MAJOR SPOILERS follow for the second episode of Yellowjackets Season 2, “Edible Complex.” You have been warned!
Well… it happened!
Since Yellowjackets began and we learned that the girls at the center of it were lost in the wilderness for 19 long months – and that things got very dark – it felt inevitable that we’d learn cannibalism was part of their harrowing experience. And in the second episode of Season 2, appropriately titled “Edible Complex,” that line was crossed in an incredibly vivid and evocative and unsettling way. Yes, of course, cannibalism should always be unsettling, to say the least, but they way this played out was especially effective.
The girls meant to burn the body of Jackie (Ella Purnell), putting their dead teammate to rest. But instead, snow would drop from a tree onto her body as it burned, stopping her from burning completely – but leaving her cooked. And once everyone woke up to smell cooked meat, there was no stopping them, as every single one of those present – with one notable exception – ravenously devoured their dead friend.
Intermixed with an imaginary sequence where we saw the group eating fruit at a luxurious banquet, while we flashed back and forth to the truth of them eating a person, and set to Radiohead’s “Climbing Up the Walls,” this sequence was one hell of a way to conclude the episode.
For the actors who play the adult versions of the lead characters, the cannibalism wasn’t a surprise, with Tawny Cypress (“Adult Taissa”) telling Fandom. “We knew it was coming. We knew from the get go they were going to eat people. I think we’ve all built that into our characters history.” Or as Juliette Lewis (“Adult Natalie”) put it, about the Yellowjackets, “We’ve seen a little people eatin’…”
Read on for what Yellowjackets’ creators and the cast members who were part of that sequence had to say about shooting the scene, just how gross it got, and what to make of the one character who didn’t participate.
As it turns out, Yellowjackets’ showrunners knew for quite some time that when the cannibalism would finally occur — Shauna’s little Jackie ear snack in the Season 1 premiere aside — it would be a group activity, though Executive Producer/Co-Creator Ashley Lyle noted, “What we didn’t know exactly was where in Season 2 it was going to fall.”
Lyle laughed, recalling that even when she and EP/Co-Creator Bart Nickerson pitched the series, “Bart and I would kind of pitch the plane crash and then say, ‘We don’t go straight to cannibalism… that would be weird!’”
Heading into Season 2 though, “We did know that we wanted it to happen pretty early, because it just felt as though we didn’t want this question to become a distraction of when we were going to see it. And we also felt like it was such a natural outgrowth of Shauna’s story of her grief and sort of the closure of her friendship with Jackie that we realized that it felt right to do it pretty early. And it also felt like kind of a move that we could make to announce ‘buckle up!’ Because if we’re doing that early, hopefully, we will intrigue you with what we’re going to do next.”
Added Executive Producer Jonathan Lisco, who wrote the episode, “It really wasn’t just about the incident of them eating Jackie. I think when we were in the writers room, I personally remember the moment when we all started to feel that it was an emotional story and not just a sensational one. And once we started to feel that it was emotional, and that we were really seeing it through the eyes of Shauna and feeling something in some of those scenes… Particularly in the middle of the episode, where somebody suggested that they take her jacket, and Shauna was very emotional about it, then we started to say, ‘This is the right time to do it, because it’s the confluence of her grief, her love for Jackie, but also their need to survive in the woods, and the fact that they have Jackie at the ready,’ and so it all seemed to come together pretty seamlessly.”
The cast also appreciated the timing, with Kevin Alves (“Teen Travis”) remarking, “Episode one [of Season 2] is exactly what you wanted from the show and you expected at the beginning and then episode two flips everything upside down. It just changes the course of the show in such a great way.”
As for the specifics, Jasmin Savoy Brown (“Teen Taissa”) remarked, “I kind of thought it was gonna be Jackie eventually, I really did. But the whole pressure cooker snow of it all, I did not see coming. But I like that because that says to me that these girls… obviously they made a choice. Once they saw her body that way, they made the choice.”
That caused her co-star, Liv Hewson (“Teen Van”), to humorously declare, “Well, ya can’t not eat her!” to which Brown replied, “Exactly. But they didn’t make the [initial] choice in terms of they went into it with the intention of laying her to rest. I like that.”
Hewson agreed, noting that this was basically a freak occurrence – or something more otherworldly depending on what you believe is occurring on the show – not a calculated plan by the girls, “And so therefore, there is more to do. Because we know that at some point, these people do end up hunting each other for sport!”
QUIET ON THE SET
All that being said, there was the task of actually filming the scene, which is ultimately showing a bunch of teenagers devouring the body of their dead classmate. Said Sophie Thatcher (“Teen Natalie”), “Talking about it today made me realize just how messed up it is.”
Remarked Hewson, “Filming the [imaginary] banquet was fun. Actually eating her was not.” Replied Brown, “It was fun until it wasn’t. We were like ‘Ha ha!’ until take two, and then it got really serious.”
Regarding the juxtaposition of the banquet and the actual act with Jackie, Alves said he thought it was powerful to take something so ghastly “and then to mix it in with something so beautiful. It was two completely different days shooting those two. Two very different days, very different vibes on set, very different scenes. But putting them together, I think [episode director] Ben Semanoff and the whole team and the creatives did such a great job.”
Sophie Nélisse (“Teen Shauna”) noted the final scene that aired actually didn’t include some of the more horrific details that were filmed, recalling, “When I saw the edit, I was like, ‘Oh, I thought we would eat her more!’ They were going, ‘We think it’s already pretty hard to watch, Sophie.” Because when we shot it, we would go full on. We were like eating straight out of Jackie’s face.”
