Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, the married writing duo behind Showtime’s “Yellowjackets,” started with a simple idea: What if a girl’s sports team was in a plane crash and had to survive? What materialized is a compelling and unnerving coming-of-age tale —a chilling remix of “My-So-Called Life,” “Now & Then,” and “Lord of the Flies” — that has swept up text threads and social media feeds week to week.
Shifting between 1996 and the present, the series follows members of New Jersey’s state champion Yellowjackets, one of the nation’s top-ranked girls’ high school soccer teams. Bound for a championship game in Seattle, their plane crashes in the remote Canadian wilderness, where they’re stranded for 19 months. The result has been a 10-episode season unafraid to shift genre and tone: there are indications of cannibalism and supernatural elements alongside deep explorations of female friendships, rage and trauma — not to mention an awesomely ‘90s soundtrack.
With Sunday’s season finale, “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi,” the series answers some questions — like what happened to Jackie — offered clues to others — like which additional survivor we’ll likely meet as an adult — and poses a few new ones to be tackled in Season 2. (It’s already been renewed.) Lyle and Nickerson spoke to the Los Angeles Times to break it all down.
Q: “Who the f— is Lottie Matthews?” is the lingering question from that finale. We know her, but we don’t know her. Tell us more.
Lyle: I feel like this is a tricky one to answer without giving too many spoilers, because Lottie will be a pretty big part of Season 2. We absolutely intend to introduce her as a present-day survivor, which we think is going to be a lot of fun. I will say that over the course of the first season, a central theme of the show is the question of belief: What belief means to people, what faith means to people, and how that can completely change your worldview — and thus, not only how somebody acts, but how other people react to that person. There’s a really great power to that, and it’s one that we intend to explore moving forward in the show.
Nickerson: Through the course of Season 1, we’re watching the early kind of emergence of something that could be supernatural, could be psychological — could be both and probably is. The person who is the closest to that, in terms of being able to feel in touch and that, is Lottie. And in Season 2, we’re gonna see what happened to that person.
Q: You left us with some cliffhangers. Obviously, we see Lottie’s plotting, Taissa’s basement, and Callie learning about Adam’s death. How do you strike the balance of what to resolve and what to keep mysterious as you think about the future?
Lyle: All of those will have to be dealt with in Season 2, absolutely. Ideally, we’ve struck a good balance over the course of Season 1 in terms of answering certain things and asking other questions. We appreciate shows that don’t leave you hanging all the time and or have unanswered questions all over the place. It remains to be seen to some extent, but our goal is always to make each episode satisfying and to make each season satisfying.
We pitched an arc that we felt could last over the course of multiple seasons. To some extent, we have our blueprint, we have a game plan. That being said, television is a collaborative art, and it’s one in which the best-laid plans sometimes shift. Sometimes with the benefit of time, you can come up with an idea that is even more exciting. So I think as long as we have a framework, and we have answers to the questions that we are posing, we’re going to be in good shape. Sometimes you can think of a better answer, but I think the danger is when you don’t have those answers at all.
Q: The things that were resolved, particularly Jackie’s cause of death and Jeff being the blackmailer — was that the direction you were heading in all along? How did you determine what to tie up now versus later?
Nickerson: Jackie’s death was actually a thing that, from our very first conversations back when, it was just like a broad idea. The idea of having that clear line of demarcation where something from home has fallen away was definitely part of the plan.
Q: I want to talk more about Jackie’s death. We’re sort of preparing for it to be this gruesome or violent death, and it’s more simple and tragic than that. She freezes to death while sleeping outside alone. It almost made me wonder if it was real or a cleaned-up memory of what actually happened.
