Awards Daily talks to Yellowjackets director and executive producer Karyn Kusama about that game-changing Season 2 finale, Episode 9’s “Storytelling.” *Spoilers Ahead*
Strangely enough, both of the Yellowjackets episodes Karyn Kusama directed, the pilot and the Season 2 finale “Storytelling,” bookend each other.
“That was something that was so fun about it,” says Kusama about the connection between these two episodes. “For me, one of my favorite things was the idea that in the pilot we see young Natalie hallucinate Misty waiting for her outside of the keg party, which she’s not technically invited to, and that that all comes full circle in this tragic, heartbreaking way in the finale of Season 2. It was cool to see how certain things added up in unexpected ways.”
Natalie’s (Juliette Lewis) death was something the executive producers and showrunners had always known about, something that was part of this core-four character’s arc.
“Part of what we did was set up a character who has cheated death over and over again and sometimes actively been so self-destructive that you wonder how she can still be alive. It doesn’t take away from the surprise when it actually happens. I think what made the second season finale interesting was that the inevitable happens, but the way it happens is surprising. You don’t expect it to be this horrible, messy accident, and you don’t expect it to come from Misty acting impulsively and ultimately thinking she’s doing the right thing. What a mess.”
What a mess, indeed. Kusama says that both days they shot Natalie’s death were challenging night shoots, not just because of the emotional context of the script, but because it was cold, wet, and miserable with rain half the time.
“There was something about it that already had this really somber, bleak vibe, and we also knew what we had to do. This was one of the biggest narrative events of the whole season, so there was a sadness to it. And for the actors, there was a lot of anxiety and sadness around having to shoot those scenes.”
In addition to the surprise that Natalie would be the one to die, the other surprise comes in Natalie’s reaction to it. For much of the first season, she was suicidal and almost jealous of Travis being the one to kill himself, culminating in her putting a gun to her head in the Season 1 finale. Suddenly, as she’s transitioning to the next plane of existence, she says, “I’m not supposed to be here.”
“Making a choice to kill yourself is obviously a very consequential decision, but I think the moment we meet Natalie now in this season and in the last episode, there was a large fragment of her that wanted to maybe make things right and truly make amends and truly become accountable, and she wasn’t ready to go. That’s part of what I think is so sad about the episode. We watched this character flirt with death and self-destruction and then to see it all catch up to her in this messy human way is deeply, deeply sad.”
On her way to the next life, the younger version of herself (Sophie Thatcher) and Javi (Luciano Leroux) visit her, but there’s also young Lottie (Courtney Eaton) who’s still alive in the present day. Kusama says there’s a reason why Lottie is there, too.
“Part of it has to do with the idea that even though Natalie was in the wilderness with those girls, even though she was the most vocally antagonistic toward Lottie and most unwilling to admit faith or flirt with some kind of belief in a higher power, in the end, when they’re all still pretty much starving and still have to resort to a kind of ‘and then there were none strategy, she was vulnerable to believing that somebody knew more than she did, and that person was Lottie. I think the fact that Lottie anoints her as this new successor in the social hierarchy of the Yellowjackets, Natalie seems to accept that as the truth and take it on. I think she carries the shame of that for the rest of her life. This episode was meant to show how she carried so much guilt and regret and shame.”
The juxtaposition of Natalie’s happiest day, when she’s anointed by the Yellowjackets, and her last day is equally heartbreaking.
“Happy in a hellscape,” says Kusama with a laugh. “The fact that she’s summoning the ability to laugh and cry at the same time, and some of the girls are stoic, and some curtsy and bow. It’s so twisted what we’re seeing occur between these young women. There’s something about the idea that we’ve seen what happens between these girls to survive. Whether we attribute any responsibility to Lottie, whoever is stuck with that role of queen is going to assume responsibility for a lot of really horrible stuff. I suspect Season 3 will be unpacking the depths to which all of these characters have to sink in order to stay alive, and that’s part of what’s so sad about this idea of it being her happiest day because she finally feels seen and recognized, but in the most fucked-up circumstances.”
But Natalie wasn’t the only one to meet her end in “Storytelling.” Javi, the kid brother of Travis, provides sustenance for the group in the 1996 timeline when he drowns. While Jackie’s feast is treated as more of a bacchanal party, Javi’s preparation displays more reverence.
“There’s something so terrible about the fact he was on that plane, and he and Travis are stuck in this nightmarish situation along with everyone else because it’s not like they had a reason to be there other than to tag along with their dad. There’s something even more painful about that. The fact we learn that Javi had probably learned a way to survive, and he was going to share that with Natalie. It’s just so sad. It requires that you treat what happens to him not just with ritual or ceremony, but with the respect that Shauna must have had to treat him. It was important to all of us that you see her hand on his corpse and that you see his body. There was a body there and a person. It was important that we treat that with the gravity that it implies.”
Someone who does not partake in eating Javi is Coach Ben (Steven Krueger), who may or may not have set fire to the cabin with all of the girls inside.
‘It’s not technically certain that that happened, but it’s pretty incriminating. He’s starving, too! One of the things we talked a lot about and just had to keep reminding each other about was the idea that there is a kind of madness that develops when you’re always cold and not sleeping well, when you’re literally starving to death. It’s hard to be thinking straight. I think that was something we had to accept about Coach Ben. The idea that Natalie would become the leader of these girls and she had somehow signed up for this horrific leadership role, that was the final straw.”
Did he set them all on fire to have his own feast?
“That seems too premediated, and he’s been the one to be the most openly repelled by that strategy. I’m gonna guess that it’s a moment of real madness for the character.”
Clearly, Coach Ben is not so impervious to the ways of the wilderness (or is he?), but someone who appears to be enamored with the power of it is Callie (Sarah Desjardins). In one of the final moments of the episode, she stares at Lottie (Simone Kessell) and Van (Lauren Ambrose) as they talk outside of the ambulance, something her mother Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) catches her doing.
“Part of what is getting seeded in the story is this notion of a young woman in the contemporary storyline with the same capacity or attraction to transgression and danger as her mom, but also her similarity to all of these women who she’s heard about or known tangentially through Shauna. Some of these storylines are coming home now to Callie’s world. We’ve seen that she’s learned more fully about what happened to Shauna out there, and it’s actually something that sets in motion this very radical empathetic response in Callie, but that’s probably going to lead to some transgressions of her own. She’s seeming to lose a little bit of her compass about right and wrong to some degree because she’s having to watch Jeff and Shauna continue to push the boundaries of self-protection.”
Yellowjackets is streaming on the Showtime app.