Reminded of that moment, and how Brown specifically was filmed going for a, well, big bite, Samantha Hanratty (“Teen Misty”) said, with a laugh, “Oh, yes, yes. There was a good moment where she just fully took a chunk out of that cheek!”
YOU ARE WHAT YOU PUKE
Courtney Eaton (“Teen Lottie”) recalled that even while filming, “We talked about how different people had different ideas of how it would be presented, and the way it was edited. But yeah, it was interesting [filming the scene]. Samantha threw up. I gagged.”
Admitted Hanratty, “I did throw up, I did. I threw up Jackie. I mean, honestly, I think, as a fan, I think it looks sick. I think it looks so cool. I really love Ben, who was our director for episode two, and I thought he did such an amazing job. And there’s just something about how things start off in kind of this nice way and then we drift off into this dream world. And then as things get more aggressive, it becomes more animalistic. And I think that’s kind of what’s happening to us, is we are turning into animals out there. And it’s fun to see that this is the first feast. That’s all I gotta say!”
Even Steven Krueger (“Ben”), who only had to look on in horror while filming the scene – more on that below – said, “Even being on set shooting it that day, I was like, ‘This is not exactly how I saw this going down, but holy crap, it’s amazing.’ But I was grossed out too! Honestly, I had a hard time looking at it.”
So what exactly were they eating that Hanratty ultimately couldn’t keep down? Explained Hanratty, “It was jackfruit. I love jackfruit but it was not fully cooked jackfruit.”
Eaton noted, “There was also a smell in the air of the smoked body, with Hanratty adding, “Yeah, that had some kind of plasticky smell to it. And then jackfruit can be almost a kind of bubblegum smell. And then also, we used rice paper for the skin, and some of it was crispy. And honestly, the crispy moments were not bad! But it was the ones that were soggy and stretchy… It looked good on camera, but let me tell you, it was so foul. It was so gross. And also, you’re just trying to chew and they’re like ‘Just keep chewing!’ I’m thinking,’I just need to spit this out.’ ‘Keep chewing!”
Nélisse also recalled being encouraged to really dig in, laughing at the memory of hearing, “Take some more!” as they acted out the cannibalistic feast.
Said Hanratty, “”You put more and you just keep piling it in your mouth. And the next thing I know, I’m just [retching] and that’s it. Yeah. And then Ella Purnell just popped on out!”
Once the group sees Jackie cooked, there’s pretty much no stopping them… with the exception of Ben, who stays back and then goes back inside with a look of horror on his face, seeing what the others are doing.
So how or why does Ben resist? Said Steven Krueger, “I think there’s an element to it that he is the only adult out there with them. I think that even though he has kind of been pushed aside as the authority figure, he does still feel an innate responsibility to protect these young girls. And I think that there’s a weird juxtaposition and dichotomy going on in his head about, ‘I’m starving, but this just isn’t right. This the right thing to do. This isn’t the right way to go about it.’ And then I think, honestly, fear and terror just kind of take over because he witnesses the looks on their faces, he sees that they are, in a way, possessed, and they are in a different place than he is mentally and I think that’s even more jarring for him. And it just kind of wakes him up and makes them realize we’ve entered new territory now. We have entered a new phase of this. And all of a sudden, Coach Ben isn’t isn’t quite as safe as he may have once felt.”
The showrunners felt there were very different ways to interpret Ben’s actions – or lack thereof – though they agreed on the potential lack of safety, with Jonathan Lisco remarking, “You could perceive Ben’s action as taking kind of the moral high ground, if you will, or not quite ready to dip his toe in that Rubicon and make that transgressive decision to eat Jackie, and you could see him as kind of heroic in that way. But you could also see his abstinence from that act as something which actually sets him up to be in the crosshairs of the other women because the fact that he doesn’t participate actually makes them feel like he thinks he’s above them in a way. And I think that’s kind of dangerous for Ben moving forward. That’s one element of it. But I also think he is kind of symbolically the representative of the last vestiges of quote-unquote ‘civilization’ as we know it. He is an older person in the show, relative to the teens, and he’s still clinging to the social conventions of what he believes is right and necessary to keep the tapestry of society together, whereas they’ve sort of abandoned it. And so I think that he’s a metaphor in a way for someone still clinging to the old ways, not willing to go in this direction now.”
Said Ashley Lyle, “I’ve always thought of it too as an interesting question of ‘Is it a strength or is it a weakness?’ because on the one hand, it could be interpreted as the ultimate act of willpower and self denial. But on the other hand, it could be interpreted as having less will to do whatever it takes to survive. And I think that there is a certain strength in their decision to persevere in the face of everything they’ve been through and in such a transgressive way. And I think that he is ultimately not one of them. That’s made really explicit by this. And you could kind of explain that as, look, they’re still children in a way; their frontal cortex is still developing. They say part of the reason teenagers are teenagers is because they haven’t fully developed the ability to rationalize consequences. But also, I think that they’re open to something that he is not open to, and they are open to it as a group. It was very important to us that this was a communal experience that they all participate in. And I think it really does set him apart as, not just being the adult, not just being the adult man, but not being one of them.”
Added Bart Nickerson, “In some ways, that was kind of the kernel that started Ben, was to have somebody there that would be with them and dependent on them, but not one of them. It’s almost as though there is a sort of a current or a kind of frequency bouncing between them, getting stronger and being amplified by the group, and that is just not resonating through him. And so he is sort of left behind or spared, depending on your point of view. And whether this sort of current that’s moving through them is supernatural or psychological is probably to be determined by your biases.”