Lyle: Her death — and her death being what it is — was part of our initial pitch. We talked in the pitch to networks about the first snow falling and the final images of the season. There’s a different version of the show and a different version of the finale where her death is more gruesome or violent. But to our minds, we wanted to give her an emotional death. And we wanted it to be heartbreaking, because it is heartbreaking for Shauna. To some extent, her death was sort of a Rubicon, but not the Rubicon that they’re going to cross eventually in terms of violence. As Bart said, it’s the falling away of the last vestiges of the lives that they knew. We were very interested in exploring the dynamics of female friendships, and particularly the friendships that exist between teenage girls. And it feels like the fight that they have — that Shauna and Jackie have — that we’ve been building toward for most of the first season was inevitable whether their plane crashed or didn’t. And so to take this inevitable fissure between the two of them, and to have the consequences be so different, and so much more tragic than how it happened back home, was something that felt right to us on a story level. We will get to more violent stuff, obviously, in the future, but this felt like a turning point for them in a very different way.
Nickerson: One of the things that we found so horrifying about this death was the banality of it. The stakes are very high and the margins are very thin. Getting cuts is a big deal, if you don’t have easy access to an emergency room. And so really trying to hammer that home viscerally — not only the loss, which is profound, and that relationship, which was really the emotional spine of the season, but also to have the tableau of our characters seeing this pristine corpse is a real important moment of the show.
Q: There have been countless theories since the show premiered. Are there any that you found interesting or entertaining?
Lyle: There are a lot to be found interesting … and sort of genius. People got very creative. In a way, it sort of hurts us sometimes to be the bearer of bad news, to say: That is not actually what happened. I found the “Adam is Javi” theory to be incredible. It is not true. I’m always impressed when someone comes up with something that had not occurred to us. Adam as Javi had genuinely not occurred to us.
Nickerson: I still love the theory that the girl we see running in the teaser of the pilot was actually Callie and that what you were seeing was not a flashback but a flash-forward to when Callie was kidnapped to lure them all back to the wilderness. I was just like, “That’s genius.” But we show you Misty a couple of scenes later. I wish we could do that, but we can’t do it.
Q: It’s also been interesting to see the social media conversation around Jackie and Shauna. Some people are convinced Jackie is a lesbian and was in love with Shauna. What’s your take on that reading?
Lyle: There is a very, in my experience, specific tenor of female friendship at that age that can encapsulate so much more than just friendship. I think “Heavenly Creatures” is a really great example of that as well. It’s really complicated. The intensity of those feelings and the intensity of that love that you have for your friends can, in certain ways, transcend a straightforward platonic friendship. And whether or not it’s literally romantic, I think that the feelings of romantic love are somehow swept up in that. You end up having crushes on your friends. And I think that is an astute observation on the part of our viewers. Not necessarily that we’re saying that Jackie and Shauna were in love with each other in what we understand to be a straightforward sexual way. But I think that to try to compartmentalize it is wrong as well.
Nickerson: I think that Shauna is in love with Jackie and Jackie is in love with Shauna. But what that actually means for them as people, for their romantic templates, is not strictly defined, because I don’t know that it’s possible to really put hard and fast boundaries around those things; they obviously can shift and evolve. There’s so many factors that can impinge upon the expression of that bond. The bond is real and powerful, and the specific container or form that it would have taken over the course of their life is not really possible to specifically define.
Q: What was the most challenging scene or beat to write in the finale?
Nickerson: I do feel like the fight between Shauna and Jackie was just one that we worked really hard on. We really wanted to honor the relationship, the affection, the love, the resentment — the emotional spine of that ‘96 story, and in some ways even the present-day story, hinged on the dissolution of that relationship. And so [we wanted] it to be big and difficult and to have both points of views rendered as compelling and also sympathetic, to have it be heartbreaking in all the ways that we felt like we wanted it to be. The responsibility of the scene weighed heavy on us.
Lyle: I wouldn’t say [it] was difficult in the same way — “difficult” might not even be the right word — but the Jackie death scene. Because we knew that we wanted it to have a certain unsettling quality. We referenced a lot of Black Lodge [“Twin Peaks”] and David Lynch when we were talking about it and finding the right tone, finding the right moment, continued even when we were in the edit. It’s even been debated amongst everybody on the creative team, when everyone thinks that we’re revealing that this is a death moment. And to my mind, it’s when Shauna says, “Does it matter?” about the hot chocolate.
Q: A lot has been said and written about the way the show explores how trauma moves in the present and how it manifests later — not just in the storytelling, but in the music and the camera movements. What was the process of trying to find your way through evoking the emotions of it without being academic about it?
