise, like I said in my remarks, it’s really toxic to creativity. It’s paralyzing. You can’t think straight when you’re so caught up and tied up into knots.
DEADLINE Let’s talk about the second episode. What’s it like having the incredible distinction of writing the first full-blown cannibalism episode of Yellowjackets? How does it feel knowing that you’ll forever have that on your resume?
LISCO I guess it depends who you talk to, right? I was once a Wall Street lawyer and I doubt that if I ever walked into Sullivan and Cromwell or Sherman and Sterling in New York now and said,’ Hey, guess what? I wrote a thing about teen girls eating each other,’ they’d be like, ‘great, sit down, write the prospectus for GE.’ I think it all depends on your audience. I’m really gratified but I do want to stress that although I did write it and I certainly worked hard on it, this is a team sport and we’ve got a wonderful staff of writers, all of whom contributed to the episode. But I am very satisfied by it because it was a swing. And that’s sort of apropos of what I was talking about in my opening remarks at the premiere. To come out of the gate with these two episodes where the story moves along really fast is really gratifying. We didn’t want to be that show that introduced the idea of ritualistic cannibalism in the pilot last season and then tease it out for 30 episodes, making the audience wait for it. That seemed really disingenuous to us. It seemed really manipulative. When we realized that we could do it early, it was really exciting. We felt like we could tell it through the prism of young Shauna’s character. And once we decided that the eating of Jackie could be in many ways a Shauna story, where she was working out all of her self-recrimination and her guilt and trying to decide what that toxic friendship represented, it really started to open up for us. We felt like the eating of Jackie wasn’t going to be salacious or sensational. It wasn’t just going to be plot. It’s about these intense friendships …. in this case between two young women where you love this person, but you also have lived in this person’s shadow. You actually want to be this person, but you’re kind of the second banana. You wanna destroy this person. And so, the idea of ingesting Jackie was a way Shauna could dignify Jackie and make Jackie a part of her for the rest of her life. And guess what? Shauna could also dominate Jackie.
DEADLINE The moment when everyone smelled something. They were smelling delicious Jackie, weren’t they?
LISCO Correct. You hit the nail on the head. The idea that they would actually smell food, smell a way to continue to survive is something that we wanted to depict truthfully. You can talk about it for a long time about whether or not it was right or wrong or immoral. But part of the reason why we made it this Greco Roman bacchanal is because we didn’t want to shy away from the fact that they, indeed, need this and want this.
DEADLINE I’m glad that you brought that up. Depicting it as a bacchanal … was that more for our benefit as viewers, to make it more palatable? No pun intended.
LISCO Well, that’s a great question and I love the pun. I’ll back up for a second and say we are not in the business of just trying to gross people out. That is not what we are trying to do. And it’s funny, when we won the horror award at Critic’s Choice, I felt like, well, wait a minute. Like, we didn’t even set out to be a horror show. We set out to be psychologically and emotionally interesting and to try to render something truthful. And so sometimes, like with the cutting off of the leg, et cetera, we have to be gruesome because that is objectively what the young women are experiencing. But we don’t want to be salacious or gratuitous about it. So you’re absolutely right that the bacchanal and the intercutting of that feast served the function of allowing us not to just stay fixed on the eating of Jackie. The first impulse was, how are these women psychologically going to handle this? And so in order to protect themselves psychologically, they had to essentially engage in a mass hallucination to distance themselves from the horror of what they were doing. They were young women growing up in New Jersey in the mid-nineties. What courses had they all probably taken? Well, world civilization. And it was probably Greek civilization like so many of us took in high school. Their mass delusion takes the form of this kind of broken feast. And so, what better way to show that they were in need of a protective mechanism? It erupts into a kind of a hedonistic feast. It also allowed us to shield the audience from what could have been a really relentless, long cannibalism scene.
DEADLINE Did you feel like you needed at least one person not to partake? That’s why you had Ben stay back?
LISCO We didn’t need it. We thought it was interesting. One of the things that broke open the show for me in season one was when I realized that despite the trauma and the harrowing experience they had in the woods, these young women look back on it when they’re in middle age as definitely one of the freest times in their lives. All the dumb social conventions had dropped away. Yes, they were feral and yes, they were starving, but at least they weren’t in the box of middle age where it seemed like they were hemmed in. So they look back on it and there’s this weird vivid lust for that suffering. So that’s number one. Ben Scott is outside that circle because he’s the grownup. Scott is the person who represents, in this case, someone who’s still clinging to the vestiges of civilization. He’s not ready to break the taboos. He thinks they can survive without crossing that Rubicon.
DEADLINE Why did Travis imagine Lottie while having sex with Natalie?
LISCO There might be members of our audience who see it as a love triangle, that basically he lusts for both of them and he can’t decide. If that’s the case, then we have not done our job correctly. It’s a battle for Travis’ soul at some level. Because if you remember in episode one, when he has the panic attack, Lottie puts her hand on his heart and he goes into this like quasi-religious reverie because she represents faith, she represents hope that Javi might still be alive, whereas Natalie represents cold resignation and pragmatism. As a loving gesture, she cuts her own skin. And that’s what I love about the story so much. She does it because she loves him. She does it because she sees that Travis is in pain. Hope is painful and she wants to eviscerate him of hope so that he can just move on and accept that Javi is dead. So the triangulation in that scene is not just about sex. In fact, I would argue it’s not about sex at all, it’s really about Travis and these two women having completely different frames around his experience. They’re sort of like wrestling for his soul and what he really believes. It’s like faith versus resignation.
DEADLINE Why did Lottie imagine Laura Lee?
LISCO That really begs the question, who is Lottie? You’ve got Lottie as a young woman in episode one. Then you cut forward 25 years and you find that Lottie has been in a Swiss mental institution and is allegedly recovered and running an intentional community. She’s cured and everything is hunky dory. When she tells the story of what happened to Travis to Natalie [in episode 1 of season 2], she tells her everything but this harrowing and absolutely horrifying vision of Laura Lee that occurred to her, where not only does she see her friend in a sort of beatific, beautiful light, but how she sort of sucked into her mouth. Remember that baptism scene in season one? When it was kind of a beautiful thing and she went down into this long hallway and saw the candles? That seems very positive, but now Lottie is seeing the other side of that. Laura Lee is no longer the harbinger of the light and possible faith in God. She’s being propelled right into hell. And she’s wondering what it all means ‘cuz Lottie sees her face all disfigured. There are these subliminal intercuts and when she comes out of it, she’s just terrified. She realizes that if she tells Natalie that she had that vision, Natalie will say, ‘you see, you’re just the same. You’ve not been cured by the mental institution, you’re not all right. You’re just as messed up as you always were.’ But she doesn’t want to tell Natalie that because she’s trying to put on this persona of being completely healthy and okay.
DEADLINE Will there be a fallout from this first moment of cannibalism? Will they have some second thoughts going forward?
LISCO We call that the Jackie hangover, if you will. In episode three, it’s a tough morning. They all look like they’ve been hit in the head with a rock. And then Taissa comes out of the cabin and doesn’t even remember doing it because she was her other shadow self when she did it. She wasn’t even Taissa, she was her bifurcated self. And so will there be repercussions? Yes. But if we’re doing our job right, that will be the least transgressive thing that our girls do.