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‘Yellowjackets’ Season 2 Review: Show’s Cast Is Better Than Ever, but We Can Skip the Supernatural Mystery

Melanie Lynskey continues to deliver a powerhouse performance alongside one of the best ensembles in TV

The first season of “Yellowjackets” definitely hit a nerve with its inspired combination of “Now and Then,” “Lord of the Flies” and “Alive”; the series quickly became one of Showtime’s most successful ever, with about 5 million viewers tuning in each week.

The inspired premise of a group of plane crash survivors — told in the “then” and “now” — was only enhanced by the stellar cast who brought it to life, like Melanie Lynskey as Shauna, now a suburban mom and housewife with homicidal impulses; Juliette Lewis as the edgy, extremely damaged grown-up Natalie; and Christina Ricci as the obsessive Misty, who was basically to blame for the entire disaster, as her teenage self (Samantha Hanratty) was enjoying the camaraderie of the girls’ life in the wild so much that she destroyed the plane’s black box to prevent the team from getting rescued in the first place.

The “Yellowjackets” casting team deserves all the awards, as the older and younger versions of the main characters match up seamlessly. That streak continues this season with the inspired casting of “Six Feet Under’s” Lauren Ambrose as the grown-up Van (Liv Hewson). Elijah Wood, former co-star of Ricci (“The Ice Storm”) and Lynskey (“I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore”), is a welcome addition as Misty’s male counterpart Walter, a so-called “citizen detective.” “Search Party” star John Paul Reynolds offers some ridiculous swagger as an interested local.

“Yellowjackets” devotees will just be glad to see the main characters on screen again, even though Season 2 kicks off by splintering our four main characters off into their own paths. Shauna is still grappling with how to cover up the murder of her lover, artist Adam (Peter Gadiot), whom she mistakenly thought was blackmailing the Yellowjackets; the culprit actually turned out to be her own husband, Jeff (Warren Kole). Natalie ended last season by being kidnapped by Lottie’s cult. Now known as Charlotte (Simone Kessell), the most spiritual Yellowjacket has grown up to run an antler-happy “personal growth organization” located near a lake that looks a lot like the one where the girls first swam post-crash. Misty is off on a search for Natalie with new colleague Walter, and Taissa (Tawny Cypress) may have the most unsettling storyline of all, as the mysterious dark side of her personality makes more and more invasive appearances, costing the newly elected politician her family and maybe even more.

Meanwhile, in 1996 Canada, a pregnant Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) is having a hard time letting go of Jackie (Ella Purnell) after her frozen death in the snow. Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) and Travis (Kevin Alves) fruitlessly hunt every day for enough food for the group to be able to survive the winter. “Antler Queen” Lottie (Courtney Eaton) continues to draw followers by trying to get the girls to commune with the wilderness. Tai’s (Jasmin Savoy Brown)’s girlfriend Van helps her manage her strange sleepwalking episodes, and Misty makes a new BFF in, Crystal (Nuha Jes Izman).

It’s a lot for a single series to handle, and a lesser show would crumble under the weight of so many characters and myriad not-necessarily-entwined-plotlines. But even the most head-scratching stories (just how is Shauna going to escape a murder rap after stabbing Adam in cold blood?) are elevated by the hypnotic performances of the superlative cast. In one scene, Lynskey has a moment that should be required acting-workshop viewing, as Shauna wrestles with about 18 different sides of herself. And Cypress is breathtaking to witness as Tai’s PTSD continues to shred her already weak ties to reality.

Thankfully, the series wisely manages to reunite the grown-up team eventually, so that Taissa and Shauna’s solid friendship, not to mention Natalie’s humorous brushoffs of Misty, return to solidify the series. The absurd banter between Ricci and Wood also brings some vital lighter moments amidst all the bleakness.

Unfortunately, both adult Lottie and adult Natalie mention a mystical darkness that they’ve brought back with them from the wild in the Season 2 trailer, which conjures up unfortunate smoke monster memories from the similarly stranded TV drama “Lost.” Granted, “Yellowjackets” gets a lot deeper and darker than anything on broadcast network TV. But there’s already plenty of series fodder from the extreme adolescent trauma the girls experienced and how it affected their teenage years; even in the middle of nowhere, cliques emerge, battle lines are drawn, and outcasts like Misty and Crystal remain outcasts.

Not to mention how the inability of our four main adult Yellowjackets to move past what happened to them is demolishing their lives in the present. Lottie and Tai both are dealing with some sort of mental illness, while Natalie tries to fight her addictive tendencies, and Shauna her violent ones —– but are these disorders a result of the “darkness,” or the cause of them?

For the sake of both the younger and older characters, and the series overall, we can only hope that the ominous force mentioned is figurative, not literal. “Yellowjackets’” predecessor “Lord of the Flies” was terrifying because it depicted the lower levels of humanity that can erupt when societal structures disappear, especially for young, not fully adult people. Is the true nature of man (or teenage girl) purely savage, laying waste to the mere idea of innocence?

While the idea of a strange, all-encompassing and invading evil can be scary, isn’t it even more horrifying to consider that any of us might be capable of such depraved acts if all our societal structures fell away and survival was at stake? That would be a much more interesting tack for “Yellowjackets to take” — with or without antlers.

“Yellowjackets” Season 2 premieres Friday, March 24, on Showtime.