Nickerson: I don’t think we would ever be arrogant enough to try to tell somebody what something feels like or what it means, but we hoped to explore some of the felt experience of that through the use of genre, through the use of drama and story to create almost a subliminal dialogue with the audience about these experiences — to provide maybe some kind of a cathartic experience for both us and them. We do want the experience of watching the show to be meaningful in a deep and wide way and I guess that’s what we were trying to do.
Lyle: I feel like the only constant that we came across in terms of trauma is that everybody’s experience is different. There is no right or wrong way to experience or process or manifest traumatic experiences. We certainly tried to do some research; we want to be very respectful. But we were more interested in talking about and examining felt experience as opposed to clinical analysis of it. Hopefully people feel that there’s a truth, in some way, shape or form, to how we’re presenting it on this show. It’s interesting to me that trauma has become this kind of catchphrase or the buzz word. Everyone keeps sharing that Jamie Lee Curtis video [from her “Halloween Kills” press tour]. But I think trauma is as close as you can come to a universal experience, especially right now. We are all going [through] a collective trauma. You don’t have to have been through a plane crash to have experienced trauma.
Q: But the show isn’t all dark and gloom. It does a great job of having moments of levity. Jeff’s disappointment that there wasn’t a book club is already the best quote of 2022. Did it surprise you how that took off?
Lyle: We’re so thrilled that people enjoy it as much as we did. We got a little bit of a preview on set. We were there when they shot it, and everyone was dying. We thought it was hilarious. I think Warren Kole is just the MVP for that line alone. He did great work this season, he’s really really talented, but “Oh, my God, there’s no book club?” So good. Watching his brain trying to assemble those pieces, his wife cheating, no book club — he knocked it out of the park.
From the get-go, when we pitched it, we called it equal parts horror story, psychological thriller, Gothic fairy tale, and pitch-dark coming-of-age comedy. We got very lucky in having some extremely talented actresses who also have incredibly good comedic timing. Melanie [Lynskey] is very funny. Christina [Ricci] is f— hilarious, sometimes her little laugh kills me.
Christina has a really great handle on her character. I remember we were told, “Christina wants to have a phone call with you guys.” It’s was about Episode 4, when she’s at the restaurant to spy on Natalie. We originally scripted that she orders a Brandy Alexander. And so we get this call and she’s like, “I don’t think Misty would order a Brandy Alexander.” We’re like, “OK.” She’s like, “I think she would order a chocolate martini.”
Nickerson: We were like, “You’re right.”
Lyle: It also cracks me up because when we were in Vancouver shooting at one point, I went out to dinner with Sarah Thompson, who’s one of our co-executive producers and writers. We tried to order a chocolate martini in honor of Misty. And the bartender was like, “What? No, no, no, we do not make those.” He gave us an espresso martini instead. It’s become our little thing that we always order, an espresso martini. We always ask for a chocolate martini, but we pretty much always get rejected, and then it becomes an espresso martini.
Q: The new drink for Yellowjackets fans. To that point, there was one thing that irked me while watching, and made me wonder if I’ve been living a sheltered life. It’s a detail I can’t stop thinking about in the scene where Shauna and Jeff are having breakfast with Jackie’s parents on her birthday. I didn’t know tuna quiche was a thing.
Lyle: Oh, it is a thing. And I will say that there is a wide world of culinary horrors that can only really be described as like “WASP cuisine.” We were just like, “Let’s put in the absolute terror that is the mashup of quiche, which is sort of a highbrow dish, with tuna.”
Q: Final question, please tell me you’ve taken the “Yellowjackets” quiz. I need to know the results.
Lyle: I got Misty. Not only am I a Misty, but I took it three different times and always got Misty and that’s a little upsetting. I’m not gonna lie.
Nickerson: Maybe that’s why you’re a Misty. There’s a sort of fluidity to what you’re presenting in these different moments.
Lyle: I gave different answers, but in that way where I was trying to decide between two [answers] and so, the next time I would pick the other one and it was still Misty. I was like, “What the hell!”
Nickerson: That is the most Misty thing. I got Lottie, so I felt pretty good.